Williams v. Banks et al
ORDER denying 36 Motion for Order to Show Cause; granting 41 Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff's claims against Defendants are dismissed with prejudice. Signed by Magistrate Judge John C. Gargiulo on 9/26/17. (RLW)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
RANDY C. WILLIAMS
JACQUELINE BANKS, et al.
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO SHOW CAUSE (ECF NO. 36)
AND GRANTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
(ECF NO. 41)
BEFORE THE COURT are cross motions for summary judgment: a motion
filed by Plaintiff Randy C. Williams entitled Motion to Show Cause (ECF No. 36),
which the Court construes as a motion for summary judgment, and a Motion for
Summary Judgment (ECF No. 41) filed by Defendants Jacqueline Banks, Hubert
Davis, Ron King, Timothy Morris, Jennifer Roberts, and Unknown Coleman.
Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition (ECF No. 44) to Defendants’ Motion, but
Defendants have not responded to Plaintiff’s Motion or rebutted Plaintiff’s Response
in Opposition. Accordingly, the Court proceeds without the benefit of full briefing on
the instant motions. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the record as
a whole, and relevant law, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s Motion to Show Cause
(ECF No. 36) should be DENIED and Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment
(ECF No. 41) should be GRANTED.
Plaintiff Randy C. Williams filed his Complaint (ECF No. 1) on November 30,
2015. He amended his claims and added new defendants through numerous
subsequent filings (ECF No. 9), (ECF No. 12), (ECF No. 16), (ECF No. 17), (ECF No.
18), and supplemented his claims through testimony at an omnibus hearing1 held
December 8, 2016. Plaintiff is a post-conviction inmate in the custody of the
Mississippi Department of Corrections (“MDOC”) and is currently housed at
Wilkinson County Correctional Facility (“WCCF”) in Woodville, Mississippi.
However, the events forming the basis of Plaintiff’s suit occurred while he was
housed at South Mississippi Correctional Institution (“SMCI”) in Leakesville,
Mississippi. Proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, Mr. Williams alleges that
Defendants violated his constitutional rights by failing to protect him from a fellow
inmate who posed a known threat to Mr. William’s safety. He seeks $750,000 in
damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his rights under the Eight
and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.
Plaintiff asserts that, on July 26, 2015, while housed in the protective
custody zone at SMCI, Eric Ward, a fellow inmate, stabbed Williams several times
in the back of the head and arm while he was watching television. Because “no
officers would come on the zone[,] another inmate … had to stop the stabbing.”
(ECF No. 9, at 3). This apparently happened only an hour or so after Ward was
moved into the same protective custody zone. He says Ward was moved to his zone
because Ward had stabbed another inmate the day prior on another protective
custody zone. Id. Williams says he suffered “multiple seizure[s]” as a result of the
The omnibus hearing functioned as a screening hearing pursuant to Spears v. McCotter, 766 F.2d
179 (5th Cir. 1985).
stabbing, and had to be “rush[ed] to the hospital by helicopter” because of the
severity of his injuries. (ECF No. 1, at 4).
He testified at his omnibus hearing that, at the time of this incident, he only
knew of Ward through gang-related business and knew of him by his nickname “E.”
Williams says Ward is a member of the Vice Lords gang, which had put a hit on him
in retaliation for Williams’ past participation in some inter-gang conflict. Prior to
Ward entering his protective custody zone, there had been no Vice Lord members
housed on the zone. He said he had been stabbed in 2012 by another member of the
Vice Lords and had been stabbed a second time about a month prior to the July 26,
2015 incident (although he did not specify whether this assailant was a Vice Lord).
Williams used to be a high ranking member of the Gangster Disciples gang but says
he walked away from his gang affiliation in 2014; however, this decision did not
eliminate the target placed on his back by the Vice Lords.
