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Shannon v. Vannoy

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

June 1, 2018

CEASAR SHANNON
v.
WARDEN DARRELL VANNOY, STATE OF LOUISIANA THROUGH LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND CORRECTIONS, DIXON CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTE

          Appealed from the 20th Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Feliciana, State of Louisiana Docket Number 44, 573 I Division B, The Honorable William G. Carmichael, Judge Presiding.

          Donna U. Grodner, Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorney for Appellant Plaintiff -Ceasar Shannon DOC # 085847.

          Jeff Landry, Attorney General and Van A. Heard, Assistant Attorney General Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Attorneys for Appellees Defendants - Warden Darrell Vannoy and the State of Louisiana, through the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

          BEFORE: McCLENDON, WELCH, AND THERIOT, JJ.

          WELCH, J.

         Ceasar Shannon, an inmate formerly in the custody of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections ("DPSC"), and housed at Dixon Correctional Institute during all relevant times, appeals a judgment of the district court sustaining an exception of prescription in favor of the defendants-Dixon Correctional Institute Warden Darrell Vannoy and the State of Louisiana, through the DPSC-and dismissing Mr. Shannon's claims, with prejudice. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Mr. Shannon, an inmate formerly in the custody of the DPSC was housed at Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson, East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana during all material times herein. Mr. Shannon alleged his cell had a "large hole" in the ceiling that leaked water when it rained and that he and other inmates made multiple complaints and maintenance requests to fix the hole. According to Mr. Shannon, five-gallon buckets were often placed on the floor to catch rainwater. Mr. Shannon contends that on May 28, 2014, rainwater leaked through the hole and onto the floor and when he arose to go to the bathroom during the night, he allegedly slipped in a puddle and fell, sustaining injuries to his back, shoulder, and hip.

         Five days later, on June 2, 2014, Mr. Shannon filed a grievance in accordance with the Louisiana Corrections Administrative Remedy Procedure Act ("CARP"), La. R.S. 15:1171-1179, assigned case number DCI-2014-550, seeking formal review of his alleged slip-and-fall incident. Mr. Shannon exhausted his administrative remedy procedure ("ARP") on February 6, 2015, when his grievance was denied through the second step.

         Thereafter, in July 2015, Mr. Shannon filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action in federal court against Darrel Vannoy, employed by Dixon Correctional Institute as the Warden. Mr. Shannon advanced claims of negligence as well as deliberate indifference and violations of his civil rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Shannon v. Vannoy, No. CV 15-446-SDD-RLB (M.D. La.).

         In October 2015, Warden Vannoy filed a motion to dismiss Mr. Shannon's claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)[1] of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that inmate slip-and-fall cases are properly characterized as state law tort claims and are not actionable under § 1983. On April 18, 2016, the federal district court granted Warden Vannoy's motion to dismiss, and dismissed all of Mr. Shannon's federal claims against Warden Vannoy, with prejudice. See Shannon v. Vannoy, No. CV 15-446-SDD-RLB (M.D. La. Apr. 18, 2016), 2016 WL 1559583 (unpublished). The federal district court held that Mr. Shannon's negligence claim is a state law tort claim, which is not actionable under federal law, as § 1983 requires a plaintiff to show deprivation of a federal right. Id., 2016 WL 1559583, at *2. As to the alleged violations of his Eighth Amendment rights, the federal district court held that Mr. Shannon's allegations failed to state a claim sufficiently serious to constitute deliberate indifference under the applicable legal standards. Id., 2016 WL 1559583, at *4. Finally, the federal district court declined to exercise 28 U.S.C. § 1367 supplemental jurisdiction over Mr. Shannon's state law claims (i.e., negligence claim), which the federal district court dismissed, without prejudice. Id.

         On March 16, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit affirmed the federal district court's judgment. Shannon v. Vannoy, 682 Fed.Appx. 283, 284 (5th Cir. 2017).

         On April 11, 2017, Mr. Shannon filed the instant lawsuit in the 20th Judicial District Court ("JDC") in East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, which is the parish where Dixon Correctional Institute is located. Mr. Shannon named as defendants Warden Vannoy, acting within the course and scope of his employment with the DPSC during all material times and under the color of state law, and the State of Louisiana, through the DPSC.

         The defendants filed a peremptory exception raising the objections of prescription, no cause of action, and res judicata. Regarding prescription, the defendants argued that Mr. Shannon's state law tort claims were prescribed because he filed suit outside of the one-year liberative prescriptive period applicable to delictual actions. The defendants argued that prescription on Mr. Shannon's claims began running on the date of his alleged accident, May 28, 2014. Prescription on his claims was suspended when he filed his ARP on June 2, 2014, which continued until the final decision on his ARP was delivered on February 6, 2015. During that period, prescription was suspended and began to run again from the date of exhaustion of the ARP, February 6, 2015, which pushed back the tolling of prescription to February 1, 2016.[2] Because Mr. Shannon did not file suit in state district court until April 11, 2017, the defendants argued his state law tort claims had prescribed.

         The defendants further argued that the federal suit, which only named Warden Vannoy (in his official capacity) as a defendant, did not serve to interrupt or suspend prescription against Warden Vannoy or the State, through the DPSC. Mr. Shannon's state law tort claims against Warden Vannoy arose out of the warden's employment at Dixon Correctional Institute. In accordance with the doctrine of vicarious liability, the defendants argue that claims against employees that arise out of their employment must be brought against the employer, not the individual employee. Warden Vannoy's employer is the State, through the DPSC; thus, the defendants contend that Mr. Shannon's federal suit against Warden Vannoy should have also been filed against the State, through the DPSC. However, the defendants argued that the State is immune to suit on state law claims brought in federal court. Therefore, because Mr. Shannon only named Warden Vannoy as defendant in the federal suit, when he should have also named as defendant the State, through the DPSC, as the warden's employer, the federal suit against Warden Vannoy could not serve to interrupt or suspend prescription on Mr. Shannon's state law tort claims against Warden Vannoy and the State, through the DPSC.

         Mr. Shannon opposed the defendants' exceptions. As to the exception of prescription, Mr. Shannon contended that the federal suit did interrupt prescription on his state law tort claims, and thus, his suit in state court was timely filed against the defendants. Even though the DPSC was not named as a defendant in the federal suit, Mr. Shannon argued that through vicarious liability, an employer is liable for the torts of its employees committed in the course and scope of employment, making the employee and employer solidary obligors. Accordingly, Mr. Shannon averred that when prescription is interrupted against a solidary obligor, the interruption is effective against all solidary obligors. Mr. Shannon argued that the filing of the federal suit interrupted prescription as to Warden Vannoy. Since Warden Vannoy is an employee of the DPSC, Mr. Shannon averred that interruption was also effective against his employer, the State, through the DPSC.

         Following a hearing on September 11, 2017, the district court sustained the defendants' objection of prescription, dismissing all of Mr. Shannon's claims against the defendants, with prejudice. The district court ruled as follows:

The exception of prescription is sustained. I find that Mr. Vannoy was not timely served with the action in the Federal court. This is a final judgment because it terminates the litigation between the parties.
[...]
I mean to dismiss all -- this action against all of the defendants as having been prescribed.

         The district court signed a judgment in accordance with its ruling on October 4, 2017.[3] The judgment pretermitted a ruling on the defendants' objections of no cause of ...


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