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Nimmons v. Gwinnett County

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Lanta Division

August 25, 2014

JEROME NIMMONS, Plaintiff,
v.
GWINNETT COUNTY, GEORGIA, SHERIFF R. L.

OPINION AND ORDER

WILLIAM S. DUFFEY, Jr., District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants Gwinnett County, Georgia's ("Gwinnett County") and Sheriff R. L. "Butch" Conway's ("Sheriff Conway") Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings on Plaintiff Jerome Nimmons's ("Plaintiff") deliberate indifference claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

I. BACKGROUND

On December 23, 2011, Plaintiff, a transgender person, was housed as a male pre-trial detainee in the Gwinnett County Detention Center ("Detention Center"). Plaintiff alleges that Duone Clark ("Clark"), a Gwinnett County Deputy Sheriff, sexually assaulted Plaintiff at the Detention Center. Plaintiff further alleges that the sexual assault continued for nearly a month until it was reported to jail officials on January 21, 2012. On November 14, 2013, Plaintiff filed a four (4) count Complaint against Defendants Gwinnett County, Sheriff Conway[1] and Deputy Sheriff Clark, in which Plaintiff alleged that the Defendants violated Plaintiff's rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and "pendent state law [against] sexual assault."[2]

In Count I and II of the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Gwinnett County and Sheriff Conway "knew or should have known that transgender inmates are at [a] greater risk of sexual assault by detention officers, " and their failure to enact policies and procedures to address the risk of sexual assault faced by transgender persons amounts to deliberate indifference towards Plaintiff's constitutional right to be free from sexual assault, and "the right to remain free from the deprivation of life and liberty without due process of law." Compl. at ¶¶ 12-13, ¶¶ 21-22. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants Gwinnett County and Sherriff Conway failed to adequately screen, train and supervise the officers at the Detention Center, and their failure to take these actions shows that "it was highly predictable that [the officers], including defendant Clark, would sexually assault transgender pretrial detainees." Id. at ¶¶ 17, 21.

The conclusory allegations in Count I and II of the Complaint merely recite elements of a deliberate indifference claim. The Complaint does not contain any facts to show that (1) transgender persons "are at a greater risk of sexual assault by detention officers, " and (2) Gwinnett County and Sheriff Conway "knew or should have known" that transgender persons face a substantial risk of harm at the Detention Center. The Complaint does not identify any of the policies that were in place at the Detention Center at the time of the alleged sexual assault, and Plaintiff does not explain why these policies were inadequate. The Complaint does not identify any policy that should have been in place at the time of Plaintiff's detention and alleged sexual assault, and Plaintiff does not explain how the implementation of any proposed policy could have prevented the alleged sexual assault that occurred at the Detention Center. The Complaint does not allege any facts from which the Court could infer that the Defendants failed to take reasonable measures to screen, train and supervise the officers at the Detention Center.

On January 28, 2014, Defendants Gwinnett County and Sheriff Conway filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings in which they argue that Plaintiff failed to state a claim against Gwinnett County because Gwinnett County does not have authority to control Sheriff Conway, the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office, or the deputies at the Detention Center. Defendants also argue that the claims against Sheriff Conway are required to be dismissed because he is entitled to qualified immunity.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

"Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate where there are no material facts in dispute and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Cannon v. City of West Palm Beach , 250 F.3d 1299, 1301 (11th Cir. 2001). Motions for judgment on the pleadings based on allegations of a failure to state a claim are evaluated using the same standard as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Sampson v. Washington Mut. Bank , 453 F.Appx. 863, 865 n.2 (11th Cir. 2011); Strategic Income Fund, L.L.C. v. Spear, Leeds & Kellogg Corp. , 305 F.3d 1293, 1295 n.8 (11th Cir. 2002); Provident Mut. Life Ins. Co. of Phila. v. City of Atlanta , 864 F.Supp. 1274, 1278 (N.D.Ga. 1994) ("A motion for judgment on the pleadings is subject to the same standard as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.").

In considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the allegations contained in the complaint must be accepted as true and the facts and all inferences must be construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Scottsdale Ins. Co. v. Pursley , 450 F.Appx. 888, 890 (11th Cir. 2012); Hawthorne v. Mac Adjustment, Inc. , 140 F.3d 1367, 1370 (11th Cir. 1998). Ultimately, the complaint is required to contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). To state a claim to relief that is plausible, 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). "Plausibility" requires more than a "sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully, " and a complaint that alleges facts that are "merely consistent with" liability "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id . (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 557).

B. Analysis

1. Gwinnett County

A county cannot be liable under Section 1983 on the basis of respondeat superior. Grech v. Clayton County , 335 F.3d 1326, 1329 (11th Cir. 2003). A plaintiff can prevail against a county only when the county is "actually responsible" for the deprivation of his or her constitutional rights. Id . To state a claim against a county, the plaintiff must ...


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