Martin v. West Virginia Division of Corrections et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting Defendants Jane Doe, Employee of North Central Regional Jail, and John Doe, Employee of North Central Regional Jail's 9 MOTION to Dismiss; dismissing the Doe Defendants from this case. Signed by Judge Thomas E. Johnston on 9/14/2015. (cc: counsel of record; any unrepresented party) (taq)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA
CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:15-cv-01544
WEST VIRGINIA DIVISION OF
CORRECTIONS, et al.,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Pending before the Court is Defendants Jane Doe, Employee of North Central Regional
Jail, and John Doe, Employee of North Central Regional Jail’s Motion to Dismiss (the “Doe
Motion”). (ECF No. 9). For the reasons discussed herein, the Court GRANTS this motion.
This case arises out of events that allegedly occurred while Plaintiff was in custody at the
North Central Regional Jail (“NCRJ”) in West Virginia. The Complaint alleges that, “at all
relevant times, [Plaintiff] was an inmate committed to the custody of the West Virginia Division of
Corrections” (“WVDC”) and “was and has been incarcerated at [NCRJ].” (ECF No. 1, Ex. 2 ¶¶ 7
& 14.) The Complaint asserts that, in roughly “September 2013, another inmate attacked
[Plaintiff].” (Id. ¶ 15.) Following this attack, Plaintiff allegedly “was not provided treatment and
left unconscious for several hours” and “was ultimately transferred to multiple hospitals with
extensive injuries.” (Id. ¶¶ 16–17.) The Complaint further alleges that Plaintiff “was ordered by his
treating physicians to be on a strict liquid diet, as his jaw was ‘wired’ together from the injuries
sustained” in the attack. (Id. ¶ 18.) The Complaint asserts that, despite assurances made by NCRJ
to Plaintiff and his mother, “NCRJ and other named defendants did not follow the orders” of
Plaintiff’s treating physicians. (Id. ¶ 19.) Instead, NCRJ allegedly “didn’t even have a blender for
use to feed [Plaintiff] for several weeks” and “[Plaintiff] was fed only milk for several weeks.” (Id.
¶¶ 21–22.) The Complaint alleges that Plaintiff “lost 30 pounds and was weak and ill.” (Id. ¶ 21.)
On September 19, 2014, Plaintiff filed the Complaint, by counsel, in the Circuit Court of
Kanawha County, West Virginia. (ECF No. 1, Ex. 2.) The Complaint asserts claims “brought
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 for . . . Defendants’ violations of the Constitutions,
common law, statutes and public policy of the United States and the State of West Virginia.” (Id.
¶ 1.) The Complaint names the following as defendants: (1) WVDC; (2) “James Rubenstein,
Commissioner, [WVDC];” (3) “George Trent, Administrator, [NCRJ];” (3) NCRJ; (4) the West
Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Authority (“WVRJ”); and (5) “Jane Doe, Employee,
[NCRJ]” and “John Doe, Employee, [NCRJ]” (together, the “Doe Defendants”). (Id. at 1.) The
Complaint seeks a wide array of injunctive, compensatory, and punitive relief, as well as
“[p]rejudgment and post-judgment interest” and “[a]ttorney fees and costs.” (Id. at 9–10.)
On February 6, 2015, Defendants WVDC and Rubenstein removed this case on the basis of
federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (ECF No. 1 at 1–2.) On March 23, 2015, the
Doe Defendants filed the Doe Motion, which requests dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims against these
Defendants pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 9.) To date, Plaintiff
has not filed a response to this motion. As such, the Doe Motion is ready for disposition.
II. Legal Standard
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint must contain “a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Allegations “must be simple,
concise, and direct” and “[n]o technical form is required.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d)(1). A motion to
dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a civil
complaint. See Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). “[I]t does not
resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.”
Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing 5A Charles Alan
Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1356 (1990)).
“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, ‘to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A court decides
whether this standard is met by separating the legal conclusions from the factual allegations,
assuming the truth of only the factual allegations, and then determining whether those allegations
allow the court to reasonably infer that “the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A
motion to dismiss will be granted if, “after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the plaintiff’s
complaint as true and drawing all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff’s
favor, it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim
entitling him to relief.” Edwards, 178 F.3d at 244.
