Smith v. Thomas et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER that Defendants' 15 and 21 Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED, and that: (1) Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages against Defendants in their individual capacities are DISMISSED without prejudice; (2) Plain tiff's claims for monetary damages against Defendants in their official capacities are DISMISSED with prejudice; and (3) Plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief against Defendants in their official capacities are DISMISSED without prejudi ce; that Plaintiff's 23 and 26 Motions to Amend are GRANTED, subject to the limitations of this opinion, as set out; that Plaintiff is ORDERED to file his Amended Complaint on or before August 10, 2012. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 7/26/2012. (cc, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
JOEY RAY SMITH, AIS # 170129,
KIM T. THOMAS, et al.,
CASE NO. 2:12-CV-125-WKW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court are Defendants John R. Cooper, John Adams, Eddie Gregory,
and Johnny Purifoy’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 15) and Defendants Kim T. Thomas,
Richard Allen, and Pete Allen’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 21), which is supported
by a brief (Doc. # 22).1 Plaintiff Joey Ray Smith filed responses in opposition to both
motions (Docs. # 23 & 26). ADOT Defendants replied to Plaintiff’s response (Doc.
# 25). The court will also consider Plaintiff’s Motions for Leave to Amend (Doc.
# 23, at 8; Doc. # 26, at 10). After careful consideration of the arguments of counsel
and the relevant law, the court finds that Defendants’ motions are due to be granted
and Plaintiff’s motions are due to be granted.
Defendants John R. Cooper, John Adams, Eddie Gregory, and Johnny Purifoy are
current or former employees of the Alabama Department of Transportation and will be referred
to as “ADOT Defendants” throughout this opinion. Defendants Kim T. Thomas, Richard Allen,
and Pete Allen are current or former employees of the Alabama Department of Corrections and
will be referred to as “ADOC Defendants” throughout this opinion.
I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE
Subject matter jurisdiction is exercised pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C.
§ 1343, 28 U.S.C. § 1367, and 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201–02. Personal jurisdiction and venue
are not contested, and there are adequate allegations in support of both.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the complaint against
the legal standard set forth in Rule 8: “a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). When
evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the court must take “the
factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff.” Pielage v. McConnell, 516 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir.
2008). However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations
contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129
S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009).
“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual
matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Iqbal,
129 S. Ct. at 1949 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).
“Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a
context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial
experience and common sense.” Id. at 1950 (citation omitted). “[F]acial plausibility”
exists “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.
(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The standard also “calls for enough fact to raise
a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” of the claim. Twombly,
550 U.S. at 556. While the complaint need not set out “detailed factual allegations,”
it must provide sufficient factual amplification “to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level.” Id. at 555; see also James River Ins. Co. v. Ground Down Eng’g,
Inc., 540 F.3d 1270, 1274 (11th Cir. 2008) (Twombly formally retired “the
often-criticized ‘no set of facts’ language previously used to describe the motion to
Accepting as true the factual allegations in the complaint, the court finds the
Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at the Decatur Community Based Facility (an
extension of the Alabama Department of Corrections (“ADOC”)) in Decatur,
Alabama. Plaintiff is enrolled in a work-release program, through which he is hired
by the Alabama Department of Transportation (“ADOT”). Plaintiff was incarcerated
at Camden Community Based Facility in Camden, Alabama, during the time of the
incidents. On or about February 10, 2010, Plaintiff injured himself with a chainsaw
while working for ADOT’s Greenville facility, cutting his leg as he fell from a rocky
slope under a bridge. Plaintiff did not receive any training in the use of a chainsaw
nor was he provided with any safety equipment. Plaintiff maintains that “as an inmate
on minimum out custody, [he] does not have the option of refusing assignments and
was forced to do whatever he was told to do. If [Plaintiff] refused to do a work
assignment, he would have received a disciplinary citation.” (Pl.’s Compl. ¶ 38.)
Plaintiff has repeatedly been forced to use a chainsaw without any safety equipment
since the accident and still has not received any training in the use of the chainsaw.
On or about April 14, 2010, Plaintiff was again on work release to ADOT.
Plaintiff was forced to stand in the middle of the inside lane on Interstate 65 with a
hand flag to direct traffic while his supervisor did road work ahead of him. No signs
were put up to alert oncoming traffic that there was road work ahead. Plaintiff voiced
his safety concerns about the situation, but they were dismissed by his supervisor who
later issued two disciplinary citations to Plaintiff for insubordination. Plaintiff was
acquitted on both citations at a hearing, but was not allowed to go back to work at the
Greenville ADOT facility due to a “conflict of interest.” (Pl.’s Compl. ¶ 49.)
On February 9, 2012, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants. Plaintiff brought
claims alleging that his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated
(Counts 1 and 2),2 a claim titled Neglect to Prevent Conspiracy under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1985(3) and 42 U.S.C. § 1986 (Count 3), a claim titled Intentional Infliction of
Emotional Distress with Invidiously Discriminatory Animus under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1985(3) (Count 4), and a claim of wantonness under state law (Count 5). Plaintiff
is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, a declaratory judgment, and an
injunction so that he will no longer have to endure unsafe working conditions.
