Puckett v. Ward
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS 17 MOTION TO DISMISS. Signed by Chief Judge S. Thomas Anderson on 11/20/17. (mbm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
CORPORAL DUSTIN WARD,
SERGEANT JAMIE JOHNSON,
WARDEN MIKE PARRIS, UNIT
BRANDON ELLIS, and
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS
Before the Court is the Motion of Defendants Corporal Dustin Ward, Sergeant Jamie
Johnson, Warden Mike Parris, Unit Manager Joel Smith, and Correctional Officer Phillip Ward3
(collectively “Defendants”) to Dismiss Plaintiff Donald Puckett’s claims made under 42 U.S.C §
1983 (“section 1983”) and Tennessee common law (ECF No. 27). Defendants first argue that
It appears to the Court that Defendant Unit Manager Smith has been identified as Joel
Smith. The Clerk is DIRECTED to alter Defendant Smith’s name as it appears on the docket to
“Unit Manager Joel Smith.”
Based upon the filings before the Court, it appears that Defendant Correctional Officer
Philllip Ward’s name is actually Phillip with two Ls. The Clerk is DIRECTED to correct
Defendant Ward’s name as it appears on the docket to “Correctional Officer Phillip Ward.”
Defendant Correctional Officer Brandon Ellis has not joined this Motion because he has
not been served with process to be made party to this action. Thus, the collective tag
“Defendants,” as the Court uses it in this Order, specifically excludes Defendant Ellis.
this Court lacks jurisdiction under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e,
(the “PLRA”) because Plaintiff failed to allege compliance with the pre-suit exhaustion
requirements. Second, Defendants argue that section 1983 does not permit claims under a theory
of respondeat superior, and therefore claims against the “supervisory defendants” cannot be
sustained. Defendants next argue that they are all entitled to qualified immunity for the section
1983 claims. And finally, Defendants argue that they have absolute immunity from Plaintiff’s
state law negligence claims. For reasons set forth below, Defendants’ Motion is GRANTED.
Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants are DISMISSED, however, without prejudice. Plaintiff is
GRANTED leave to amend his Complaint. Any amended complaint must be filed within thirty
days of the entry of this Order.
PROPER MOTION BEFORE THE COURT
Plaintiff correctly mentions that when, as is the case here, a defendant has presented the
Court with matters outside the pleadings in his motion to dismiss, it is appropriate for the Court
to convert the motion into a motion for summary judgment. Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure states that when a party moving under Rule 12(b)(6) presents matters outside the
pleadings and the court does not exclude the materials, the court must treat the Rule 12(b)(6)
motion as a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). The Court
declines to do so today, however, and as a result must exclude the filed affidavits from its
consideration of this Motion. The Court proceeds as it does because neither party has provided
the Court with a statement of the material facts so as to properly assist it in discerning whether
Defendant is entitled to summary judgment.
See id.; W.D. Tenn. Local R. 56.1(a)–(b).
Therefore, the Court will continue to treat the instant Motion as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to
The following facts as alleged by Plaintiff in his Complaint are taken as true at this stage
of the proceedings. On or about February 5, 2016, Plaintiff was inmate at the Northwest
Correctional Complex (“NWCX”) located in Tiptonville, Lake County, TN. He was working in
the kitchen at NWCX. Anthony Byrd was an inmate in close custody in a high secure area at
NWCX. If Byrd was to be out of his cell, he was to be handcuffed, shackled, and escorted by
two guards at all times. Byrd was released from his cell in the high secure area by a correctional
officer and was allowed in the kitchen area where Plaintiff was working. Byrd then stabbed
Plaintiff with a seven-and-a-half-inch knife several times. Plaintiff was transported to the Med
One hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was hospitalized until February 18, 2016, with
serious, life-threatening injuries involving stab wounds to the internal organs of his body. It was
generally known that Byrd (1) posed a great to the general population—and Plaintiff in
particular, (2) was to be in close custody or very high security, and (3) was to be handcuffed,
shackled, and escorted by two guards whenever he was out of his cell. But yet Byrd was allowed
out of his cell without handcuffs, shackles, or an escort and then further permitted in the kitchen
area, where he violently assaulted Plaintiff.
NWCX or the Tennessee Department of Corrections permitted insufficiently trained
correctional officers to work in high risk and secure areas, placing the inmates at risk. Defendant
Parris is the Warden of NWCX and was responsible for the operations of NWCX. Defendant
Dustin Ward was the supervisor of the correctional officer who let Byrd out of his cell.
Defendant Johnson was the supervisor of the high secure area. Defendant Smith is the unit
manager in charge of the area. Defendant Ellis is a correctional officer who may have let Byrd
out of his cell. Defendant Phillip Ward is a correctional officer who may have let Byrd out of his
STANDARD OF LAW
A defendant may move to dismiss a claim for “failure to state a claim upon which relief
can be granted” under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule
12(b)(6) motion, the Court must treat all of the well-pleaded allegations of the pleadings as true
and construe all of the allegations in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scheuer
v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Saylor v. Parker Seal Co., 975 F.2d 252, 254 (6th Cir.