The Doe Defendants argue that “Plaintiff’s claims may not proceed against [the Doe
Defendants] as no set of facts in support of the claims have been alleged that would entitle him to
relief against the unidentified and possibly non-existent [Doe Defendants].” (ECF No. 9 at 2.) The
“The designation of a John Doe defendant is generally not favored in the federal courts; it
is appropriate only when the identity of the alleged defendant is not known at the time the
complaint is filed and the plaintiff is likely to be able to identify the defendant after further
discovery.” Njoku v. Unknown Special Unit Staff, 217 F.3d 840, at *1 (4th Cir. 2000); cf. Schiff v.
Kennedy, 691 F.2d 196, 198 (4th Cir. 1982) (“[W]e are not unaware of the right of the district court
to manage its docket and the danger of permitting suits with unnamed parties to remain on the
docket unprosecuted.”). See generally Farmer v. Wilson, Civil Action No. 2:14–cv–13256, 2014
WL 4629591, at *1–2 (S.D. W. Va. Sept. 15, 2014) (applying pre-Twombly Fourth Circuit case
law regarding John Doe defendants). “[I]f it does not appear that the true identity of an unnamed
party can be discovered through discovery or through intervention by the court, the court could
dismiss the action without prejudice.” Schiff, 691 F.2d at 198. As such, “John Doe suits are
permissible only against ‘real, but unidentified, defendants.’” Njoku, 217 F.3d at *1 (quoting
Schiff, 691 F.2d at 197).
The Complaint’s sole description of the Doe Defendants is that they were “WVRJ and
NCRJ employee[s] acting under the color of law conferred upon [them] by virtue of this position.”
(ECF No. 1, Ex. 2 ¶¶ 11–12.) The Complaint is otherwise devoid of any further identifying
information regarding the Doe Defendants, or any assertions as to the specific conduct that may
form the basis for these Defendants’ liability. (See ECF No. 1, Ex. 2.) These allegations are grossly
deficient and provide no indication that the Doe Defendants are “real, but unidentified,
defendants.” See, e.g., Parker v. White, No. 5:12–CT–3082, 2012 WL 6701771, at *3 (W.D.N.C.
Dec. 26, 2012) (“A plaintiff who seeks to proceed against unidentified defendants must still
‘provide an adequate description of some kind which is sufficient to identify the person involved
so that process can be served.’” (quoting Keno v. Doe, 74 F.R.D. 587, 588 n.2 (D.N.J. 1977))).
Indeed, “[i]t is pleadings of this nature that the Supreme Court intended to eliminate when it
announced Twombly and Iqbal.” Farmer, 2014 WL 4629591, at *2.
Furthermore, there is no indication in the record that Plaintiff conducted any inquiries
following his filing of the Complaint to ascertain the identities of these hypothetical individuals.
Plaintiff’s “failure to act diligently” to ascertain the identities of these individuals “lends support to
the conclusion that the plaintiff has not used the . . . Doe designation as a placeholder” prior to
including particular named defendants in this action. Id.; see also Saunders v. Boddie-Noell
Enters., Inc., Civil Action No. 7:08cv110, 2008 WL 2553047, at *2 (W.D. Va. June 25, 2008)
(“[T]he Court will not permit the use of a ‘John Doe’ designation for a defendant ‘if the plaintiff’s
ignorance of the defendant’s true identity is the result of willful neglect or lack of reasonable
inquiry.’” (quoting 2 James Wm. Moore et al., Moore’s Federal Practice § 10.02(2)(d)(1) (3d ed.
Absent a substantial additional showing that Plaintiff used the “Doe” designations as
placeholders for identifiable individuals, the Court finds that Plaintiff fails to state a claim against
the Doe Defendants. As such, the Court finds that it is appropriate to grant the Doe Defendants’
request for dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims against these hypothetical Defendants.
For the reasons discussed above, the Court GRANTS the Doe Motion. (ECF No. 9). The
Court therefore DISMISSES the Doe Defendants from this case.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
The Court DIRECTS the Clerk to send a copy of this Memorandum Opinion and Order to
counsel of record and any unrepresented party.
September 14, 2015
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