United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division
RODNEY M. LANE, Plaintiffs,
TED PHILBIN, et al., Defendants.
LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE.
Rodney Lane seeks redress for injuries he sustained as a
result of the deliberate indifference of various officials at
Valdosta State Prison. This Court previously dismissed Mr.
Lane's pro se complaint for failure to state a
viable Eighth Amendment claim of deliberate indifference,
finding that Mr. Lane failed to allege that prison officials
possessed the requisite subjective knowledge of the risk of
serious harm faced by Mr. Lane. Mr. Lane appealed, and the
Eleventh Circuit reversed the dismissal and remanded the case
to this Court with instructions to permit Mr. Lane the
opportunity to amend his complaint. Mr. Lane thereafter filed
an amended complaint with the assistance of counsel. Now
before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc.
69) Mr. Lane's Third Amended Complaint (Doc. 68) because
Mr. Lane (1) failed to exhaust his administrative remedies;
(2) failed to state a claim for deliberate indifference; and
(3) because Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.
Following a review of the amended complaint, and with the
benefit of oral argument, Defendants' motion is
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY 
Rodney Lane is a prisoner in the custody of the Georgia
Department of Corrections. (Doc. 68, ¶ 5). At the time
the events underlying this lawsuit transpired, Mr. Lane was
housed at Valdosta State Prison (“VSP”). Upon
arriving at VSP, Mr. Lane was assigned to the Annex Building,
a lower security facility separated from the main prison.
(Id. at ¶ 25). Mr. Lane was transferred from
the Annex to E-Building in March 2012. (Id. at
is comprised of two dormitories, E-1 and E-2. (Id.
at ¶ 17). Each dorm houses approximately 50 inmates.
(Id.). E-Building is widely referred to by inmates
and VSP staff alike as “gangland” because the
majority of the inmates residing in E-Building are known gang
members. (Id. at ¶¶ 19-20). Mr. Lane was
one of six inmates in E-Building with no gang affiliation.
(Id. at ¶¶ 20-21). Unaffiliated gang
members in E-Building have no protection, leaving them
vulnerable to inmate-on-inmate violence and theft of personal
property. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-23).
violence occurs at least every other week in E-Building.
(Id. at ¶ 32). Weapon possession among the
residents of E-Building is widespread and both known and
encouraged by prison officials. (Id. at ¶¶
35-37). Inmates procure weapons in various ways, including
bringing back lightning rods and scrap metal found while
working maintenance detail; removing light fixtures within
their cells; removing parts from locker boxes in their cells.
(Id. at ¶¶ 38-40). The inmates fashion
these items into shanks. (Id.). Despite monthly
“shakedowns” by prison officials, and despite
prison officials having the authority to confiscate weapons
and contraband, prison officials fail to do so. (Id.
at ¶¶ 36-37, 42-45). Mr. Lane specifically alleges
that Captain Sherman Maine routinely does not confiscate
weapons during searches and, when he does remove weapons, he
redistributes them to select inmates. (Id. at
¶¶ 43-46). Captain Maine also regularly cooperates
with gang members, smuggling tobacco products and cell phones
into the prison to assuage gang members who threaten violence
in E-Building. (Id. at ¶¶ 49-50).
the level of gang violence in E-Building is well known to
prison officials, who regularly threaten unruly inmates with
transfer to E-Building, VSP officials permit the dormitories
to remain understaffed. (Id. at ¶¶ 51-54).
E-Building is supposed to be staffed by a minimum of three
guards: one guard in the control booth; one floor guard to
supervise E-1; and one floor guard to supervise E-2.
(Id. at ¶ 67). The role of the guard in the
control booth is strictly to control ingress and egress from
E-Building. (Id. at ¶ 68). He is not to leave
the control booth under any circumstances. (Id.).
From March 2012 through June 17, 2012, all 100 inmates in E-1
and E-2 were supervised by a single floor guard.
(Id. at ¶ 69). VSP officials were aware that
E-Building was understaffed at that time. (Id. at
outdoor sidewalk, commonly referred to as the “flat
top, ” connects E-Building to the dining hall and has
no guard staffing it, even as inmates traverse the walkway
from the dormitory to the dining hall. (Id. at
¶¶ 76-77). As a result, attacks among E-Building
inmates on the flat top are prevalent. (Id. at
¶ 81). When visibility is low, such as when there is
fog, VSP staff will not dismiss E-Building residents to the
dining hall. (Id.). Similar restrictions are not
imposed on the other dormitories. (Id. at ¶
morning of June 17, 2012, while walking from E-Building to
the dining hall for breakfast, Mr. Lane was attacked from
behind by at least four other E-Building inmates with known
gang affiliations. (Id. at ¶¶ 85, 97,
90-93). One of Mr. Lane's assailants struck him in the
eye with a lock. (Id. at ¶ 94). Another
attacker stabbed him four times in the back with a shank.