1992). Legal conclusions and unwarranted factual inferences, however, need not be accepted as
true. Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 12 (6th Cir. 1987) (citing Westlake v.
Lucas, 537 F.2d 857, 858 (6th Cir. 1976); Davis H. Elliot Co. v. Caribbean Utilities Co., 513
F.2d 1176, 1182 (6th Cir. 1975); Blackburn v. Fisk Univ., 443 F.2d 121, 124 (6th Cir. 1971)).
“To avoid dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain either direct or inferential
allegations with respect to all the material elements of the claim.” Wittstock v. Mark A. Van Sile,
Inc., 330 F.3d 899, 902 (6th Cir. 2003). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, a complaint
need only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Although this standard does not require “detailed factual
allegations,” it does require more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)); see also Reilly v. Vadlamudi, 680 F.3d 617, 622
(6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In order to survive a motion to dismiss, the
plaintiff must allege facts that, if accepted as true, are sufficient “to raise a right to relief above
the speculative level” and to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555, 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
Requirements of the PLRA
The PLRA precludes actions under federal law regarding prison conditions without
exhausting all available administrative remedies first. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Defendants argue
that because Plaintiff has failed to even allege that he attempted to file a prison grievance to
exhaust his administrative remedies, the PLRA has deprived this Court of jurisdiction over his
federal claims. Plaintiff responds that exhaustion, however, is an affirmative defense, and,
therefore, an inmate need not specifically plead or demonstrate exhaustion in his complaint.
Plaintiff directs the Court to Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007), in which the Supreme Court
expressly held that “failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense under the PLRA, and that
inmates are not required to specially plead or demonstrate exhaustion in their complaints.”
Jones, 549 at 216. Defendants are asking the Court to dismiss this action precisely because
Plaintiff failed to do something that he is not required to do. Thus, the Court finds Defendants’
argument to be misguided. A dismissal on the basis of failure to demonstrate exhaustion is
inappropriate at the motion-to-dismiss stage.
Failure to State a Claim
Defendants next argue that Plaintiff fails to state a claim under section 1983 because such
claims cannot be based in theories of respondeat superior liability. Defendants are correct that
Plaintiff must demonstrate they were personally involved in the constitutional violations in order
for them to be held liable under section 1983. Copeland v. Machulis, 57 F.3d 476, 481 (6th Cir.
1995) (citing Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 375–76 (1976); see also Heyne v. Metro. Nashville
Pub. Sch., 655 F.3d 556, 564 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Lanman v. Hinson, 529 F.3d 673, 684 (6th
Cir. 2008)) (“This Court has consistently held that damage claims against government officials
arising from alleged violations of constitutional rights must allege, with particularity, facts that
demonstrate what each defendant did to violate the asserted constitutional right.”). Plaintiff
claims that because of the inadequate factual development at this stage of the proceedings, this
issue is best resolved at the summary-judgment stage. Plaintiff has not, however, alleged the
personal involvement of any Defendant in a constitutional rights violation. In other words,
Plaintiff has provided no “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference
that [any one of the Defendants] is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)).
Plaintiff provided specific, concrete facts in his allegations regarding Byrd’s violent assault on
Plaintiff’s person, and Plaintiff further alleged that NWCX or the Tennessee Department of
Corrections permitted insufficiently trained correctional officers in high risk areas, such as where
Byrd was housed. The implication of course is that the latter allegation caused the former. But
there are no factual allegations connecting the two. And even if there were, Plaintiff has failed to
make these allegations about any Defendant such as to permit the Court to infer the personal
involvement of a Defendant. Plaintiff’s allegations are completely devoid of any reference to a
specific Defendant beyond a general statement of their roles inside NWCX. Plaintiff has failed
to state a claim under section 1983. Plaintiff’s section 1983 claims against Defendants are
accordingly DISMISSED without prejudice.
State Law Claims
The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s state law claims
because it has dismissed all of Plaintiff’s federal claims against Defendants. See 28 U.S.C.
1367(c)(3) (“The district courts may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim
[that is part of the same case or controversy] if . . . the district court has dismissed all claims over
which it has original jurisdiction . . . .”). Therefore, Plaintiff’s state claims against Defendants
are DISMISSED without prejudice.
Qualified Immunity and Absolute Immunity
The Court declines to address these issues at this time because Plaintiff’s claims have
been dismissed on other grounds.
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants are DISMISSED
without prejudice. Plaintiff is GRANTED leave to amend his Complaint.
complaint must be filed within thirty days of the entry of this Order.
It is so ORDERED.
s/ S. Thomas Anderson
S. THOMAS ANDERSON
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Date: November 20, 2017.
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