J.P. v. Crews (CONSENT)
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING the 6 MOTION to Dismiss with respect to Count I of the complaint, and Count 1 is hereby DISMISSED with prejudice; further ORDERING that, in all other respects, 6 motion to dismiss be and is hereby DENIED. Signed by Honorable Judge Charles S. Coody on 4/27/12. (Attachments: # 1 civil appeals checklist)(djy, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
J.P., a minor who sues by and through
his father and next friend,
CIVIL ACT. NO. 2:12cv46-CSC
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court is the motion to dismiss (Doc. 6) filed by Defendant D.A. Crews.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) and M.D. Ala. LR 73.1, the parties have consented to a
United States Magistrate Judge conducting all proceedings in this case and ordering the entry
of final judgment. Having considered the motion and the submissions of the parties, the
court finds that the motion to dismiss (Doc. 18) is due to be granted in part and denied in
Standard of Review
Although it must accept well-pled facts as true, the court is not required to accept a
plaintiff's legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)
(“[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint
is inapplicable to legal conclusions”). In evaluating the sufficiency of a plaintiff's pleadings,
the court must indulge reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor, “but we are not required to
draw plaintiff’s inference.” Aldana v. Del Monte Fresh Produce, N.A., Inc., 416 F.3d 1242,
1248 (11th Cir. 2005). Similarly, “unwarranted deductions of fact” in a complaint are not
admitted as true for the purpose of testing the sufficiency of plaintiff's allegations. Id.; see
also Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1951 (stating conclusory allegations are “not entitled to be assumed
A complaint may be dismissed if the facts as pled do not state a claim for relief that
is plausible on its face. See Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950 (explaining “only a complaint that states
a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss”); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 561-62, 570 (2007) (retiring the prior “unless it appears beyond doubt that the
plaintiff can prove no set of facts” standard). In Twombly, the Supreme Court emphasized
that a complaint “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Factual allegations in
a complaint need not be detailed but “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if
doubtful in fact).” Id. at 555 (internal citations and emphasis omitted).
More recently, in Iqbal, the Supreme Court reiterated that although Fed. R. Civ. P. 8
does not require detailed factual allegations, it does demand “more than an unadorned,
the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. A complaint
must state a plausible claim for relief, and “[a] claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff
pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The mere possibility the defendant acted
unlawfully is insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. Id. The well-pled allegations must
nudge the claim “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
Facts 1 and Procedural History
The relevant factual allegations of the amended complaint are as follows:
In October 2011, J.P., who is a minor, was incarcerated at the Alabama Department
of Youth Services (“DYS”) Mount Meigs Campus. (Doc. 1 ¶8). On October 25, 2011, J.P.
and two other juvenile detainees engaged in destructive behavior by throwing chairs and
stomping on a bookshelf. (Doc. 1 ¶9). D.A. Crews, a DYS officer, entered the room to stop
the juveniles’ destructive behavior. (Doc. 1 ¶¶4, 11). All three juvenile detainees stopped
what they were doing before Crews said or did anything further. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 11-12). J.P.
threw his hands in the air as a sign of surrender and said, “I’m done.” (Doc. 1 ¶12). The
other two juvenile detainees also surrendered and walked to a door to be let out of the room.
(Doc. 1 ¶13). Crews then lifted J.P. by the throat so that his toes barely touched the ground
and slammed his head against a wall. (Doc. 1 ¶14). J.P. said, “Bro, chill out.” Id. Crews’s
hold on J.P.’s throat was tight enough to leave fingerprint bruises on J.P.’s neck. Id. J.P.
later developed a knot on the back of his head from being slammed against the wall.
After lifting J.P. by the throat and slamming him against the wall, Crews turned him
At this stage of the proceedings, for purposes of ruling on the motion to dismiss, the facts alleged
in the complaint and reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom are set forth in the light most favorable
to the plaintiff. See Krutzig v. Pulte Home Corp., 602 F.3d 1231, 1234 (11th Cir. 2010).
around, pressed his weight against him, and slammed his face into a nearby table several
times, breaking one of J.P.’s teeth. (Doc. 1 ¶16). The second time Crews slammed J.P.’s
head into the table, blood began to flow from J.P.’s nose and mouth. (Doc. 1 ¶18). The
inside of J.P.’s mouth and lips were cut and his lips remained swollen for about two weeks
After slamming J.P.’s head into the table, Crews removed J.P. from the room. (Doc.
