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Sheehan v. Noble County Sheriff's Department

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

June 12, 2015



WILLIAM C. LEE, District Judge.

Harold Bruce Sheehan, II, a pro se prisoner, filed an amended complaint. "A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quotation marks and citations omitted). Nevertheless, the court must review prisoner complaints pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, but that review was delayed by Sheehan's request to stay this case until he was settled into his assigned prison. He has now filed a motion asking to continue. That motion will be granted and the say lifted.

Sheehan alleges that while he was intoxicated on October 16, 2013, at about 3:00 a.m., he was arrested by Deputy Sheriff Chris Moriarity as a habitual traffic violator for driving under the influence. He alleges that while handcuffed and not resisting, Deputy Moriarity shoved him against the car, grabbed his throat, threw him to the ground, and sat on him. He alleges that Deputy Moriarity and Deputy Sheriff Brandon Chordus then picked him up by the handcuffs causing tremendous pain in his wrists and arms. After throwing him into the back seat of the police car, Deputy Moriarity then struck him in the face and choked him while Deputy Chordus struck him in the legs and groin even though he was not resisting. Then Deputy Moriarity tasered him three times which left him unconscious.

When he arrived at the jail, Sheehan alleges that Confinement Officer Ryan Morrison yanked him of the car by his handcuffs while Confinement Officer Erick Kiern pulled on his head and choked him. He alleges that Sergeant Elizabeth Roehm, Deputy Moriarity, and Confinement Officers Kiern, Morrison, and Williams placed him in the restraint chair where he lost consciousness even though he was not resisting and did not pose a threat to either himself or others. When he awoke, Officer Kiern yelled at him and refused to allow him to see a nurse even though he was in pain. He alleges that Officer Kiern then moved him to a location outside the view of cameras where he struck him in the chest, stomach, and face until he was unconscious. When he awoke, Sergeant Roehm let him out of the restraint chair, but denied his requests for medical care even though he was in pain and bleeding. He was placed in a cell, but when he asked to use the telephone, Confinement Officers Tyler Barrientes, Kiern, and Morrison drug him out of the cell, punched him in the legs and body, and secured him in the restraint chair again. While in the chair for the next ten hours, his requests for medical treatment were refused by two unknown guards who told him that jail policy did not permit the nurse to see a person who was intoxicated. After his mother posted bond for him at 10:30 p.m., they spoke to an unknown sergeant in the lobby after he was released. The unknown sergeant refused to take photos of Sheehan's injuries or file report based on Sheehan's complaints.

"The relevant legal standard for arrestees who have been seized but who have not yet had their probable cause hearing... comes from the Fourth Amendment, not the Fourteenth, and certainly not the Eighth." Currie v. Chhabra, 728 F.3d 626, 621 (7th Cir. 2013). Because Sheehan did not have a probable cause hearing before any of the events described in this complaint, it is the Fourth Amendment that applies to all of his claims. The question in Fourth Amendment excessive use of force cases is "whether the officers' actions are objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989). "The test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application, " Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 559 (1979), the question is "whether the totality of the circumstances" justifies the officers' actions. Graham at 396. The "reasonableness" of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the perfect vision of hindsight. "Not every push or shove, even if it may later seem unnecessary in the peace of a judge's chambers, " violates the Fourth Amendment. Id., 396. Here, though Sheehan alleges he was shoved, his allegations against Deputy Sheriff Chris Moriarity, Deputy Sheriff Brandon Chordus, Confinement Officer Tyler Barrientes, Sergeant Elizabeth Roehm, Confinement Officer Ryan Morrison, Confinement Officer Erick Kiern, and Confinement Officer Williams go much further. Based on these allegations, he has stated claims against these seven defendants for excessive uses of force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. These claims include not only being punched, choked, thrown, jerked, and tasered, but also for placing and leaving him in the restraint chair.

The use of four-way restraints can be justifiable for purposes of control in response to specific instances of misbehavior. Bruscino v. Carlson, 854 F.2d 162, 164 (7th Cir. 1988). However, "while some form of temporary restraint may be necessary against those who pose a threat to themselves and others, [some] methods are too close to the rack and the screw to permit of constitutional differentiation.'" French v. Owens, 777 F.2d 1250, 1253-54 (7th Cir. 1985) (citations omitted). "Where a prison security measure is undertaken to resolve a disturbance... we think the question whether the measure taken inflicted unnecessary and wanton pain and suffering ultimately turns on whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm." Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 321-322 (1986) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

[O]nce restraints are initially justified, it becomes somewhat problematic as to how long they are necessary to meet the particular exigent circumstances which precipitated their use. The basic legal principle is that once the necessity for the application of force ceases, any continued use of harmful force can be a violation of the [Constitution], and any abuse directed at the prisoner after he terminates his resistance to authority is [a Constitutional] violation. How long restraint may be continued calls for the exercise of good judgment on the part of prison officials. Once it is established that the force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain discipline and not maliciously or sadistically for the purpose of causing harm, the courts give great deference to the actions of prison officials in applying prophylactic or preventive measures intended to reduce the incidence of riots and other breaches of prison discipline.

