Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Rheaume v. Griswold

United States District Court, D. Vermont

July 20, 2016

COREY GRISWOLD, JACY DENNETT, DALE MESSIER, and ROBERT NORRIS, in their individual and official capacities, Defendants.

          ORDER (DOCS. 32, 37, 39, 40)


         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Allen Rheaume, a Vermont inmate proceeding pro se, brings this action under42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking compensatory and punitive damages against Defendants Corey Griswold, Jacy Dennett, Dale Messier, and Robert Norris (collectively, “Defendants”), employees of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department. (Doc. 5 (“Am. Compl.”).) Defendants move to dismiss all official capacity claims and the individual capacity claims against Messier and Norris under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6). (Doc. 32.) Rheaume also filed motions requesting the Court order the U.S. Marshals to complete service on Norris (Doc. 37), an extension of time to complete service on Norris (Doc. 39), and appointment of counsel (Doc. 40). For the reasons that follow, Defendants’ motion to dismiss (Doc. 32) is GRANTED. Rheaume’s motion for appointment of counsel is DENIED, and his motions regarding serving Norris are DENIED as moot

         II. Background

         Rheaume alleges that on March 17, 2004, at 10:00 p.m., he was arrested by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office at a private residence at 10 Adams Street, St. Albans, Vermont. (Am. Compl. ¶ 1.) Defendants Corey Griswold and Jacy Dennett transported Rheaume to the Franklin County jail and then to Northwest State Correctional Facility (“NWSCF”) in Swanton, Vermont. Handcuffs and leg irons were placed on Rheaume with such excessive force that he “though[t] he was going to die from the pressure.” Id. ¶ 4. Despite his numerous requests to have the restraints loosened, they were not loosened or removed from the time of arrest through his lodging at NWSCF. Id. ¶ 15. He sought immediate medical services at NWSCF. He alleges he could not feel his hands and lower legs for six months and suffers permanent injury of nerve damage in his lower legs that has resulted in constant pain. Id. ¶¶ 18-19.

         Rheaume alleges Dale Messier and Robert Norris failed to properly train and supervise Griswold and Dennett. (Am. Compl. ¶ 24.)

         III. Discussion

         Defendants move to dismiss Rheaume’s claims against all Defendants in their official capacities and the individual capacity claims against Messier and Norris. (Doc. 32.) Rheaume opposes the motion. (Doc. 35.)[1] Defendants filed a reply (Doc. 36) and Rheaume filed a sur-reply (Doc. 38). Defendants argue dismissal is appropriate under both Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. They assert subject matter jurisdiction is lacking because Vermont sheriffs and deputies have sovereign immunity in their official capacities. (Doc. 32 at 3-5.) Defendants Messier and Norris also argue the individual capacity claims against them fail to state a claim. Id. at 7-11.

         A court should grant a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss if it is not authorized by statute or the Constitution to adjudicate the plaintiff’s claims. See Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000). The party asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving its existence by a preponderance of the evidence. Id. In determining whether subject matter jurisdiction exists, the court may look to evidence outside the complaint. Id. (citing Kamen v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Co., 791 F.2d 1006, 1011 (2d Cir. 1986)). In reviewing the complaint, the Court notes that because the Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, it must construe his submissions liberally and interpret them to raise the strongest arguments they suggest. See Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006). While pro se litigants are afforded a liberal pleading standard, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), nonetheless, a pro se litigant is not exempt from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law, Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1983).

         “The purpose of § 1983 is to deter state actors from using the badge of their authority to deprive individuals of their federally guaranteed rights and to provide relief to victims if such deterrence fails.” Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 161 (1992).

         At the outset, the Court notes Rheaume requests Defendant Messier, former Franklin County Sheriff, be dismissed because he “had nothing to do with any of the allegations” in the complaint. (Doc. 35 at 9.) Accordingly, all claims against Defendant Messier are dismissed.

         Defendants argue they are entitled to Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. The Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits a citizen from bringing a suit against his or her own state or its agencies in federal court, absent a waiver of immunity and consent to suit by the state or a valid abrogation of constitutional immunity by Congress. Kimel v. Fla. Bd. of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 72-73 (2000); Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 142-47 (1993); Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 97-100 (1984). The Eleventh Amendment pertains only to official capacity claims, see Kentucky v. Graham, 472 U.S. 159, 169 (1985); individual capacity claims are not protected by the Eleventh Amendment, Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 30-31 (1991). Sovereign immunity is a threshold issue that must be addressed prior to considering dismissal for failure to state a claim. See Rhulen Agency, Inc. v. Ala. Ins. Guar. Ass’n, 896 F.2d 674, 678 (2d Cir. 1990).

         The State of Vermont has preserved its immunity under the Eleventh Amendment by statute, thereby rendering Vermont state agencies immune from suit. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 12, § 5601(g). “A claim against a government officer in his official capacity is, and should be treated as, a claim against the entity that employs the officer.” Mathie v. Fries, 121 F.3d 808, 818 (2d Cir. 1997). The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has noted a Vermont sheriff or deputy sheriff is “likely a state official when performing his general duties.” Huminski v. Corsones, 396 F.3d 53, 73 (2d Cir. 2005). Given the guidance provided by the Huminski decision, the Court finds Defendants Griswold and Dennett--both Franklin County Sheriff’s Department Deputies--were acting as state officials when they performed their duties in transporting Rheaume on March 17, 2004. Likewise, Sheriff Norris’ supervision of Griswold and Dennett is a general duty. Accordingly, the constitutional claims for damages against Griswold, Dennett, and Norris in their official capacities are dismissed because they are barred by Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. See Darcy v. Lippman, 356 F. App’x 434, 437 (2d Cir. 2009) (“The Eleventh Amendment likewise bars [plaintiff] from pursuing a claim for damages against the individual defendants in their official capacities.”).

         Defendant Norris argues all claims against him should be dismissed for failure to state a claim because the amended complaint fails to allege sufficient personal involvement. (Doc. 32 at 7- 11.) Rheaume argues Norris “failed to train and properly supervise Sheriff Officers Griswold and Dennett in the proper use and application of the HOBBLE Restraint . . . and also allowed . . . these HOBBLE RESTRAINTS to be placed ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.