LANE v. Philbin et al
ORDER denying 69 Motion to Dismiss Complaint. The stay in this case is lifted. The Court will issue a new Rules 16 and 26 Order. Ordered by US DISTRICT JUDGE HUGH LAWSON on 9/22/2017. (aks)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
RODNEY M. LANE,
Civil Action No. 7:13-CV-36 (HL)
TED PHILBIN, et al.,
Plaintiff Rodney Lane seeks redress for injuries he sustained as a result of
the deliberate indifference of various officials at Valdosta State Prison. This Court
previously dismissed Mr. Lane’s pro se complaint for failure to state a viable
Eighth Amendment claim of deliberate indifference, finding that Mr. Lane failed to
allege that prison officials possessed the requisite subjective knowledge of the
risk of serious harm faced by Mr. Lane. Mr. Lane appealed, and the Eleventh
Circuit reversed the dismissal and remanded the case to this Court with
instructions to permit Mr. Lane the opportunity to amend his complaint. Mr. Lane
thereafter filed an amended complaint with the assistance of counsel. Now
before the Court is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 69) Mr. Lane’s Third
Amended Complaint (Doc. 68) because Mr. Lane (1) failed to exhaust his
administrative remedies; (2) failed to state a claim for deliberate indifference; and
(3) because Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. Following a review of
the amended complaint, and with the benefit of oral argument, Defendants’
motion is DENIED.
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY1
Plaintiff Rodney Lane is a prisoner in the custody of the Georgia
Department of Corrections. (Doc. 68, ¶ 5). At the time the events underlying this
lawsuit transpired, Mr. Lane was housed at Valdosta State Prison (“VSP”). Upon
arriving at VSP, Mr. Lane was assigned to the Annex Building, a lower security
facility separated from the main prison. (Id. at ¶ 25). Mr. Lane was transferred
from the Annex to E-Building in March 2012. (Id. at ¶ 27).
E-Building is comprised of two dormitories, E-1 and E-2. (Id. at ¶ 17). Each
dorm houses approximately 50 inmates. (Id.). E-Building is widely referred to by
inmates and VSP staff alike as “gangland” because the majority of the inmates
residing in E-Building are known gang members. (Id. at ¶¶ 19-20). Mr. Lane was
one of six inmates in E-Building with no gang affiliation. (Id. at ¶¶ 20-21).
Unaffiliated gang members in E-Building have no protection, leaving them
vulnerable to inmate-on-inmate violence and theft of personal property. (Id. at ¶¶
Inmate-on-inmate violence occurs at least every other week in E-Building.
(Id. at ¶ 32). Weapon possession among the residents of E-Building is
The facts are taken from the complaint and are accepted as true for purposes of
widespread and both known and encouraged by prison officials. (Id. at ¶¶ 35-37).
Inmates procure weapons in various ways, including bringing back lightning rods
and scrap metal found while working maintenance detail; removing light fixtures
within their cells; removing parts from locker boxes in their cells. (Id. at ¶¶ 38-40).
The inmates fashion these items into shanks. (Id.). Despite monthly
“shakedowns” by prison officials, and despite prison officials having the authority
to confiscate weapons and contraband, prison officials fail to do so. (Id. at ¶¶ 3637, 42-45). Mr. Lane specifically alleges that Captain Sherman Maine routinely
does not confiscate weapons during searches and, when he does remove
weapons, he redistributes them to select inmates. (Id. at ¶¶ 43-46). Captain
Maine also regularly cooperates with gang members, smuggling tobacco
products and cell phones into the prison to assuage gang members who threaten
violence in E-Building. (Id. at ¶¶ 49-50).
While the level of gang violence in E-Building is well known to prison
officials, who regularly threaten unruly inmates with transfer to E-Building, VSP
officials permit the dormitories to remain understaffed. (Id. at ¶¶ 51-54). EBuilding is supposed to be staffed by a minimum of three guards: one guard in
the control booth; one floor guard to supervise E-1; and one floor guard to
supervise E-2. (Id. at ¶ 67). The role of the guard in the control booth is strictly to
control ingress and egress from E-Building. (Id. at ¶ 68). He is not to leave the
control booth under any circumstances. (Id.). From March 2012 through June 17,
2012, all 100 inmates in E-1 and E-2 were supervised by a single floor guard. (Id.
at ¶ 69). VSP officials were aware that E-Building was understaffed at that time.
(Id. at ¶¶ 70-75).
The outdoor sidewalk, commonly referred to as the “flat top,” connects EBuilding to the dining hall and has no guard staffing it, even as inmates traverse
the walkway from the dormitory to the dining hall. (Id. at ¶¶ 76-77). As a result,
attacks among E-Building inmates on the flat top are prevalent. (Id. at ¶ 81).
