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Trammell v. Owens

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

September 23, 2014

BRIAN OWENS, et al., Defendants.


MARC T. TREADWELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Eugene Trammell, a former inmate at Georgia State Prison ("GSP"), filed this § 1983 action against Georgia Department of Corrections ("GDOC") Commissioner Brian Owens and former GSP Warden Bruce Chatman. The Plaintiff claims that the Defendants, through their policies, deprived him of his Eighth Amendment rights. The Defendants claim they are entitled to qualified immunity for their actions. Before the Court is the Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Stephen Hyles (Doc. 12) to deny the Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 8). The Defendants did not timely object to the Recommendation.[1]


This case arises out of an alleged attack on the Plaintiff by fellow inmate Travonta Mitchell. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 8). Mitchell was a former gang member known to be "assaultive" to other inmates. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 9). On November 29, 2011, Mitchell threatened the Plaintiff while both were housed at GSP in Unit G-2. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 9). The Plaintiff "started banging on the cell door" and Officer Rodman responded. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 9). After the Plaintiff informed Officer Rodman of Mitchell's threat, Officer Rodman called the officer-in-charge, Sergeant John Johnson. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 9). When Sergeant Johnson arrived, the Plaintiff told him about Mitchell's threat. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 9). Sergeant Johnson instructed Mitchell "to place his hands through the door slot to be hand cuffed." (Doc. 1 at ¶ 9). When Mitchell refused to "cuff up, " Sergeant Johnson told the Plaintiff "there's nothing I can do" and left. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 9). Mitchell then attacked the Plaintiff with a razor blade.

Officer Rodman later returned to the unit with the "pill nurse, " and the Plaintiff told him about the attack. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 9). Officer Rodman told the Plaintiff there was nothing he could do. Officers McNeal and Hall also came to the cell door, saw that the Plaintiff had been cut, and left. Finally, Officers Rodman, McNeal, and Hall returned to the cell and stopped the attack. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 9). By that time, the Plaintiff had been slashed across the face with a razor, "causing an eight inch slash requiring 60 stitches [] and leaving a permanent scar." (Doc. 1 at ¶ 9). The Plaintiff does not specify how much time passed between these encounters with the officers or how long the attack was ongoing.

The Plaintiff alleges Defendant Owens, as GDOC Commissioner, is responsible for the supervision of operations at the GDOC. "This responsibility includes the development, implementation, and maintenance of policies and procedures which protect prisoners from attacks from other prisoners. He is the highest ranking official in the GDOC." (Doc. 1 at ¶ 6). The Plaintiff alleges Defendant Chatham, as GSP Warden at the time of the attack, was responsible "for the day to day operations, supervision, and oversight of [GSP], including the establishment and implementation of practices and policies concerning inmate safety." (Doc. 1 at ¶ 7).

The Plaintiff alleges the Defendants were responsible for two policies that caused his injuries: (1) they "require[d] correctional officers to hand cuff inmates engaged in an attack against another inmate before officers may enter the cell to stop the attack, " and (2) they "provide[d] razor blades in the form of shaving implements to inmates." (Doc. 1 at ¶ 10). The Plaintiff further alleges that the "Defendant correctional officials have acted with negligence, carelessness, recklessness and deliberate indifference to the safety of [the Plaintiff] at [GSP]." (Doc. 1 at ¶ 3).


A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

To avoid dismissal pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 697 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "At the motion to dismiss stage, all well-pleaded facts are accepted as true, and the reasonable inferences therefrom are construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Garfield v. NDC Health Corp. , 466 F.3d 1255, 1261 (11th Cir. 2006) (quotation marks and citation omitted). However, "where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not shown'-that the pleader is entitled to relief." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679. "[C]onclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal." Oxford Asset Mgmt., Ltd. v. Jaharis , 297 F.3d 1182, 1188 (11th Cir. 2002). Where there are dispositive issues of law, a court may dismiss a claim regardless of the alleged facts. Marshall Cnty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cnty. Gas Dist. , 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted).

B. Qualified Immunity Standard

"Qualified immunity offers complete protection for individual public officials performing discretionary functions insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Sherrod v. Johnson , 667 F.3d 1359, 1363 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald , 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). "Once discretionary authority is established, the burden then shifts to the plaintiff to show that qualified immunity should not apply.'"[3] Edwards v. Shanley , 666 F.3d 1289, 1294 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Lewis v. City of W. Palm Beach, 561 F.3d 1288, 1291 (11th Cir. 2009)). To meet this burden, a plaintiff must establish that "the officer's conduct amounted to a constitutional violation" and "the right violated was clearly established' at the time of the violation." City of W. Palm Beach , 561 F.3d at 1291. This two-step analysis may be done in whatever order is deemed most appropriate for the case. Id . (citing Pearson v. Callahan , 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009)).

The clearly established law must provide a defendant with "fair warning" that his or her conduct deprived the plaintiff of a constitutional right. Hope v. Pelzer , 536 U.S. 730, 739-41 (2002). A plaintiff "can demonstrate that the contours of the right were clearly established in several ways." Terrell v. Smith , 668 F.3d 1244, 1255 (11th Cir. 2012). First, a plaintiff can show that "a materially similar case has already been decided." Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). Second, a plaintiff can point to a "broader, clearly established principle [that] should control the novel facts [of the] situation." Id . (internal quotations and citation omitted). "Finally, the conduct involved in the case may so obviously violate[ ] th[e] constitution that prior case law is unnecessary.'" Id. (internal citations omitted). Clearly ...

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