Meyer v. Herndon, Case No. 4:19-cv-00109-SMR-HCA

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
Citation419 F.Supp.3d 1109
Docket NumberCase No. 4:19-cv-00109-SMR-HCA
Parties Justin MEYER, Plaintiff, v. Jason David HERNDON, individually and in his official capacity as Polk County Jailer; William McCarthy, individually and in his official capacity as Polk County Sheriff; and Polk County, IOWA, Defendants.
Decision Date03 December 2019

Brooke C. Timmer, Nathan James Borland, Timmer & Judkins PLLC, West Des Moines, IA, for Plaintiffs.

Kenneth R. Munro, Munro Law Office P.C., Julie Jean Bussanmas, Meghan L. Gavin, Polk County Attorney, Des Moines, IA, for Defendants.



Plaintiff Justin Meyer alleges he sustained injuries when he was physically beaten by jail staff during his brief stay in the Polk County Jail. He brings suit against the individual jailer, the local government, and the county sheriff, claiming the municipal actors maintained a policy, custom, or practice condoning the use of excessive force and failed to train or supervise the jailer who committed the assault. [ECF No. 1-1]. After removing the case to federal court, Defendants Polk County (the "County") and William McCarthy (collectively, the "Government Defendants") promptly moved to dismiss. [ECF Nos. 4; 11]. Because Plaintiff's Petition fails to sufficiently plead facts that can establish municipal liability against Defendants Polk County and Sheriff McCarthy under state and federal law, the Court GRANTS both motions and DISMISSES Counts IV and V of Plaintiff's Petition.1

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff's Petition documents his version of events that transpired during his brief detention in the Polk County Jail. The crux of his allegations against the Government Defendants center on Plaintiff's interactions with Defendant Herndon and the reactions to his mistreatment from other Polk County personnel. For the purpose of Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, the Court accepts as true the factual allegations in the Complaint. See Brown v. Medtronic, Inc. , 628 F.3d 451, 459 (8th Cir. 2010) (indicating that courts must accept as true the plaintiff's factual allegations, but they need not accept as true the plaintiff's legal conclusions).

On the evening of December 2, 2018, Plaintiff and his girlfriend visited a local bar where they consumed alcohol and watched sports for several hours. [ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶ 8–9]. After becoming sick, Plaintiff left the bar and fell asleep in his car. Id. ¶¶ 10–13. West Des Moines police arrived on the scene and ordered Plaintiff to step out of his car. Id. ¶¶ 14–19. He refused, and the officers forcefully removed him from the vehicle and restrained him. Id. ¶ 21. Plaintiff was promptly arrested, charged with interference with official acts, and transported to the Polk County Jail in Des Moines. Id. ¶ 22.

The genesis of Plaintiff's allegations of mistreatment begins with his booking into the Polk County Jail. There were approximately six jailers working in the area where Plaintiff was confined the night he was arrested. Id. ¶ 42. Plaintiff claims the Polk County jailers refused him access to a telephone, mocked him for asking, and told him he had no right to make a phone call. Id. ¶¶ 25-26. When Plaintiff's girlfriend spoke up in his defense, Defendant Jason Herndon, one of the jailers, told Plaintiff he needed to get her "under control." Id. ¶ 31. Plaintiff rejected the remark. Id. ¶ 32.

Plaintiff encountered Herndon again after he was detained. As Herndon finished his rounds through the jail, Plaintiff witnessed Herndon spew racial slurs at a Hispanic inmate confined in a nearby cell. Id. ¶¶ 35–36. Plaintiff objected to Herndon's offensive language and degrading treatment, telling Herndon his behavior violated the other inmates' civil rights. Id. ¶¶ 37–39. Herndon responded by telling Plaintiff to shut up. Id. ¶ 40. When Plaintiff pressed Herndon and insisted that the jailer "can't talk to people like that," Herndon entered Plaintiff's cell and physically attacked him—grabbing Plaintiff's throat, striking his face, and throwing him to the ground. Id. ¶¶ 43–46. After forcing Plaintiff to the ground, Herndon stared down at Plaintiff with his hand around Plaintiff's neck. Id. ¶ 51. Plaintiff was unarmed, compliant, and submissive. Id. ¶ 45. Another jailer responded to the scene shortly thereafter and ordered Herndon to get out of Plaintiff's cell, but not before Plaintiff suffered physical injuries. Id. ¶¶ 47–50, 53, 56.