He testified that he did not perceive Ward to be a threat when Ward was
moved to his zone, but asserts that Defendants should have known Ward to be a
threat because Ward had recently stabbed another inmate the day prior. However,
Williams stipulated that he does not believe Defendants moved Ward to his zone so
that Ward would harm him. He asserts that Defendants collectively (1) failed to
protect him from inmate Eric Ward, (2) failed to house him in a safe location, and
(3) failed to follow SMCI policies and procedures. See (ECF No. 9, at 2-6); (ECF No.
12, at 1-2); (ECF No. 17, at 2-3).
On January 9, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion to Show Cause (ECF
No. 36), which the Court construes as a motion for summary judgment. Defendants
thereafter filed their Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 41) on March 13,
A. Legal Standard
a. Summary Judgment
Summary Judgment is mandated against the party who fails to make a
showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s
case and on which that party has the burden of proof at trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e);
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A motion for summary judgment
shall be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute of material
fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(a). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe “all
facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” McFaul v.
Valenzuela, 684 F.3d 564, 571 (5th Cir. 2012).
The movant bears the initial burden of identifying those portions of the
pleadings and discovery on file, together with any affidavits, which they believe
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at
323-25. If the movant carries this burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party
to show that summary judgment should not be granted. Id. at 324-25.
The Plaintiff may not rest upon mere allegations in his Complaint, but must
set forth specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Abarca v.
Metro Transit Auth., 404 F.3d 938, 940 (5th Cir. 2005). In the absence of any proof,
the Court will not assume that Plaintiff “could or would prove the necessary facts.”
Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994).
b. Prison Litigation Reform Act
Because Plaintiff is a prisoner pursuing a civil action seeking redress from
government employees, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), Pub. L. No. 104134, 110 Stat. 1321, H.R. 3019 (codified as amended in scattered titles and sections
of the United States Code), applies and requires that this case be screened.
The PLRA provides that “the Court shall dismiss the case at any time if the
court determines that . . . the action . . . (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state
a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a
defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); see 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B). Accordingly, the statute “accords judges not only the authority to
dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the
unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint’s factual allegations and dismiss
those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless.” Denton v. Hernandez,
504 U.S. 25, 32 (1992).
If a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis, and his complaint is dismissed
on grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim, the dismissal
counts as a strike. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). If a prisoner receives three strikes, he may
no longer proceed in forma pauperis in a civil suit unless he is in imminent danger
of serious physical injury. Id.
The Court notes that (1) Defendants do not assert that Plaintiff failed to
exhaust his claims and (2) Defendants do not dispute Plaintiff’s factual allegations.
Rather, Defendants assert in their Motion for Summary Judgment that Plaintiff’s
allegations fail to overcome Defendants’ sovereign and qualified immunity. (ECF
No. 42, at 6-7). Plaintiff asserts, in his Motion, that evidence conclusively shows
that Defendants knew Plaintiff’s life was in danger and took no action to protect
him from harm. (ECF No. 36, at 1-4). Accordingly, because the material facts are
not in dispute, the record is ripe for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).
The Court proceeds to evaluate the merits of these claims.
a. Sovereign Immunity and Monetary Damages
“The Eleventh Amendment prohibits a private citizen from bringing suit
against a state in federal court unless the state consents.” Salinas v. Tex. Workforce
Comm’n, 573 F. App’x 370, 372 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Daigle v. Gulf State Utils.
Co., 794 F.2d 974, 980 (5th Cir. 1986)). The State of Mississippi has not waived
sovereign immunity for lawsuits filed in federal court. See Miss. Code Ann. § 11-465(4) (“Nothing contained in this chapter shall be construed to waive the immunity of
the state from suit in federal courts guaranteed by the Eleventh Amendment to the
Constitution of the United States.”) “The Eleventh Amendment also ‘generally
precludes actions against state officers in their official capacities.” Salinas, 573 F.
