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Cainion v. Valdosta State Prison

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

April 28, 2017

VENESSA CAINION, natural mother of DEMARQUIS A. CAINION, and WINNIE HANFORD as the administrator of the estate of DeMarquis A. Cainion, Plaintiffs,
VALDOSTA STATE PRISON, et al., Defendants.



         DeMarquis Cainion died after a stabbing incident involving a fellow inmate during his incarceration at Valdosta State Prison (“VSP”). Plaintiffs Venessa Cainion, as Cainion's mother and legal heir, and Winnie Hanford, the Administrator of Cainion's estate, filed this action against the Georgia Department of Corrections (“GDOC”), VSP, twelve current and former employees of GDOC and VSP, and two inmates alleging that pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 these Defendants are liable to Cainion's estate for purported violations of Cainion's Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

         The institutional Defendants, the GDOC and VSP, along with Defendants Owens, Jacobs, Danforth, Allen, Orr, and McDougle have moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint (Docs. 8, 11, 15, 16). For the following reasons, Defendants' motions are GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         DeMarquis Cainion was serving a sentence for burglary while incarcerated at VSP from July 2011 until his death on September 16, 2013. (Doc. 1, ¶ 7). Cainion suffered from an unidentified medical condition that caused him to have uncontrollable and unpredictable seizures. He also suffered from asthma. (Doc. 1, ¶ 8).

         In May 2012, Cainion was assigned a top bunk by Deputy Warden Orr. (Doc. 1, ¶ 10). Cainion made several formal and informal requests for a bottom bunk because of the risk that he may have a seizure during his sleep and fall from the top bunk. Cainion then requested medical guidance to supersede Orr's order. (Doc. 1, ¶ 11). On May 23, 2012, Nurse Knowles confirmed to Orr that Cainion should be assigned a bottom bunk due to his medical condition. (Doc. 1, ¶ 10). Despite receiving this confirmation, Cainion's top bunk assignment remained unchanged. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 10-12).

         On June 12, 2012, Cainion had a seizure while sleeping and fell from the top bunk. (Doc. 1, ¶ 13). As a result of the fall, Cainion suffered injuries to his face and head, which prompted him to file a pro se lawsuit against VSP personnel for deliberate indifference.[2] (Doc. 1, ¶ 14).

         Sometime after the June 12th injury, Cainion was transferred to a one person cell in the Annex Unit of VSP where he remained until August. On August 23, 2012, Sargent Schnake informed Cainion that he would be transferred to a two-man cell. (Doc. 1, ¶ 16). Cainion requested that he remain in his current one-person cell and cited his medical condition as a basis for doing so. Id. Subsequently, Cainion and Schnake began to argue and an altercation ensued. Id. During the altercation, Cainion was sprayed with riot spray, causing him to have an asthma attack. Id. Cainion was taken to a hospital outside of the prison to stabilize his breathing but later returned to VSP. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 17-18). When he returned to VSP, Cainion was transferred from the Annex Unit of VSP to the main housing unit. (Doc. 1, ¶ 18). On the same day of his transfer, Cainion was robbed and stabbed. (Doc. 1, ¶ 19). Presumably as a result of this stabbing incident, Cainion was transferred to solitary confinement in September 2012 for his own protection. (Doc. 1, ¶ 21).

         Cainion remained in solitary confinement for several months, despite multiple transfer requests. (Doc. 1, ¶ 22). It is not evident from the Complaint when Cainion was released from solitary confinement. On September 16, 2013, Cainion was stabbed by a fellow inmate and pronounced dead on the same day at 12:46 p.m. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 28-29).

         All moving Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' federal claims under § 1983 for deliberate indifference to serious medical need, conditions of confinement, failure to protect, and excessive force are either barred by the statute of limitations or are otherwise deficient. Defendants further argue that Plaintiffs' state-law claims for wrongful death, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and personal injury are also barred by the statute of limitations. Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' state-law claims are alternatively barred on other grounds: sovereign immunity, Plaintiffs' failure to adhere to ante litem notice requirements, and failure to effectuate proper service.