When visibility is low, such as when there is fog, VSP staff will not dismiss EBuilding residents to the dining hall. (Id.). Similar restrictions are not imposed on
the other dormitories. (Id. at ¶ 82).
On the morning of June 17, 2012, while walking from E-Building to the
dining hall for breakfast, Mr. Lane was attacked from behind by at least four other
E-Building inmates with known gang affiliations. (Id. at ¶¶ 85, 97, 90-93). One of
Mr. Lane’s assailants struck him in the eye with a lock. (Id. at ¶ 94). Another
attacker stabbed him four times in the back with a shank. (Id. at ¶ 95). The attack
left Mr. Lane unconscious. (Id. at ¶ 96). Because no guard was on duty on the
flat top, it took up to two minutes for a guard to reach Mr. Lane. (Id. at ¶¶ 86, 97).
Mr. Lane was transported to the medical unit, where he received 18 staples to
close the stab wounds in his back and skin glue to address the laceration on his
eye. (Id. at ¶¶ 98-100). Upon release from the medical unit, Mr. Lane was placed
in “the hole” for his own safety. (Id. at ¶ 102). After a month in the hole, Mr. Lane
was transferred to B-Building. (Id. at ¶ 104). However, once Mr. Lane filed a
grievance based on the attack, he was transferred back to E-Building. (Id. at ¶
105). This type of retaliatory conduct by VSP staff is a common method of
controlling inmate behavior. (Id. at ¶ 106).
Prior to the June 17, 2012 attack, Mr. Lane requested that he be
transferred to another housing unit on at least two occasions. (Id. at ¶ 55). He
informed Counselor Shunda Woods about the violence in E-Building and told her
that he was being threatened by other inmates. (Id.). Ms. Woods told Mr. Lane
that she had no authority to transfer inmates and took no further action. (Id. at ¶¶
56-59). Mr. Lane also addressed his safety concerns and transfer request with
Sergeant Riley, who told Mr. Lane, “Everybody is trying to get out of E-Building.”
(Id. at ¶ 60). Mr. Lane additionally spoke with Deputy Warden Ted Philbin about
the conditions in E-Building and the risk posed to his safety. (Id. at ¶ 61). Deputy
Warden Philbin told Mr. Lane to sue him, that he had been sued before, and
walked off with no further response to Mr. Lane’s concerns. (Id. at ¶¶ 62-66).
Mr. Lane filed an informal grievance pertaining to the June 17, 2012 attack
on June 19, 2012, alleging that prison officials violated his constitutional rights by
failing to house him in a safe environment, and that this violation resulted in the
attack. (Doc. 69-6, p. 15). He requested an internal investigation and a transfer
out of E-Building. (Id.). Captain Maine denied Mr. Lane’s informal grievance,
remarking only that the “dorms are regularly searched for safety issues.” (Id.).
Mr. Lane submitted a formal grievance on a form provided by prison
officials on July 2, 2012. (Id. at p. 5). On the form and also in the attachment he
provided prison officials, Mr. Lane again complained that VSP officials had failed
to protect his constitutional rights. (Id. at pp. 4-5). He described his attack and
indicated that prior to the assault he requested a transfer to another dormitory
from Counselor Shunda Woods and Deputy Warden Ted Philbin for safety
reasons. (Id.). He also asserted that Captain Maine failed to investigate gang
membership. (Id. at p. 5).
Finding that appropriate action had been taken in response to the attack,
VSP officials denied Mr. Lane’s formal grievance. (Id.). He appealed. (Id. at p. 3).
However, Mr. Lane’s appeal was also denied because “[t]here [was] insufficient
evidence to substantiate [his] allegation.” (Id. at p. 2).
After the denial of his formal grievance appeal, Mr. Lane filed a pro se civil
rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ¶ 1983, alleging deliberate indifference by
Counselor Woods and Deputy Warden Philbin to the serious risk of physical
harm he faced. (Doc. 1). He later amended his complaint to include claims
against Captain Maine and Deputy Warden Orr. (Doc. 8). Defendants moved to
dismiss the complaint (Doc. 19), arguing that the claims against Captain Maine
and Deputy Warden Orr should be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative
remedies, and that all of Mr. Lane’s claims should be dismissed for failure to
state a claim. United States Magistrate Judge Thomas Q. Langstaff issued a
Recommendation (Doc. 39) on February 4, 2014, recommending that Mr. Lane’s
complaint be dismissed for failure to state an Eighth Amendment claim for
deliberate indifference. This Court adopted the Recommendation and dismissed
the complaint. (Doc. 41).
