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Zaunbrecher v. Wiley

United States District Court, Middle District of Louisiana

March 4, 2015

CARMON ZAUNBRECHER, ET AL.
v.
SHERIFF JEFFREY F. WILEY, ET AL.

RULING AND ORDER

JOHN W. DEGRAVELLES, JUDGE

This matter comes before the Court on two Rule 12(b)(6) motions (R.Docs. 80 and 107) filed by Defendant Ascension Parish. After the parish filed the first motion, the Plaintiffs Carmon Zaunbrecher, Rachel Zaubrecher and Trevor Zaunbrecher, individually and on behalf of their deceased father, Jamie Zaunbrecher (collectively “Plaintiffs, ”) filed Plaintiffs’ Fifth Amended and Supplemental Complaint (R.Doc. 97). Defendant Ascension Parish then filed the second Rule 12(b)(6) Motion (R.Doc. 107), and, “ in an abundance of caution, the Parish adopt[ed] and incorporate[d] all law and argument as asserted in its original Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 80].” Plaintiffs then filed an opposition to the second motion to dismiss. (R.Doc. 111). No reply has been filed. Oral argument is not necessary.

Considering the law and facts pled, Defendants’ motions are denied.

I. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

In Thompson v. City of Waco, Texas, 764 F.3d 500 (5th Cir.2014), the Fifth Circuit recently summarized the Rule 12(b)(6) standard as thus:

We accept all well-pleaded facts as true and view all facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. We need not, however, accept the plaintiff's legal conclusions as true. To survive dismissal, a plaintiff must plead enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. 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.

*4 Id. at 502–503 (internal citations and quotations omitted). The court’s duty is “to determine whether the plaintiff stated a legally cognizable claim that is plausible, not to evaluate the plaintiff's likelihood of success.” Id.at 503.

II. Discussion

A. Section 1983 Liability

“It is … settled, after Monell v. Department of Social Services, [436 U.S. 658, 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2037, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978)], that cities, counties, and other local government entities … are suable as persons under certain circumstances.” 1 Sheldon H. Nahmod, Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Litigation: The Law of Section 1983 § 1:16 (Sept. 2014). With respect to holding a municipality liable under section 1983, the Fifth Circuit has explained:

Under the decisions of the Supreme Court and this court, municipal liability under section 1983 requires proof of three elements: a policymaker; an official policy; and a violation of constitutional rights whose ‘moving force’ is the policy or custom. [Monell v. Dep't. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2037, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978)] and later decisions reject municipal liability predicated on respondeat superior, because the text of section 1983 will not bear such a reading. Consequently, the unconstitutional conduct must be directly attributable to the municipality through some sort of official action or imprimatur; isolated unconstitutional actions by municipal employees will almost never trigger liability. The three attribution principles identified here-a policymaker, an official policy and the “moving force” of the policy-are necessary to distinguish individual violations perpetrated by local government employees from those that can be fairly identified as actions of the government itself.

Piotrowski v. City of Houston, 237 F.3d 567, 578 (5th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). See also Valle v. City of Houston, 613 F.3d 536, 541-542 (5th Cir. 2010) (To establish municipal liability under § 1983, a plaintiff must show the deprivation of a federally protected right caused by action taken ‘pursuant to an official municipal policy.’ … A plaintiff must identify: “(1) an official policy (or custom), of which (2) a policymaker can be charged with actual or constructive knowledge, and (3) a constitutional violation whose ‘moving force’ is that policy or custom.”) (citations omitted).

Plaintiffs have satisfied the policymaker requirement. The Fifth Circuit has explained: “Actual or constructive knowledge of [a] custom must be attributable to the governing body of the municipality or to an official to whom that body has delegated policy-making authority.” Piotrowski, 237 F.3d at 579 (quoting Webster v. City of Houston, 735 F.2d 838, 842 (5th Cir. 1984) (en banc)). Further, “[m]unicipal liability attaches only where the decisionmaker possesses final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action ordered. (citation omitted). Whether an official possesses final policymaking authority for purposes of municipal liability is a question of state and local law.” Valle, 613 F.3d at 542.

Here, the Plaintiffs have alleged in their original Complaint that, “upon information and belief therein [sic], [SHERIFF] WILEY has created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occur and/or he has actual and/or constructive knowledge of the policy and custom of his deputies and persons within his control to disregard inmates constitutional rights…” (R.Doc. 1, ¶ 17). Plaintiffs reiterated all allegations set forth in their Original Complaint in their Fifth Amended and Supplemental Complaint. ...


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