Brown v. Cumberland Cnty.

Decision Date18 August 2021
Docket NumberDocket No. 2:20-cv-00478-NT
Citation557 F.Supp.3d 169
Parties Jaden BROWN, Plaintiff, v. CUMBERLAND COUNTY, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maine

Jeremy W. Dean, Law Office of Jeremy W. Dean, Kristine C. Hanly, Hanly Law, Sarah A. Churchill, Nichols & Churchill, Portland, ME, Dmitry Lapin, Emily A. Danchuk, Danchuk Law LLC, Falmouth, ME, for Plaintiff.

John J. Wall, III, Monaghan Leahy, LLP, Portland, ME, for Defendants Sam Dickey, Deputy Brady, Deputy Haskell.

Cassandra S. Shaffer, Peter T. Marchesi, Wheeler & Arey, P.A., Waterville, ME, for Defendants.

ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

Nancy Torresen, United States District Judge Plaintiff Jaden Brown alleges that the Defendants1 violated her rights under the U.S. Constitution and Maine law when they handcuffed her when she was thirty-five weeks pregnant and when officers were present in the hospital delivery room when she gave birth to her child. The Defendants have moved to dismiss all claims (ECF No. 8). For the reasons set forth below, the Defendants' motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

BACKGROUND2

In July of 2018, Ms. Brown—who had an outstanding warrant of arrest for a probation violation—turned herself in at the Cumberland County Jail ("CCJ "). Compl. ¶¶ 30–31 (ECF No. 1). She was sentenced to fifteen months on the probation violation. Compl. ¶ 32. Ms. Brown was pregnant when she turned herself in, and the Defendants were aware of her pregnancy during the entire time relevant to this Complaint. Compl. ¶¶ 33, 41.

At some point before December of 2018, Ms. Brown was transferred to the Prerelease Center, which is across the parking lot from the main building at CCJ. Compl. ¶¶ 34–35. On December 29 or 30, 2018, Ms. Brown was transferred back to the main jail building.3 Compl. ¶¶ 37, 39, 42. Ms. Brown states that she did not pose a safety or security risk to anyone. Compl. ¶ 44. Defendant Mark Renna, a corrections officer at CCJ, was tasked with taking Ms. Brown back to the main jail from the Prerelease Center. Compl. ¶ 42. Defendant Renna handcuffed Ms. Brown—who at the time was thirty-five weeks along in her pregnancy and visibly pregnant—and walked with her across the parking lot. Compl. ¶¶ 40, 43.

Defendant Renna later realized he had violated jail policy4 by handcuffing a pregnant inmate, and he reported the matter to his supervisor, Lieutenant William Brady. Compl. ¶¶ 46–47. Lieutenant Brady failed to report the incident to his supervisors and signed off on a report of Ms. Brown's transfer that failed to note that handcuffs were used.5 Compl. ¶ 48. According to Ms. Brown, Defendant Kevin Joyce, the sheriff of Cumberland County, was not made aware of the incident until February of 2019, when Plaintiff's counsel informed him. Compl. ¶ 49. The Plaintiff alleges that this was not the first time that deputies and supervisory staff at CCJ had handcuffed a pregnant inmate in violation of Maine law. Compl. ¶ 50.

Ms. Brown went into labor on February 11, 2019, and she was transported from CCJ to Maine Medical Center to give birth. Compl. ¶¶ 51–52. Throughout her twenty-hour labor, CCJ corrections officer were present in the labor and delivery room, even though Ms. Brown posed no escape or security risk and medical professionals had not asked them to be present. Compl. ¶¶ 54–55. Corrections officers from the jail were freely coming and going from Ms. Brown's room, using their cell phones, drinking coffee, and joking that Ms. Brown should name her child after the jail. Compl. ¶ 58. Defendants Deputy Dan Haskell, Deputy Sam Dickey, and Deputy Carrie Brady6 were all present in the labor and delivery room at some point, and Deputies Brady and Dickey were in the room when Ms. Brown's child was born and saw both Ms. Brown's and her child's naked and exposed bodies. Compl. ¶¶ 56–57, 59.

The Plaintiff asserts that the presence of the corrections officers in her labor and delivery room violated state law and that Defendants Joyce and Kortes have admitted the violation. Compl. ¶¶ 60, 62. According to the Plaintiff, Sheriff Joyce is the chief policy maker for the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department, and he is responsible for training and supervising Defendants Dickey, Brady, Haskell, and Renna. Compl. ¶ 63. The Plaintiff alleges that Sheriff Joyce failed to either train or supervise the Defendants as they were acting in their capacity as corrections officers. Compl. ¶ 64. Major Timothy Kortes is a policy maker for the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department and is also responsible for training and supervising the identified corrections officers, duties that the Plaintiff alleges he failed to fulfill. Compl. ¶¶ 14, 65–66. Finally, the Plaintiff asserts that Cumberland County also failed to train and supervise correctional officers and that the county has a pattern and practice of failing to adequately train and supervise officers. Compl. ¶¶ 67–68.

