Young v. Shelby County Sheriff Department Booking Officer et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART and DENYING IN PART 49 MOTION for Summary Judgment. The Court will set this case for a Final Pretrial Conference by separate Order. Signed by Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on 9/2/2015. (JLC)
2015 Sep-02 PM 01:02
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
RONNIE GUY YOUNG,
KIMBERLY MYHRER, et al.,
) Case No.: 2:14-CV-407-VEH
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
INTRODUCTION AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff Ronnie Guy Young (“Mr. Young”) initiated this civil rights case on
March 7, 2014, for injuries that he sustained on March 14, 2012, after being arrested
by the United States Marshals’ Service and placed into custody with the Shelby
County Sheriff’s Department on March 8, 2012. (Doc. 1; see also Doc. 10 ¶¶ 6, 8).
On May 30, 2014, Mr. Young filed an amended complaint (Doc. 10) against the
following seven individual defendants who have all been sued in their personal
capacities only: Kimberly Myhrer (“Officer Myhrer”), Ronald Higgins (“Officer
Higgins”), Timothy Laatsch (“Sergeant Laatsch”), Shanna Young (“Officer Young”),
Matthew Joiner (“Officer Joiner”), David Mitchell (“Officer Mitchell”), and Shane
Mills (“Officer Mills”) (collectively, the “Defendants”). (Doc. 10 ¶¶ 4-6).
The first amended complaint contains four separate counts. Counts One and
Two assert federal constitutional claims for deliberate indifference arising under 42
U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985. (Doc. 10 ¶¶ 20-29). Counts Three and Four allege
violations of state law–specifically, negligence and wantonness (id. ¶¶ 30-33) as well
as the intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Id. ¶¶ 34-37). All four counts are
brought against “Defendants” collectively.
Pending before the court is Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc.
49) (the “Motion”) filed on May 29, 2015. Defendants filed their evidentiary
materials and brief on this same date. (Docs. 50, 51).
Mr. Young opposed the Motion on June 19, 2015. (Docs. 52, 53). Defendants
followed with their reply on July 2, 2015. (Doc. 54). Accordingly, the Motion is now
under submission and, for the reasons explained below, is GRANTED IN PART and
otherwise is DENIED.
Summary Judgment Generally
Summary judgment is proper only when there is no genuine issue of material
fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R . Civ. P.
56(c). All reasonable doubts about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved
in favor of the nonmovant. See Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th
Cir. 1993). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). “Once the moving party
has properly supported its motion for summary judgment, the burden shifts to the
nonmoving party to ‘come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine
issue for trial.’” International Stamp Art, Inc. v. U.S. Postal Service, 456 F.3d 1270,
1274 (11th Cir. 2006) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986)).
Finally “[i]f the movant bears the burden of proof on an issue, because, as a
defendant, it is asserting an affirmative defense, it must establish that there is no
genuine issue of material fact as to any element of that defense.” International Stamp,
456 F.3d at 1274 (citing Martin v. Alamo Community College Dist., 353 F.3d 409,
412 (5th Cir. 2003)).
All defendants assert that qualified immunity bars Mr. Young’s federal claims
brought against them in their personal capacities. (Doc. 50 at 27).1 “The defense of
qualified immunity completely protects government officials performing discretionary
functions from suit in their individual capacities unless their conduct violates ‘clearly
Any page references to Doc. 50 correspond with the court’s CM/ECF numbering system.
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.’” Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1357 (11th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation
marks omitted) (quoting Gonzalez v. Reno, 325 F.3d 1228, 1233 (11th Cir. 2003)).
“To receive qualified immunity, a government official first must prove that he was
acting within his discretionary authority.” Id.
This is a two-part test. Under the first step, “the defendant must [prove that he
or she was] performing a function that, but for the alleged constitutional infirmity,
would have fallen within his legitimate job description.” Holloman ex rel. Holloman
v. Harland, 370 F.3d 1252, 1266 (11th Cir. 2004). Next, the defendant must prove
that he or she was “executing that job-related function.” Id. at 1267. “Once a
defendant establishes that he was acting within his discretionary authority, the burden
shifts to the plaintiff to show that the defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity.”
Cottone, 326 F.3d at 1358.2
Until 2009, the Supreme Court had required a two-part inquiry to determine the
applicability of qualified immunity, as established by Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194,
201, 121 S. Ct. 2151, 2156, 150 L. Ed. 2d 272 (2001). Under the Saucier test, “[t]he
Here, there is no dispute over whether the individual defendants were all acting within the
scope of their discretionary authority. (See, e.g., Doc. 52 at 17 (Mr. Young’s referencing
discretionary authority burden, but offering no basis for challenging Defendants’ conduct as nondiscretionary in nature)).
threshold inquiry a court must undertake in a qualified immunity analysis is whether
[the] plaintiff’s allegations, if true, establish a constitutional violation.” Hope v.
Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 736, 122 S. Ct. 2508, 2513,153 L. Ed. 2d 666 (2002).
If, under the plaintiff’s allegations, the defendants would have violated a
constitutional right, “the next, sequential step is to ask whether the right was clearly
established.” Cottone, 326 F.3d at 1358 (quoting Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201, 121 S. Ct.
at 2156). The “clearly established” requirement is designed to assure that officers
have fair notice of the conduct which is proscribed. Hope, 536 U.S. at 739, 122 S. Ct.
at 2515. This second inquiry ensures “that before they are subjected to suit, officers
are on notice their conduct is unlawful.” Saucier, 533 U.S. at 206, 121 S. Ct. at 2158.
