Cornwall v. Miami Dade County Corrections et al
ORDER granting 12 Motion to Quash; granting 12 Motion to Dismiss. Signed by Judge Marcia G. Cooke on 8/31/2011. (jbn)
UNITED STATES DISCTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
Case No. 10-23561-Civ-COOKE/TURNOFF
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY CORRECTIONS
AND REHABILITATION DEPARTMENT, et al.,
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT MIAMI-DADE COUNTY
CORRECTIONS AND REHABILITATION DEPARTMENT’S MOTION TO
QUASH SERVICE OF PROCESS AND MOTION TO DISMISS
THIS CASE is before me upon Defendants Miami-Dade County Corrections and
Rehabilitation Department’s and Timothy Ryan’s Motion to Quash Service of Process or, in the
Alternative, to Dismiss Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 12). I have reviewed the record, the
arguments and the relevant legal authorities. For the reasons explained below, the motion is
On September 7, 2006, Plaintiff Shirl Cornwall was arrested and charged with two counts
of battery, false imprisonment, tampering with a witness, and child abuse without harm. Mr.
Cornwall was released from custody and was issued a restraining order, compelling him to stay
away from his wife. On September 26, 2006, Mr. Cornwall was taken into the custody of
Defendant Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation Department (“MDCR”) for
violating his pretrial release conditions and the restraining order. Mr. Cornwall alleges that he
was never served with the restraining order. On September 28, 2006, the Eleventh Judicial
Circuit for Miami-Dade County issued a Temporary Injunction for Protection Against Domestic
Violence With Minor Child on behalf of Mr. Cornwall’s wife. The injunction ordered Mr.
Cornwall to refrain from contacting his wife, travelling within 500 feet of their home or visiting
Mr. Cornwall was released from MDCR custody on or about April 7, 2007. While in
custody, Mr. Cornwall completed twenty-six inmate grievance forms to document the alleged
offensive treatment he received at the detention facility, including the following:
November 29, 2006: failure to be transported to vote.
November 30, 2006: verbal threats of batter made by a correction officer.
December 20, 2006: allegations that prior November 30, 2006 grievance not
addressed by MDCR administration.
January 30, 2007: verbal intimidation made by a correction officer.
March 19, 2007: arbitrary relocation by correction officer.
March 22, 2007: exposure to mace when a correction officer attempted to
restrain fighting inmates.
March 30, 2007: conditions within housing unit were unsanitary due to
“cesspool” left by transporting new detainees.1
Mr. Cornwall, proceeding pro se, filed a complaint against MDCR and director Timothy
P. Ryan in the Circuit Court of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County,
Florida on September 27, 2010. The complaint alleged various claims against the Defendants for
violations of Mr. Cornwall’s constitutional civil rights including false imprisonment, battery,
unlawful hold on bond, unlawful strip search, humiliation, defamation, emotional and
psychological trauma, stolen belongings, cruel and unusual punishment, and other violations of
the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The action was removed to this Court on
October 4, 2010.
On March 14, 2011, Mr. Cornwall’s complaint was dismissed without
The remaining grievance forms proceed to identify Mr. Cornwall’s observations related to other
inmates and their treatment at MDCR.
prejudice for failure to state a cause of action. Mr. Cornwall filed an amended complaint on
March 31, 2011. (ECF No. 10).
On April 18, 2011, MDCR filed the instant motion to quash service of process or, in the
alternative, dismiss Mr. Cornwall’s claims. (ECF No. 12). On June 30, 2011, Mr. Cornwall was
ordered to show cause why he had not filed a response to Defendants’ motion and/or why the
motion should not be granted. (ECF No. 14). Mr. Cornwall has failed or otherwise refused to
file a response to MDCR’s motion or the Court’s order to show cause.
The rules of pleading require that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Additionally, the
rules of pleading allow a defendant to file a motion asserting a defense that the plaintiff failed to
effectuate service of process or failed “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.
R. Civ. P. 12(b)(5)-(6). Once the sufficiency of service is brought into question, the plaintiff has
the burden of provide proper service of process. Banco Latino, S.A.C.A. v. Gomez Lopez, 53 F.
Supp. 2d 1273, 1277 (S.D. Fla. 1999). If the plaintiff can establish that service was proper, the
burden shifts to the defendant to “bring strong and convincing evidence of insufficient process.”
Hollander v. Wolf, No. 09-80587, 2009 WL 3336012, at *3 (S.D. Fla. 2009). “The Court may
look to affidavits, depositions, and oral testimony to resolve disputed questions of fact.” Id.
In order to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must articulate “enough
facts to state a claims for relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 547 (2007). “[T]he pleadings are construed broadly,” and the allegations in the
complaint are viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Levine v. World Fin. Network
Nat’l Bank, 437 F.3d 1118, 1120 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Bryant v. Avado Brands, Inc., 187 F.3d
1271 n.1 (11th Cir. 1999)). Nonetheless, “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. While Rule 12(b)(6) does not permit dismissal
of a well-pleaded complaint simply because “actual proof of those facts in improbable,” the
“[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at
555-56. Although pro see pleadings must be construed more liberally than pleadings drafted by
attorneys, “this leniency does not give a court license to serve as de facto counsel for a party …
or to rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading in order to sustain an action.” GJR Invs., Inc. v.