Mr. Lane appealed the dismissal of his complaint to the Eleventh Circuit.
Following oral argument, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the decision of this Court,
holding that Mr. Lane’s complaint alleged sufficient facts in support of his Eighth
Amendment deliberate indifference claim to make it plausible that Defendants
had knowledge of the substantial risk of serious harm he faced. The appellate
court remanded the case with instructions to permit Mr. Lane to file a third
amended complaint, which Mr. Lane did with the assistance of counsel.2
Defendants now move the Court to dismiss Mr. Lane’s third amended complaint,
arguing again that Mr. Lane (1) failed to exhaust his administrative remedies; (2)
has not sufficiently pled the elements of an Eighth Amendment deliberate
indifference claim; and (3) that Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.
The Eleventh Circuit appointed counsel to represent Mr. Lane on appeal. In the
order remanding the case, the Court further suggested that this case may
warrant appointment of counsel in the trial court. Any appointment of counsel is
unnecessary for this Court to consider, however, because the same attorneys
appointed to represent Mr. Lane on appeal have entered their appearance as pro
bono counsel for Mr. Lane.
Motion to Dismiss Standard
When reviewing a motion to dismiss, the court shall accept “all wellpleaded facts . . . as true, and the reasonable inferences therefrom are construed
in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Bryant v. Avado Brands, Inc., 187 F.3d
1271,1273 n. 1 (11th Cir. 1999). The court must dismiss the complaint if, “on the
basis of a dispositive issue of law, no construction of the factual allegations will
support the cause of action.” Marshall Cty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cty. Gas
Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993) (citing Executive 100, Inc. v. Martin
County, 992 F.2d 1536, 1539 (11th Cir. 1991) and Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678,
682 (1946)). Accordingly, to avoid dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted
as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) requires an inmate to exhaust all
available administrative remedies before filing federal claims. 42 U.S.C.
§ 1997e(a). This exhaustion requirement “applies to all inmate suits about prison
life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and
whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.” Porter v. Nussle, 534
U.S. 516, 532 (2002). When a prisoner fails to complete the administrative
process or falls short of the procedural requirements, he procedurally defaults his
claims. Johnson v. Meadows, 418 F.3d 1152, 1159 (11th Cir. 2005).
Defendants here do not argue that Mr. Lane did not properly follow the
Georgia Department’s three-step grievance procedure. Rather, Defendants
argue that Mr. Lane’s grievance was substantively deficient and, therefore,
procedurally defaulted as to Defendant Calvin Orr because nowhere in his
grievance does Mr. Lane mention or describe any conduct by Orr. Defendants
also move the Court to dismiss Mr. Lane’s claims against all of the remaining
Defendants on the premise that in neither his formal nor his informal grievance
did Mr. Lane satisfactorily describe any deliberate indifference or wrongdoing by
Claims against Deputy Warden Calvin Orr
Defendants contend that Mr. Lane failed to exhaust his administrative
remedies against Defendant Deputy Warden Orr because Mr. Lane did not
mention or otherwise describe Orr in any fashion in his grievances; therefore,
Deputy Warden Orr should be dismissed as a defendant in this lawsuit. As Mr.
Lane points out, however, the PLRA imposes no requirement on an inmate to
name every possible defendant. Rather, the statute merely requires the inmate to
provide enough information to provide prison officials “time and opportunity to
address complaints internally before allowing the initiation of a federal case.”
Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 93 (2006).
“Section 1997e(a) requires a prisoner to exhaust
administrative remedies, and implicit in that requirement is an obligation on the
prisoner to provide those officials who will pass upon the grievance all the
relevant information that he has, including the identity of any officials he thinks
have wronged him.” Brown v. Sikes, 212 F.3d 1205, 1207-08 (11th Cir. 2000).
However, the exhaustion requirement is designed “to alert prison officials to a
problem, not to provide personal notice to a particular official that he may be
sued . . . .” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 219 (2007). Therefore, a “prisoner need
not name a particular defendant in a grievance in order to properly exhaust his
claim.” Parzyck v. Prison Health Servs., Inc., 627 F.3d 1215, 1218 (11th Cir.
2010) (citing Jones, 549 U.S. at 219); see also Brown, 212 F.3d at 1207 (“we
conclude that while § 1997e(a) requires that a prisoner provide as much relevant
information as he reasonably can in the administrative grievance process, it does
not require that he do more than that”). “[E]xhaustion is not per se inadequate
simply because an individual later sued was not named in the grievances.”
Jones, 549 U.S. at 219.