The “unlawfulness must be apparent” under preexisting law.3 Anderson v.
Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640, 107 S. Ct. 3034, 3039, 97 L. Ed. 2d 523 (1987) (citing
Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 344-45, 106 S. Ct. 1092, 1097-98, 89 L. Ed. 2d 271
(1986)). Therefore, a temporal requirement exists related to this inquiry. More
particularly, a plaintiff must show that a reasonable public officer would not have
believed her actions to be lawful in light of law that was clearly established at the
Only Supreme Court, Eleventh Circuit, and Alabama Supreme Court cases can “clearly
establish” the law in this litigation. See Thomas v. Roberts, 323 F.3d 950, 953 (11th Cir. 2003) (“In
this circuit, rights are ‘clearly established’ by decisions of the Supreme Court, this court, or the
highest court of the state in which the case arose.” (citing Hamilton v. Cannon, 80 F.3d 1525, 1532
n.7 (11th Cir. 1996))).
time of the purported violation. See Anderson, 483 U.S. at 639,107 S. Ct. at 3038
(“[W]hether an official protected by qualified immunity may be held personally liable
for an allegedly unlawful official action generally turns on the ‘objective legal
reasonableness’ of the action[,] assessed in light of the legal rules that were ‘clearly
established’ at the time it was taken[.]”) (emphasis added) (citation omitted);
Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 198, 125 S. Ct. 596, 599, 160 L. Ed. 2d 583
(2004) (“If the law at that time did not clearly establish that the officer’s conduct
would violate the Constitution, the officer should not be subject to liability or, indeed,
even the burdens of litigation.”) (emphasis added); Brosseau, 543 U.S. at 198, 125
S. Ct. at 599 (“Because the focus is on whether the officer had fair notice that her
conduct was unlawful, reasonableness is judged against the backdrop of the law at the
time of the conduct.”) (emphasis added); see also Johnson v. Clifton, 74 F.3d 1087,
1093 (11th Cir. 1996) (“We know of no [preexisting] case which might have clearly
told Clifton that he could not take the disciplinary action indicated by an investigation
which was initiated before he even knew about the allegedly protected speech, and
in circumstances where the public concern implication was doubtful.”).
However, the Saucier framework was made non-mandatory by the Supreme
Court in Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236, 129 S. Ct. 808, 818, 172 L. Ed. 2d
565 (2009), in which the Court concluded that, “while the sequence set forth [in
Saucier] is often appropriate, it should no longer be regarded as mandatory.” Thus,
“judges of the district courts and the courts of appeals should be permitted to exercise
their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity
analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case
at hand.” Id.
Despite the Supreme Court’s modification of Saucier’s analytical process, the
substantive analysis remains unchanged; an officer is entitled to qualified immunity
protection as long as he “could have believed” his conduct was lawful. Hunter v.
Bryan, 502 U.S. 224, 227, 112 S. Ct. 534, 536, 116 L. Ed. 2d 589 (1991).Therefore,
to deny immunity, a plaintiff must affirmatively demonstrate that “no reasonable
competent officer would have” acted as the public official did. Malley v. Briggs, 475
U.S. 335, 341, 106 S. Ct. 1092, 1096, 89 L. Ed. 2d 271 (1986).
State Sovereign Immunity
As the Eleventh Circuit set forth the Alabama sovereign immunity doctrine in
Lancaster v. Monroe County,116 F.3d 1419 (11th Cir. 1997):
“[U]nder Alabama law, a claim against an Alabama sheriff in his
individual capacity is barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.”
McMillian v. Johnson, 101 F.3d 1363, 1365 (11th Cir. 1996) cert.
denied, (June 27, 1997) (No. 96–1756). The source of absolute
sovereign immunity is Article I, § 14 of the Alabama Constitution of
1901, which provides that “the State of Alabama shall never be made a
defendant in any court of law or equity.” That provision bars any suit
against the state of Alabama or its agencies. See Phillips v. Thomas, 555
So. 2d 81, 83 (Ala. 1989). That provision also grants immunity to state
officers and employees in their official and individual capacities, when
the action is, in reality, a suit against the state. See id. . . .
In deciding whether an action against a state officer is, in fact, an
action against the state, Alabama law instructs us to consider the nature
of the action and the relief sought. See Phillips, 555 So. 2d at 83.
According to Parker v. Amerson, if the “nature of the action” is a suit
against a state official for the negligent performance of his statutory
duties, that action is in reality a suit against the state. See 519 So. 2d at
446. It does not matter, either, that Ms. Lancaster seeks only damages
from the individual defendants. The same relief was sought from the
deputy sheriff in Alexander; nevertheless, the Alabama Supreme Court
treated the suit as one against the state. See Alexander, 652 So. 2d at
Lancaster, 116 F.3d at 1430-31 (emphasis added); see also McMillian v. Johnson,
101 F.3d 1363, 1365 (“Notwithstanding this confusing language in Tinney, the
holding of the case is clear: under Alabama law, a claim against an Alabama sheriff
in his individual capacity is barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.”).
Additionally, an immunity dismissal based upon § 14 of the Alabama
Constitution is a jurisdictional one. See, e.g., Ex parte Davis, 9 So. 3d 480, 483 (Ala.
2008) (“Because the original complaint purported to state a cause of action against
Davis and Isaacs in violation of § 14, Alabama Constitution of 1901, the trial court
did not acquire subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims against the deputies when
the original complaint was filed.” (emphasis added) (citing Ex parte Blankenship, 893
So. 2d 303, 306-07 (Ala. 2004))).
