Trammell v. Dukes et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Inge P Johnson on 11/27/12. (ASL)
2012 Nov-27 PM 03:58
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
MRS. DUKES, MR. SHAW,
CAPTAIN FLOWERS, LAURA SHADDIX,
CHIEF HUBBARD, SGT. HARRIS,
Case No. 5:12-cv-553-IPJ-TMP
The magistrate judge filed his report and recommendation in this case on November 15,
2012, recommending that the complaint be dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim.
Plaintiff filed his objections to the report and recommendation on November 21, 2012. Having now
carefully reviewed and considered de novo the report and recommendation, the objections to it, and
other materials in the court file, the court finds that the report is due to be ADOPTED and the
recommendation ACCEPTED, but for the reasons expressed below. By separate Order the court will
dismiss the complaint.
The complaint alleges that in June 2010, plaintiff was housed in a cellblock in the Talladega
County Jail along with other inmates awaiting transfer to the state Department of Corrections.
Further, about two hours before plaintiff was attacked by four inmates, one of those inmates called
to defendant Dukes, a jailer, over the intercom, telling her that if his brother was not moved to the
same cellblock within two hours, the inmate would “hurt” someone so that jail officials would not
be able to go home after their shift. The complaint alleges that defendant Dukes then conferred with
her supervisor, Sgt. Bobo (who is not a defendant in this action), who said that he was “not worried
about that shit.” Two hours after the intercom call, the inmate and three others attacked plaintiff,
stabbing him in the head, hitting his head with a blunt object, and punching and kicking him.
Defendant Shaw was the first jail official on the scene, but he could not enter the cellblock to stop
the assault until other jailers and officers arrived as back-up. When then did arrive, they all entered
the cellblock, stopped the assault of plaintiff, and found a homemade knife hidden under the stairwell
in the cellblock. Plaintiff was removed from the cellblock and treated for his injuries. Photographs
of his injuries were taken and an investigation was started by Sgt. Bonnifer and Chief Hubbard, who
told the plaintiff that he could press charges against the inmates who assaulted him, and plaintiff
stated that he wanted to do so. The jail administrator, Captain Flowers, never spoke to plaintiff.
Other than naming them as defendants, the complaint alleges nothing about defendants Laura
Shaddix and Sgt. Harris.
When plaintiff filed his objections to the report and recommendation, he alleged additional
facts he admits were not alleged in the complaint. In the objections, he asserts that two of the four
inmates assaulting him were awaiting transfer to the state Department of Corrections after they had
been sentenced to life without parole on a capital murder charge. Further, he alleges that in the two
months he was on the cellblock, there were at least 18 other assaults on inmates by this group of four
inmates. Just four days before plaintiff’s assault, jail officials conducted a “shakedown” search of
the cellblock for a homemade knife, but did not find it.
Taking first the facts as alleged in the complaint — which are the only facts that were made
known to the magistrate judge — the court agrees that plaintiff has failed to state a claim against the
named defendants. As the magistrate judge pointed out in the report and recommendation, jail
inmates have a constitutional right to be protected by jail officials from a threat of harm by other
inmates. The Eighth Amendment is violated only when a prisoner is incarcerated under conditions
that expose him to a “substantial risk of serious harm” and only when prison officials are
“deliberately indifferent” to that risk. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). See also Brown
v. Hughes, 894 F.2d 1533, 1537 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 496 U.S. 928 (1990). “Deliberate
indifference describes a state of mind more blameworthy than negligence” and ordinary lack of due
care for a prisoner’s interest or safety will not support an Eighth Amendment claim. Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. at 835. “Merely negligent failure to protect an inmate from attack does not justify
liability under section 1983.” Brown v. Hughes, supra, at 1537; see also Neals v. Norwood, 59 F.3d
530 (5th Cir. 1995) and Carter v. Galloway, 352 F.3d 1346(11th Cir. 2003). Prison officials cannot
be liable under the Eighth Amendment unless they know of and disregard an excessive or substantial
risk to inmate health or safety. Id. at 837.
In this case, the complaint alleges only that defendant Dukes was aware of the threat made
by the inmate to “hurt” someone, and she took it to her supervisor, Sgt. Bobo. Plainly, defendant
Dukes, even under the plaintiff’s description of the facts, was not “deliberately indifferent” in that
she sought the advice and assistance of her supervisor. It was Sgt. Bobo who made the decision not
to respond to the threat, and he is not named as a defendant in this action. There is no allegation that
any other defendant was aware of the threat made just two hours before the attack, and thus they
could not have been deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of harm.
Even if one adds the facts set out in the plaintiff’s objections (treating the objections as an
amendment to the complaint), which were not before the magistrate judge when he filed the report
and recommendation, they still do not establish that the jail defendants were “deliberately
indifferent” to the safety of inmates in the jail. First, plaintiff admits that he was properly in the
cellblock used to hold sentenced inmates awaiting transfer to the state Department of Corrections.
He does not allege that he was improperly classified or housed in the wrong cellblock. Although at
least two of the attacking inmates had been sentenced to life without parole for capital murder, they
too were properly in the DOC transfer cellblock, not mixed in with pretrial detainees or prisoners
serving misdemeanor sentences. Jail officials conducted a “shakedown” search of the cellblock,
looking for a knife, just days before the assault, which shows that they were not deliberately
indifferent to the danger. Although it is disturbing to read plaintiff’s allegation that these same
inmates had assaulted at least 18 other inmates during the two months plaintiff was in the cellblock,
the complaint does not allege that jail officials failed to take some action in response. Jails are often
overcrowded and unfortunately dangerous places, and the complaint does not allege that jail officials
had other options for handling the inmates. It is up to the plaintiff to allege facts showing not just
danger and negligence, but that jail officials were deliberately indifferent to the threat of harm, and
he has not done so.
By separate order, the court will dismiss the complaint.
The Clerk is DIRECTED to mail a copy of the foregoing to the plaintiff.
DONE this 27th day of November 2012.
INGE PRYTZ JOHNSON
U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
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