Hall v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., Case No. 3:17-cv-01268

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtJudge Aleta A. Trauger
Docket NumberCase No. 3:17-cv-01268
Decision Date05 January 2018

RACHEL HALL, Plaintiff,

Case No. 3:17-cv-01268


January 5, 2018

Judge Aleta A. Trauger


Plaintiff Rachel Hall initiated this action by filing a Complaint in the Circuit Court for Davidson County, Tennessee, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. (Compl., Doc. No. 1.) The case was removed to this court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. Now pending are four separate Motions to Dismiss filed by the five defendants: the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County ("Metro") (Doc. No. 5); Don Aaron (Doc. No. 7); Megan Arnett and Benjamin Winkler (Doc. No. 9); and Elizabeth Berry-Loucks (Doc. No. 12).

The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for review. For the reasons set forth herein, the motions filed by Berry-Loucks (Doc. No. 12) and by Arnett and Winkler (Doc. No. 9) will be granted in part and denied in part. The motions filed by Aaron (Doc. No. 7) and Metro (Doc. No. 5) will be granted in their entirety.

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I. Factual and Procedural Background

The facts are taken from the Complaint, and the court accepts the factual allegations as true for the purpose of ruling on the Rule 12(b)(6) motions.

Defendants Arnett, Berry-Loucks, and Winkler are or were at all relevant times employed by Metro as police officers with the Metro-Nashville Police Department. Defendant Aaron is or was employed by Metro as the Police Department Public Affairs Manager.

Rachel Hall returned to her apartment in Antioch, Tennessee in the early morning hours of Tuesday, August 16, 2016, after having been out of town for a few days. Metro police officers, including Arnett, Berry-Loucks, and Winkler, among others, were at her apartment when she arrived. Prior to Hall's arrival, the police officers had already "bagged and tagged" all contraband found in the apartment, or on individuals in the apartment, and had placed several individuals, most of whom were in her apartment without Hall's knowledge or permission, under arrest for possession of drug contraband. (Compl. ¶ 14.)

Upon approaching the premises to inquire why the police were on the scene, Hall was handcuffed and "shoved" into her apartment. (Compl. ¶ 15.) Hall offered no resistance to her rough treatment by the officers and was compliant with the officers' commands. Hall was taken to the bedroom of her residence so that Berry-Loucks and Arnett, the two female officers on the scene, could search her person. Berry-Loucks violently grabbed Hall and began to search her. Berry-Loucks did not give any commands or ask any questions as she began her search.

While conducting the search, Berry-Loucks found a syringe in Hall's bra, which she removed by the plastic plunger end. After retrieving the syringe, Berry-Loucks cursed at Hall and screamed at her that she "could have" been injured by the syringe. (Compl. ¶ 20.) Berry-Loucks then hit Hall across the face with such force that Hall fell backwards onto the bed. Hall

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"experienced great physical pain" as a result of being struck. (Compl. ¶ 21.) Berry-Loucks pulled Hall off of the bed and hit her again in the face, causing further pain and causing Hall to lose her balance.

Thereafter, while Hall "begged" her to "stop hitting her," Berry-Loucks "turned her around, pushed her face-down over the bed, and . . . began a violent digital search of Ms. Hall's vagina." (Compl. ¶ 23.) "Using her fingers, Defendant Berry-Loucks digitally penetrated Ms. Hall's vagina at least five times conducting an 'on-scene cavity search,' without probable cause or a subpoena." (Compl. ¶ 24.) Defendant Megan Arnett was present during this assault and "observed the entire ordeal" but "did not verbally or physically intervene." (Compl. ¶ 29.) The plaintiff alleges that Arnett "had both the opportunity and means to prevent the harm to Ms. Hall." (Compl. ¶ 30.)

Hall's hands were handcuffed behind her back during this entire event. She had exhibited no threatening or aggressive behavior toward any of the police officers at the scene and had been fully compliant with the officers' verbal commands.