Mr. Young has an extensive criminal history in California, having been
convicted of assault with a firearm, possession of drugs, and possession of drugs with
the intent to distribute. AF No. 1.1.5 He has spent 18 of his 46 years of life in state
prisons in California. AF No. 1.2. Although born and raised in California, he has
family in Shelby County, Alabama. AF No. 2.
In 2011, Mr. Young was convicted in California of distribution of
methamphetamines and received a sentence of either four years of incarceration or
This statement does not represent actual findings of fact. See In re Celotex Corp., 487 F.3d
1320, 1328 (11th Cir. 2007). Instead, the court has provided this statement simply to place the
court’s legal analysis in the context of this particular case or controversy.
The designation “AF” stands for admitted fact and indicates a fact offered by Defendants
that Mr. Young has admitted in his written submissions on summary judgment, in his deposition
testimony, or by virtue of any other evidence offered in support of his case. Under appendix II of the
court’s uniform initial order (Doc. 4) entered on March 10, 2014, “[a]ll statements of fact must be
supported by specific reference to evidentiary submissions.” (Id. at 16). For Mr. Young, more
specifically, this means that “[a]ny statements of fact that are disputed by the non-moving party must
be followed by a specific reference to those portions of the evidentiary record upon which the dispute
is based.” (Id. at 17). Consequently, whenever Mr. Young has inadequately asserted a dispute over
a fact that Defendants have otherwise substantiated with an evidentiary citation, the court has
reviewed the cited evidence and, if it in fact fairly supports Defendants’ factual assertion, has
accepted Defendants’ fact. On the other hand, whenever Mr. Young has adequately disputed a fact
offered by Defendants, the court has reviewed the evidence cited by Mr. Young and, if it in fact fairly
supports Mr. Young’s factual assertion, has accepted Mr. Young’s version. The court’s numbering
of admitted facts (e.g., AF No. 1) corresponds to the numbering of Defendants’ statement of
undisputed facts as set forth in Doc. 50 and responded to by Mr. Young in Doc. 52. A number
following a decimal point corresponds to the particular sentence within the numbered statement of
facts. For example, (AF No. 1.2) would indicate the second sentence of paragraph 1 of Defendants’
facts is the subject of the court’s citation to the record.
participation in an in-house drug program. AF No. 3.1. Mr. Young participated in the
program for approximately one and a half months, at which time he fled to Alabama.
AF No. 3.2. A fugitive from justice warrant was issued by California Department of
Corrections on February 13, 2012 for the arrest of Mr. Young. AF No. 4.
On December 28, 2009, James Wesley Howard (“Mr. Howard”) was arrested
and charged with the murder of Kara Nichole Lee (“Kara Lee”), and was incarcerated
in the Shelby County Jail pending trial for capital murder. AF No. 5.1. Kara Lee was
approximately 2 years old at the time of her death and Mr. Howard was the boyfriend
of Kara Lee’s mother, Britany Lee. AF No. 5.2. Mr. Young’s nephew, William
Young, Jr., (“William Young”) was the father of Kara Lee. AF No. 5.3. While Mr.
Young was in Alabama as a fugitive from California, he spoke with William Young
several times about Mr. Howard, and during these conversations William Young told
Mr. Young that Mr. Howard was incarcerated in the Shelby County jail. AF No. 6.
On the early morning hours of March 9, 2012, Mr. Young was arrested by the
U.S. Marshal’s Service at the home of his brother, George Young, in Shelby,
Alabama. AF No. 7. Mr. Young was transported to the Shelby County jail and booked
in on March 9, 2012. AF No. 8.1. The booking officers received a report that Mr.
Young was a known felon, gang member, had a history of carrying a gun, assaulting
police officers, and was an escape risk. AF No. 8.2. It was also reported that Mr.
Young had claimed to be a member of the Southern Brotherhood, a white supremacist
gang. AF No. 8.3.
During the booking process, an Inmate Questionnaire (the “Questionnaire”)
was completed which Mr. Young signed. AF No. 9.1; (see also Doc. 51-11 at 4 at 10
(Officer Higgins’s answering affirmatively that he was the officer who asked Mr.
Young the questions on the Questionnaire)). Question number 25 asked Mr. Young
if he was “aware of any reason [he] should be separated from another inmate while
[he] is here?” to which Mr. Young responded “no”. AF No. 9.2. Officer Higgins
asked Mr. Young the questions verbatim as set out on the Questionnaire, and marked
down Mr. Young’s responses. AF No. 9.3; (see also Doc. 51-11 at 4 at 11 (Officer
Higgins’s testifying that “Sergeant Myers told me that you are to ask each question
verbatim to the inmate, and that’s how I asked them, verbatim”)). Further, Mr. Young
signed the Questionnaire attesting to the accuracy of the information. AF No. 9.3.
Additionally, at no time did Mr. Young inform the booking officers about his adverse
affiliation with Mr. Howard or otherwise indicate that he should be separated from
Mr. Howard.6 AF No. 9.4.
While Defendants factually suggest that none of them had any knowledge of Mr. Young’s
adverse affiliation with Mr. Howard, Mr. Young objects to this particular fact and points out in his
opposition (Doc. 52 at 6 ¶ 9) that Defendants’ evidentiary citations are limited to the sworn
testimony from two of the seven Defendants. Officer Myhrer testified during her deposition that on
the date Mr. Young was booked, “we didn’t know he had any relation with Mr. Howard[,]” but does
not specify who “we” are. (Doc. 51-10 at 11 at 39). Sergeant Laatsch similarly testified that, “[a]t
Mr. Young testified that he heard the [Deputy] U.S. Marshals state to the
booking officers that he was to remain in isolation, as opposed to being placed in the
general population. (Doc. 52 at 6 ¶ 10). Initially, Officer Myhrer placed Mr. Young
in administrative segregation. AF No. 10.
