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Mack v. Miles

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

March 25, 2019

TI'QUITA MILES, Defendant.



         Before the Court is Ti'Quita Miles's ("Defendant") Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 4.) After due consideration and for the following reasons, the motion to dismiss is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On the evening of March 31, 2017, Frank Dwight Mack ("Plaintiff") - while incarcerated at the Augusta State Medical Prison in Grovetown, Georgia - was stabbed nine times by a fellow inmate (the "Attacker"). (Compl., Doc. 1, ¶¶ 1, 4, 6.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant was the acting booth officer that evening, and, while performing the official count, Defendant "opened the door to Dorm 3 while the door to Dorm 2 was open," which allowed the Attacker to gain access to Dorm 2 and stab Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) Plaintiff was taken to a nearby hospital later that night or early the next morning for treatment related to the stabbing. (Id. ¶ 10.)

         On May 24, 2017, Plaintiff filed a case in this Court, CV 117-061 ("Case I"). (Case I Compl., Doc. 1.) On April 26, 2018, this Court dismissed Plaintiff's case for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. (Case I Order, Doc. 19.) Sometime thereafter, Plaintiff was released from prison. (See Compl., ¶ 5.) On May 25, 2018, Plaintiff filed the instant case asserting a claim, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Defendant in her individual capacity for her alleged deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to Plaintiff in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Id. ¶ 13.) On July 30, 2018, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 4.) Plaintiff filed a response in opposition (Doc. 5), and Defendant filed a reply in support (Doc. 7) .

         Defendant argues the claim against her should be dismissed under (1) Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failing to state a claim; and (2) The doctrine of qualified immunity, which shields government officials performing discretionary functions from civil liability unless their conduct violated "clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." (Br. Supp. Mot. to Dismiss, Doc. 4-1, at 3-8); Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). As discussed below, in determining whether qualified immunity applies, the Court must first analyze whether Plaintiff validly states a claim under the Eighth Amendment. Thus, although Defendant separately analyzed her arguments, the Court analyzes them together. GJR Invs., Inc. v. Cty. of Escambia, 132 F.3d 1359, 1366 (11th Cir. 1998) ("qualified immunity inquiry and the Rule 12(b)(6) standard become intertwined") overruled on other grounds, Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701 (11th Cir. 2010); Wooten v. Campbell, 49 F.3d 696, 699 (11th Cir. 1995).


         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" to give the defendant fair notice of both the claim and the supporting grounds. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation omitted). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not required, Rule 8 "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Furthermore, a plaintiff's pleading obligation "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, [1] to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.[2] Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 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." Id. The court may not reasonably infer the defendant is liable when the well-pleaded facts fail to show "more than the mere possibility of misconduct." Id. at 679; see Patton v. Rowell, 678 Fed.Appx. 898, 900 (11th Cir. 2017) ("factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level") (citation omitted).


         Qualified immunity is a judicially created affirmative defense under which "government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818; Williams v. Bennett, 689 F.2d 1370, 1376-77 (11th Cir. 1982) (Eleventh Amendment has been applied to bar inmates' section 1983 damage claims brought in federal court against prison officials), cert, denied, 464 U.S. 932 (1983). For qualified immunity to apply, a public official first has to show she was "acting within the scope of [her] discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts occurred." Lumley v. City of Dade City, 327 F.3d 1186, 1194 (11th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). To determine whether a government official was acting within the scope of her discretionary authority, courts consider whether the official "was (a) performing a legitimate job-related function (that is, pursuing a job-related goal), (b) through means that were within [her] power to utilize."[3] Holloman ex rel. Holloman v. Harland, 370 F.3d 1252, 1265 (11th Cir. 2004). Once a defendant establishes that she was "acting within [her] discretionary authority, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate that qualified immunity is not appropriate." Lumley, 327 F.3d at 1194; see Bowen, 826 F.3d at 1319 (in reviewing Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, Eleventh Circuit applied same burden-shifting analysis).

         Plaintiff fails to respond to Defendant's conclusion that Defendant was acting within her discretionary authority. At any rate, the Court finds that Defendant was engaged in a job-related function when performing the official count, and unlocking doors to perform the count was authorized. Given the low standard required to establish discretionary authority, it is clear Defendant was acting in her discretionary authority.

         Accordingly, the Court must look to the complaint to see if Plaintiff included sufficient facts demonstrating that Defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity.[4] Bowen, 826 F.3d at 1319. In doing so, the Court must consider two issues: (A) "whether, taken in the light most favorable to [Plaintiff], the facts alleged show [Defendant's] conduct violated a constitutional right, and ([B]) if so, whether the right was clearly established." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         A. Constitutional Right

         The Eighth Amendment[5] not only prohibits prison officials from inflicting "cruel and unusual punishment" upon inmates, but also imposes a duty on prison officials to "take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (citation omitted). To guarantee inmate safety, "prison officials have a duty to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners." Id. at 833; see also Zatler v. Wainwright, 802 F.2d 397, 400 (11th Cir. 1986) (per curiam) . Although, officers can be liable for failing to prevent a prisoner-on-prisoner attack, not "every injury suffered by one prisoner at the hands of another [] translates into constitutional liability for prison officials responsible for the victim's safety." Harrison v. Culliver, 746 F.3d 1288, 1298 (11th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted); see also Purcell ex rel. Estate of Morgan v. Toombs Cty., 400 F.3d 1313, 1321 (11th Cir. 2005) ("[A] prison custodian is not the guarantor of a prisoner's safety.") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Rather, "[o]nly a prison official's deliberate indifference to a known, substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates the Eighth Amendment." Culliver, 74 6 F.3d at 1298 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).


[T]o state an Eighth Amendment claim premised on a failure to prevent harm, a plaintiff must allege facts showing that: (1) a substantial risk of serious harm existed; (2) the defendant[] [was] deliberately indifferent to that risk, i.e., [she] both subjectively knew of the risk and also disregarded it by failing to respond in an objectively reasonable manner; and (3) there was a causal connection between the defendant[s] conduct and the Eighth Amendment violation.[6]

Bowen, 826 F.3d at 1320.

         1. Substantial Risk of Serious Harm

         Courts apply an objective standard when determining if there is a substantial risk of serious harm. Caldwell v. Warden, FCI Talladega, 748 F.3d 1090, 1099 (11th Cir. 2014); Purcell, 400 F.3d at 1321. A substantial risk exists if there is a "strong likelihood of injury, rather than a mere possibility." Brooks v. Warden, 800 F.3d 1295, 1301 (11th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see Purcell, 400 F.3d at 1323 ("In the jail ...

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