While Mr. Lane’s grievances did not specifically name Deputy Warden Orr,
the PLRA did not require that he do so. Mr. Lane accomplished the purpose of
§ 1997e(a) by alerting prison officials that VSP administrators failed to protect his
constitutional rights. His grievance notified VSP officials to a problem he wished
to have addressed and provided those same officials with the opportunity to
internally investigate his complaint, which is all that is required. More specifically,
Mr. Lane’s grievance accuses VSP administrative officials of violating his
constitutional rights for failing to house him in a safe environment. (Doc. 69-6, p.
15). At the time of the attack, Deputy Warden Orr was the Deputy Warden of
Security at VSP. It is therefore reasonable to assume that even though Mr. Lane
did not specifically name Deputy Warden Orr, he intended his complaint to
encompass all officials who had authority to make security related decisions.
Defendants’ motion to dismiss Deputy Warden Orr based on exhaustion is
Claims against remaining Defendants
In moving to dismiss Mr. Lane’s claims against the remaining Defendants
on exhaustion grounds, Defendants seek to impose a pleading standard on the
administrative grievance process that simply does not exist. “Compliance with
prison grievance procedures . . . is all that is required by the PLRA to ‘properly
exhaust.’” Jones, 549 U.S. at 218. “The level of detail necessary in a grievance to
comply with the grievance procedures will vary from system to system and claim
to claim, but it is the prison’s requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the
boundaries of proper exhaustion.” Id.
Defendants have pointed to no provision in the Department of Corrections
Standard Operating Procedures that imposes any specificity requirement. In the
absence of such a provision, the Court concludes that Mr. Lane satisfactorily
complied with the prison’s grievance process by filling out the forms provided to
him. As Mr. Lane observes, the forms themselves provide an inmate with very
little opportunity to include significant detail regarding his claims. However, in the
limited space provided, Mr. Lane articulated that he previously requested and
was denied a transfer; that prison officials failed to investigate gang activity; that
as a result he was assaulted; and that the inaction of prison administrators
amounted to a violation of his constitutional rights. The Court finds that this
information, although limited, was enough to alert prison officials to the problem
and to afford them the opportunity to investigate. That is all that is required.
Defendants’ motion to dismiss the remaining Defendants on exhaustion grounds
is therefore DENIED.
Failure to Protect Claim
Under the Eighth Amendment, prison officials have a duty to “take
reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.” Caldwell v.
Warden, FI Talladega, 748 F.3d 1090, 1099 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994)). Mainly, they “have a duty to protect
prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.” Id. (quoting Farmer, 511
U.S. at 833) (internal quotation marks omitted). Not every injury that one inmate
suffers at the hands of another inmate gives rise to constitutional liability. Farmer,
511 U.S. at 834. A prison official only violates the Eighth Amendment “when a
substantial risk of serious harm, of which the official is subjectively aware, exists
and the official does not respond reasonably to the risk.” Id. (quoting Carter v.
Galloway, 352 F.3d 1346, 1349 (11th Cir.2003)) (internal quotation marks
omitted). To plead a failure to protect claim under the Eighth Amendment, a
plaintiff must allege facts that show “(1) a substantial risk of serious harm; (2) the
defendants’ deliberate indifference to that risk; and (3) causation.” Goodman v.
Kimbrough, 718 F.3d 1325, 1331 (11th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks
Substantial Risk of Serious Harm
The first element of an Eighth Amendment claim – substantial risk of
serious harm – is viewed objectively. Caldwell, 748 F.3d at 1099. To establish a
substantial risk of serious harm, failure to protect plaintiffs are "not required to
show . . . precisely who would attack whom . . . but only that [the defendants] had
subjective knowledge of a generalized, substantial risk of serious harm from
inmate violence." Hale v. Tallapoosa County, 50 F.3d 1579, 1583 (11th Cir.
1995) (internal quotations omitted). The Eleventh Circuit has stated that “an
excessive risk of inmate-on-inmate violence at 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.” Harrison v. Culliver, 746 F.3d 1288, 1299
(11th Cir. 2014).
In reversing this Court’s dismissal of Mr. Lane’s pro se complaint, the
Eleventh Circuit found that Mr. Lane’s original complaint “sufficiently set out a
substantial risk of serious harm.” Lane v. Philbin, 835 F.3d 1302, 1308 (11th Cir.
2016). The appellate court found that while any one of Mr. Lane’s allegations
standing alone may not rise to the level of a constitutional violation, the totality of
the circumstances described by Mr. Lane “taken together, permit a reasonable
inference that E-Building was a place with inadequate supervision of dangerous
inmates who possessed weapons, and where violence and terror were the
norm.” Id. at 1308 (citing 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 the circumstances is the infliction of punishment on
inmates violative of the Eighth Amendment, as determined by the trial court.”).