On March 10, 2012, Officer Joiner classified Mr. Young as a maximum
security inmate based on his extensive history of assaultive behavior and on the
reports from the arresting officers. AF No. 11.1. However, Officer Joiner could not
confirm these claims through the National Crime Information Center, and therefore
the classification evaluation of Mr. Young continued. AF No. 11.2.
On March 12, 2012, Sergeant Laatsch continued to investigate Mr. Young’s
criminal and behavioral history in order to further assess his classification status. AF
No. 12.1. Due to the fact that Sergeant Laatsch had received conflicting reports as to
Mr. Young’s criminal history and since he could not confirm the charges of assaults
against officers and escape attempts, Sergeant Laatsch had Mr. Young moved from
an administrative segregation cell to Unit B-3, which is a single person lockdown
cell. AF No. 12.2.
no point were we made aware of [Mr. Young’s] affiliation with [Mr.] Howard.” (Doc. 51-13 at 27
at 101). At the same time, there is no evidence contained in the record from which a reasonable jury
could conclude that one or more of the remaining five Defendants actually had prior individualized
knowledge of the potential conflict between Mr. Young and Mr. Howard.
On the morning of March 14, 2012, Sergeant Laatsch continued with his
investigation into the behavioral reports concerning Mr. Young. AF No. 16.1. He was
unsuccessful in confirming that Mr. Young was an escape risk and had a violent
history toward correction staff while at previous institutions. AF No. 16.2. He further
reviewed Mr. Young’s history and considered a report from Sergeant Dixon7 of his
interview of Mr. Young. AF No. 16.3. Sergeant Dixon had reported to Sergeant
Laatsch that Mr. Young did not deny some of his past aggressive behavior but
declared that he was not like that anymore. AF No. 16.4. Based on the prior charges
of kidnapping first and an aggravated assault from California, Sergeant Laatsch took
into consideration the behavioral reports on Mr. Young to classify him with a medium
designation instead of continuing to keep him in segregation. AF No. 16.5.
In the afternoon of March 14, 2012, prior to the end of his shift, Sergeant
Laatsch sent an email to Officer Joiner informing him that he was unable to complete
three inmate housing moves during the day shift, and for Officer Joiner to make these
moves during his shift if he had the time. AF No. 17.1. One of these housing moves
was for Mr. Young to be moved from his B3 single cell to Pod A, Block 6. AF No.
17.2. Pod A, Block 6 (A-6) houses both maximum and medium security inmates
having a history of assaultive behavior. AF No. 18.
Mr. Young has not sued Sergeant Dixon.
Pod A is comprised of a number of cell blocks. AF No. 19.1. Each block
contains a number of cells. AF No. 19.2. In the center of the pod is a tower manned
by a correctional officer, with a view into each block. AF No. 19.3. There are two
additional officers assigned to the pod who act as rovers throughout the pod. AF No.
Each block surrounding the tower is triangular in shape. AF No. 19.5. A-6 is
comprised of a large room with tables, chairs, phones, a television, and showers,
referred to as the “dayroom”. AF No. 19.6. Along the back wall of the block are two
man cells, configured in a lower and upper level. AF No. 19.7. The cell doors
routinely remain open during the day so that inmates can utilize the dayroom and go
to and from their cells. AF No. 19.8.
Each block is monitored by a closed circuit camera which feeds into the tower.
AF No. 20.1. Each block is also equipped with an intercom system which an inmate
can use to communicate directly with the tower guard. AF No. 20.2.
Mr. Howard was housed in A-6. AF No. 21.1. Within a few minutes of Mr.
Young entering A-6, Mr. Howard approached Mr. Young and introduced himself to
him. AF No. 21.2. Mr. Young confronted Mr. Howard with the death of his great
niece, and the two began to argue in the dayroom. AF No. 21.3.
Mr. Young accused Mr. Howard of killing his niece, to which Mr. Howard
responded that he was innocent and had paperwork in his cell showing that the DNA
results were inconclusive. AF No. 22.1. Mr. Howard left the dayroom and went up
the steps to his cell located on the upper level. AF No. 22.2. Mr. Young followed Mr.
Howard up the steps to Mr. Howard’s cell. AF No. 22.3.
Immediately after Mr. Howard entered his cell, he bent down next to his bunk
and started going through his paperwork. AF No. 23.1 While Mr. Young was
standing beside and over Mr. Howard, Mr. Young began punching Mr. Howard in the
head. AF No. 23.2. Mr. Howard retaliated and punched Mr. Young several times,
knocking him to the floor. AF No. 23.3 Mr. Howard kicked Mr. Young several times
and then left the cell. AF No. 23.4.
Mr. Young was taken to the jail medical unit and then transferred to the Shelby
Baptist Medical Center. AF No. 24.1. From there he was transported to UAB
Hospital. AF No. 24.2.
While Mr. Young criticizes its thoroughness (Doc. 52 at 8 ¶ 25), an
investigation into the fight took place, including a recorded interview of Mr. Young.
