Brown v. Frazier, No. 4:12-CV-290-D

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Eastern District of North Carolina
Writing for the CourtJAMES C. DEVER III
Decision Date22 October 2013
Docket NumberNo. 4:12-CV-290-D


No. 4:12-CV-290-D


SO ORDERED: October 22, 2013


On December 6, 2012, spouses Timothy Wayne Brown and Joann Brown (collectively, "Browns" or "plaintiffs") filed suit against Halifax County Sheriff Jeff P. Frazier ("Frazier") and Halifax County ("County") (collectively, "defendants"). Compl. [D.E. 1]. The suit arises out of alleged wrongful conduct of certain Halifax County Sheriff's deputies in response to the Browns' call for emergency medical assistance on December 9, 2011. The Browns assert claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, and North Carolina tort law against Frazier and Halifax County. Essentially, they allege that the County and Frazier failed to adequately train and supervise the deputies. See id. ¶¶ 73-129.

On April 11, 2013, defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim [D.E. 10-11]. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The Browns responded in opposition [D.E. 15], and defendants replied [D.E. 18]. On May 31, 2013, the Browns moved to amend their complaint [D.E. 16-17]. On June 24, 2013, defendants responded in opposition [D.E. 19]. As explained below, the court grants defendants' motion to dismiss, dismisses the Browns' federal claims, declines to

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exercise supplemental jurisdiction over their state law claims, dismisses the state law claims without prejudice, and denies the Browns' motion to amend their complaint as futile.


The Browns reside in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. Compl. ¶ 8. On the morning of December 9, 2011, Mr. Brown suffered what Mrs. Brown believed to be a diabetic seizure and was in extreme medical distress. Id. ¶¶ 18-19. Mrs. Brown called the Halifax County Central Communications Center for emergency assistance. Id. ¶ 17. A responder from the county fire department, Hedgepeth, arrived first. Id. ¶ 21. Shortly thereafter, Halifax Emergency Management Services ("EMS") personnel arrived, took Mr. Brown's blood sugar level, and repeatedly asked Mrs. Brown what drugs Mr. Brown had used. Id. ¶¶ 26, 28. Mrs. Brown repeatedly told the EMS personnel that Mr. Brown had never used drugs. Id. ¶ 29.

Hedgepeth called for law enforcement officers, claiming that Mr. Brown was being combative. Id. ¶ 24. About ten minutes later, several Halifax County Sheriff's deputies entered the Browns' house without knocking. Id. ¶¶ 25, 31. According to the complaint, the deputies then "attacked" Mr. Brown, "hitting him, kicking him, kneeing him, [and] placing handcuffs and shackles on him." Id. ¶ 33. The deputies also asked Mrs. Brown what drugs Mr. Brown had used. Id. ¶¶ 34, 37, 39. Mrs. Brown repeated that Mr. Brown did not use drugs. Id. ¶ 38. The deputies then conducted a warrantless search of the Browns' house and found no drugs. Id. ¶¶ 36, 40.

Eventually, the EMS personnel transported Mr. Brown to the hospital. Id. ¶ 45. Mr. Brown remained handcuffed for the ride, and the handcuffs were so tight that they injured his wrists. Id. ¶ 46. The deputies "stepped on Mr. Brown's knuckles, kicked him in his sides and in the back, elbowed him in his face and back, and in other ways brutalized Mr. Brown for no reason." Id. ¶ 47.

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At the hospital, the deputies ran drug tests on Mr. Brown without his consent. Id. ¶ 48. The drug tests were negative. Id.

The Browns filed suit against Frazier and Halifax County. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. The Browns allege violations of federal and state law arising from defendants' failure to adequately train and supervise personnel. Id. ¶¶ 56, 67-70. In their complaint, the Browns did not sue the deputies, Hedgepeth, or the EMS personnel.

In reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must determine whether a claim is legally and factually sufficient. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals. 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010), aff'd, 132 S. Ct. 1327 (2012); Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). A court need not accept a claimant's "legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement." Nemet Chevrolet Ltd. v., Inc., 591 F.3d 250,255 (4th Cir. 2009); see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. However, the court "accepts all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the [claimant] in weighing the legal sufficiency of the complaint." Nemet Chevrolet, 591 F.3d at 255.

As for their federal claims, the Browns seek relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and claim that defendants are responsible for violating their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures and Fifth Amendment due process rights. See Compl. ¶¶ 82-91. The court construes the due process claim to be a claim under the Fourteenth Amendment, instead of the Fifth Amendment. In their response to defendants' motion to dismiss, the Browns concede that the County cannot be held liable in this suit. See [D.E. 15] 9; see, e.g., Parker v. Bladen Cnty., 583 F.

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Supp. 2d 736, 739-40 (E.D.N.C. 2008). Thus, the court dismisses the County and analyzes whether the Browns have stated a claim under section 1983 against Frazier.

Section 1983 "is not itself a source of substantive rights, but a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred." Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979). To establish liability under section 1983, a plaintiff must show that the defendant, acting under color of law, violated the plaintiff's federal constitutional or statutory rights, causing injury. See, e.g., West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Crosby v. City of Gastonia, 635 F.3d 634, 639 (4th Cir. 2011). The Browns have not alleged that Frazier directly violated their rights. Rather, they contend that Frazier's deficient training and supervision of his deputies, resulted in violations of the Browns' rights.

Supervisory officials are not vicariously liable for constitutional injuries inflicted by their subordinates. See, e.g., Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658,691 (1978); Slakan v. Porter, 737 F.2d 368, 372 (4th Cir. 1984). However, in certain narrow circumstances, a supervisor may be liable for failure to adequately train or supervise subordinates. See, e.g., Connick v. Thompson, 131 S. Ct. 1350, 1358-60 (2011); City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388-92 (1989). To state a claim against a supervisor for the failure to train or supervise subordinates, a plaintiff must plausibly allege that (1) the subordinates actually violated the plaintiff's constitutional or statutory rights, (2) the supervisor's failure to properly train or supervise the subordinates amounts to "deliberate indifference" to the rights of the plaintiff, and (3) this failure to train or supervise actually caused the subordinates to violate the plaintiff's rights. Connick, 131 S....

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