The Plaintiff states that as a result of the Defendants' actions, she suffered anxiety, embarrassment, shame, and degradation. Compl. ¶ 69. She has brought eleven claims against the Defendants. In Count I, she alleges that the Defendants engaged in concert to violate her constitutional rights by covering up violations by Officer Renna and by failing to train and supervise officers on their treatment of pregnant inmates. Compl. ¶¶ 70–74 (asserting claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985 ). Counts II, III, IV, and V assert § 1983 claims against Defendants Renna, Dickey, Brady, and Haskell, respectively, alleging that the corrections officers violated the Plaintiff's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Compl. ¶¶ 75–114. In Counts VI, VII, and VIII, the Plaintiff asserts § 1983 claims against Sheriff Joyce, Major Kortes, and Cumberland County for violating her constitutional rights, and she alleges that those constitutional violations stemmed from the Defendants' grossly negligent policies and customs and their deliberate, reckless, or callous indifference to her constitutional rights. Compl. ¶¶ 115–28.

The Plaintiff also brings three state-law claims against the Defendants.7 In Count IX, the Plaintiff asserts that the Defendants violated 30-A M.R.S. § 1582 when she was handcuffed while pregnant. Compl. ¶¶ 136–40. In Count X, the Plaintiff asserts a claim for civil conspiracy, alleging that the Defendants acted in concert to commit the unlawful acts through unlawful means and in bad faith. Compl. ¶¶ 132–35. Finally, in Count XI, the Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants violated the Maine Civil Rights Act ("MCRA "), 5 M.R.S. § 4682, by intentionally attempting to interfere with the Plaintiff's exercise and enjoyment of her rights. Compl. ¶¶ 129–30.

The Defendants moved to dismiss the case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on March 31, 2021 (ECF No. 8). They argue that the individual officers are entitled to qualified immunity; that the Plaintiff fails to state a claim for supervisory liability against Sheriff Joyce and Major Kortes and for municipal liability against Cumberland County; that there is no private right of action under 30-A M.R.S. § 1582 ; and that the Plaintiff has not stated a claim for civil conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) or any other law.

LEGAL STANDARD

A court reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) follows two steps. First, the court must "isolate and ignore statements in the complaint that simply offer legal labels and conclusions or merely rehash cause-of-action elements." Schatz v. Republican State Leadership Comm. , 669 F.3d 50, 55 (1st Cir. 2012) (citing Ocasio-Hernández v. Fortuño-Burset , 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011) ). Second, the court must "take the complaint's well-pled (i.e., non-conclusory, non-speculative) facts as true, drawing all reasonable inferences in the pleader's favor, and see if they plausibly narrate a claim for relief." Id. (citing Ocasio-Hernández , 640 F.3d at 12 ).

DISCUSSION
I. Qualified Immunity

The Defendants argue that the individual officers are entitled to qualified immunity both for handcuffing the Plaintiff while she was pregnant and for being present in the hospital delivery room when the Plaintiff gave birth to her child. Thus, they seek the dismissal of Counts II, III, IV, and V which assert § 1983 claims against Defendants Renna, Dickey, Brady, and Haskell.

The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that "officers are entitled to qualified immunity under § 1983 unless (1) they violated a federal statutory or constitutional right, and (2) the unlawfulness of their conduct was ‘clearly established at the time.’ " District of Columbia v. Wesby , ––– U.S. ––––, 138 S. Ct. 577, 589, 199 L.Ed.2d 453 (2018) (quoting Reichle v. Howards , 566 U.S. 658, 664, 132 S.Ct. 2088, 182 L.Ed.2d 985 (2012) ); see also Guadalupe-Báez v. Pesquera , 819 F.3d 509, 517 (1st Cir. 2016) (applying standard at motion to dismiss stage). Within this second prong—the "clearly established" inquiry—the First Circuit recognizes two elements. Castagna v. Jean , 955 F.3d 211, 219–20 (1st Cir. 2020). The first element "focuses on the clarity of the law at the time of the violation," while the second "focuses more concretely on the facts of the particular case and whether a reasonable defendant would have understood that his conduct violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights." Penate v. Hanchett , 944 F.3d 358, 366 (1st Cir. 2019) (quoting Drumgold v. Callahan , 707 F.3d 28, 42 (1st Cir. 2013) ).

The central question in the "clearly established inquiry" is whether "the law was sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would understand that what he is doing is unlawful." Wesby , 138 S. Ct. at 589 (internal quotations omitted). The legal principle at issue "must have a sufficiently clear foundation in then-existing precedent," and it must be "dictated by controlling authority or a robust consensus of cases of persuasive authority"—not just "suggested" by precedent. Id. at 589–90 (internal quotations omitted). This is a "demanding standard"...

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