App’x at 372 (quoting McCarthy ex rel. Travis v. Hawkins, 381 F.3d 407, 412 (5th
Cir. 2004)). This is because “a suit against a state official in his or her official
capacity … is no different from a suit against the State itself.” Will v. Mich. Dep’t of
State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). However, an exception exists for “suits seeking
prospective relief for violations of federal law against state officers in their official
capacity.” Id. (citing Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908)).
Defendants are all employees and officers of MDOC. Because MDOC is an
arm of the state, its officers and employees are therefore employees of the state.
Reeves v. King, No 1:13-cv-492-KS-MTP, 2015 WL 4616865, at *3-4 (S.D. Miss. Feb.
4, 2015). Thus, to the extent that Plaintiff seeks monetary damages against
Defendants in their official capacities, these claims are barred by sovereign
b. Qualified Immunity and Monetary Damages
“The doctrine of qualified 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)). Accordingly, a government official is entitled
to immunity from suit unless (1) Plaintiff has made allegations sufficient to show a
violation of a constitutional right, and (2) the right at issue was “clearly
established” at the time of the official’s alleged misconduct. Id. at 232 (citing
Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)).
Defendants Banks, King, Davis, Morris, Roberts, and Coleman were
not deliberately indifferent towards Plaintiff’s safety
Under the Eighth Amendment, prison officials have a duty to protect inmates
from violence by other prisoners or prison staff. Hill v. Thomas, 326 F. App’x 736,
736 (5th Cir. 2009); Horton v. Cockrell, 70 F.3d 397, 400 (5th Cir. 1995). However,
not every injury “by one prisoner at the hands of another ... translates into
constitutional liability for prison officials responsible for the victim's safety.” Hill,
326 F. App’x at 736 (citations omitted).
In order to prevail on a claim that prison officials failed to protect an inmate
from harm, the Plaintiff must establish (1) “that he [was] incarcerated under
conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm” and (2) that the jail official’s
state of mind towards inmate’s health or safety was one of “deliberate indifference.”
Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). Proving deliberate indifference
requires showing that the official “knows of and disregards an excessive risk to
inmate health or safety; the official must both 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.” Id. at 837.
Plaintiff asserts that Defendants Banks, King, Davis, Morris, Roberts, and
Coleman knew that Plaintiff was subjected to a substantial risk of serious harm and
disregarded that risk. Plaintiff stated at the omnibus hearing that he had written a
letter to Jacqueline Banks, the Superintendent of SMCI, telling her of the hit placed
on him by the Vice Lords. He provided a copy of this letter, dated May 30, 2015,
with one of his amendments to his pleadings. (ECF No. 9-1). In this letter, he also
asks Defendant Banks to transfer him to Central Mississippi Correctional Facility
because he “fear[s] for [his] life [at SMCI].” Id. He testified that Defendants Banks
responded to this letter stating that she would have him moved, but never actually
did move him.
Williams testified that he wrote to Ron King, the former Superintendent of
SMCI, but received no response. Williams says he also spoke to Defendant King the
day he arrived at SMCI about the threat posed to him by the Vice Lords. As for
Hubert Davis, Warden of SMCI, Williams says that Defendant Davis relocated
inmate Ward to Williams’ protective custody zone after Ward had just stabbed
another inmate. Williams testified that he never spoke to Defendant Davis, but
wrote him a letter (addressed to the warden) stating that he feared for his life.
Williams says that Timothy Morris, former warden at SMCI, was present when
Williams spoke with Defendant King, and that Williams also spoke with Defendant
Morris a few weeks later about the hit placed on him by the Vice Lords.
Williams testified that Jennifer Roberts, Case Manager at SMCI, was also
present during William’s conversation with Defendant King the day he arrived at
SMCI. He says Defendant Roberts told him that she could not do anything about his
situation. Finally, as to Unknown Coleman, a Lieutenant at SMCI, Williams states
that Defendant Coleman moved inmate Ward onto his zone and did not put Ward
on lockdown despite the fact that he had just stabbed another inmate. Because of
Defendants’ collective inaction, Williams says that he “had to cut his arm to go to
suicidal watch to talk to the mental health counselor about his life being in danger
in the P.C. unit.” (ECF No. 9, at 4-5). Mental health records submitted with
Plaintiff’s Motion confirm that he cut himself in order to be put on suicide watch
outside of his protective custody zone. See (ECF No. 36-4); (ECF No. 36-5).