1 ¶21). J.P. was taken to a truck and thrown on the truck face first. (Doc. 1 ¶22). J.P. was
yelling at Crews, “You just broke my tooth out.” Id. Several security staff then held J.P.
while another security guard began hitting him with a baton on the leg. Id. The baton left
a deep, six-inch-wide bruise. Id.
J.P. was taken to a nurse’s station after the incident where his injuries were cleaned
and photographed. (Doc. 1 ¶ 24). His broken tooth was temporarily repaired several days
later, and was permanently repaired two or three weeks after the incident. (Doc. 1 ¶ 24, 26).
On January 17, 2012, J.P., by and through his father, Chris Price, filed a complaint
against Crews in his official and individual capacities. (Doc. 1 ). J.P. asserted claims under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Crews violated his rights pursuant to the United States
Constitution, and J.P. also asserted tort claims under Alabama law. Id. On February 16,
2012, Crews filed the instant motion to dismiss.
I. Immunity - Sovereign Immunity and the Eleventh Amendment
Crews argues that, in his official capacity, he is immune from suit from J.P.’s
constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and from J.P.’s state law claims. (Doc. 6-1 p.
7). See Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (holding that state
officials are immune from suit under § 1983 when sued for monetary relief in their official
capacities); Pennhurst State School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 121 (1984) (“[A]
claim that state officials violated state law in carrying out their official responsibilities is a
claim against the State that is protected by the Eleventh Amendment. . . . [T]his principle
applies as well to state-law claims brought into federal court under pendent jurisdiction.”).
In response, J.P. acknowledges that he cannot seek compensatory and punitive
damages from Crews in his official capacity. (Doc. 12-1 pp. 13-14). J.P. states that he seeks
only a declaratory judgment against Crews in his official capacity, not monetary relief. Id.
Although the Eleventh Amendment “bars suits seeking retrospective relief such as restitution
or damages,” it “does not generally prohibit suits against state officials in federal court
seeking only prospective injunctive or declaratory relief.” Florida Ass’n of Rehab. Facilities,
Inc. v. State of Fla. Dept. of Health and Rehab. Servs., 225 F.3d 1208, 1220 (Eleventh Cir.
2000). Accordingly, J.P.’s claim for declaratory relief against Crews in his official capacity
is not due to be dismissed. Since J.P. has no other claims against Crews in his official
capacity, the motion to dismiss is due to be denied with respect to Crews’s assertion that,
under the Eleventh Amendment, he is immune from suit in his official capacity.
Count I: Fourth Amendment
Crews seeks dismissal of Count I of the complaint, in which J.P. alleges that Crews
used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
(Doc. 1 ¶¶ 38-45). J.P. concedes that Count I is due to be dismissed. (Doc. 12 p. 8).
Accordingly, Count I will be dissmissed.
Count III:2 Fourteenth Amendment
In Count III of the complaint, J.P. brings a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
alleging that Crews violated his substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth
Amendment. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 54-60). Crews argues that the application of force was necessary
to stop J.P. and the two other students from “continuing their destructive behavior.” (Doc.
6-1 pp. 5-6). Cf. Cockrell, 510 F.3d at 1311 (“Prison guards may use force when necessary
to restore order.” (emphasis added)). However, as Crews acknowledges, the complaint
alleges that J.P. and the other minors “voluntarily stopped” their behavior before Crews
proceeded to apply force. (Doc. 6-1 p. 2). Thus, under the factual scenario outlined in the
complaint, no physical force was needed to stop J.P. and the other minors from throwing
chairs and stomping on the bookshelf.
Crews also argues, without supporting legal authority, that J.P.’s alleged injuries were
In Count II of the complaint, J.P. alleges that Crews inflicted cruel and unusual punishment in
violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 46-53). Crews has not moved to dismiss Count II. (Doc.
too “minimal” to give rise to a Fourteenth Amendment claim. (Doc. 6 pp. 5-6). However,
in Hudson v. McMillan, 503 U.S.1 (1992),3 the Supreme Court held that, “[w]hen prison
officials maliciously and sadistically use force to cause harm, contemporary standards of
decency always are violated. This is true whether or not significant injury is evident.” 503
U.S. at 9. The Supreme Court further held that “blows . . . which caused bruises, swelling,
loosened teeth, and a cracked dental plate” – injuries substantially similar to those alleged
by J.P. in this case – were not de minimus for the purpose of considering the plaintiff’s
excessive force claim. Id. at 10.
