United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
PATSY ANN OXFORD, individually and as administrator of the estate of James R. Oxford, deceased; and JAMES T. OXFORD PLAINTIFFS
MADISON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE; SHERIFF PHILLIP MORGAN, in his official capacity as Madison County Sheriff; MR. ANDY MITCHELL, Individually and in his official capacity as a deputy in the Madison County Sheriff's Office DEFENDANTS
OPINION AND ORDER
HOLMES, III CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Defendants Madison County Sheriff's Office,
Sheriff Phillip Morgan, and Mr. Andy Mitchell's motion to
dismiss (Doc. 5), Plaintiffs Patsy Ann and James T.
Oxford's response (Doc. 8), and the parties'
supporting documents. For the reasons set forth below, the
Court finds that the defendants' motion (Doc. 5) should
February 1, 2014, James R. Oxford (“Mr. Oxford”)
allegedly made suicidal comments to his son and to Madison
County Sheriff's deputies Andy Mitchell and Jonathan
Cornelison. The deputies suggested that Mr. Oxford go to the
hospital on a 72-hour hold, contacted EMS, and directed them
to transport Mr. Oxford to the hospital for the holding
period. Mr. Oxford was admitted to the emergency room at
11:06 pm on February 1 for depression, suicidal ideations,
and alcohol intoxication. He was subsequently released and
discharged at 11:39 pm that same day. After Mr. Oxford's
discharge, his family was unsuccessful in speaking to the
attending physician. His family then contacted Deputy
Mitchell who was similarly unsuccessful in speaking to
officials at the hospital. Mr. Oxford left the hospital in a
taxi cab and spent the night in an unknown motel. The next
morning, his family once again contacted the Madison County
Sheriff's office and requested a wellness check because
they were unaware of Mr. Oxford's location and condition.
Later that day, the Sheriff's Office informed the family
that it had located Mr. Oxford at a hotel in Springdale. On
February 3, Mr. Oxford's family brought his truck and
travel trailer to an RV park in Springdale and arranged for
him to be brought to the trailer. Thereafter, Mr.
Oxford's son visited the RV park, and both Mr. Oxford and
his truck were not there. On February 4, Arkansas State
Police informed Mr. Oxford's family that he had been in
an automobile accident and was in the intensive care unit at
Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Mr. Oxford died on February 5, 2014.
August 31, 2016, the Court dismissed several defendants
associated with the hospital that originally admitted and
discharged Mr. Oxford within an hour. (Doc. 30). The
remaining defendants are all sued for actions taken by the
Madison County Sheriff's Office or its deputies on
February 1, 2014, following the deputies' suggestion that
Mr. Oxford be placed on a 72-hour hold.
initial matter, the Court finds that the Madison County
Sheriff's Office is not a legal entity subject to suit
under § 1983. See, e.g., Ketchum v. City of West
Memphis, 974 F.2d 81, 82 (8th Cir. 1992) (West Memphis
Police Department and Paramedic Services are departments of
the city government and not separate entities subject to
suit); Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th
Cir. 1992) (“[s]heriff's departments and police
departments are not usually considered legal entities subject
to suit”); Marsden v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons,
856 F.Supp. 832, 836 (S. D. N.Y.1994) (“jail is not an
entity that is amenable to suit”); In re Scott
Cnty. Master Docket, 672 F.Supp. 1152, 1163 n. 1 (D.
Minn. 1987) (sheriff's department is not a legal entity
subject to suit), aff'd, Myers v. Scott
Cnty., 863 F.2d 1017 (8th Cir. 1989). As such, the
claims against the sheriff's office will be dismissed.
the Court finds that the official capacity claims against
Sheriff Morgan and Deputy Mitchell are duplicitous claims
against Madison County, the governmental entity that employs
them. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Svcs. of N.Y.,
436 U.S. 658, 690 n.55 (1978) (“[O]fficial-capacity
suits generally represent only another way of pleading an
action against an entity of which an officer is an
agent.”). This leaves two defendants-Madison County,
even though it is not identified as a defendant in the
lawsuit, and Mr. Mitchell in his individual capacity.
