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Johnston v. City of Westworth Village

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division

July 7, 2017

RITA JOHNSTON, ET AL., Plaintiffs,


          JOHN McBRYDE United States District Judge

         Came on for consideration the motion of defendants Corporal Darby ("Darby") and Officer Mayorga ("Mayorga"), the motion of defendant City of Westworth Village ("Village"), and the deemed motion[1] of defendant Penny Loyd ("Loyd") to dismiss. The court, having considered the motions, the responses of plaintiffs, Rita Johnston and Angie Watkins, as next friend of LMW, a minor, the replies of Darby, Mayorga, and Village, the record, and applicable authorities, finds that the motions should be granted.

         I. Plaintiffs' Claims

         On April 5, 2017, plaintiffs filed their original complaint. Rita Johnston ("Rita") is the mother of Jason Johnston ("Johnston") and Angie Watkins is the mother of Johnston's minor son. They allege:

         Darby and Mayorga are police officers employed by Village. On April 10, 2015, Darby and Mayorga arrested Johnston, a black tar heroin addict, for misdemeanor theft. They took Johnston to the Village jail. Johnston appeared nervous and upset. During the booking process, Johnston was undressed to put on a jail uniform. Mayorga took Johnston's socks because he realized the long socks could be used by Johnston to harm himself. Mayorga permitted Johnston to keep his athletic shorts, in violation of Village policy and procedure. The shorts were size 3XL and contained a removable drawstring. Mayorga placed Johnston alone in cell #3, where he remained until his arraignment on April 11 at about 11:44 a.m. After the arraignment, Darby placed Johnston back in cell #3 at about 2:00 p.m. on April 11. Video footage shows Johnston sweating and pacing around the cell and, at 2:12 p.m., attempting to commit suicide by strangling himself with a telephone cord. At or about 2:50 p.m., Rita called and told Loyd that she would not be able to post bond for Johnston; Loyd relayed the message to Johnston via intercom. Johnston became irate and Loyd observed him pacing around the cell with his hands around the inner waistband of his jail-issued pants. Loyd minimized the camera and actively browsed Facebook.[2] At 5:15 p.m., Loyd observed Johnston sitting on the ground against his bunk. At or about 5:30 p.m., Loyd dispatched Darby to Johnston's cell. Defendants discovered that Johnston had hung himself by the drawstring from his athletic shorts. Doc.[3] 1 at 3-7, ¶¶ 12-44.

         The counts of the complaint are curiously worded, but it appears that both plaintiffs are asserting claims against Mayorga for deliberate indifference and cruel and unusual punishment[4], against Darby and Loyd for deliberate indifference, and against Village for engaging in certain policies, practices and customs.

         II. Grounds of the Motions

         Defendants maintain that plaintiffs have failed to plead facts sufficient to state plausible claims against them. The individual defendants additionally assert that they are entitled to qualified immunity.


         Applicable Legal Principles

         A. Pleading

         Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides, in a general way, the applicable standard of pleading. It requires that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), "in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, " Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotation marks and ellipsis omitted). Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, the "showing" contemplated by Rule 8 requires the plaintiff to do more than simply allege legal conclusions or recite the elements of a cause of action. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 & n.3. Thus, while a court must accept all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, it need not credit bare legal conclusions that are unsupported by any factual underpinnings. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) ("While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.").

         Moreover, to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the facts pleaded must allow the court to infer that the plaintiff's right to relief is plausible. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. To allege a plausible right to relief, the facts pleaded must suggest liability; allegations that are merely consistent with unlawful conduct are insufficient. Id. In other words, where the facts pleaded do no more than permit the court to infer the possibility of misconduct, the complaint has not shown that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id. at 679. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief . . . [is] a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

         As the Fifth Circuit has explained: "Where the complaint is devoid of facts that would put the defendant on notice as to what conduct supports the claims, the complaint fails to satisfy the requirement of notice pleading." Anderson v. U.S. Dep't of Housing & Urban Dev.. 554 F.3d 525, 528 (5th Cir. 2008). In sum, "a complaint must do more than name laws that may have been violated by the defendant; it must also allege facts regarding what conduct violated those laws. In other words, a ...

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