In Wilkins v. Gaddy, 130 S. Ct. 1175 (2010), the Supreme Court held that the extent
of an injury can provide “some indication of the amount of force applied” and whether that
amount of force “could plausibly have been thought necessary in a particular situation.” 130
S. Ct. at 1178. However, “[i]njury and force . . . are only imperfectly correlated, and it is the
latter that ultimately counts. An inmate who is gratuitously beaten by guards does not lose
his ability to pursue an excessive force claim merely because he has the good fortune to
escape without serious injury.” Id. at 1178-79. There is no “arbitrary quantity of injury” that
requires the automatic dismissal of an excessive force claim. Id. Instead, as the Supreme
Court reiterated in Wilkins, “the core judicial inquiry” is not the extent of the injury, but “the
nature of the force—specifically, whether it was nontrivial and ‘was applied ... maliciously
The court notes that, while Hudson was an Eighth Amendment excessive force case, “both
Fourteenth and Eighth Amendment excessive force claims” are evaluated under the same legal standard.
Cockrell v. Sparks, 510 F.3d 1307, 1311 (11th Cir. 2007)
and sadistically to cause harm.’” Id. at 1179; see also Cockrell v. Sparks, 510 F.3d 1307,
1311 (11th Cir. 2007) (holding that the validity of an excessive force claim “ultimately turns
on whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline or
maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.”(citations and internal
quotation marks omitted)).
To determine whether force was applied in good faith to restore order or maliciously
with the intent to cause harm, the court must consider the following factors: the need for the
application of force; the relationship between the need and the amount of force that was used;
and the extent of the injury inflicted upon the prisoner. Cockrell, 510 F.3d at 1311. In
addition, the court must consider “the extent of the threat to the safety of staff and inmates,
as reasonably perceived by the responsible officials on the basis of the facts known to them,
and any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response.” Id. (quoting Whitley v.
Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 321 (1986).
In this case, the nature of J.P.’s injuries (bleeding,
bruises, a cracked tooth, and a knot on his head) indicate a nontrivial use of force. If the
allegations in the complaint are true, Crews did not need to apply any physical force to
restore order, and certainly not the amount of force that caused J.P.’s alleged injuries. In
addition, there is no indication that Crews could reasonably have perceived that the amount
of force he used was necessary to ensure the safety of the staff or inmates, or that he made
any effort to temper the severity of the force. Thus, the alleged facts, if proven, are sufficient
to support a finding that Crews exerted nontrivial force not to restore order, but maliciously
and sadistically to cause harm in violation of J.P.’s constitutional rights. Cf. id.
Accordingly, the motion to dismiss is due to be denied with respect to Count III of the
complaint. See Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950 (explaining that “a complaint that states a plausible
claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss”); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (holding that
factual allegations are sufficient to state a plausible upon which relief can be granted if they
are “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the
allegations in the complaint are true”).
STATE LAW CLAIMS
Immunity - Alabama Constitution
Article I § 14 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901 provides that “the State of
Alabama shall never be made a defendant in any court of law or equity.” Crews argues that,
because he is an agent of the state, § 14 shields him from liability in his individual capacity4
for J.P.’s state law claims. (Doc. 6-1 pp. 7-8). In support of his argument, Crews cites two
cases: McMillan v. Johnson, 101 F.3d 1363 (11th Cir. 1996) and Tinney v. Shores, 77 F.3d
378 (11th Cir.1996). McMillan and Tinney held that, “under Alabama law[,] a sheriff and
deputy sheriff are shielded by sovereign immunity against claims based upon intentional
torts.” McMillan, 101 F.3d at 1365. Both McMillan and Tinney involved “the absolute
‘sovereign’ immunity . . . afforded to certain state constitutional officers, including sheriffs
Crews also argues that § 14 bars state law claims against him in his official capacity. However, J.P.
has stipulated that he asserts his state law tort claims against Crews only in his individual capacity, not in
his official capacity. (Doc. 12-1 pp. 15-16).
and deputy sheriffs.” Sheth v. Webster, 145 F.3d 1231, 1236 (11th Cir. 1998) (describing the
holding in Tinney); see also McMillan, 101 F.3d at 1365 (expressly following the holding in
Tinney). Under Alabama law, a sheriff is entitled to absolute immunity under § 14 “because
of his status as a constitutional officer as detailed in Art. V, § 112, Ala. Const. 1901. Suits
against such officers for actions taken in the line and scope of their employment inherently
constitute actions against the State, and such actions are prohibited by § 14.” Ex parte
Shelley, 53 So. 3d 887, 895 (Ala. 2009).