Individual Capacity Claims Against ADOT and ADOC Defendants
ADOT Defendants argue that Plaintiff has not made any claims against ADOT
Defendants in their individual capacities, an argument that ADOC Defendants echo.
(Doc. # 15 ¶ 4; Doc. # 21 ¶ 1.) ADOT Defendants point out that “[a] review of all the
counts in [Plaintiff’s] complaint reflects that the counts are brought against
[Defendants] in their official capacities only.” (Doc. # 15 ¶ 3.) Plaintiff responds that
the caption plainly states that all Defendants are being sued in their official and
individual capacities. (Doc. # 23, at 4; Doc. # 26, at 4.) ADOT Defendants reply that
“[Plaintiff] failed to put this Court or [ADOT Defendants] on notice as to what the
individual claims against them are. Instead, [Plaintiff] referenced . . . the caption of
Counts 1 and 2 appear to be attempts to plead claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
the Complaint but described the actions as official capacity claims in the numbered
paragraphs.” (Doc. # 25 ¶ 4.)
Plaintiff cannot rely on the caption to establish a claim of individual capacity.
A similar situation arose in Marsh v. Butler County, Alabama, 268 F.3d 1014 (11th
Cir. 2001). The plaintiffs in that case, prisoners at Butler County jail, filed a
complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Sheriff Diane Harris and Butler County,
Alabama, to recover for injuries sustained when they were beaten by other prisoners.
Id. at 1023. The caption and complaint created an ambiguity as to the capacity in
which Sheriff Harris was being sued, an ambiguity that the Eleventh Circuit addressed
In this case, that part of the complaint which purports to state the
claim against Harris does specifically address the capacity in which the
Sheriff is sued. It says these words about capacity: “Defendant Diane
Harris is sued in her official capacity as Sheriff of Butler County.” Thus,
the complaint’s “statement of a claim” does not purport to make a claim
against the Sheriff in her individual capacity.
The caption to the complaint contains these words: “Diane Harris,
Sheriff of Butler County, in her individual and official capacity.” But
the caption of the complaint is not part of the statement of the claim
under Rule 8. The caption is something apart, being mandated by a
different rule: Fed.R.Civ.P. 10. The caption is chiefly for the court’s
administrative convenience. It may, however, sometimes be useful to
look at the caption – when the Rule 8 statement of a claim is ambiguous
about a party’s capacity – to settle pleading ambiguities. See Hobbs v.
E.E. Roberts, 999 F.2d 1526, 1529–30 (11th Cir. 1993) (using several
factors, including caption, to resolve ambiguity of whether official sued
in official or individual capacity). To use the Rule 10 caption to create
an ambiguity when the statement of the claim is itself not ambiguous is
Id. at 1024 n.4. At this early stage of the proceedings, there are neither sufficient
allegations in the complaint nor a course of proceedings to establish that Defendants
are sued in their individual capacities.
There are, however, indications that Plaintiff may have intended to sue
Defendants in their individual capacities, such as the use of the phrase “under color
of state law” throughout the complaint and the fact that Defendants were sued for
monetary damages. In Jackson v. Georgia Department of Transportation, 16 F.3d
1573 (11th Cir. 1994), the Eleventh Circuit urged district courts to require plaintiffs
to “identify the capacity in which they sued” the defendants “to ensure a more
effective use of judicial resources.” Id. at 1576. In accordance with Jackson, Plaintiff
In Marsh, the Eleventh Circuit decided the case as if the claims were brought against
Sheriff Harris in both her individual and official capacities because the course of proceedings
indicated that Sheriff Harris was being sued in both capacities. Sheriff Harris advanced the
qualified immunity defense, which only applies to individual capacity claims, and Sheriff Harris
did not challenge the capacities in which she was sued. Marsh, 268 F.3d at 1014 n.4; see
Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167 n.14 (1985) (“In many cases, the complaint will not
clearly specify whether officials are sued personally, in their official capacity, or both. The
course of proceedings in such cases typically will indicate the nature of the liability sought to be
imposed.” (internal citations omitted)). In this case, Plaintiff devotes much of his responses to
arguing that Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity. In their reply, ADOT Defendants
note that they “did not raise qualified immunity as a defense as they were sued in their official
capacities only. If the [ADOT Defendants] respond to the qualified immunity argument, they
will in effect have impliedly consented to the claims, as if they had been raised in the pleading.”
(Doc. # 25 ¶ 6 (internal citations omitted).) Unlike in Marsh, Defendants have challenged the
sufficiency of the complaint to establish claims against them in their individual capacities.
is advised that he has not made it clear in the complaint whether he intended to sue
Defendants in their individual capacities. Plaintiff will be given leave to amend his
complaint. Plaintiff should bear in mind that the caption alone is not enough to
establish an individual capacity claim. See Marsh, 268 F.3d at 1024 n.4; see also
Hobbs v. E. E. Roberts, 999 F. 2d 1526, 1529–30 (11th Cir. 1993) (“We note that the
caption of pleadings, or even of judgments, shows, by itself, little about the capacity
in which defendants are sued in a case.” (citing Lundgren v. McDaniel, 814 F.2d 600,
604 n.2 (11th Cir. 1987))).
