United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Amarillo Division
JOHNIE RAY THOMAS. Plaintiff,
POTTER COUNTY, et al, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
LOU ROBINSON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court are Defendant Potter County, Texas's Motion
to Dismiss, filed on October 16, 2017, and the
Plaintiffs response, filed on October 23, 2017. For the
following reasons, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED.
27, 2017, Plaintiff filed this suit against Defendants Potter
County, Terry Easterling, LaDonna Reining, Debbie Gaines,
Desi Ware, Ruben Hurt, and Robert Thompson under 42 U.S.C
§ 1983 alleging various violations of his Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendment rights. Defendants Desi Ware, Ruben
Hurt, and Robert Thompson were severed for improper venue.
Claims against Defendants Terry Easterling, LaDonna Reining,
and Debbie Gaines were dismissed on the grounds of expiration
of statute of limitations. A final judgment in their favor
was entered. This Order addresses claims asserted against
Defendant Potter County, who does not raise the affirmative
defense of statute of limitations in their 12(b)(6) motion,
but instead correctly asserts that Potter County cannot be
held vicariously liable for the actions of the Potter County
Community Supervision and Corrections Department (CSCD).
12(b)(6) provides for dismissal of an action for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6). If the complaint lacks a required element which is
a prerequisite to obtaining relief, dismissal is proper.
Clark v. Amoco Prods. Co., 794 F.2d 967, 970 (5th
Cir. 1986). In reviewing a motion for 12(b)(6) dismissal, the
Court must consider all of plaintiffs well-pleaded facts as
true and view them in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff. Johnson v. Johnson, 385 F.3d 503, 529
(5th Cir. 2004) (citing Great Plaints Trust Co. v.
Morgan, Stanley, Dean, Witter, & Co., 313 F.3d 305,
312 (5th Cir. 2002)).
a defendant is acting on behalf of the state or the local
government is determined by state law and by an analysis of
the duties alleged to have caused the constitutional
violation. Esteves v. Brock, 106 F.3d 674, 677 (5th
Cir.), cert, denied, 522 U.S. 828 (1997). Regarding
the CSCD and its characterization as either a state or county
entity, it is established law in the Fifth Circuit that
correctional departments, such as the Potter County CSCD, are
an arm of the state. See Clark v. Tarrant County,
Tex., 798 F.2d 736 (5th Cir. 1986). At the time relevant
to Plaintiffs claims against Potter County and the officers
employed by the CSCD, community supervision was governed by
article 42.12 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. Under
former article 42.12, authority to set the conditions of
community supervision was, and still is, vested in state
trial judges. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art. 42.12, §
11(a), (b) (West Supp. 2016). The Fifth Circuit in
Clark noted that probation departments are
controlled by state district judges who are, "undeniably
elected state officials." Clark at 744. The
Clark court, interpreting former article 42.12,
further noted that, "the coincidence of county lines and
judicial districts is not required. The statute was enacted
to address a statewide problem and to put control of
probationers in the hands of state officers."
Id. at 745. The Court also noted in Clark
that the Texas Attorney General has interpreted former
article 42.12, "as intending to give control of
probation departments to state judicial districts.
Id. at 744.
vicarious liability, allowing local governments to be liable
for a state judge's judicial acts "would subvert the
message of Monell that municipalities cannot be
vicariously liable under § 1983." Carbalan v.
Vaughn, 760 F.2d 662, 665 (5th Cir.), cert,
denied, 474 U.S. 1007 (1985); see Monell v.
Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S.
658 (1978). The holding in Carbalan was recently
reiterated in Davidson v. City of Stafford, Texas
where the Fifth Circuit held that local governmental entities
cannot be found liable under section 1983 for the acts of
state agents on a theory of vicarious liability or
respondeat superior. Davidson v. City of Stafford,
Texas, 848 F.3d 384, 395 (5th Cir. 2017). In Stem v.
Ahearn, the Fifth Circuit stated that, "Harris
County, like all instruments of county government, cannot be
held vicariously liable for the actions of state
agencies." Stem v. Ahearn, 908 F.2d 1, 3 (5th
Cir. 1990). The Fifth Circuit has consistently ruled that
local governments are not vicariously liable for the actions
of state agencies. This Court adheres to that precedent in
ruling that Potter County is not liable for the actions of
the Potter County CSCD.
Potter County is a named defendant, Plaintiffs claims focus
exclusively on the officers of the CSCD and their actions
taken in the course of their employment. In the present case,
Plaintiff attempts to hold Potter County liable for actions
taken by CSCD officers. It is well established in the Fifth
Circuit that County Community Supervision and Corrections
Departments, such as the Potter County CSCD, are an arm of
the state, and thus the county cannot be held vicariously
liable for the actions of a state agency.
suing Potter County, and attempting to hold Potter County
liable for the actions of the CSCD, Plaintiff has failed to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the above