Crews is not a constitutional officer of the state. State officers and employees who
are not constitutional executive officers are not entitled to absolute immunity under § 14. See
Phillips v. Thomas, 555 So. 2d 81, 83 (1989) (holding that, under Alabama law, “a state
officer or employee may not escape individual tort liability by arguing that his mere status
as a state official cloaks him with the state’s constitutional immunity” (citations and internal
quotation marks omitted)). For instance, unlike sheriffs and their deputies, county “jailers are
not entitled to absolute state immunity under Art. I, § 14 of the Alabama Constitution.”
LeFrere v. Quezada, 588 F.3d 1317, 1318 (11th Cir. 2009) (citing Ex parte Shelley, 53 So.
3d 887 (Ala. 2009)). Likewise, Crews is not entitled to absolute immunity under § 14.
Section 14 does afford a non-absolute form of state-agent immunity to state
employees. See Shelley, 53 So. 3d at 897 (distinguishing between the absolute immunity
afforded to constitutional officers and the state-agent immunity afforded to other state agents
and employees); Ex parte Cranman, 792 So.2d 392, 405 (Ala.2000) (clarifying the rules
governing state-agent immunity under § 14). Cf. Alabama Dept. of Corrections v. Thompson,
855 So. 2d 1016, 1020-22 (Ala. 2003) (finding that correctional officers employed by the
Alabama Department of Corrections were not entitled to state agent immunity from the
negligence claim of the victim of assault by an escapee).
Although Crews suggests
conclusorily that he has “qualified immunity” under § 14 (Doc. 6-1 p. 8), he presents no
substantive argument or legal authority as to whether he is entitled to state-agent immunity.
Crews’s cursory invocation of the doctrine of qualified immunity in not sufficient to support
a motion to dismiss. See Ex parte Sawyer, 984 So.2d 1100, 1107 (Ala. 2007) (holding that,
under Alabama law, “[q]ualified immunity [now referred to as [s]tate-agent immunity] is an
affirmative defense that the defendant must raise and prove”).
Accordingly, the motion to dismiss is due to be denied with respect to Crews’s
argument that he is immune from J.P.’s state law claims under Article I § 14 of the Alabama
Counts IV and V-Assault, Battery, andTort of Outrage
Crews alleges summarily that J.P.’s complaint does not contain sufficient factual
averments to plausibly satisfy the elements of the torts of assault, battery, and outrage.
Crews’s conclusory arguments are not sufficient to support his motion to dismiss.
Count VI - Invasion of Privacy
In his motion to dismiss, Crews argues that J.P. has not alleged facts sufficient to
allege the necessary elements of a state law claim for invasion of privacy5 because “the
Eleventh Circuit has not recognized a right to bodily integrity in the context of a prison
official using force to restore order.” (Doc. 6-1 p. 9). However, the allegations of the
complaint, if true, would establish that Crews was not using force to restore order, because
J.P. and the other two juveniles ceased their destructive behavior immediately when Crews
entered the room. Furthermore, J.P.’s invasion of privacy claim invokes a tort defined by
Alabama state law, not a federal constitutional claim for invasion of bodily integrity
protected by substantive due process. Cf. Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir.
2006) (“recognizing a prisoner’s constitutional right to bodily privacy”). Crews’s reliance
on Eleventh Circuit case law concerning substantive due process under the United States
Constitution is, therefore, misplaced. See Guaranty Trust Co. v. York, 326 U.S. 99, 108-09
(1945) (holding that a federal court exercising jurisdiction over a claim under state law sits
as a court of the forum state and is bound to apply its substantive law).
For the reasons stated above, the court concludes that the motion to dismiss is due to
be granted in part and denied in part. Accordingly, it is
ORDERED that the motion to dismiss (Doc. 6) be and hereby is GRANTED with
Under Alabama law, “ the invasion of privacy tort consists of four distinct wrongs: 1) the intrusion
upon the plaintiff's physical solitude or seclusion; 2) publicity which violates the ordinary decencies; 3)
putting the plaintiff in a false, but not necessarily defamatory, position in the public eye; and 4) the
appropriation of some element of the plaintiff's personality for a commercial use.” Phillips v. Smalley Maint.
Servs., Inc., 435 So.2d 705 (Ala.1983). The complaint alleges that Crews “unlawfully intruded into
Plaintiff’s private activities, solace, solitude, and bodily integrity.” (Doc. 1 ¶ 68).
respect to Count I of the complaint, and Count I is hereby DISMISSED with prejudice.
Further, it is
ORDERED that, in all other respects, the motion to dismiss (Doc. 6) be and is hereby
Done this 27th day of April, 2012.
/s/Charles S. Coody
CHARLES S. COODY
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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