Smith v. East et al

Filing 35

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER that defendant's 15 Motion to Dismiss is granted in part and denied in part. It is granted with respect to plaintiff's claims for deliberate indifference to his medical condition and for declaratory judgment, which are both dismissed with prejudice; it is denied in all other respects. Signed by Hon. Chief Judge Mark E. Fuller on 10/29/09. (sl, )

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA N O R T H E R N DIVISION S T E V E N SMITH, Plaintiff, v. O F F IC E R PATRICK EAST, D e f e n d a n t. ) ) ) ) CASE NO. 2:09-cv-193-MEF-TFM ) ) (WO - DO NOT PUBLISH) ) ) MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER I . INTRODUCTION S te v e n Smith ("Plaintiff") brought this case against Officer Patrick East (" D e f en d a n t" ), Nurse Kellie Murrell, and fictitious defendant "Officer A" (Doc. #4). The p a rties jointly dismissed with prejudice all claims against Nurse Murrell (Doc. #21). This C o u rt granted Defendant's Motion to Strike Officer A (Doc. #34). Now pending before this C o u rt is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (Doc. #15) pursuant to R u le 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth in this M e m o ra n d u m Opinion and Order, the motion is due to be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. I I . JURISDICTION AND VENUE T h is Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1331 a n d 1343. The parties do not contest that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over them, an d there is no dispute that venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1391(b). -1- I I I . LEGAL STANDARD A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Therefore, for the p u rp o se s of adjudging a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court will accept as true all w e ll-p le a d ed factual allegations and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. S e e Pielage v. McConnell, 516 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2008); Am. United Life Ins. Co. v . Martinez, 480 F.3d 1043, 1057 (11th Cir. 2007). While Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 (a )(2 ) requires only that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim sh o w in g that the pleader is entitled to relief," as a general matter, to survive a motion to d ism iss for failure to state a claim, the plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim to re lie f that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 570 (2 0 0 7 ). Plaintiff's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the s p e c u la tiv e level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true." Id. at 5 5 5 (internal citations omitted). It is not sufficient that the pleadings merely leave "open the p o ssibility that a plaintiff might later establish some set of undisclosed facts to support re c o v ery." Id. at 561 (internal quotation and alteration omitted). Section 1983 claims, however, are subject to a heightened pleading standard when the d e f e n d a n t is an individual to whom the qualified immunity defense is available. Swann v. S o u th e rn Health Partners, Inc., 388 F.3d 834, 838 (11th Cir. 2004). The heightened p lead ing requirement is necessary so that the Court can determine whether a defendant's a c tio n s violated a clearly established right. See GJR Invs., Inc. v. County of Escambia, 132 -2- F .3 d 1359, 1367 (11th Cir. 1998). The Eleventh Circuit has recently reaffirmed the validity o f the heightened pleading requirement, noting that "[u]nder the heightened pleading re q u ire m e n t, the relevant facts must be alleged `with some specificity.'" Danley v. Allen, No. 0 7 -1 2 3 2 8 , 2008 WL 3874672, at *11 (11th Cir. Aug. 22, 2008) (citing Gonzalez v. Reno, 325 F .3 d 1228, 1235 (11th Cir. 2003)) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A c o m p la in t must be dismissed under the heightened pleading standard where the allegations a re "vague and conclusory." Id. I V . FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND A . Facts O n or about November 7, 2008, Plaintiff was placed in an Elmore County Jail pod w ith nineteen other inmates, having been charged with burglary and driving under the in f lu e n c e. Defendant stood guard outside the pod and could see and hear activities inside the p o d . Four inmates physically attacked another inmate in the pod. Defendant did not re p rim a n d any of the attackers or remove them. Thirty to forty minutes later, the same a ttac k e rs physically assaulted Plaintiff, who had defended another inmate. Defendant did n o th in g to prevent or stop the attack. F o llo w in g the beating, Defendant removed Plaintiff from the pod and took him to a n u r se . Plaintiff was then transported to Elmore County Hospital for treatment of his injuries. D u e to delays in treatment, Plaintiff's broken wrist healed improperly. Plaintiff cannot p e r f o r m his customary work of building houses due to the problems with his wrist. He also -3- m u st undergo expensive surgery to fix his wrist. B . Procedural History P lain tiff 's First Amended Complaint asserted claims against Defendant, Nurse Kellie M u rre l l, and fictitious defendant "Officer A" (Doc. #4). Following the parties' joint d ism iss a l of Nurse Murrell and this Court's granting of Defendant's Motion to Strike all c la im s against "Officer A," two claims remain against Defendant. See Docs. #18, 21, and 3 4 . Plaintiff alleges that Defendant acted with deliberate indifference both in failing to p r o t e c t Plaintiff and with regards to Plaintiff's medical condition. Defendant's Motion to D is m is s challenges only the claim of deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's medical condition (D o c . #15). In the same motion, Defendant challenges Plaintiff's claims for equitable relief a n d punitive damages. V . DISCUSSION A . Deliberate Indifference to Plaintiff's Medical Condition D e f e n d a n t moves to dismiss all claims against him for deliberate indifference to P la in tif f 's medical condition. Defendant asserts that Plaintiff fails to state a claim under the U n ite d States Supreme Court's decision in Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly or the E le v e n th Circuit's heightened pleading requirement for cases involving qualified immunity. D e f e n d a n t also states he had no notice that his conduct violated Plaintiff's "clearly e sta b lis h e d " federal rights. Plaintiff concedes that he has no claim against Defendant for -4- d e l ib e r a te indifference to his medical condition.1 Therefore, Defendant's motion to dismiss th is claim is due to be GRANTED. B . Equitable Relief D e f e n d a n t also moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claims for equitable relief. As part of his re q u e ste d relief in his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff prays for a declaratory judgment that th e policies and practices he complains of violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United S tates Constitution as well as the Constitution of Alabama. Defendant argues that Plaintiff's d e c la ra to ry judgment claims are moot because he is no longer under Defendant's custody or c o n tr o l; that Plaintiff lacks standing to obtain an equitable remedy because there is no s u b s ta n tia l likelihood that he will suffer future injury; that Plaintiff fails to plead allegations s u f f ic ie n t for policy-maker liability; and that Defendant is not sued in his official capacity. P la in tif f responds that this Court should ignore Defendant's arguments on this point, stating th a t Plaintiff does not seek declaratory relief. Plaintiff adds that he sues Defendant only in h is individual capacity and requests only the remedies of attorney's fees, compensatory d a m a g e s , and punitive damages. This Court construes Plaintiff's response as a concession th a t he has no claim for a declaratory judgment. Therefore, Defendant's motion to dismiss th is claim is due to be GRANTED. C . Punitive Damages F in a l ly, Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claims for punitive damages because Plaintiff opposes Defendant's arguments but only on the claim of deliberate indifference for failure to protect. Defendant concedes that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint pleads that claim. -51 P la in tif f has allegedly failed to plead the requisite degree of culpability or intent to justify p u n itiv e damages. Plaintiff counters that "reckless or callous indifference" can give rise to p u n itiv e damages. Plaintiff adds that they have therefore pled the requisite mental state by p lea d in g a claim of deliberate indifference for failure to protect. T o have acted with deliberate indifference, the United States Supreme Court has stated that the defendant must know that the plaintiff faces a substantial risk of serious harm a n d disregard that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it. Farmer v. Brennan, 5 1 1 U.S. 825, 847 (1994). See also 1 Sheldon H. Nahmod, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties L itig a tio n : The Law of Section 1983 3:32 (4th ed. 2009) ("The Court . . . defined deliberate in d if f ere n c e in a subjective manner as meaning the failure to act when prison officials knew o f a `substantial risk of serious harm,' . . ."). In adopting this test, the Court chose the s u b je c tiv e recklessness standard of criminal law over the more-easily-satisfied objective s ta n d a rd traditionally used in civil law. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 836. U n d e r well-settled law, a jury may be permitted to assess punitive damages in a claim a ris in g under 1983 when the defendant's conduct "is shown to be motivated by evil motive o r intent, or when it involves reckless or callous indifference to the federally protected rights o f others." Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 56 (1983). See Lambert v. Fulton County, 253 F.3d 5 8 8 , 597 (11th Cir. 2001) (acknowledging the Wade standard for punitive damages on 1983 claim s); Wright v. Sheppard, 919 F.2d 665, 670 (11th Cir. 1990) (same); H.C. v. Jarrard, 786 F .2 d 1080, 1089 (11th Cir. 1986) (same). The Wade standard applies even when the -6- u n d e rlyin g standard of liability for compensatory damages is one of recklessness. Wade, 461 U .S . at 56. A s noted in Farmer, the culpable mental state for a deliberate indifference claim is a n a lo g o u s to the heightened recklessness standard used in criminal law. Having properly p led a claim of deliberate indifference for failure to protect, as conceded by Defendant, P la in tif f has certainly pled at least reckless indifference under the Wade standard. Therefore, D e f e n d a n t's motion to dismiss this claim is due to be DENIED. V I. CONCLUSION F o r the foregoing reasons, it is hereby ORDERED that Defendant's Motion to D is m is s (Doc. #15) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. It is granted with respect to Plaintiff's claims for deliberate indifference to his medical condition and for d e c lar a to ry judgment, which are both DISMISSED with prejudice; it is DENIED in all o t h e r respects. D O N E this the 29th day of October, 2009. /s/ Mark E. Fuller CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE -7-

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