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Baker v. Chisom

July 12, 2006

JOSHUA D. BAKER PLAINTIFF
v.
ERIC CHISOM, DREW COUNTY DEPUTY SHERIFF, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES; AND MARCIA BRUNER, DREW COUNTY DEPUTY SHERIFF, IN HER INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Leon Holmes United States District Judge

OPINION

Joshua Baker brought this action on September 22, 2005, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Eric Chisom and Marcia Bruner for their conduct while Baker was being held at the Drew County Detention Facility during the night of August 14-15, 2002. This action is Baker's second attempt to hold Chisom and Bruner liable for their conduct that night. In the first suit, Baker named Chisom and Bruner as defendants, as well as Sheriff Meeks in his individual and official capacity, and the members of the Drew County Quorum Court in their individual and official capacities. In the first suit, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of Sheriff Meeks in his individual and official capacities and the members of the quorum court in their individual and official capacities but granted Baker's motion for voluntary non-suit against the defendants Chisom and Bruner.

In this suit, Chisom and Bruner in their individual capacities have now moved to dismiss Baker's claims against them. They argue that those claims are time barred. Chisom and Bruner in their official capacities have also moved for summary judgment. They argue that the claims against them are barred by res judicata and, in the alternative, that there is no evidence to support the official-capacity claims. For the following reasons, the defendants' motion to dismiss and motion for summary judgment are granted.

I.

A. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) should only be granted if it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts to warrant a grant of relief. Gilmore v. County of Douglas, Neb., 406 F.3d 935, 937 (8th Cir. 2005). In considering a motion to dismiss, the complaint is construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Coleman v. Watt, 40 F.3d 255, 258 (8th Cir. 1994). All facts alleged are taken as true and all reasonable inferences drawn in the favor of the plaintiff. Creason v. City of Washington, 435 F.3d 820, 823 (8th Cir. 2006). The Court, however, is "free to ignore legal conclusions, unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences and sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." Wiles v. Capitol Indem. Corp., 280 F.3d 868, 870 (8th Cir. 2002).

B. Summary Judgment Standard

A court should enter summary judgment if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Cheshewalla v. Rand & Son Constr. Co., 415 F.3d 847, 850 (8th Cir. 2005). A genuine issue of material fact exists only if there is sufficient evidence to allow a jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. at 2511.

II.

The events giving rise to this action occurred on August 14-15, 2002. Baker filed his first suit on June 24, 2003. In his complaint, Baker named in the caption as defendants "Eric Chisom; Marcia Bruner; Laron Meeks, Individually and in his Capacity as Sheriff of Drew County; and Drew County Quorum Court Members . . . in their official capacities and in their Individual Capacities." Baker stated in the body of the complaint that "Defendants Drew County and the Drew County Sheriff, Laron Meeks, were the employers of Eric Chisom and Marcia Bruner, named herein as individual Defendants." Baker alleged that, on the night of August 14-15, 2002, Chisom placed Baker in a choke hold on more than one occasion and shocked Baker with a taser while Baker was at the Drew County Detention Facility for processing on traffic violations. He alleged that Bruner saw the assault but failed to take action to stop it. He also alleged that "[a]t the time of the incident . . . Drew County . . . refused to or did not adequately supervise the operation of the jail and the deputy sheriffs."

The defendants moved for summary judgment on August 25, 2004. Among other things, the defendants argued that Chisom and Bruner were only sued in their official capacities since the complaint did not unambiguously state that they were sued in their individual capacities. The defendants argued that all the claims against them in their official capacities should be dismissed because the acts Baker complained of did not implement or execute an unconstitutional county policy or custom. Baker filed a response to the motion for summary judgment on September 17, 2004. On September 23, 2004, Baker filed a motion for voluntary non-suit. The defendants opposed Baker's motion for voluntary non-suit. In its October 12, 2004, Opinion and Order, the Court stated that "Meeks and the members of the quorum court had established a prima facie entitlement to summary judgment on claims against them individually and in their official capacities." The Court therefore granted summary judgment on all of Baker's claims against Sheriff Meeks and the members of the quorum court in their individual and official capacities. Regarding summary judgment on behalf of defendants Bruner and Chisom, however, the Court stated:

The situation is different as to Chisom and Bruner. The undisputed facts establish that Chisom committed battery against Baker, and that Bruner observed the battery but did nothing to stop it. Had Baker not filed a motion for voluntary non-suit, the Court would have given Baker the opportunity to amend the complaint to make it clear and unambiguous that he was suing Chisom and Bruner in their individual capacities, and the Court would have continued the trial date, if necessary, to avoid any prejudice to Chisom and Bruner. The Court would not have entered a judgment in favor of Chisom and Bruner that would have barred Baker's claims against them.

The Court therefore granted Baker's motion for voluntary non-suit regarding the claims Baker brought against Chisom and Bruner and dismissed those claims without prejudice.

On September 22, 2005, Baker filed this lawsuit. Baker named as defendants Chisom and Bruner in their individual and official capacities. The basis for Baker's claims in this action is the same August 14-15, 2002, incident alleged in his previous complaint. On October 6, 2005, Bruner and Chisom, in their official capacities only, moved to dismiss the complaint. They argued that Baker's current lawsuit was barred by the three-year statute of limitations on ยง 1983 actions. In its October 31, 2005, Opinion and Order, the Court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss. The Court held that the original suit was brought against Chisom and Bruner in their official capacities, so the one-year savings statute in Arkansas tolled the statute of limitations. The Court ...


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