The Court agrees with Defendant that the Eleventh Circuit’s holding that
Mr. Lane’s pro se complaint satisfied the first element of an Eighth Amendment
claim is not dispositive. In remanding the case, the Eleventh Circuit instructed the
Court to permit Mr. Lane to file an amended complaint. As a general principal, an
amended complaint supersedes the initial pleading. Lowery v. Ala. Power Co.,
483 F.3d 1184, 1219 (11th Cir. 2007). Therefore, in evaluating the present
motion to dismiss, the Court must consider the factual allegations set forth in Mr.
Lane’s amended complaint, which varies from the pro se complaint reviewed by
the Eleventh Circuit. Nevertheless, the Court still must be guided by the Eleventh
In order to satisfy the substantial risk of serious harm element of an Eighth
Amendment claim at the pleading stage, Mr. Lane “had to allege conditions that
were extreme and posed an unreasonable risk of serious injury to his future
health or safety.” Lane, 835 F.3d at 1307 (citing Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d
1278, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004)). The allegations in Mr. Lane’s amended complaint
sufficiently meet this requirement.
Defendants suggest that Mr. Lane’s allegations relating to the threat of
violence in E-Building are, at best, conclusory and must be disregarded by the
Court. Conclusory allegations are those that amount to nothing more than mere
“labels or conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see
also Franklin v. Curry, 738 F.3d 1246, 1250 (11th Cir. 2013) (“Conclusory
allegations fail to apprise defendants of the factual basis of the plaintiff’s
claims.”). A plaintiff cannot rely on “naked assertions devoid of further factual
enhancement.” Id. (internal quotation marks and alteration omitted). “While legal
conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported
by factual allegations.” Id. at 679. Conclusory statements include bald allegations
that a defendant was deliberately indifferent or that he knew or should have
known of a risk, allegations which, without more, carry no weight. See Franklin,
738 F.3d at 1251.
While Mr. Lane’s complaint does include some conclusory allegations to
help frame his claims, his complaint still contains enough factual allegations,
accepted as true, to establish a substantial risk of serious harm. Mr. Lane alleges
that E-Building, which is comprised of two 50-person dorms, is secured by a
single guard. (Doc. 68, ¶¶ 17, 69). E-Building is known by both the inmates and
VSP staff as “gangland” because the vast majority of the inmates housed in the
dormitory are known to be members of gangs. (Id. at ¶¶ 18-19). Of the 100
inmates in E-Building, only about six, including Mr. Lane, are not affiliated with a
gang. (Id. at ¶¶ 20-21). As a result of inadequate supervision in E-Building,
inmate-on-inmate violence is a frequent occurrence, with an incident happening
at least once every other week. (Id. at ¶¶ 24, 32). The violent conditions are
exacerbated further by the prevalence of weapons, possession of which is
tolerated and even encouraged by prison officials. (Id. at ¶¶ 35-37). Inmates
have ready access to weapons, procuring scrap metal and removing light fixtures
and parts from locker boxes to fashion shanks. (Id. at ¶¶ 38-40).
Based on these allegations, the Court finds that Mr. Lane has satisfactorily
set forth the substantial risk of serious harm element of an Eighth Amendment
claim. He has described n setting where inadequate supervision and ready
access to weapons created an environment where “violence and terror reign.”
Harrison v. Culliver, 746 F.3d at 1299; see also Marsh v. Butler, Cty., Ala., 268
F.3d 1014, 1027-28 (11th Cir. 2001) (en banc) (holding that a plaintiff satisfied
the substantial risk of serious harm element by alleging that inmates had ready
access to weapons, dismantled the jail facility to make weapons, and were
inadequately supervised by prison officials); Williams v. Edwards, 547 F.2d 1206,
1211 (5th Cir. 1997) (finding that easy access to materials that can be fashioned
into weapons contributed to a substantial risk of serious harm).
Satisfaction of the second element of an Eighth Amendment claim – the
defendant’s deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm –
requires 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.”
McElligott v. Foley, F.3d 1248, 1254 (11th Cir. 1999). The defendant must be
“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.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at
837; Caldwell, 748 F.3d at 1099-1100.
“[A]n Eighth Amendment claimant need not show that a prison official
acted or failed to act believing that harm actually would befall an inmate; it is
enough that the official acted or failed to act despite his knowledge of a
substantial risk of serious harm.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842. However, “before [a
defendant’s] awareness arises to a sufficient level of culpability, there must be
much more than mere awareness of [an inmate’s] generally problematic nature.”
