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Estate of Guerrero

United States District Court, D. Utah

April 5, 2017

v. THE ESTATE OF JULIO GUERRERO, et al., Plaintiffs, SCOTT CROWTHER, and JOHN DOES I-X, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          DAVID SAM SENIOR JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On February 9, 2015, Mario A. Lucero, an inmate at the Utah State Prison serving a sentence for murder, was placed in a cell with Julio Guerrero, who was serving a sentence for robbery. The cell they occupied did not have a functioning security button that enables inmates to summon assistance. Prior occupants of the cell allegedly notified prison officials some two months earlier that the button did not work. On February 10, 2015, prison officials discovered Mr. Guerrero dead in his cell. Mr. Lucero was charged with Mr. Guerrero's death, and subsequently pled guilty to manslaughter.

         Plaintiffs, the estate and heir of Mr. Guerrero, filed a complaint against the Warden of the Utah State Prison, Scott Crowther, and other unnamed defendants.[1] Mr. Crowther moves to dismiss the claims against him in the Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To avoid dismissal the complaint must plead sufficient facts, that when taken as true, provide “plausible grounds” that “discovery will reveal evidence” to support plaintiff's allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp. V. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007). The burden is on the plaintiff to frame a “complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest” that he or she is entitled to relief. Id. “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. A plaintiff must provide more than labels, conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a claim. Id. at 555. The allegations must be enough that, if assumed to be true, the plaintiff plausibly (not just speculatively) has a claim for relief. Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247-48 (10th Cir. 2008).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The Amended Complaint contains three claims for relief, two claims alleging deprivation of rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and one claim for violation of Article 1, Section 9 of the Utah Constitution.[2]

         A. 42 U.S.C. § 1883 - Sufficiency of Pleadings

         Section 1983 provides a private cause of action for a person subjected “to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” by a person acting under color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Eighth Amendment imposes a duty on prison officials to “provide humane conditions of confinement” and to “take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In particular, prison officials have a duty “to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.” Id. at 833 ((internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

The Tenth Circuit has provided instruction on framing a proper § 1983 complaint.
[C]ommon to all § 1983 ... claims is the requirement that liability be predicated on a violation traceable to a defendant-official's own individual actions. As relevant here, government officials may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior.
[However] .... government officials may be held responsible for constitutional violations under a theory of supervisory liability. A plaintiff may therefore succeed in a § 1983 suit ... against a defendant- supervisor by demonstrating: (1) the defendant promulgated, created, implemented or possessed responsibility for the continued operation of a policy that (2) caused the complained of constitutional harm, and (3) acted with the state of mind required to establish the alleged constitutional deprivation.
Because § 1983 ... [is a vehicle] for imposing personal liability on government officials, we have stressed the need for careful attention to particulars, especially in lawsuits involving multiple defendants. It is particularly important that plaintiffs make clear exactly who is alleged to have done what to whom, ... as distinguished from collective allegations. When various officials have taken different actions with respect to a plaintiff, the plaintiff's facile, passive-voice showing that his rights were violated will not suffice. Likewise insufficient is a plaintiff's more active-voice yet undifferentiated contention that “defendants” infringed ...

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