AF No. 25.1. During the interview, Mr. Young claimed not to remember any details
of the fight and that his last memory was of him packing his belongings to move from
B-3 to A-6. AF No. 25.2. Additionally, Mr. Young admitted in the interview that he
knew Mr. Howard was in the Shelby County jail and further admitted that he did not
inform the correctional officers of his relationship to Mr. Howard or that he should
be separated from Mr. Howard. AF No. 26.
On multiple occasions prior to his fight with Mr. Howard, Mr. Young had the
opportunity to inform the jail guards of his adverse affiliation with Mr. Howard and
yet he never did this. AF No. 32.1. More specifically, Mr. Young interacted with the
guards on a routine basis throughout the day, including being escorted by guards to
the shower and being served meals. AF Nos. 32.2, 32.3, 32.4. Additionally, Mr.
Young could have informed Sergeant Dixon about his knowledge of Mr. Howard
while being interviewed, but failed to do so. AF No. 32.5.
Mr. Young also could have brought the potential conflict issue to Defendants’
attention when he was being moved, but instead he remained silent and never
informed any Defendants (or other correctional personnel) about this combustible
relationship. AF Nos. 32.6, 32.7. Finally, Mr. Young also could have alerted the
tower guard via the intercom system in the dayroom that he should not be housed in
the same block as Mr. Howard, once he realized his presence. AF No. 32.8. Instead,
Mr. Young followed Mr. Howard to Mr. Howard’s cell and instigated a physical fight
with him. AF No. 32.9.
On March 16, 2012, Mr. Young was returned back to the jail from UAB
Hospital, and then was extradited to California on March 27, 2012, to serve out his
sentence. AF No. 27.
Count One–Mr. Young’s § 1983 Deliberate
Count One of Mr. Young’s amended complaint asserts deliberate indifference
against Defendants pursuant to § 1983.8 Under the Eighth Amendment:
Prison officials have an obligation to protect prisoners from
violence inflicted upon them by other prisoners. “It is not, however,
every injury suffered by one prisoner at the hands of another that
translates into constitutional liability for prison officials responsible for
the victim's safety.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 114 S. Ct.
1970, 1977, 128 L. Ed. 2d 811 (1994). Prison officials must “take
reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.” Hudson v.
Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27, 104 S. Ct. 3194, 3200, 82 L. Ed. 2d 393
(1984). Only “[a] prison official’s deliberate indifference to a known,
substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates the Eighth
Amendment.” Marsh v. Butler Cnty., Ala., 268 F.3d 1014, 1028 (11th
Cir. 2001) (en banc).
Thus, a prisoner-plaintiff must first demonstrate “an objectively
Section 1983 provides a vehicle for bringing claims for constitutional violations committed
under color of state law. To survive summary judgment on his § 1983 claim, Mr. Young must
demonstrate both that Defendants deprived him of a right secured under the United States
Constitution or federal law and that the deprivation occurred under color of state law. Arrington v.
Cobb Cnty., 139 F.3d 865, 872 (11th Cir. 1998). “A person acts under color of state law when he acts
with authority possessed by virtue of his employment with the state.” Griffin v. City of Opa–Locka,
261 F.3d 1295, 1303 (11th Cir. 2001). Here there is no dispute that Defendants acted under color of
state law. Instead, the focus on summary judgment is whether Mr. Young has adduced sufficient
evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that Defendants acted with deliberate
indifference in their placement of Mr. Young in the same cell block as Mr. Howard.
substantial risk of serious harm to prisoners.” Id. at 1028-29. Then, the
plaintiff must show that the defendant was deliberately indifferent,
which requires the following: “(1) subjective knowledge of a risk of
serious harm; (2) disregard of that risk; (3) by conduct that is more than
gross negligence.” Goodman v. Kimbrough, 718 F.3d 1325, 1331-32
(11th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Harrison v. Culliver, 746 F.3d 1288, 1298 (11th Cir. 2014). With respect to
evaluating a defendant’s failure to act “the known risk of injury must be ‘a strong
likelihood, rather than a mere possibility.’” Brown v. Hughes, 894 F.2d 1533, 1537
(11th Cir. 1990) (citing Edwards v. Gilbert, 867 F.2d 1271, 1276 (11th Cir. 1989) (in
turn quoting State Bank of St. Charles v. Camic, 712 F.2d 1140, 1146 (7th Cir.
1983))). Additionally, the Eleventh Circuit has “stress[ed] that ‘a prison custodian
is not the guarantor of a prisoner’s safety.’” Purcell ex rel. Estate of Morgan v.
Toombs County, 400 F.3d 1313, 1321 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Popham v. City of
Talladega, 908 F.2d 1561, 1564 (11th Cir. 1990)).
Accepting the summary judgment record in a light most favorable to Mr.
Young, no reasonable jury could conclude that he meets the prima facie elements of
the demanding deliberate indifference standard. In particular, Mr. Young has not
adduced sufficient evidence to show how each separately named Defendant possessed
a “sufficiently culpable state of mind[,]” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 824, 114
S. Ct. 1970, 1977, 128 L. Ed. 2d 811 (1994) (internal quotation marks omitted)
(quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 297, 111 S. Ct. 2321, 2323, 115 L. Ed. 2d
271 (1991)), with respect to Mr. Young’s “health or safety” when moving him to the
same cell block where Mr. Howard also was being kept. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834, 114
S. Ct. at 1977. Indeed, the record is devoid of any evidence which shows that any
Defendant knew in advance of the adverse connection shared between Mr. Young and
Mr. Howard or otherwise appreciated the potential danger created by placing Mr.