Carter, 352 F.3d at 1349. The plaintiff must allege facts that the official
possessed knowledge of the condition and of the means to cure the condition
“‘so that a conscious, culpable refusal to prevent the harm can be inferred from
the defendant’s failure to prevent it.’” LaMarca v. Turner, 995 F.2d 1526, 1536
(11th Cir. 1993) (quoting Duckworth v. Franzen, 780 F.2d 645, 653 (7th Cir.
1985)). “Thus, if an official attempts to remedy a constitutionally deficient prison
condition, but fails in that endeavor, he cannot be deliberately indifferent unless
he knows of, but disregards, an appropriate and sufficient alternative.” Id.
The factual allegations in Mr. Lane’s complaint establish the plausibility
that each of the Defendants was subjectively aware of the substantial risk of
serious harm Mr. Lane faced as a result of being a non-gang member housed in
a dormitory comprised predominately of gang members and where possession of
weapons was rampant and unmoderated by prison officials. He alleges generally
that VSP administrators, which includes the four individuals named in his
complaint, regularly referred to E-Building as “gangland” and were aware of the
armed violence within that particular dorm. (Doc. 68, ¶¶ 19, 51). He further
alleges that Defendants, knowing of the dangerous conditions in E-Building, used
the threat of transfer to E-Building to control inmates housed in other parts of the
prison. (Id. at ¶ 51).
Mr. Lane alleges that on at least two occasions prior to the attack, he
addressed his concerns about the conditions in E-Building with Counselor
Woods, informing her of the violence within the dormitory and the threats he
received. (Id. at ¶ 55). Mr. Lane requested that Counselor Woods transfer him to
another housing unit. (Id. at ¶ 55). Based on these allegations, coupled with the
general allegations of what knowledge prison officials had about the conditions in
E-Building, a plausible inference may be drawn that Counselor Woods was
subjectively aware of the substantial risk of harm faced by Mr. Lane.
More than a month prior to the attack, Mr. Lane also addressed his fear for
his safety as a result of the violence in E-Building with Deputy Warden Philbin.
(Id. at ¶ 61-62). He alleges that in response to his request for a transfer, Deputy
Philbin told Mr. Lane to sue him. (Id. at ¶ 63). As the Deputy Warden of Care and
Treatment at VSP, Deputy Warden Philbin was aware of the minimal staffing
requirements of E-Building and also knew that at the time of the June 2012
incident there was only one floor guard supervising all 100 inmates in E-Building.
(Id. at ¶¶ 67, 70). These allegations permit a plausible inference that Deputy
Warden Philbin was aware of the dangerous conditions in E-Building and that Mr.
Lane requested a transfer because of those conditions.
Mr. Lane has also set forth sufficient allegations to plausibly show that
Defendants Captain Maine and Deputy Warden Orr were subjectively aware of
the substantial risk of serious harm encountered by Mr. Lane in E-Building. Each
of these individuals served in a capacity that involved ensuring the safety of the
inmates and the security of the prison. (Id. at ¶¶ 6, 8-9, 41). Captain Maine, the
Captain of Security at VSP, was responsible for conducting monthly searches of
the dormitories for weapons and other contraband. (Id. at ¶¶ 9, 42). Even though
Captain Maine had the authority to confiscate any weapons recovered during
these “shakedowns,” as a general practice he did not. (Id. at ¶¶ 43-45). He even
was known to redistribute weapons to select inmates. (Id. at ¶ 46). Mr. Lane
additionally alleges that Captain Maine cooperated with the gang members in EBuilding, providing materials that could be used to fashion weapons and
smuggling in contraband like tobacco and cell phones to appease gang members
who threatened violence in E-Building. (Id. at ¶¶ 47-50). Mr. Lane states that he
overheard Captain Maine threaten other inmates with transfer to E-Building if
they did not comply with his orders. (Id. at ¶ 53). Even though Mr. Lane never
communicated a particularized threat to Captain Maine, Mr. Lane has pled
sufficient other allegations to establish that Captain Maine was subjectively
aware of the substantial risk of harm associated with being housed in E-Building.
Like Captain Maine, Deputy Warden Orr also was known to threaten to
transfer unruly inmates in other dorms with transfer to E-Building. (Id. at ¶ 52). As
the Warden of Security, Deputy Warden Orr knew that there was no security
detail for inmates moving from E-Building across the flat top to the dining hall. (Id.
at ¶ 78). Mr. Lane complained to Deputy Warden Orr about the prevalence of
weapons in E-Building. (Id. at ¶ 54). In response, Deputy Warden Orr stated, “I
know about the knives, it’s out of my hands. I know they make them. It’s the
state’s problem, ain’t nothing I can do.” (Id.). This statement alone is enough to
establish Deputy Orr’s subjective knowledge of the threat of harm in E-Building.