claims against Madison County and Mr. Mitchell in his
individual capacity will be dismissed. The defendants'
motion argues that Mr. Mitchell is entitled to qualified
immunity and that the complaint does not allege that Madison
County had a policy or custom of deliberate indifference to a
constitutional or statutory violation. The Court does not
reach those arguments in dismissing this action because
plaintiffs have not alleged a constitutional violation in the
first place, and therefore have not stated a claim upon which
relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).
summarily conclude that “[t]his is an action to secure
redress of rights secured by the Constitution and [l]aw of
the United States, in particular, those protected by 42
U.S.C. [§] 1983, the First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth
Amendments.” (Doc. 1, ¶ 32). Yet plaintiffs'
factual allegations and the reasonable inferences to be drawn
from those allegations do not set out a violation of any
Constitutional rights that could be the basis of a §
1983 claim. On the date in question, the “deputies
suggested [Mr. Oxford] go into the hospital on a
seventy[-]two (72)[-]hour hold, ” (Id., ¶
18), they arranged his transportation to the hospital
(Id., ¶ 19), and he was subsequently admitted
to the hospital. (Id., ¶ 21). Upon Mr.
Oxford's successful arrival at the hospital, the
determination to discharge him was not one made by the
deputies. Plaintiffs contend, though, that Mr. Oxford was
placed under the care and control of the deputies and that
they placed him in further danger by not giving “proper
direction” to the hospital regarding Mr. Oxford.
(Id., ¶ 40). This is the only factual
allegation that is even remotely similar to facts that would
potentially give rise to a constitutional violation. That is,
while government officials generally do not have a duty under
the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to protect
individuals from harm, substantive due process requires that
“if a state does take action that places an individual
in a position of danger the individual otherwise would not
have faced, the state may violate due process.”
Sellers By & Through Sellers v. Baer, 28 F.3d
895, 899 (8th Cir. 1994). Here, though, plaintiffs do not
allege that the deputies placed Mr. Oxford in danger he would
not have otherwise faced. Rather, plaintiffs allege that Mr.
Oxford already had suicidal ideations when the deputies
suggested he go to the hospital and be placed on a hold. The
danger with Mr. Oxford existed independently of any state
action, and officers actually took corrective measures to
limit his potential danger to himself.
complaint and response to the present motion spend a great
deal of time discussing inadequate training, deliberate
indifference, and the reasonableness of the deputies'
actions. Yet these standards have little bearing on whether a
§ 1983 claim should survive a motion to dismiss when
there is no underlying constitutional or statutory
deprivation. See City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489
U.S. 378, 388 (1989) (“[T]he inadequacy of police
training may serve as the basis for § 1983 liability
only where the failure to train amounts to deliberate
indifference to the rights of persons with whom the police
come into contact.”); Szabla v. City of Brooklyn
Park, Minn., 486 F.3d 385, 390 (8th Cir. 2007)
(“Thus, only where a municipality's failure to
adopt adequate safeguards was the product of deliberate
indifference to the constitutional rights of its inhabitants
will the municipality be liable for an unconstitutional
policy under § 1983.”); Bd. of Cty.
Comm'rs of Bryan Cty., Okla. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397,
415 (1997) (“[W]hat is required is deliberate
indifference to a plaintiff's constitutional
right.”). Mr. Oxford's due process rights could not
have been violated by the deputies' actions. Absent the
circumstances set out above, a state actor does not have a
duty to protect others from harm, so no constitutional
violation against Mr. Mitchell can be established on these
grounds. With respect to the remaining potential bases for a
§ 1983 claim, there are no other factual allegations
that set out a violation of the First, Fourth, or Fifth
Amendments. Because there are no allegations setting out a
constitutional or statutory violation, the § 1983 claim
will be dismissed.
THEREFORE ORDERED that the defendants' motion to dismiss
(Doc. 5) is GRANTED. Plaintiffs Patsy Ann and James T.
Oxford's claims against the Madison County Sheriff's
Office, Sheriff Phillip ...