Rhiner v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections et al
ORDER Adopting 55 Report and Recommendations. Certificate of Appealability: No Ruling; denying 58 Motion for Reconsideration; denying 58 Motion to Amend/Correct; denying 64 Motion to Amend/Correct; granting in part and denying in part 30 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Signed by Judge Robin L. Rosenberg on 9/20/2016. (nkl)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
CASE NO. 2:15-CV-14319-ROSENBERG/WHITE
JULIE JONES et al.,
ORDER ADOPTING MAGISTRATE’S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
THIS MATTER is before the Court upon the Motion to Dismiss [DE 30] filed by
Defendants Julie Jones, Lars Severson, and Mr. Snyder, which was previously referred to the
Honorable Patrick A. White for a Report and Recommendation. See DE 3. On June 24, 2016,
Magistrate Judge White issued a Report and Recommendation [DE 55] recommending that the
Motion be granted to the extent that Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant Jones and Plaintiff’s
claims for injunctive relief be dismissed, and that the Motion be denied in all other respects.
On July 5, 2016, Defendants Severson and Snyder filed Objections [DE 57] to the Report
and Recommendation. On July 11, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Reconsideration in
Dismissing Julie Jones as a Defendant, and all Injunctive Relief Denied—and/or—Motion
Requesting Leave to Amend Plaintiff’s Original Complaint [DE 58], which the Court construes
in part as Plaintiff’s Objections to the Report and Recommendation and in part as a motion for
leave to amend his Complaint [DE 1]. On July 18, 2016, Plaintiff also filed a Motion in
Opposition to Defendants’ Objections to the Report and Recommendation [DE 59], which the
Court construes as Plaintiff’s Response to Defendants’ Objections. On July 19, 2016, Defendants
Jones, Severson, and Snyder filed a Response to Plaintiff’s Motion for Reconsideration [DE 61],
requesting that the Court adopt the Report and Recommendation with regard to the dismissal of
Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant Jones and Plaintiff’s claims for injunctive relief, and that the
Court deny Plaintiff leave to amend his Complaint. Because the Court adopts Magistrate Judge
White’s Report and Recommendation and dismisses Plaintiff’s claims for injunctive relief,
Plaintiff’s proposed amendment to add the former Secretary of the Florida Department of
Corrections as a defendant would be futile. To the extent Plaintiff seeks leave to amend his
Complaint, his Motion for Reconsideration in Dismissing Julie Jones as a Defendant, and all
Injunctive Relief Denied—and/or—Motion Requesting Leave to Amend Plaintiff’s Original
Complaint [DE 58] is therefore DENIED.
On July 22, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Notice to Clerk [DE 62] and attached an amended
Motion for Reconsideration, which the Court construes as supplemental objections to the Report
and Recommendation. On September 13, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Amend—Add to the
Plaintiff’s Motion for Reconsideration—Objection to Recommendation in Dismissing Julie
Jones and All Injunctive Relief . The following day, Defendants Jones, Severson, and Snyder
filed a Response to Plaintiff’s Motion to Amend [DE 65], noting among other things that the
time for objections has long since passed. The Court agrees. Plaintiff’s Motion to Amend—Add
to the Plaintiff’s Motion for Reconsideration—Objection to Recommendation in Dismissing
Julie Jones and All Injunctive Relief  is therefore DENIED.
The Court has conducted a de novo review of Magistrate Judge White’s Report and
Recommendation, has reviewed Plaintiff’s and Defendants’ Objections thereto, has reviewed the
entire record, and is otherwise fully advised in the premises.
Upon review, the Court finds Magistrate Judge White’s recommendations to be well
reasoned and correct. The Court agrees with the analysis in Magistrate Judge White’s Report and
Recommendation and concludes that Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss should be granted to the
extent that Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant Jones and Plaintiff’s claims for injunctive relief
should be dismissed, and that the Motion should be denied in all other respects, for the reasons
set forth therein. The Court also finds, however, that Defendants’ Objections to the Report and
Recommendation warrant a discussion.