         A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss, the court shall accept “all well-pleaded 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 Cnty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cnty. 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, 570 (2007)).

         B. Section 1983 Claims

         Count III of Plaintiffs' Complaint generally asserts that Defendants are liable to Plaintiffs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for purported violations of Cainion's constitutional rights while incarcerated at VSP. Because of the manner in which Plaintiffs pled their § 1983 claims, it is difficult to discern what precise claims Plaintiffs intend to pursue. Based on the Court's reading of the Complaint, Plaintiffs appear to assert the following § 1983 claims:

(1) delay/denial of treatment claim based on allegations that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to Cainion's unspecified seizure disorder, which resulted in Cainion's fall from a top bunk on June 12, 2012;
(2) excessive force claim based on allegations that VSP officials assaulted Cainion on three occasions in August 2012 and again in January 2013, purportedly in retaliation for Cainion filing grievances;
(3) delay/denial of medical treatment for alleged indifference to Cainion's asthma condition after Defendant Schnake deployed riot spray on August 23, 2012;
(4) failure to protect claim based on a September 2012 attack by an unidentified fellow inmate;
(5) conditions of confinement claim based on Cainion's placement in solitary confinement in September 2012;
(6) failure to protect claim arising from the September 16, 2013 stabbing of Cainion by Jeffrey Steven Dell;
(7) delay/denial of treatment claim based on Defendants' alleged indifference to the seriousness of Cainion's medical condition following the stabbing.

         Section 1983 creates a civil cause of action for any person deprived of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and other laws by another person acting under color of law. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Rehberg v. Paulk, 566 U.S. 356, 361 (2012). This statute “‘is not itself a source of substantive rights, ' but merely provides ‘a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994); see also Whiting v. Traylor, 85 F.3d 581, 583 (11th Cir. 1996) (“Section 1983 is no source of substantive federal rights.”). To prove a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must show: “(1) that the act or omission deprived plaintiff of a right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) that the act or omission was done by a person acting under color of law.” Marshall Cty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993) (quoting Bannum, Inc. v. City of Ft. Lauderdale, 901 F.2d 989 (11th Cir. 1990)). “The first step in any such claim [under 42 U.S.C. § 1983] is to identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed.” Albright, 510 U.S. at 271.

         1. Claims Against VSP and GDOC

         Plaintiffs' claims asserted against VSP and GDOC are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and are subject to dismissal. The Eleventh Amendment bars suits against state entities unless there has been a valid waiver by the state or congressional authority. See Manders v. Lee, 338 F.3d 1304, 1308 (11th Cir. 2003) (It is “well-established that Eleventh Amendment immunity bars suits brought in federal court when the state itself is sued and when an ‘arm of the state is sued.'”); Stevens v. Gay, 864 F.2d 113, 115 (11th Cir. 1989) (citing Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978). “A foundational premise of the federal system is that States, as sovereigns, are immune from suits for damages, save as they elect to waive that defense.” Coleman v. Ct. App. of Md., 566 U.S. 30, 35(2012). “As an exception to this principle, Congress may abrogate the States' immunity from suit pursuant to its powers under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Id. Section 1983 is not a “Congressional abrogation of the state's immunity from damages suits, ” Gamble v. Fl. Dep't of Health and Rehab Servs., 779 F.2d 1509, 1512 (11th Cir. 1986), and Georgia has not otherwise waived its right to assert an Eleventh Amendment immunity defense against § 1983 claims. See, e.g., Williams v. Bd. Of Regents of Univ. Sys. Of Ga., 477 F.3d 1282, 1301-02 (11th Cir. 2007). Because the GDOC functions as “an arm of the state, ” it is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. See Miller v. King, 382 F.3d 1248, 1260 (11th Cir. 2004) (holding that Eleventh Amendment immunity protected the GDOC from a § 1983 claim) (overruled on other grounds by Miller v. King, 449 F.3d 1149 (11th Cir. 2006)). Likewise, a state prison ...

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