Smith v. Gallia County Jail, 2:20-cv-3089

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
PartiesDEBRA A. SMITH, Plaintiff, v. GALLIA COUNTY JAIL, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date01 July 2021
Docket Number2:20-cv-3089

DEBRA A. SMITH, Plaintiff,

GALLIA COUNTY JAIL, et al., Defendants.

No. 2:20-cv-3089

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

July 1, 2021

Chelsey M. Vascura Magistrate Judge



This matter is before the Court on the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (ECF No. 23). For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendants' Motion.


Debra Smith was working as a correctional officer at the Gallia County Jail on September 29, 2019, when she and her fellow correctional officer were overtaken by four inmates, who assaulted them before escaping the jail. Prior to this troubling incident, Ms. Smith had been working fulltime as a correctional officer at the facility since December 2015. (ECF No. 22 ¶ 12). As a correctional officer, Ms. Smith monitored inmates, checked on their safety and assured their basic needs were met, administered medication, and performed hourly checks at the Jail. (Id. ¶ 13). Most of her employment passed without incident. Over two years before Ms. Smith's assault, the Gallia County Sheriff's Office, which operates the Jail, adopted a new policy to protect its female employees. This policy required both male and female employees to be on duty at all times when both men and women were housed in the jail. (Id. ¶ 15). According to Ms. Smith, this policy was adopted to protect both female correctional staff and women who were incarcerated at the jail by ensuring a correctional officer of the same gender would be on duty to perform privacy-sensitive tasks. (Id. ¶ 16). Defendant Matt Champlin, the Sheriff of Gallia County, was the policymaker behind the adoption of this new policy. (Id. ¶ 27).

Despite the adoption of this policy, Plaintiff alleges that female correctional officers were placed on duty without a male officer while both men and women were housed in the Jail. (Id. ¶ 17). Defendant Chief Deputy Troy Johnson was in charge of implementing the policy at the Jail, but failed to do so. (Id. ¶ 28). On the day of her assault, Ms. Smith was scheduled for duty with one other female correctional officer, despite the fact that the majority of individuals housed at the Jail were men. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21). Four incarcerated men assaulted both the female officers on duty; one of the men held a knife to Ms. Smith's neck. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24). Ms. Smith alleges that she suffered serious physical and mental injuries after the attack and continues to experience emotional distress and suffering to the present day. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 45).

Ms. Smith filed a complaint in federal court in June 2020, asserting constitutional and state tort law claims stemming from her assault. She sued Defendants Champlin and Johnson and the Gallia County Sheriff. (ECF No. 1). In August 2020, the Defendants moved to dismiss her complaint and, while that motion was pending, Ms. Smith was granted leave to amend her complaint. (ECF Nos. 10, 20). In November 2020, Ms. Smith filed an amended complaint, naming new Defendants and providing greater specificity as to the types of claims she was asserting. (ECF No. 22). The Defendants have again moved to dismiss her amended complaint and the matter is now ripe for this Court's consideration.


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint for a failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must allege facts that, if accepted as true, are sufficient “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Hensley Mfg. v. ProPride, Inc., 579 F.3d 603, 609 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). A complaint will not “suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement'” or “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.” Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Although the court “must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint as true, ” the court “need not accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Hensley Mfg., 579 F.3d at 609 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555) (internal quotations omitted). In short, the plaintiff's complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.


The Defendants have moved to dismiss Ms. Smith's complaint. As a preliminary matter, this Court observes that the parties have reached an agreement as to the proper defendants to this suit. (ECF No. 24 at 1; ECF No. 27 at 1). As Plaintiff has stipulated to the dismissal of Defendants Harold Montgomery, David Smith, Brent Saunders, and the Gallia County Sheriff's Office, these Defendants are therefore DISMISSED. The remaining Defendants all seek to dismiss on the grounds that Plaintiff has failed to state any constitutional claims, and as a result, cannot sustain a Monell claim, either. (ECF No. 24 at 4-14; 16-18). The Defendants also argue that, even if the Plaintiff has stated a constitutional claim, the individual Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. (Id. at 14). Finally, the Defendants move to dismiss all of Plaintiff's state law claims as frivolous. (Id. at 18-22).