(Id. at ¶ 95). The attack left Mr. Lane
unconscious. (Id. at ¶ 96). Because no guard
was on duty on the flat top, it took up to two minutes for a
guard to reach Mr. Lane. (Id. at ¶¶ 86,
97). Mr. Lane was transported to the medical unit, where he
received 18 staples to close the stab wounds in his back and
skin glue to address the laceration on his eye. (Id.
at ¶¶ 98-100). Upon release from the medical unit,
Mr. Lane was placed in “the hole” for his own
safety. (Id. at ¶ 102). After a month in the
hole, Mr. Lane was transferred to B-Building. (Id.
at ¶ 104). However, once Mr. Lane filed a grievance
based on the attack, he was transferred back to E-Building.
(Id. at ¶ 105). This type of retaliatory
conduct by VSP staff is a common method of controlling inmate
behavior. (Id. at ¶ 106).
to the June 17, 2012 attack, Mr. Lane requested that he be
transferred to another housing unit on at least two
occasions. (Id. at ¶ 55). He informed Counselor
Shunda Woods about the violence in E-Building and told her
that he was being threatened by other inmates.
(Id.). Ms. Woods told Mr. Lane that she had no
authority to transfer inmates and took no further action.
(Id. at ¶¶ 56-59). Mr. Lane also addressed
his safety concerns and transfer request with Sergeant Riley,
who told Mr. Lane, “Everybody is trying to get out of
E-Building.” (Id. at ¶ 60). Mr. Lane
additionally spoke with Deputy Warden Ted Philbin about the
conditions in E-Building and the risk posed to his safety.
(Id. at ¶ 61). Deputy Warden Philbin told Mr.
Lane to sue him, that he had been sued before, and walked off
with no further response to Mr. Lane's concerns.
(Id. at ¶¶ 62-66).
Lane filed an informal grievance pertaining to the June 17,
2012 attack on June 19, 2012, alleging that prison officials
violated his constitutional rights by failing to house him in
a safe environment, and that this violation resulted in the
attack. (Doc. 69-6, p. 15). He requested an internal
investigation and a transfer out of E-Building.
(Id.). Captain Maine denied Mr. Lane's informal
grievance, remarking only that the “dorms are regularly
searched for safety issues.” (Id.).
Lane submitted a formal grievance on a form provided by
prison officials on July 2, 2012. (Id. at p. 5). On
the form and also in the attachment he provided prison
officials, Mr. Lane again complained that VSP officials had
failed to protect his constitutional rights. (Id. at
pp. 4-5). He described his attack and indicated that prior to
the assault he requested a transfer to another dormitory from
Counselor Shunda Woods and Deputy Warden Ted Philbin for
safety reasons. (Id.). He also asserted that Captain
Maine failed to investigate gang membership. (Id. at
that appropriate action had been taken in response to the
attack, VSP officials denied Mr. Lane's formal grievance.
(Id.). He appealed. (Id. at p. 3). However,
Mr. Lane's appeal was also denied because “[t]here
[was] insufficient evidence to substantiate [his]
allegation.” (Id. at p. 2).
the denial of his formal grievance appeal, Mr. Lane filed a
pro se civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
¶ 1983, alleging deliberate indifference by Counselor
Woods and Deputy Warden Philbin to the serious risk of
physical harm he faced. (Doc. 1). He later amended his
complaint to include claims against Captain Maine and Deputy
Warden Orr. (Doc. 8). Defendants moved to dismiss the
complaint (Doc. 19), arguing that the claims against Captain
Maine and Deputy Warden Orr should be dismissed for failure
to exhaust administrative remedies, and that all of Mr.
Lane's claims should be dismissed for failure to state a
claim. United States Magistrate Judge Thomas Q. Langstaff
issued a Recommendation (Doc. 39) on February 4, 2014,
recommending that Mr. Lane's complaint be dismissed for
failure to state an Eighth Amendment claim for deliberate
indifference. This Court adopted the Recommendation and
dismissed the complaint. (Doc. 41).
Lane appealed the dismissal of his complaint to the Eleventh
Circuit. Following oral argument, the Eleventh Circuit
reversed the decision of this Court, holding that Mr.
Lane's complaint alleged sufficient facts in support of
his Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim to make it
plausible that Defendants had knowledge of the substantial
risk of serious harm he faced. The appellate court remanded
the case with instructions to permit Mr. Lane to file a third
amended complaint, which Mr. Lane did with the assistance of
counsel.Defendants now move the Court to dismiss
Mr. Lane's third amended complaint, arguing again that
Mr. Lane (1) failed to exhaust his administrative remedies;
(2) has not sufficiently pled the elements of an Eighth
Amendment deliberate indifference claim; and (3) that
Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.
Motion to Dismiss Standard
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 Cty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cty. 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)).
Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) requires an
inmate to exhaust all available administrative remedies
before filing federal claims. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). This
exhaustion requirement “applies to all inmate suits
about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances
or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive
force or some other wrong.” Porter v. Nussle,
534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). When a prisoner fails to complete
the administrative process or falls ...