The Court is satisfied that Mr. Lane has also set forth sufficient factual
allegations to establish that Defendants unreasonably responded to the risk of
serious harm posed to Mr. Lane in E-Building. Beyond the most straightforward
means of addressing the risk of harm Mr. Lane faced in E-Building as a non-gang
member – transfer to another dormitory – Mr. Lane also points to deficiencies in
staffing E-Building, noting that even though the prison required one floor guard in
each section of E-Building, during the relevant time period, only one guard
supervised all 100 inmates. (Id. at ¶¶ 67, 69). Deputy Warden Philbin, Deputy
Warden Orr, and Captain Maine all had the authority to address guard staffing in
E-Building and knew that E-Building was staffed with a single guard; yet they
took no measures to address this safety issue. (Id. at ¶¶ 70-75). These same
Defendants were also aware of the risks posed to inmates along the flat top
between E-Building and the dining hall but did not provide a guard to escort
inmates. (Id. at ¶¶ 76-80, 81-83).3 Mr. Lane contends that even if additional
Defendants attempt to draw a distinction between Mr. Lane’s allegations of
violence within E-Building and outside on the flat top, implying that Mr. Lane has
not alleged that he informed prison officials that he feared for his safety on the
flat top. However, it is implicit from Mr. Lane’s complaint that what he alleges is
staffing was not available, at the very least, Defendants could have restricted the
number of inmates moving through the outdoor area at one time. (Id. at ¶ 83).
In addition to the staffing issues, Mr. Lane alleges that Defendants could
have taken a number of other steps to ensure the safety of the inmates in EBuilding. These measures include legitimately sweeping the dorm for weapons
and ensuring that any weapons or materials that could be fashioned into
weapons were removed.
Defendants contend that Mr. Lane has not established that Defendants
could have abated the risk he faced by transferring him to another dorm because
Mr. Lane has not alleged that transfer was an available option. Defendants ask
the Court to infer from Counselor Woods’ statement that she could not personally
transfer Mr. Lane and from another comment that “[e]verybody is trying to get out
of E-Building” that transfer was not an available option. While the facts may
ultimately demonstrate that transferring Mr. Lane either was not an available
remedy or otherwise would not have lessened the risk he faced, at this stage of
the litigation, the allegation that he requested the transfer for safety reasons and
that the transfer was denied despite knowledge of the risk posed to Mr. Lane if
he remained in E-Building will suffice.
that violence was prevalent among the E-Building inmates and that the violence
was not contained within the four walls of the dormitory. Thus, the risk he faced
extended to the flat top when the inmates moved together from one location to
The final element – causation – “requires proof of an affirmative causal
connection between the actions taken by a particular person ‘under color of state
law’ and the constitutional violation.” LeMarca, 995 F.2d at 1538 (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). The “critical” question is whether the
defendant was “in a position to take steps that could have averted the . . .
incident . . . but, through [deliberate] indifference, failed to do so.” Williams v.
Bennett, 689 F.2d 1370, 1384 (11th Cir. 1982). A plaintiff demonstrates the
necessary causal link by showing that the prison official “(1) had the means to
improve the inmate’s safety, (2) knew that the actions he undertook would be
insufficient to provide the inmate with reasonable protection from violence, and
(3) had other means available to him which he nevertheless disregarded.”
Rodriguez v. Sec’y for the Dep’t of Corr., 508 F.3d 611, 622 (11th Cir. 2007)
(internal alterations and citation omitted).
While discovery may ultimately produce facts that prove otherwise, the
Court at this stage concludes that Mr. Lane has pled sufficient facts to establish
causation. Mr. Lane has adequately set forth enough factual detail that each
Defendant had the means to impact the conditions to which he was subject; that
each Defendant knew that the actions he or she took in response to Mr. Lane’s
safety concerns was insufficient to shield him from violence; and that each
Defendant had the means available to take some action yet did nothing.
“[Q]ualified immunity protects government officials ‘from liability for civil
damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.’” Pearson
v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S.
800, 818 (1982)). “In order to receive qualified immunity, the public official must
first prove that he was acting within the scope of his discretionary authority when
the allegedly wrongful acts occurred.” Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th
Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The purpose of
qualified immunity “is to allow government officials to carry out their discretionary
duties without the fear of personal liability or harassing litigation.” Id. Here, there
is no dispute that Defendants were acting within the scope of their discretionary
authority at the time of the alleged incident.