Young in the same cell block as Mr. Howard. At best, Mr. Young has shown mere
negligence on the part of Defendants in their prison placement of him and this level
of fault cannot sustain a deliberate indifference claim.9 See, e.g., Goodman v.
Kimbrough, 718 F.3d 1325, 1334 (11th Cir. 2013) (“Were we to accept that theory
of liability, the deliberate indifference standard would be silently metamorphosed into
a font of tort law—a brand of negligence redux—which the Supreme Court has made
abundantly clear it is not.” (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 838, 114 S. Ct. at 1979)).
Therefore, in the absence of proof establishing Defendants’ requisite subjective
For example, Mr. Young pokes holes into the prisoner classification process that
Defendants used on him, including their decision to ignore the competing recommendation made by
the arresting Deputy U.S. Marshals that Mr. Young remain in isolation from the general population
during his temporary stay at the Shelby County jail. However, merely questioning the wisdom of
Defendants’ decision to change his placement is not the equivalent of demonstrating a deliberate
decision to place Mr. Young in a precarious situation in which he would likely be harmed.
awareness,10 no reasonable jury could ever find in Mr. Young’s favor on his
deliberate indifference claim.
Assuming that material factual disputes preclude summary judgment on Mr.
Young’s deliberate indifference claim, qualified immunity, nonetheless, alternatively
protects Defendants from any liability for that purported constitutional violation. As
In the Eighth Amendment context, “[o]nce qualified immunity is
asserted by the defendants, the plaintiff must show that the law was
clearly established that the defendants’ acts rose to the level of
‘deliberate indifference.’” Schmelz v. Monroe Cnty., 954 F.2d 1540,
1544 (11th Cir. 1992); Montoute v. Carr, 114 F.3d 181, 184 (11th Cir.
1997) (“the qualified immunity standard is broad enough to cover
(Doc. 50 at 29).
As the Eleventh Circuit has described a plaintiff’s burden in opposing qualified
immunity in the absence a dispute over the issue of an officer’s discretionary
The court acknowledges that Mr. Young attributes an unidentified nurse at the Shelby
County jail as offering an apology and stating to him that “the officers had expected a different
outcome in that cell.” (Doc. 52 at 11 ¶ 4; see also id. at 16 (suggesting that nurse’s statement “creates
a serious dispute of material fact as to whether Defendants acted knowingly or recklessly)).
Assuming that this double hearsay statement would ever even become admissible, it still would be
insufficient to show awareness under the deliberate indifference standard as no specific Defendants
are identified and collective awareness is an impermissible concept under the Eighth Amendment.
See Burnette v. Taylor, 533 F.3d 1325, 1331 (11th Cir. 2008) (“As such, imputed or collective
knowledge cannot serve as the basis for a claim of deliberate indifference.” (citing Gray v. City of
Detroit, 399 F.3d 612, 616 (6th Cir. 2005))).
In satisfying this burden, the plaintiff cannot point to
sweeping propositions of law and simply posit that those
propositions are applicable. Instead, the plaintiff must draw
the court’s attention toward a more particularized and
fact-specific inquiry ... show[ing] that there existed
sufficient case law establishing the contours of his or her
constitutional rights such that the unlawfulness of the
defendant’s conduct would have been apparent to a
reasonable official in the same circumstances.... If no such
case law exists, then the defendant is entitled to qualified
Nicholson v. Georgia Dept. of Human Resources, 918 F.2d 145,
147 (11th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted); see also Barts v. Joyner, 865
F.2d 1187, 1190 (11th Cir. 1989) (“[P]laintiffs must prove the existence
of a clear, factually defined, well-recognized right of which a reasonable
police officer should have known.... The right must be sufficiently
particularized to put potential defendants on notice that their conduct
probably is unlawful.” (First emphasis added.)) “Unless a government
agent’s act is so obviously wrong, in the light of pre-existing law, that
only a plainly incompetent officer or one who was knowingly violating
the law would have done such a thing, the government actor has
immunity from suit.” Lassiter, 28 F.3d at 1149 (citing Malley v. Briggs,
475 U.S. 335, 341-43, 106 S. Ct. 1092, 1096-97, 89 L. Ed. 2d 271
When considering whether the law applicable to certain
facts is clearly established, the facts of cases relied upon as
precedent are important. The facts need not be the same as
the facts of the immediate case. But they do need to be
materially similar. See, e.g., Edwards v. Gilbert, 867 F.2d
1271, 1277 (11th Cir. 1989). Public officials are not
obligated to be creative or imaginative in drawing
analogies from previously decided cases.
Adams v. St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Dept., 962 F.2d 1563, 1575
(11th Cir. 1992) (Edmondson, J., dissenting), approved en banc, 998
F.2d 923 (11th Cir. 1992). “For qualified immunity to be surrendered,
pre-existing law must dictate, that is, truly compel (not just suggest or
allow or raise a question about), the conclusion for every like-situated,
reasonable government agent that what defendant is doing violates
federal law in the circumstances.” Lassiter, 28 F.3d at 1150.
Belcher v. City of Foley, 30 F.3d 1390, 1395-96 (11th Cir. 1994) (emphasis by
underlining added); see also Santamorena v. Georgia Military College, 147 F.3d
1337, 1340 (11th Cir. 1998) (“To overcome this immunity, Plaintiff has the burden
of pointing to case law which ‘pre-date[s] the offic[ial]’s alleged improper conduct,
involve[s] materially similar facts, and ‘truly compel[s]’ the conclusion that the
plaintiff had a right under federal law.’” (quoting Ensley v. Soper, 142 F.3d 1402,
1406 (11th Cir. 1998))).