Defendants assert that the conclusions reached in Magistrate Judge White’s Report and
Recommendation rest “in large part upon an Initial Report that was entered without objection
before Defendants were served,” and that Magistrate Judge White did not properly consider the
arguments presented in Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. See DE 57 at 2. Having reviewed
Magistrate Judge White’s Report and Recommendation, the Court notes that each of the
arguments raised by Defendants was considered and addressed. See DE 55 at 8–18. Nevertheless,
the Court supplements Magistrate Judge White’s Report and Recommendation to explain in
greater detail its conclusion that Plaintiff has sufficiently stated a claim and that Defendants
Severson and Snyder are not entitled to qualified immunity at this stage of the proceedings.
A. Failure to State a Claim
In his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights
by failing to prevent a violent attack perpetrated against Plaintiff by several other inmates.
A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and
unusual punishment if he is deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of serious
harm to an inmate who suffers injury. To establish an Eighth Amendment claim
of deliberate indifference, [a plaintiff] must allege facts sufficient to show “(1) a
substantial risk of serious harm; (2) the defendants’ deliberate indifference to that
risk; and (3) causation.”
Lane v. Philbin, No. 14-11140, 2016 WL 4487983, at *3 (11th Cir. Aug. 26, 2016) (internal
1. Substantial Risk of Serious Harm
“The first element of an Eighth Amendment claim—a substantial risk of serious harm—is
assessed under an objective standard.” Id. (citing Caldwell v. Warden, FCI Talladega, 748 F.3d
1090, 1099 (11th Cir. 2014)). To meet this standard, a plaintiff must “allege conditions that were
sufficiently serious to violate the Eighth Amendment, i.e., conditions that were extreme and
posed an unreasonable risk of serious injury to his future health or safety.” Id. (citing Chandler v.
Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004). “[A]n excessive risk of inmate-on-inmate
violence at a jail creates a substantial risk of serious harm; occasional, isolated attacks by one
prisoner on another may not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, [but] confinement in a
prison where violence and terror reign is actionable.” Id. (quoting Harrison v. Culver, 746 F.3d
1288 (11th Cir. 2014)).
In Lane, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that the plaintiff had “sufficiently set out a
substantial risk of serious harm” where his complaint alleged: that the inmate population of the
building where he was housed consisted of 90% gang members; that inmates who were not gangaffiliated were robbed and stabbed; that there were numerous stabbings and beatings; that only
one officer supervised two separate 50-man dorms; that the building housed dangerous predators;
that inmates brought back items from their work on the maintenance detail, and took materials
from light fixtures and shelves, to make weapons; that weapons were not confiscated during
searches by prison officials; and that he was stabbed several times by a gang-affiliated inmate.
See Lane, 2016 WL 4487983, at *3; see also id. (citing Marsh v. Butler County, Alabama, 268
F.3d 1014, 1027–28 (11th Cir. 2001)) (“[P]laintiff satisfied the substantial risk of serious harm
element of an Eighth Amendment claim at the pleading stage by alleging that inmates dismantled
the jail facility to make weapons, that inmates had ready access to weapons, and that the prison
provided inadequate supervision of inmates.”); id. (citing Williams v. Edwards, 547 F.2d 1206,
1211 (5th Cir. 1977) (“[E]asy access by inmates to certain materials and resources—which
resulted in the widespread possession of weapons—contributed to a substantial risk of serious
harm at a correctional facility.”).