Cnty of Escambia, Fla., 132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998) (citations omitted).
Defendants argue that the amended complaint should be dismissed in its entirety for four
First, Defendants argue that Mr. Cornwall’s claims are barred by the statute of
limitations. Second, MDCR claims that service of process must be quashed because the real
party in interest, Miami-Dade County, had not been properly served. MDCR also argues that
even if service of process was properly effectuated, MDCR is not a “legal entity” and therefore
does not have the capacity to be sued. Lastly, Defendants contend that Mr. Cornwall’s civil
rights claims do not satisfy the requisite pleading standards. I will discuss each in turn.
A. Mr. Cornwall’s Claims are not Barred by the Statute of Limitations.
Claims for unconstitutional seizure and/or false imprisonment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
subject to a four-year statute of limitation period. See Fla. Stat. § 95.11(3)(o). “[T]he statute of
limitations begins to run when the alleged false imprisonment ends.” Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S.
384 (2007) (citing Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 484 (1994)). Mr. Cornwall was arrested for
violating a domestic restraining order and was in MDCR custody from September 26, 2006 until
April 4, 2007.2 Based on Mr. Cornwall allegations, the statute of limitations began to run on
April 4, 2007. The complaint was timely filed.
B. The Amended Complaint was not Served Properly.
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(j)(2), a state created governmental agency,
such as MDCR, is given proper notice of a cause of action when the plaintiff delivers a copy of
the complaint and summons to the organization’s chief executive officer or in the manner
prescribed by state law. Under Florida law, a complaint may be served on the president, vice
president, chair, vice chair or any member of the governing board, council or commission. See
Fla. Stat. § 48.111. MDCR is a department of Miami-Dade County. Thus, to effectuate proper
service, a copy of the complaint and summons would have had to be delivered to an authoritative
member of Miami-Dade County. The record reflects that Mr. Cornwall delivered a copy of the
summons and original complaint to Timothy P. Ryan. Neither the original complaint nor the
amended complaint was served upon Miami-Dade County. Accordingly, and as it pertains to the
claims against MDCR, service of process is quashed.
C. Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation is not Sui Juris.
The capacity to sue or be sued is determined by the law of the state where the court is
located. Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(b)(3). “Although municipalities have the power to sue and be sued
under Florida law, [MDCR], as a division of Miami-Dade County, lacks the capacity to be sued.”
Ingraham v. Miami-Dade Cnty. Corr. and Rehab. Dep’t, No. 09-23829, 2010 WL 3359445 at *3
(S.D. Fla. May 20, 2010) (citing Fla. City Police Dep’t v. Corcoran, 661 So. 2d 409, 410 (Fla.
MDCR does not acknowledge that Mr. Cornwall remained in custody until April 4, 2007. The
grievance forms, however, reflect that Mr. Cornwall was in custody until at least March 30,
Dist. Ct. App. 1995)).
Therefore, Mr. Cornwall’s claims against MDCR are dismissed with
D. Mr. Cornwall’s § 1983 Claims Fail to State a Cause of Action.
“In order to prevail on a civil rights action under § 1983, a plaintiff must show that he …
was deprived of a federal right by a person acting under color of state law.” Griffin v. City of
Opa-Locka, 261 F.3d 1295, 1303 (11th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). “A person acts under color
of state law when he acts with authority possessed by virtue of his employment with the state.”
Id. “The dispositive issue is whether the official was acting pursuant to the power he/she
possessed by state authority or acting only as a private individual.” Edwards v. Wallace Cmty.
Coll., 49 F.3d 1517, 1523 (11th Cir. 1995).
While in MDCR’s custody, Mr. Cornwall documented his alleged abusive treatment
through the grievance process. Specifically, Mr. Cornwall alleges that he was spoken to harshly,
was formal not released from jail to vote, and was exposed to mace fumes when a correction
officer attempted to restrain fighting inmates. Individually, or in the aggregate, Mr. Cornwall’s
claims do not assert the deprivation of a constitutionally protected right. “Standing along, simple
verbal harassment does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, deprive a prisoner of a
protected liberty interest or deny a prisoner equal protection of the laws.” DeWalt v. Carter, 224
F.3d 607, 612 (7th Cir. 2000). There is no constitutional right to be released from jail and
transported to vote. See O’Brien v. Skinner, 414 U.S. 524, 527-31 (1974) (the right to vote does
not protect against those circumstances which render voting impracticable, including
incarceration). Lastly, Mr. Cornwall’s exposure to mace fumes was, at most, a de minimis use of
physical force that “will not support a claim for excessive use of force in violation of the Fourth
Amendment.” Nolin v. Isbell, 207 F.3d 1253, 1257 (11th Cir. 2000). Mr. Cornwall’s remaining
grievances are equally deficient as they fail to allege a constitutional violation.
For the reasons explained in this Order, Mr. Cornwall’s case does not have legal merit.
The Amended Complaint fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. It is therefore
ORDERED and ADJUDGED that Mr. Cornwall’s claims against Miami-Dade County
Corrections and Rehabilitation Department and Timothy Ryan are DISMISSED with prejudice.
The Clerk is directed to CLOSE this case. All pending motions are DENIED as moot.
DONE and ORDERED in chambers at Miami, Florida this 31st day of August 2011.
Copies furnished to:
William C. Turnoff, U.S. Magistrate Judge
Counsel of Record
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