Once the defendant establishes that he was acting in a discretionary
capacity, “the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that qualified immunity is not
appropriate.” Id. The court must apply a two-step analysis to determine whether
or not the defendant is entitled to qualified immunity. The first inquiry asks
whether, when taken in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, the facts
demonstrate that the officer’s conduct violated a constitutional right. See Saucier
v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). “If a constitutional right would have been
violated under the plaintiff’s version of the facts, the court must then determine
‘whether the right was clearly established’” at the time of the alleged violation.
Lee, 284 F.3d at 1194 (quoting Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201). “[T]he relevant,
dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established is whether
it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the
situation he confronted.” Saucier, 533 U.S. at 202.
Under the version of the facts set forth in Mr. Lane’s complaint, he has
established a constitutional violation. The Court now must consider whether the
law was clearly established. Defendants argue that the law was not clearly
established that a prison official would violate a prisoner’s Eighth Amendment
rights by failing to transfer him when there is no specific or general threat posed
to the inmate and when there are only vague or conclusory allegations of
weapons in the dorms without evidence of pervasive violent conditions.
“For a constitutional right to be clearly established, its contours ‘must be
sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing
violates that right.’” Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 (2002) (quoting Anderson
v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987)). A plaintiff can demonstrate that a
constitutional violation was clearly established in one of two ways. Id. at 1255.
First, a plaintiff “may show that ‘a materially similar case has already been
decided.’” Id. (quoting Mercado v. City of Orlando, 407 F.3d 1152, 1159 (11th Cir.
2005)). Second, a plaintiff “can point to a ‘broader, clearly established principle
[that] should control the novel facts [of the] situation.’” Id. (quoting Mercado, 407
F.3d at 1159); accord United States v. Lanier, 520 U.S. 259, 271 (1997)
(“[G]eneral statements of the law are not inherently capable of giving fair and
clear warning, and in other instances a general constitutional rule already
identified in the decisional law may apply with obvious clarity to the specific
conduct in question, even though the very action in question has not previously
been held unlawful.”) (internal punctuation and citation omitted).
Mr. Lane’s complaint alleges that Defendants failed to transfer him after he
notified prison officials that he was being threatened by other inmates in EBuilding; that there was widespread violence and possession of weapons among
the inmates in E-Building; and that he feared for his safety. (Doc. 68, ¶¶ 54-55,
60-61). However, his complaint goes further than to complain about the general
conditions and his desire to be relocated to another dormitory. Mr. Lane
additionally sets forth allegations that prison officials were aware of the disparity
between gang and non-gang affiliated inmates housed in E-Building and, rather
than implementing measures to protect inmates like Mr. Lane who were not
associated with a gang, prison officials facilitated the creation of dangerous
conditions by not properly staffing a dormitory where inmate-on-inmate violence
occurred on at least a bi-weekly basis and by tolerating, and even encouraging
and enabling, the possession of contraband weapons. (Id. at ¶¶ 19-22, 24, 32,
In 2012, when the attack on Mr. Lane occurred, no reasonable officer
reasonably could have believed that doing nothing in the circumstances
described in Mr. Lane’s complaint was constitutional. While neither the Court nor
the parties have identified a case that is exactly on point with the factual scenario
presented in this case, the general principal is well established that prison
officials have a duty to protect inmates from a substantial risk of violence and that
they violate a prisoner’s Eighth Amendment rights by failing to engage in any way
to reduce that risk. In Farmer v. Brennan, the Supreme Court made clear that
prison officials have a duty “to protect prisoners from violence at the hand of
other prisoners,” and that an official may be liable if he knows of and disregards a
substantial risk of an inmate-on-inmate attack “by failing to take reasonable
measures to abate [the risk].” 51 U.S. at 847. Clear Eleventh Circuit precedent
also establishes that it is an unreasonable response for prison officials to do
nothing to address prison conditions that pose a serious risk of physical harm to
inmates. See Marsh v. Butler Cty., Ala., 268 F.3d 1014, 1034 (11th Cir. 2001) (en
banc) (“[A]t the time of the assaults in this case, it was clearly established in this
Circuit that it is an unreasonable response for an official to do nothing when
confronted with prison conditions – like the conditions alleged in this case – that
pose a risk of serious physical harm to inmates.”). Accordingly, at this stage,
Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES Defendants’ Motion to
Dismiss (Doc. 69) Plaintiff’s Third Amended Complaint. The Court hereby lifts the
stay of this case and will issue a new Rules 16 and 26 Order.
SO ORDERED this 22nd day of September, 2017.
s/ Hugh Lawson________________
HUGH LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE
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