A sergeant and nurse documented Plaintiff's injuries shortly after the incident, after which they inquired about Plaintiff's condition. See Id. ¶¶ 57–58. Plaintiff alleges the sergeant was dismissive of Plaintiff's complaint of being assaulted by a staff member and responded to Plaintiff's complaint about the attack by informing Plaintiff he "can't talk back to staff members like that." Id. ¶¶ 50–60. Plaintiff complains he was not given an opportunity to file a formal complaint until he was booked out of the jail, despite telling staff several times that he wanted to press charges against Herndon. Id. ¶¶ 61–62. When he was later interviewed by another sergeant and detective, Plaintiff states he was asked questions that suggested he had acted irate and deserved to be assaulted by Herndon. Id. ¶¶ 64–65.

Polk County maintains two regulations promulgated by the Polk County Sheriff's Office that govern the use of force by its jail employees. [ECF No. 4-1 at 17–20, 21–31].2 The first, General Order 14121, lays out the county's policy on "Jail Use of Force." Id. at 17. The Use of Force policy mandates that jail personnel "shall use only the force necessary to accomplish lawful objectives" and that any amount of force "shall be reasonable and necessary." Id. at 18; see also id. at 17 (defining "reasonable force" as "force and no more which a reasonable person, in like circumstances, would judge to be necessary to prevent an injury or loss"). The policy further provides that "[p]hysical force and restraint devices shall never be used as punishment." Id. at 18. By the same token, General Order 14609 provides guidelines governing "Ethics, Behavior, and Conduct" in relation to the use of force. Id. at 21. This policy requires employees to "use the minimum amount of force that is necessary and reasonable to effect the correction and control of any situation." Id. at 22. The ethics guidelines also offer a stern rebuke to the use of excessive force: "[t]he Polk County Sheriff's Office shall not tolerate any type of workplace violence committed by or against employees. Employees are prohibited from making threats or engaging in violent activities towards ... any member of the general public" or "[c]ausing physical injury to another person." Id. at 30.

Herndon was ultimately charged with Assault Causing Bodily Injury related to this incident on January 3, 2019. [ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 66]. However, Sherriff McCarthy allowed Herndon to resign his position rather than fire him. See id. ¶ 67. Ultimately, Plaintiff asserts none of the other jail staff did anything to protect him or stop Herndon's attack. Id. ¶ 54. This lawsuit followed.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed the instant action on March 12, 2019, in the Iowa District Court for Polk County. [ECF No. 1-1]. Counts I and II of the Petition allege Herndon's attack employed excessive force against Plaintiff in violation of his rights under article I, §§ 1 and 8 of the Iowa Constitution and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. [ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶ 69-74, 76–80]. Count III alleges Herndon retaliated against Plaintiff on the basis of protected speech in violation of article I, § 7 of the Iowa Constitution. [ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶ 82–87]. Finally, in Count VI, Plaintiff sues Herndon for assault and battery. [ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶ 114–27]. Defendant Herndon denies Plaintiff's allegations. See [ECF No. 9].

The two remaining Counts of Plaintiff's Petition are levied against Polk County, Iowa, and William McCarthy, individually and in his official capacity as Polk County Sherriff. Count IV invokes Plaintiff's civil rights under the United States Constitution and advances two core complaints: first, that the Government Defendants "established, maintained, and/or enforced official policies, patterns, practices, or customs of allowing unreasonable or excessive force" and further failed to implement existing rules governing the department's use of force;3 and second, that the Government Defendants failed to properly train jail personnel in the proper use of force and supervise staff in their treatment of detained individuals. [ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶ 93, 97–98, 106]. According to Plaintiff, the Government Defendants' failure on both fronts reflects a "deliberate indifference and/or reckless disregard of the rights of [Plaintiff] and those similarly situated to him" and "authorized the actions of Herndon," leading to Plaintiff's injury. Id. ¶¶ 96 (first quote), 97–98 (second quote). Plaintiff makes nearly identical allegations under article I, §§ 1, 7, and 8 of the Iowa Constitution in Count V. Id. ¶¶ 106–112.4

After removing Plaintiff's action to federal court, the Government Defendants promptly moved to dismiss Counts IV and V under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). [ECF Nos. 4; 11]. Plaintiff resists.


The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require a complaint to present "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Conversely, a complaint is subject to dismissal when it "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). To meet this standard, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ " Braden v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. , 588 F.3d 585, 594 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) ). A claim is facially plausible "w...

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