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Petty v. State

United States District Court, D. Arizona

August 2, 2016

Penny Petty, et al., Plaintiffs,
State of Arizona, et al., Defendants.



         Before the Court is Defendants State of Arizona, Christopher Moody, Brenda Burgess, Keith Smith, and Carson McWilliams’ Motion to Dismiss Counts Two, Three, and Four of Plaintiffs’ Fifth Amended Complaint. (Doc. 66.) The motion is fully briefed.[1] For the following reasons, Defendants’ motion is granted in part.


         Gordon Emil Lee began his sentence with the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) at ASPC-Lewis in April 1988. (Doc. 58, ¶ 14.) Lee was in protective custody for almost two decades before Defendants relocated him to the general prison population. (Id., ¶¶ 15, 17.) Afterwards, Lee was repeatedly targeted for assault by other inmates and made numerous requests to be returned to protective custody. (Id., ¶ 18.) On July 4, 2014, Lee was strangled to death in the shower by ASPC-Lewis inmates. (Id., ¶ 21.) During the attack, ASPC-Lewis staff allegedly failed to monitor the shower area where Lee was strangled, were inattentive or distracted, slept through the attack, and failed to conduct an inmate count or inspection. (Id., ¶¶ 22-23, 31.)

         On April 25, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a fifth amended complaint alleging four causes of action. In counts one and two, Plaintiffs allege claims for gross negligence, wrongful death, and negligent training and supervision. (Id., ¶¶ 27-42.) Counts three and four allege claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for Defendants’ deliberate indifference to Lee’s safety and failure to implement appropriate policies, customs, and practices in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Id., ¶¶ 43-58.) Defendants now move to dismiss counts two, three, and four.


         To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain factual allegations sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The task when ruling on a motion to dismiss “is to evaluate whether the claims alleged [plausibly] can be asserted as a matter of law.” See Adams v. Johnson, 355 F.3d 1179, 1183 (9th Cir. 2004); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). When analyzing the sufficiency of a complaint, the well-pled factual allegations are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Cousins v. Lockyer, 568 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th Cir. 2009). However, legal conclusions couched as factual allegations are not entitled to the assumption of truth, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680, and therefore are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, In re Cutera Sec. Litig., 610 F.3d 1103, 1108 (9th Cir. 2008).


         I. Count Two - Negligent Training and Supervision

         In count two, Plaintiffs allege, inter alia, that Arizona negligently failed to train and supervise its employees resulting in Lee’s death. (Doc. 58, ¶¶ 39-42.) To state a claim for negligent supervision, the plaintiff must allege that an employee committed a tort, that the defendant employer had a reason and opportunity to act, and that the defendant failed to perform its duty to supervise. See Kuehn v. Stanley, 91 P.3d 346, 352 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2004); see also Boomer v. Frank, 993 P.2d 456, 461 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1999). “To prevail on a negligent training claim, a plaintiff must show a defendant’s training or lack thereof was negligent[.]” Guerra v. State, 323 P.3d 765, 772 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2014), vacated on other grounds, 348 P.3d 423 (Ariz. 2015).

         Defendants argue that count two fails because the allegations are made against Arizona generally, and do not describe the conduct of any particular employees.[2] (Doc. 66 at 4.) They also assert that the allegations are conclusory and fail to explain how the training, or lack thereof, was inadequate. The Court agrees.

         Plaintiffs fail to allege facts permitting the inference that ADOC employees were inadequately trained. The allegations are conclusory and fail to identify a single instance of conduct taken by an ADOC employee due to negligent training. For example, Plaintiffs allege that Arizona “wantonly, recklessly, negligently and carelessly failed in its duties to appropriately train, monitor, guide, supervise and discipline its subordinates,” as well as implement certain policy directives, and that this failure caused Lee’s death. (Doc. 58 at ¶¶ 41, 42.) But there are no supporting allegations in the complaint that identify what training ADOC employees received, how such training was deficient, which employees took actions that were the result of negligent training, or how the deficient training led to Lee’s death. See Cotta v. Cty. of Kings, No. 1:13-cv-00359-LJO-SMS, 2013 WL 3213075, at *16 (E.D. Cal. June 24, 2013) (dismissing negligent training and supervision claim because complaint did not allege facts regarding the training of prison personnel). Further, Plaintiffs fail to allege that ASPC-Lewis employees disregarded ADOC policies and protocols because of inadequate training. (See e.g., id., ¶¶ 17, 19, 22, 32.) Consequently, Plaintiffs fail to state a claim for negligent training and supervision, and Count II is dismissed.[3]

         II. Counts Three and Four - Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         Plaintiffs bring counts three and four under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of Lee’s Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of State law.” Long v. Cty. of L.A., 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006). A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment when the alleged deprivation of a Constitutional right is “sufficiently ...

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