Given that Defendants do not dispute that Williams made these alleged
communications, the Court proceeds under the assumption that Williams did, in
fact, make the written and verbal complaints alleged, and that Defendants received
them. Defendants also do not seem to dispute that Williams was exposed to a
substantial risk of harm. Nonetheless, the Court finds that these allegations fail to
create a triable issue of material fact as to whether Banks, King, Davis, Morris,
Roberts, or Coleman were “deliberately indifferent” to this “substantial risk” of
As an initial matter, to the extent that Williams articulates a theory of
liability against any Defendants premised upon respondeat superior, no such
liability exists under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Bustos v. Martini Club, Inc., 599 F.3d 458,
468 (5th Cir. 2010). Williams seems to allege that no officer timely intervened in the
altercation between himself and Ward, but he does not allege that any of the named
Defendants were present at the time and in a position to intervene. Defendants may
only be made liable under § 1983 for their own actions or inactions, not the actions
of any other individual. Id.
Williams’ communications to Defendants established that members of the
Vice Lords wanted him dead and therefore posed a general danger to his safety. But
beyond this generalized danger – which Defendants took steps to guard against –
nothing suggests that Defendants were aware that Ward specifically posed a danger
to Williams. Williams does not suggest that Defendants knew Ward was a member
of the Vice Lords or that he was otherwise paid to attack Plaintiff. Indeed, Williams
testified that he did not perceive Ward to be a threat when Ward first came onto his
zone. Ward had apparently been involved in an altercation the day prior and
stabbed another inmate, but this does not establish that Ward’s presence posed a
foreseeable danger to Williams’ safety. Ward’s institutional record notes only that
he was cited for “FIGHTING WITH OFFENDER JONAH JACKSON” on July 26,
2015.2 (ECF No. 41-1, at 1). Thus, “[i]t is unknown now, and it was certainly
unknown on July 2, who started the earlier altercation between Ward and
another inmate.” (ECF No. 42, at 7).
To the extent that Defendants were aware of a substantial risk of harm to
Williams, Defendants took reasonable steps to try to keep him safe. First and
foremost, he was placed on protective custody. He had previously been moved
around among different units at WCCF, then moved to SMCI, and then moved
between different units at SMCI before being placed in protective custody. See (ECF
No. 41-4). Additionally, entries from Williams’ Running Record indicate that
Felisha Sargent, an SMCI staff member, attempted to transfer him to another
facility in March 2015, but was unable to do so without an inmate swap from the
protective custody unit at Mississippi State Penitentiary (“MSP”) in Parchman,
The Court finds this discrepancy between Ward’s institutional record – which states he fought with
another inmate on July 26, 2015 – and Williams’ allegations – which state that Ward attacked
another inmate on July 25, 2015 and attacked Williams on July 26, 2015 – to be immaterial.
Mississippi: “Informed offender rec’d email about transfer issue to MSP; per Ms.
Bivens offender will not transfer unless there is a PC offender swap; offender cited
no other issues or concerns.” (ECF No. 41-3, at 1). Even after Williams was stabbed
by Ward, Williams could not be immediately moved from SMCI because inmates he
had red-tagged were presently housed in the protective custody units in other
facilities. See id. at 2. In short, staff members at SMCI made reasonable efforts to
safely house Williams, but the presence of numerous red-tagged inmates in the
protective custody units at other MDOC facilities made it difficult to promptly move
him from SMCI when Williams so requested. See (ECF No. 41-2).