Official Capacity Claims for Monetary Damages Against ADOT and
Plaintiff asserts federal and state law claims against Defendants in their official
capacities. “Under the Eleventh Amendment, state officials sued for damages in their
official capacity are immune from suit in federal court.” Jackson, 16 F.3d at 1575; see
also Kentucky, 473 U.S. at 166 (stating that “an official-capacity suit is, in all respects
other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity”). ADOT and ADOC
employees are state officials and are entitled to immunity under the Eleventh
Amendment in their official capacities on federal and state law claims.4 Accordingly,
Additionally, Defendants, in their official capacities, are not “persons” for purposes of
§ 1983 monetary relief. Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70–71 (1989).
all claims for monetary damages against ADOT and ADOC Defendants in their
official capacities are due to be dismissed with prejudice.5
Official Capacity Claims for Injunctive Relief Against ADOT and ADOC
ADOT Defendants assert that Plaintiff has not properly pleaded any claims
seeking injunctive relief, adding that “the state actors can only be sued under § 1983
for monetary damages, and [that] the claims for injunctive and declaratory relief have
not been pled through § 1983.” (Doc. # 15 ¶ 5.) ADOT Defendants, however, fail to
cite any specific allegation in the complaint or any legal authority to support their
argument. First, ADOT Defendants are incorrect that state actors can only be sued
under § 1983 for monetary damages. The Supreme Court has held for over a century
that state actors can be sued in their official capacities for injunctive relief. See Ex
parte Young, 28 U.S. 123 (1908). Second, Counts 1 and 2 of Plaintiff’s complaint
appear to be attempts to plead claims pursuant to § 1983, and both include a prayer
for injunctive relief. (Pl.’s Compl. ¶¶ 85 & 96.)
This dismissal is pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
See Seaborn v. Fla. Dep’t of Corr., 143 F.3d 1405, 1407 (11th Cir. 1998) (“An assertion of
Eleventh Amendment immunity essentially challenges a court’s subject matter jurisdiction . . .
In his amended complaint, Plaintiff should bring any claims for violations of
his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments pursuant to § 1983. ADOT
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss will be granted without prejudice as to Plaintiff’s
official capacity claims for injunctive relief, as Plaintiff will be given leave to amend
ADOC Defendants argue that Plaintiff lacks standing to seek injunctive relief.
ADOC Defendants explain that Plaintiff has not worked for the Greenville District
Department of Transportation or any other ADOT employer since 2010 and that he
is unlikely to do so in the future.6 (Doc. # 21 ¶ 3.) In his response, Plaintiff simply
asserts that he is an inmate with ADOC, which has never been in dispute, and that he
is asking this court “to order ADOC to stand by and enforce ADOC’s regulations
pertaining to the failure of any employers to provide a safe work environment to
inmates in the work release program.” (Doc. # 26, at 8).
Plaintiff’s complaint contains contradictory allegations as to Plaintiff’s present
affiliations with ADOT. Plaintiff admits he no longer works at the Greenville ADOT
facility, but it is unclear whether he has been hired by another ADOT facility. (Pl.’s
In Plaintiff’s prayer for relief, he requests that the court “[e]nter a permanent injunction
against the Defendants that they cannot continue to disregard the safety rules and regulations in
regards to the Plaintiff’s work release assignments.” (Pl.’s Compl., at 19.)
Compl. ¶ 49.) If, however, Plaintiff is no longer working for ADOT, the claims for
injunctive relief against ADOT Defendants would likely be dismissed for lack of
See City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 105–106 (1983).
Furthermore, the complaint does not indicate that any ADOC official had knowledge
that any work-release employers were not providing safe work environments, and the
complaint does not specifically request the court to order ADOC to enforce its
regulations pertaining to the failure of any employers to provide a safe work
environment to inmates in the work release program. Plaintiff will be given leave to
amend his complaint to specify Plaintiff’s current employment status and to clarify his
allegations seeking injunctive relief against ADOC.
It is ORDERED that Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss (Docs. # 15 & 21) are
GRANTED, and that
Plaintiff’s claims for monetary damages against Defendants in their
individual capacities are DISMISSED without prejudice;
Plaintiff’s claims for monetary damages against Defendants in their
official capacities are DISMISSED with prejudice; and
Plaintiff’s claims for injunctive relief against Defendants in their official
capacities are DISMISSED without prejudice.
It is further ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Motions to Amend (Doc. # 23 at 8; Doc.
# 26 at 10) are GRANTED, subject to the limitations of this opinion, summarized as
Plaintiff may allege claims against Defendants in their individual capacities if
there is a sufficient basis in fact and law to do so. Plaintiff should bring his
constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff should also specify
his current employment status in the allegations of his amended complaint and make
separate allegations in seeking injunctive relief against ADOT and ADOC.
Plaintiff is ORDERED to file his Amended Complaint on or before
August 10, 2012. Failure of Plaintiff to file an amended complaint by this deadline
will result in dismissal of this action.
DONE this 26th day of July, 2012.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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