Against this backdrop, noticeably absent from Mr. Young’s opposition is a
citation to binding authority which establishes that Defendants’ actions clearly “rose
to the level of ‘deliberate indifference.’” Instead, Mr. Young’s brief unpersuasively
speaks in generalities without developing the requisite specificity that a qualified
immunity case customarily demands from a plaintiff.
Furthermore, the far from extreme factual nature of Mr. Young’s deliberate
indifference claim means that this constitutional violation does not fall within that
extraordinary class of so-called “obvious clarity” cases in which no preexisting
binding authority is necessary to provide a public official with fair warning of his
unconstitutional behavior. See Santamorena, 147 F.3d at 1340 n.6 (“[T]hese
exceptional cases rarely arise.”) (emphasis added); see also Gray, 458 F.3d at 1307
(listing examples of cases coming within the narrow “obvious clarity” category and
describing them as all involving challenged conduct falling “‘well beyond the ‘hazy
border’ that sometimes separates lawful conduct from unlawful conduct,” such that
every objectively reasonable officer would have known that the conduct was
unlawful” (quoting Evans v. Stephens, 407 F.3d 1272, 1283 (11th Cir. 2005) (en
banc))); cf. Rodriguez v. Farrell, 280 F.3d 1341, 1350 n.18 (11th Cir. 2002) (“We
very occasionally encounter the exceptional case in which a defendant officer’s acts
are so egregious that preexisting, fact-specific precedent was not necessary to give
clear warning to every reasonable . . . officer that what the defendant officer was
doing must be [deliberately indifferent] within the meaning of the [Eighth]
Amendment.”) (emphasis added). Consequently, in opposing Defendants’ qualified
immunity defense on his deliberate indifference claim, Mr. Young has not met the
clearly established law component and, summary judgment in favor of Defendants is
alternatively appropriate for this additional reason.
Count Two–Mr. Young’s § 1985 Conspiracy
Additionally, because Count One is subject to summary judgment as not
meeting the deliberate indifference constitutional standard, Mr. Young’s dependent
§ 1985 conspiracy claim under Count Two is likewise due to be dismissed. See, e.g.,
Grider v. City of Auburn, 618 F.3d 1240, 1260 (11th Cir. 2010) (“A plaintiff may
state a § 1983 claim for conspiracy to violate constitutional rights by showing a
conspiracy existed that resulted in the actual denial of some underlying constitutional
right.” (emphasis added) (citing GJR Invs., Inc. v. County of Escambia, 132 F.3d
1359, 1370 (11th Cir. 1998))). Furthermore, Mr. Young’s civil conspiracy claim fails
because he has not shown any evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude
that “[D]efendants ‘reached an understanding’ to violate [his] constitutional rights.”
Grider, 618 F.3d at 1260 (citing Bailey v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm’rs of Alachua Cnty.,
956 F.2d 1112, 1122 (11th Cir. 1992) (“[T]he linchpin for conspiracy is
Accordingly, for these independent reasons, Defendants’ Motion is
GRANTED as to Count One and Count Two of Mr. Young’s amended complaint and
all of Mr. Young’s federal claims are HEREBY DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
State Law Claims
State Sovereign Immunity
Regarding Mr. Young’s state law claims of negligence, wantonness asserted
in Count Three, and intentional infliction of emotional distress alleged in Count Four,
Defendants primarily contend that state sovereign immunity requires a dismissal of
them.11 (Doc. 50 at 29-31). The court has previously described some of the general
principles governing the sovereign immunity standard.
As Defendants summarize the status of sovereign immunity more specifically
for employees of a sheriff’s department and a county jail:
“Under Alabama law, sheriffs and deputy sheriffs are considered
executive officers of the state, and therefore immune from suit in both
their official and individual capacities.” Johnson v. Conner, 720 F.3d
1311, 1313 (11th Cir. 2013); McMillian v. Monroe Cnty., 520 U.S. 781,
793 (1997); Drain v. Odom, 631 So. 2d 971, 972 (Ala. 1994); Ex parte
Purvis, 689 So. 2d 794, 796 (Ala. 1996). A sheriff’s deputy “guarding
the prisoners in the county jail” is specifically “immune from
liability…because of the sovereign immunity afforded them by § 14,
Alabama Constitution of 1901.” Ex parte Davis, 9 So. 3d 480, 483 (Ala.
In Lancaster v. Monroe Cnty., Ala., 116 F.3d 1419 (11th Cir.
1997), the Eleventh Circuit logically found that a sheriff’s non-deputy
jailers were equally entitled to absolute immunity. Id. at 1431. However,
the Alabama Supreme Court later employed a somewhat labored
analysis in order to deny absolute immunity to a jailer for a state-law
wrongful death claim arising from an automobile accident which
occurred as the result of the jailer running a red light. Ex parte Shelley,
53 So. 2d 887, 892-97 (Ala. 2009). The Court concluded that because
the defendant was neither a sheriff nor a deputy, he was not entitled to
absolute immunity. Id. at 896-97.
The Alabama Legislature quickly responded and “extended state
Defendants also make an argument about the need for Mr. Young to provide expert
testimony in order to sustain his state law (and federal) claims (Doc. 50 at 31-34), the merits of
which contention the court discusses later.
immunity to sheriff’s jailers” by passing Act 2011-685 which amended
Ala. Code § 14-6-1 (1975). Conner, 720 F.3d at 1313-14.4 “[T]he
Alabama Legislature intended the enactment of § 14-6-1 to correct what
it perceived as an incorrect result in Shelley and to legislatively overrule
that decision.” Stallworth v. Bibb Cnty., Ala., 2014 WL 3540521 at *5
(N.D. Ala.). See also, § 36-22-3(b). Therefore, Lancaster’s
pronouncement of non-deputy jailer’s entitlement to absolute immunity
is again controlling. 116 F.3d at 1431.