Likewise, in the instant case, Plaintiff’s Complaint sufficiently alleges a substantial risk
of serious harm. Plaintiff alleges that the area where he was attacked had “no security (officers or
cameras) to bring order to dissuade attacks,” and “is known to inmates and officers alike as a
‘blind-spot’ where multiple assaults have occurred in the past. DE 1 ¶ 20; see also id. ¶ 28
(“Plaintiff was assaulted in one of the few spots in Okeechobee CI that is known to be a ‘blind
spot/death trap’ due to the lack of security in this particular area. It has been the place of many
violent assumption [sic], and still the Defendants failed to provide adequate security to minimize
the danger in this area. . . . [T]he record of assaults in and around this area should have called for
an officer to be stationed there when this area is in use (meals being served) or camera being
placed in this area to discourage any further assaults from happening in this particular ‘hot
spot.’”); id. ¶ 29 (“It is well-documented that throughout the years that the back entrance to
Okeechobee C.I.’s chowhall [where Plaintiff was attacked] is a highly volatile area due to its
lacking adequate security (officer or camera) and not being viewable from any angle as it is
tucked off by itself.”); id. ¶ 33 (“The Plaintiff requests that cameras be placed at the back
entrances of Okeechobee CI’s dining room/chow hall, which would immediately mitigate the
multiple assaults that occur there due to its ‘blind spot’ reputation.”). Plaintiff also alleges that
Defendants “house[d] him, who is a ‘neutron’ (non-Gang member) with known active violent
gang members [and] continuously issued razors to these active violent gang members.” Id. ¶ 25.
In addition, Plaintiff alleges that “Neutrons (non-gang members) are often targeted by active
gang members.” Id. ¶ 26.
Plaintiff’s allegations, “taken together, permit a reasonable inference that [the area where
he was attacked] was a place with inadequate supervision of dangerous inmates who possessed
weapons, and where violence and terror were the norm.” Lane, 2016 WL 4487983, at *3; see
also Gates v. Collier, 501 F.2d 1291, 1309 (5th Cir. 1974) (“Each factor separately . . . may not
rise to constitutional dimensions; however, the effect of the totality of these circumstances is the
infliction of punishment on inmates violative of the Eighth Amendment.”).
2. Deliberate Indifference
“The second element of an Eighth Amendment claim—the defendant’s deliberate
indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm—‘has three components: (1) subjective
knowledge of a risk of serious harm; (2) disregard of that risk; (3) by conduct that is more than
mere negligence.” Lane, 2016 WL 4487983, at *4 (quoting Farrow v. West, 320 F.3d 1235, 1245
(11th Cir. 2003)). Because the first component is subjective, Plaintiff must “allege sufficiently
that the prison officials he sued actually knew that he faced a substantial risk of injury.” Id.
(citing Caldwell, 748 F.3d at 1099). “[A] prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth
Amendment . . . unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or
safety; the official must be both aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a
substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Id. (quoting Farmer
v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994)). “Inferences from circumstantial evidence, however, can
be used to show that a prison official possessed the necessary knowledge.” Id. (citing Caldwell,
748 F.3d at 1099).
Plaintiff’s Complaint sufficiently alleges Defendant Severson’s and Defendant Snyder’s
deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm. For example, Plaintiff repeatedly
alleges that the lack of security in the area where he was attacked resulted in numerous attacks
by inmates on other inmates in that area, and that these facts were well-known among both
inmates and prison staff. See DE 1 ¶¶ 20, 28, 29, 33. In light of these allegations, it can
reasonably be inferred that both Defendant Severson and Defendant Snyder—as Warden and
Assistant Warden, 1 respectively—were aware of these facts. See Lane, 2016 WL 4487983, at *4.
Plaintiff also alleges that “Defendants knowingly put the Plaintiff’s life in danger on a
continuous basis as it houses him, who is a ‘neutron’ (non-Gang member) with known active
violent gang members continuously issued razors to these active violent gang members, and who
continuously ignored the lack of security to a highly volatile area within their institution.” DE 1
¶ 25. In addition, Plaintiff alleges: “It is common knowledge and highly documented that
Neutrons (non-gang members) are often targeted by active gang members (See the recorded
number of assaults gang members on non-gang members in the past five years from within the
Florida DOC).” Id. ¶ 26. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that “[t]he Defendants have known of all three
of the above vulnerabilities [assaults by gang members on non-gang members, assaults with
state-issued razors, and assaults in a known blind-spot] within their prison system, and the past
records of assaults prove their deliberate indifference to the Plaintiff’s serious safety/security
needs.” Id. ¶ 30.