When viewed in the context of the numerous prior moves that staff at MDOC
had arranged for Williams, as well as his protective custody status, it is clear that
Defendants attempted to address the threats Williams reported and attempted to
keep him safe. See Longoria v. Texas, 473 F.3d 586, 594 (5th Cir. 2006) (“We have
previously held that responding to an inmate's complaints ‘by referring the matter
for further investigation’ or taking other appropriate administrative action fulfills
an official's protective duties under the Eighth Amendment.”) (quoting Johnson v.
Johnson, 385 F.3d 503, 526 (5th Cir. 2004)). Defendants were handed a difficult
task in keeping Williams safe. Indeed, Williams created a populous band of enemies
through his prior gang activity. Defendants sought to protect Williams from this
threat, but this threat remains ever-present: gangs are unfortunately an
unavoidable presence in prison life. See Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of Cty.
of Burlington, 132 S. Ct. 1510, 1518 (2012); Lewis v. Richards, 107 F.3d 549, 557
(7th Cir. 1997) (Flaum, J., concurring); Depriest v. Walnut Grove Corr. Auth., No.
3:10-CV-663-CWR-FKB, 2015 WL 3795020, at *13 (S.D. Miss. June 10, 2015),
appeal dismissed sub nom. Depriest v. Fisher, No. 15-60488, 2016 WL 5400415 (5th
Cir. Sept. 27, 2016).
At most, Williams’ allegations establish that Defendants might have been
negligent in failing to have him moved from his protective custody zone at SMCI
sooner, but “negligent failure to protect an inmate is not tantamount to a
constitutional violation.” Simpson v. Epps, No. 5:10-CV-15-MTP, 2010 WL 3724546,
at *3 (S.D. Miss. Sept. 15, 2010) (citing Dilworth v. Box, 53 F.3d 1281 (5th Cir.
1995)); see also Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837 (“[A]n official's failure to alleviate a
significant risk that he should have perceived but did not, while no cause for
commendation, cannot under our cases be condemned as the infliction of
Plaintiff does not have a liberty interest in his housing classification
To the extent that Plaintiff’s claim that Defendants’ failed to safely house
him can be construed as challenging his classification and housing assignment, his
claim must fail as a matter of law. A prisoner has no protectable Fourteenth
Amendment liberty interest in his classification by prison officials. Wilkerson v.
Stadler, 329 F.3d 431, 435-36 (5th Cir. 2003). “Prison officials should be accorded
the widest possible deference in the application of policies and practices designed to
maintain security and preserve internal order.” Id. (quoting McCord v. Maggio, 910
F.2d 1248, 1251 (5th Cir. 1990)). Indeed, “it is well settled that ‘[p]rison officials
must have broad discretion, free from judicial intervention, in classifying prisoners
in terms of their custodial status.’” Id. (quoting McCord, 910 F.2d, at 1250).
Failure to follow prison policies and procedures does not amount to a
Plaintiff’s claims premised upon Defendants’ alleged failure to follow MDOC
and/or SMCI policies and procedures in failing to protect him from inmate Ward
must fail as a matter of law. “[V]iolations of prison rules do not alone rise to the
level of constitutional violations and, therefore, such claims are not actionable
under § 1983.” Scheidel v. Sec'y of Pub. Safety & Corr., 561 F. App'x 426, 427 (5th
Cir. 2014) (citing Hernandez v. Estelle, 788 F.2d 1154, 1158 (5th Cir. 1986)).
The Court has determined that Defendants are each entitled to sovereign
immunity and qualified immunity against Plaintiff’s claims. Defendants are
therefore entitled to summary judgment and Plaintiff’s claims will be dismissed
Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, that Plaintiff’s Motion to Show
Cause (ECF No. 36) is DENIED and Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment
(ECF No. 41) is GRANTED. Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants are dismissed
SO ORDERED AND ADJUDGED, this the 26th day of September, 2017.
s/ John C. Gargiulo
JOHN C. GARGIULO
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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