To survive a motion to dismiss a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must properly allege that: (1) the defendant was acting under color of state law; and (2) the offending conduct deprived the plaintiff of rights secured under federal law. Mezibov v. Allen, 411 F.3d 712, 716-17 (6th Cir. 2005) (citing Bloch v. Ribar, 156 F.3d 673, 677 (6th Cir. 1998)). Ms. Smith raises claims against Defendants Matt Champlin and Troy Johnson in their individual and official capacities as employees of a political subdivision, Gallia County. (ECF No. 22 at 5-6). The Defendants do not challenge Ms. Smith's ability to fulfill the requirements of the first prong. By alleging that Defendants acted in their capacity as county employees, Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged the first prong. This Court will now address whether Ms. Smith has met her burden under the second prong for each of her claims.

A. Plaintiff Does Not have a Cognizable Eighth Amendment Claim

The Defendants first submit that Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim fails as a matter of law because she does not fall into the class of people that the Eighth Amendment protects. The Eighth Amendment reads, in its entirety: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” To trigger the protections of the Eighth Amendment, then, one of three things will be necessary: bail, fine, or punishment. In Ingraham v. Wright, the Supreme Court observed that “[b]ail, fines, and punishment traditionally have been associated with the criminal process, and by subjecting the three to parallel limitations the text of the Amendment suggests an intention to limit the power of those entrusted with the criminal-law function of government.” 430 U.S. 651, 664 (1977). The Defendants argue that the Eighth Amendment is limited to punishment in the context of a criminal case. (ECF No. 23 at 4). In response, Ms. Smith argues that the Eighth Amendment “protects people from cruel and unusual punishment regardless where it happens.” (ECF No. 24 at 2).

This Court must then examine the scope of the Eighth Amendment and its proscriptions to determine whether Ms. Smith has stated a claim. The Supreme Court has characterized the cabining of the Eighth Amendment to those convicted of crimes as a “longstanding limitation.” Ingraham, 430 U.S. at 664. In determining whether to apply the Eighth Amendment to corporal punishment in schools, the Supreme Court canvassed its Eighth Amendment jurisprudence and noted that it had never seen fit to extend the Eighth Amendment beyond the bounds of the criminal legal system and its consequences. See Ingraham, 430 U.S. at 667-68 (collecting cases). The Court thus declined to extend the Eighth Amendment's proscriptions on cruel and unusual punishment to schoolchildren because “[t]he prisoner and the schoolchild stand in wholly different circumstances, separated by the harsh facts of criminal conviction and incarceration.” Ingraham, 430 U.S. at 669. The Supreme Court has continued to emphasize that without a formal adjudication of guilt, “the Eighth Amendment has no application.” City of Revere v. Mass. Gen. Hosp., 463 U.S. 239, 244 (1983).

As a result, decisions applying the Eighth Amendment beyond the carceral setting are few and far between. These decisions are also all marked by the presence of one of three things: bail, fines, or incapacitation. In 2019, the Supreme Court held that the excessive fines clause of the Eighth Amendment was applicable to the states. See Timbs v. Indiana, 139 S.Ct. 672, 689 (2019). In reaching this conclusion, the Court declined to overrule its earlier decision in Austin v. United States, 509 U.S. 602 (1993), in which it held that civil in rem forfeitures could be considered fines under the Eighth Amendment, but only if they were partially punitive in nature. Id. at 690. Pretrial detainees, who have yet to be convicted of any crime, also have the right to be free from inhumane treatment while incarcerated. This protection, however, comes not from the Eighth Amendment's “cruel and unusual punishment, ” but the Fourteenth Amendment. See Winkler v. Madison Cnty., 893 F.3d 877, 890 (6th Cir. 2018). At least one federal appellate court has extended the Eighth Amendment's protections to mentally...

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