(Doc. 50 at 30-31).
Mr. Young counters that the defense of sovereign immunity is not so entirely
absolute and argues, without citing to any on-point authority, that Officers Higgins,
Myhrer, Joiner, and Young as well as Sergeant Laatsch should not benefit from the
doctrine’s protection because they “were not involved in the activities of supervising
inmates or otherwise acting as a ‘jailer[.]’” (Doc. 52 at 21-22). Thus, Mr. Young
seemingly has conceded that Officers Mitchell and Mills are entitled to a sovereign
immunity dismissal of his state law claims.
As for Mr. Young’s efforts to exclude Officers Higgins, Myhrer, Joiner, and
Young as well as Sergeant Laatsch from coverage under the sovereign immunity
doctrine, his arguments are only superficially developed and unavailing. However,
the court, in independently researching this issue, has found that both sides have
missed significant developments in the scope of Alabama’s sovereign immunity
doctrine. Further, these authorities make it clear that neither “jailers” nor other non-
jailer personnel who work for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department are entitled to
benefit from a state sovereign immunity defense.
More specifically, in LeFrere v. Quezada, 582 F.3d 1260 (11th Cir. 2009)
(“LeFrere I”), the Eleventh Circuit acknowledged that several Alabama Supreme
Court decisions “cast[ed] doubt on the conclusion . . . reached in Lancaster[,]” the
key authority upon which Defendants rely. LeFrere, 582 F.3d at 1265. In light of this
uncertainty, the Eleventh Circuit certified the following question to the Supreme
Court of Alabama: “Are jailers, like sheriffs and their deputies, absolutely immune
from state claims for money damages based on actions taken within the scope of their
employment?” LeFrere I, 582 F.3d at 1268-69.
Declining to respond to this specific question posed in LeFrere I, the Supreme
Court of Alabama supplied an answer in another case–Ex parte Shelley, 53 So. 3d 887
(Ala. 2009), as explained by the Eleventh Circuit in LeFrere v. Quezada, 588 F.3d
1317, 1318 (11th Cir. 2009) (“LeFrere II”):
Because of the Shelley decision, we now know that our Lancaster
decision is not an accurate statement of Alabama law. We now know
that jailers are not entitled to absolute state immunity under Art. I, § 14
of the Alabama Constitution. Because that is all we need to know to
decide this appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court quite understandably
and politely declined to answer our certified question in light of its
Shelley decision. Quezada v. LeFrere, No. 1081741 (Ala. Dec. 1, 2009).
The Shelley decision is the answer to our question.
Because the Shelley decision effectively overrules our Lancaster
decision on the issue of absolute immunity for Alabama jailers facing
state law claims, Officer Quezada’s motion to dismiss on that ground
was properly denied.
LeFrere II, 588 F.3d 1318 (emphasis added); see also Shelley, 53 So. 3d at 897
(rejecting Lancaster and declining to extend state sovereign immunity under § 14 of
the Alabama Constitution to jailers because they are not “an alter ego of the sheriff
as are deputy sheriffs”).
Therefore, in light of Shelley and LeFrere II, Lancaster no longer is good law,
and Defendants cannot prevail on their state sovereign immunity defense to Mr.
Young’s state law claims, regardless of their positions held and duties performed
within the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, as none of them were employed as deputy
sheriffs. (See Doc. 50 at 17-21 ¶¶ 34-52 (describing Defendants’ respective positions
within the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office)). Accordingly, the sovereign immunity
section of Defendants’ Motion is DENIED.12
Defendants alternatively contend that a dismissal of Mr. Young’s state law
claims is appropriate because he cannot meet his burden of proof absent offering
expert testimony. This section of Defendants’ brief only minimally touches upon
Defendants do not assert a state-agent immunity defense under Alabama law.
negligence and wantonness (Doc. 50 at 32), and focuses more on deliberate
indifference (Doc. 50 at 32-33), which federal claim this court has already dismissed.
Further, this portion of the brief does not ever discuss Count Four of Mr. Young’s
complaint, wherein he claims intentional infliction of emotional distress.
To the extent that Defendants have developed this contention with respect to
Mr. Young’s negligence and wantonness claims,13 the cases cited unpersuasively only
underscore general legal principles governing such causes of action. See, e.g.,Hicks
v. Vulcan Engineering Co., 749 So. 2d 417, 424 (Ala. 1999) (“The mere fact that an
accident or injury occurred is no evidence of any negligence by any party . . . .”).
Indeed, not one authority stands for the proposition suggested by Defendants–that a
plaintiff must proffer expert testimony to prove a claim of negligence or wantonness.
Thus, Defendants have fallen woefully short of demonstrating that they are entitled
to judgment as a matter of law on Mr. Young’s state law counts due to the absence
of any expert testimony and, this final part of their Motion is DENIED.
For the reasons explained above, Defendants’ Motion is GRANTED IN PART
and otherwise is DENIED. The court will set this case for a final pretrial conference
The court notes that Defendants do not pursue this expert witness argument in their reply
by separate order.
DONE and ORDERED this the 2nd day of September, 2015.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS
United States District Judge
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