Accordingly, Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts from which the Court may infer that
Defendants had subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm, and that Defendants disregarded
that risk by conduct that is more than mere negligence. See Lane, 2016 WL 4487983, at *4.
negligence/incompetence” throughout his Complaint does not compel the Court to conclude
Plaintiff also identifies Defendant Snyder as “Assistant Warden of Security.” See DE 1 ¶ 28. This allegation
suggests that, based on his job title, Defendant Snyder “was in a position to be subjectively aware of security-related
issues” in the area where Plaintiff was attacked. See Lane, 2016 WL 4487983, at *5.
B. Qualified Immunity
Where a plaintiff has demonstrated on the face of his complaint that defendants violated
his Eighth Amendment rights, “qualified immunity will still attach unless that right was clearly
established at the time [defendants] failed to act.” Bowen v. Warden Baldwin State Prison, 826
F.3d 1312, 1325 (11th Cir. 2016). “In determining whether a right is clearly established, the
relevant, dispositive inquiry is ‘whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct
was unlawful in the situation he confronted.’” Id. (quoting Caldwell, 748 F.3d at 1102). “Thus,
the ‘salient question’ is whether, looking to the decisions of the Supreme Court, the Eleventh
Circuit, and the [Florida] Supreme Court, ‘the state of the law’ in [September 2014] gave
[Defendants] ‘fair warning’ that their conduct was unlawful.” Id. (quoting Hope v. Pelzer, 536
U.S. 730, 741 (2002)).
The Court concludes that, accepting Plaintiff’s allegations as true, Plaintiff’s Complaint
defeats qualified immunity and establishes Defendants’ violation of a clearly established right. In
reaching this conclusion, the Court relies on a case decided by the Eleventh Circuit in 2001,
which in turn relies on a number of earlier decisions by the Eleventh and Fifth Circuits. 2 See
Marsh v. Butler Cty., Ala., 268 F.3d 1014, 1033 & n.12 (11th Cir. 2001) (citing Hale v.
Tallapoosa County, 50 F.3d 1579 (11th Cir. 1995)); Williams v. Edwards, 547 F.2d 1206 (5th
Cir. 1977); Gates v. Collier, 501 F.2d 1291 (5th Cir. 1974)). In Marsh, Plaintiffs—both of whom
were attacked by fellow inmates while incarcerated—alleged that the building was “extremely
dilapidated,” and “[i]nmates were able to obtain makeshift weapons by cannibalizing parts of the
decaying building.” This problem was compounded by a “[l]ack of adequate monitoring of the
All decisions of the Fifth Circuit handed down prior to close of business on September 30, 1981 are binding
precedent in this circuit. See Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206, 1209 (11th Cir. 1981).
inmates,” including broken locks on inmates’ cell doors, “[n]o visual or audio surveillance
system,” and insufficient prison staff to supervise inmates. In addition, “[n]o system of
classification existed at the Jail: pretrial detainees were housed with convicted inmates,
nonviolent offenders with violent offenders, juveniles with adults, and mentally ill persons with
those in good mental health.” See Marsh, 268 F.3d at 1023–25. In sum, the Marsh Court
described the facts of the case before it as follows:
In this case, Plaintiffs allege these things: 1) widespread possession of weapons
by inmates, 2) weapons were not confiscated from prisoners, 3) no segregation of
nonviolent inmates from violent inmates, pretrial detainees from convicted
criminals, juveniles from adults, or inmates with mental disorders from those
without mental disorders, 4) no discipline of inmates for violent behavior and
previous assaults on other inmates, 5) at times the Jail housed more prisoners than
the cells could accommodate, 6) the Jail was understaffed, 7) inadequate
supervision by jailers, and 8) unsupervised prisoner trustees had custodial duties
for other prisoners.
