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Alan K. Van Orden, Personal v. Caribou County; Caribou County Sheriff's Department; Ric L. anderson

March 4, 2011

ALAN K. VAN ORDEN, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF CRYSTAL RHEA
BANNISTER; ROBERT BANNISTER, A LEGAL HEIR OF CRYSTAL R. BANNISTER; AND MEMORANDUM DECISION MICHELLE WALESKE, A LEGAL HEIR OF AND ORDER CRYSTAL R. BANNISTER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CARIBOU COUNTY; CARIBOU COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT; RIC L. ANDERSON, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES; MICHAEL HADERLIE, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES; BROCK LOPEZ, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES; HEATH S. DOWNS; BRANDY BREDEHOFT; JUDY PROBART LONG; JODI SUTER; BRETT SMITH; AND JOHN DOES 1-10, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: B. Lynn Winmill Chief Judge United States District Court

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 23). The Court heard oral argument on March 1, 2011. Being familiar with the record, and having considered the parties' briefing and arguments at hearing, the Court will deny the Motion, for the reasons set forth in this decision.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Alan Van Orden is the personal representative of the estate of Crystal R. Bannister. Plaintiffs Robert Bannister and Michelle Waleske are Crystal's parents and the legal heirs to her estate. Crystal was in custody at the Caribou County Jail on August 25, 2009, when she committed suicide by hanging herself in her jail cell. Defendants include Caribou County, the Caribou County Sheriff's Department, and employees of the Caribou County Jail at the time of Crystal's death. According to the Complaint, Crystal told Defendants, when she was taken into custody, that she had attempted suicide a few days earlier. Plaintiffs also allege that Crystal told Defendants she was receiving medical treatment for, and had been prescribed medications to address severe depression and anxiety. Compl., Dkt. 1.

Plaintiffs filed suit against Defendants asserting a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of Crystal's rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.*fn1

Plaintiffs also bring a state cause of action for negligence. Defendants now move to dismiss the Complaint in its entirety asserting, among other arguments, lack of standing.

LEGAL STANDARD

Defendants seek dismissal for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. When a defendant brings such motion after answering the complaint, the motion is treated as one for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(c),rather than Rule 12(b)(6). Hoeft v. Tucson Unified School Dist., 967 F.2d 1298, 1301 n. 2 (9th Cir. 1992). Motions to dismiss under Rules 12(c) and 12(b)(6) differ only in the time of filing; for both, the same legal standard applies. Dworkin v. Hustler Magazine Inc., 867 F.2d 1188, 1192 (9th Cir. 1989).

Rule 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," in order to "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007). While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(c) or 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss "does not need detailed factual allegations," it must set forth "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 555. To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. 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. at 556. The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement," but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Id. Where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability, it "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of 'entitlement to relief.' " Id. at 557.

In a more recent case, the Supreme Court identified two "working principles" that underlie Twombly. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Id. "Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Id. at 1950. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Id. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

ANALYSIS

As an initial matter, Plaintiffs concede that their cause of action under § 1983 properly asserts a violation of Crystal's rights under the Fourteenth, but not the Eighth Amendment. An Eighth Amendment claim is inapplicable because Crystal was a pre-trial detainee, and not a convicted prisoner when the alleged violation occurred. See Jones v. Johnson, 781 F.2d 769, 771 (9th Cir. 1985). The Court will address only Plaintiffs' § 1983 claim under the Fourteenth Amendment, and will direct Plaintiffs to exclude the Eighth Amendment claim, initially pleaded, from their Amended Complaint.

1.Standing To Pursue § 1983 Action On Behalf Of Victim Whose Death Allegedly Resulted From Constitutional Violation The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that Fourteenth Amendment rights are

personal in nature, and cannot be asserted vicariously. Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, 22 (1948). However, where an individual injured by a constitutional violation dies, the decedent's § 1983 claim may survive. Tatum v. San Francisco, 441 F.3d 1090, 1093 n. 2 (9th Cir. 2006). Survivorship of a decedent's § 1983 claim is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 1988, concerning the applicability of statutory and common law where federal law is silent about an issue arising in a federal civil rights action. See Robertson v. Wegmann, 436 U.S. 584, 588 (1978).

Section 1988 establishes the following three step analysis. 42 U.S.C. ยง 1988; Robertson, 436 U.S. at 587-90. First, the Court determines whether the issue before it is addressed by federal law. Id. Absent a federal statute, the Court next examines whether the law of the forum state addresses the issue. Id. Finally, the Court considers whether application of state law would conflict with the policies underlying the cause of action before ...


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