At some point, several male police officers entered the room, and the assault by Berry-Loucks terminated. After some discussion, one or more unknown officers contacted detectives with the Division of Sex Crimes to talk to Hall. Hall was transported to Nashville General Hospital where she was interviewed and given a sexual assault examination.

After this incident, Berry-Loucks was decommissioned, assigned to desk duty, and issued a misdemeanor citation for "slapping" Hall. (Compl. ¶ 35.)

While Hall was being treated at General Hospital, defendant Don Aaron, as Public Affairs Manager for Metro Police Department, issued a press release ("the Press Release") which, Hall claims, contained untrue statements, including that Berry-Loucks was "stuck" with

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the syringe, that she had merely "slapped" Hall, and that Hall was in possession of other items of contraband that the defendants knew had never been in her possession. (Compl. ¶ 36.) It was published along with a "mug shot" photograph. Hall alleges that the photograph was republished by other media outlets, causing her humiliation and emotional distress. (Compl. ¶ 37.) She asserts, "upon information and belief," that Aaron "knew or recklessly disregarded the false and misleading nature of the information published in the press release and the false light [in] which said release depicted Ms. Hall." (Compl. ¶ 38.)

Hall claims that Arnett "knowingly and deliberately, or with a reckless disregard for the truth, completed three arrest warrant affidavits" charging Hall with a felony drug offense, possession of a firearm, and criminal simulation. (Compl. ¶ 39.) Similarly, she alleges that Winkler "knowingly and deliberately, or with a reckless disregard for the truth," swore out an arrest warrant charging her with possession of a legal drug without a prescription, unlawful use of drug paraphernalia, and theft of merchandise. (Compl. ¶ 40.) Hall was not charged with possession of the syringe, and all charges against her were subsequently dismissed.

The Complaint purports to assert claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on violations of the plaintiff's rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Hall's claims against Metro are premised upon (1) an alleged custom or practice of permitting police officers to perform "on-scene cavity searches" (Compl. ¶ 42); (2) an alleged custom or practice authorizing the use of excessive force; (3) a failure to supervise or train the individual defendants amounting to deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's constitutional rights; and (4) inadequate and constitutionally deficient hiring procedures. She asserts that the Metro Nashville Police Department is biased toward people of low socioeconomic status and that the conduct complained of is the result of such bias. (Compl. ¶

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65.) She also brings claims against Metro under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act for negligence and false imprisonment. (Compl. ¶¶ 79-85.)

Broadly construed, the Complaint asserts claims against Berry-Loucks and Arnett in their individual capacities under § 1983, based on excessive force, false imprisonment, false arrest, and malicious prosecution, as well as state-law claims for assault and battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, and malicious prosecution. The Complaint likewise asserts claims against Winkler under federal and state law for false imprisonment, false arrest, and malicious prosecution. The Complaint purports to state claims against the police officers involved in Hall's detention in both their individual and official capacities.

The claim against Aaron is premised solely on the Press Release, which the plaintiff contends resulted in false light invasion of privacy in violation of Tennessee law.

The defendants have now filed Motions to Dismiss, along with supporting Memoranda, seeking dismissal of all claims against them. (Doc. Nos. 5-10, 12-13.) The motions are premised upon Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the doctrine of qualified immunity. The plaintiff has filed a Response in opposition to each motion. (Doc. Nos. 19-22.)

II. Legal Standards

A. Rule 12(b)(6)

In deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept its allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Directv, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007); Inge v. Rock Fin. Corp., 281 F.3d 613, 619 (6th Cir. 2002). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a plaintiff provide "'a short and plain statement of the claim' that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds

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upon which it rests." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). The court must determine whether "the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims," not whether the plaintiff can ultimately prove the facts alleged. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511 (2002) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

The complaint's allegations, however, "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To establish the "facial plausibility" required to "unlock the doors of discovery," the plaintiff cannot rely on "legal conclusions" or "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action"; instead, the plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).


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