Id. at 1033 n.12. The court concluded that it had been clearly established that it was “an
unreasonable response for an official to do nothing when confronted with prison conditions—
like the conditions alleged in [that] case—that pose a risk of serious physical harm to inmates.”
Id. at 1034. Accordingly, the defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity:
In this case, Plaintiffs allege that no measures were taken to improve conditions at
the Jail. For example, the locks on the cells were never fixed; and supervision of
the inmates was never improved. We conclude, therefore, that Plaintiffs
adequately allege facts which (if true) show that, at the time of the incident, the
Sheriff’s acts were not even arguably reasonable in the light of the clearly
established law. On the jail conditions, the Sheriff—at the Rule 12 stage—is
unentitled to qualified immunity for the claim that she was deliberately indifferent
to the threat of serious harm to Plaintiffs.
In concluding that the defendants had violated a clearly established right, the Marsh court
relied on Hale v. Tallapoosa County, 50 F.3d 1579 (11th Cir. 1995), Williams v. Edwards, 547
F.2d 1206 (5th Cir. 1977), and Gates v. Collier, 501 F.2d 1291 (5th Cir. 1974). The Marsh court
described the facts of these cases as follows:
In Hale, evidence was presented of these conditions: 1) prisoners were not
segregated based on their proclivity for violence, 2) there was only one jailer on
duty, 3) the jailer’s quarters were out of earshot and eyesight of the prisoners’
cell, and 4) fights occurred between inmates on a regular basis resulting in injuries
requiring medical attention and hospitalization. In Williams, the court concluded
that the totality of the circumstances posed a substantial risk of serious harm due
to inmate violence. The circumstances in the prison showed this environment: 1)
widespread possession of weapons, 2) no confiscation of weapons, 3) no
segregation of violent from nonviolent inmates, 4) previous assaults,
5) overcrowding, 6) too few guards to supervise properly inmates, and 7) multiple
reports of stabbing, some resulting in death. In Collier, the court concluded that
these conditions pose a serious risk of harm to inmates: 1) possession of weapons
by prisoners, 2) no established procedure for confiscating weapons, 3) lack of
classification according to severity of offense, 4) no procedure for reporting
previous assaults, 5) overcrowding, 6) lack of supervision by guards, 7) custodial
responsibility assigned to incompetent and untrained inmates, and 8) at least 27
reported instances of armed assaults by inmates on other inmates.
Id. at 1033 n.12.
In the instant case, Plaintiff alleges that violent gang members were housed with nongang members, that gang members regularly attacked non-gang members, that razor blades were
issued to violent inmates, that many inmates used these razor blades as weapons against other
inmates, that prison officials did not monitor whether inmates traded in their old razor blades for
new ones, that there was inadequate supervision and security in the area where he was attacked,
and that there have been many attacks in that area due to the lack of supervision and security
there. See DE 1. These facts are sufficiently similar to those in Marsh, Hale, Williams, and
Collier to conclude that Defendants had fair warning that their failure to act was unlawful. See
Bowen, 826 F.3d at 1325.
For the foregoing reasons, it is hereby ORDERED AND ADJUDGED as follows:
Magistrate Judge White’s Report and Recommendation [DE 55] is ADOPTED.
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss [DE 30] is GRANTED IN PART AND
DENIED IN PART. Plaintiff’s Complaint [DE 1] is DISMISSED only as to all
claims against Defendant Julie Jones and all claims seeking injunctive relief.
Defendants Lars Severson and Mr. Snyder shall answer Plaintiff’s Complaint
within seven (7) days after the date of this Order.
Plaintiff’s Motion for Reconsideration in Dismissing Julie Jones as a Defendant,
and all Injunctive Relief Denied—and/or—Motion Requesting Leave to Amend
Plaintiff’s Original Complaint [DE 58] is DENIED.
Reconsideration—Objection to Recommendation in Dismissing Julie Jones and
All Injunctive Relief  is DENIED.
DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers, Fort Pierce, Florida, this 20th day of September,
ROBIN L. ROSENBERG
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Copies furnished to:
Counsel of Record
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