Williams v. Burton, 943 F.2d 1572, 1576 (11th Cir. 1991) (citations omitted). Nevertheless, based on the allegations in this complaint, it does not appear that there were legitimate security reasons either for placing Sheehan in the Restraint Chair or for leaving him there for hours while he was unconscious.

To state a claim for the denial of medical treatment, the complaint must allege that a defendant was deliberately indifferent to an inmate's serious medical needs. Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1369 (7th Cir. 1997). A medical need is serious if it is one that a physician has diagnosed as mandating treatment, or one that is so obvious that even a layperson would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention, and if untreated could result in further significant injury or unnecessary pain, and that significantly affects the person's daily activities or features chronic and substantial pain. Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1373 (7th Cir. 1997). Here, given the descriptions of the attacks and his injuries, the complaint has plausibly alleged that Sergeant Elizabeth Roehm, Confinement Officer Erick Kiern, and the two John Doe officers denied him medical treatment.

In addition, the complaint also states a claim against the two John Doe officers for an excessive use of force for leaving him in the restraint chair. However, "it is pointless to include lists of anonymous defendants in federal court...." Wudtke v. Davel, 128 F.3d 1057, 1060 (7th Cir. 1997). Therefore they will be dismissed. If in the future Sheehan is able to identify them by name, he may file an amended complaint and include them along with the other defendants and claims. The unknown sergeant will also be dismissed for the same reason, but because the allegations against the unknown sergeant do not state a claim, it would be futile to add his name to an amended complaint. In Leeke v. Timmerman, 454 U.S. 83 (1981), the Supreme Court explained that prison inmates cannot sue prison officials who seek to prevent the prosecution of prison guards who allegedly used excessive force against them. "No one has a federal constitutional right to have another person jailed...." Sandage v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Vanderburgh Cnty., 548 F.3d 595, 597 (7th Cir. 2008). "The Constitution is a charter of negative liberties; it tells the state to let people alone; it does not require the federal government or the state to provide services...." Id. at 596. Thus, the complaint does not state a claim against the unknown sergeant for refusing to take a report from, or pictures of, him.

Finally, Sheehan is suing Noble County Sheriff's Department and the Noble County Jail because they employ the individual defendants, because they did not properly train the individual defendants, and because they have a policy which prohibits intoxicated inmates from receiving medical treatment. However, the jail is a building; it is not a suable entity. See Smith v. Knox County Jail, 666 F.3d 1037, 1040 (7th Cir. 2012). Therefore the Noble County Jail will be dismissed. Moreover, there is no general respondeat superior liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, so the allegation that one defendant employed another does not state a claim. George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 609 (7th Cir. 2007). Nevertheless, Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978) permits lawsuits against municipalities based on a policy, practice, or custom. Here, the complaint has plausibly alleged that the Noble County Sheriff's Department has a policy, practice, or custom of denying medical treatment to intoxicated inmates and Sheehan will be granted leave to proceed on that claim for compensatory damages. Though he also seeks injunctive relief requiring that the Sheriff's Department provide medical treatment to other intoxicated inmates, he cannot assert the rights of others. See Malone v. Nielson, 474 F.3d 934, 937 (7th Cir. 2007); Navin v. Park Ridge Sch. Dist., 270 F.3d 1147, 1149 (7th Cir. 2001); and Nowicki v. Ullsvik, 69 F.3d 1320, 1325 (7th Cir. 1995).

"An allegation of a failure to train' is available only in limited circumstances." Cornfield v. Consolidated High School Dist. No. 230, 991 F.2d 1316, 1327 (7th Cir. 1993). This is not such a case. A failure to train claim requires that "the policymakers had acquiesced in a pattern of constitutional violations." Id. Here, the complaint makes no mention of any prior instances where Noble County Sheriff's employees used excessive force. Neither does it provide any facts about why or how the Department's training was inadequate. Rather, it merely makes the conclusory allegation that the training was inadequate. "[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not shown - that the pleader is entitled to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "[I]n considering the plaintiff's factual allegations, courts should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements." Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Therefore the failure to train claim will be dismissed.

For these reasons, the court:

(1) GRANTS the motion to continue (DE 13) and ...

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