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Mills v. Knight

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

August 22, 2018

LOGAN N. MILLS (#532042)
v.
VINCENT KNIGHT, ET AL.

         NOTICE

         Please take notice that the attached Magistrate Judge's Report has been filed with the Clerk of the United States District Court.

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), you have fourteen (14) days after being served with the attached Report to file written objections to the proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law and recommendations therein. Failure to file written objections to the proposed findings, conclusions, and recommendations within 14 days after being served will bar you, except upon grounds of plain error, from attacking on appeal the unobjected-to proposed factual findings and legal conclusions of the Magistrate Judge which have been accepted by the District Court.

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          ERIN WILDER-DOOMES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss of Defendants Vincent Knight, Gary Sibley, Cedric Ferguson, Paul Smith, Darrel Vannoy and James LeBlanc (R. Doc. 13). This Motion is opposed.

         Pro se plaintiff, an inmate previously incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary (“LSP”), Angola, Louisiana, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Major Vincent Knight, Capt. Gary Sibley, Lt. Elliott Beauchamp, Lt. Cedric Ferguson, Lt.Col. Paul Smith, Legal Programs Director Trish Foster, Warden Darrel Vannoy and Secretary James LeBlanc.[1] As discussed in greater detail hereafter, Plaintiff alleged in his Complaint that Defendants have violated his constitutional rights through alleged acts of retaliation committed in response to an administrative grievance (“ARP”) that Plaintiff submitted to prison officials in October 2015.[2]

         In response to Plaintiff's allegations, Defendants assert in the instant Motion to Dismiss, in reliance upon Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted against them. In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court clarified the standard of pleading that a plaintiff must meet in order to survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Specifically, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, supra, at 555. “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, supra, 556 U.S. at 678, quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, supra. “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. It follows that, “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 ‘show[n]' - ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679. “Where a Complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'” Id. at 678 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the Complaint.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Further, “[a] document filed pro se is ‘to be liberally construed' ... and ‘a pro se Complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Id. (citation omitted). Even a pro se complainant, however, must plead “factual matter” that permits the court to infer “more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, supra, 556 U.S. at 678. The court need not accept “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986), or “naked assertions [of unlawful conduct] devoid of further factual enhancement.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, supra, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on or about October 1, 2015, he submitted an administrative grievance to prison officials, complaining about “an incident of verbal abuse and threats that occurred the previous day” involving Defendant Vincent Knight and another security officer, Capt. Michael Simpson (not named as a defendant herein). According to Plaintiff, this administrative grievance resulted in a subsequent “ongoing” pattern of retaliation by multiple officials employed at LSP. As discussed in greater detail below, Plaintiff alleges that this retaliation took the form of (1) an act of intimidation and an implied threat of retaliation by Defendant Knight and Capt. Simpson on October 28, 2015 when Plaintiff refused to discuss or withdraw the grievance, (2) false disciplinary charges issued on December 2, 2015 by Defendants Sibley and Beauchamp (for misuse of prison computers and for threatening to file a lawsuit, respectively), (3) placement in an administrative lockdown cell with a known sexual predator on December 2, 2015 by Defendant Ferguson, (4) a transfer to a prison out-camp on or about January 20, 2016 by Defendant Foster, and (5) interference by Defendant Foster with the handling of Plaintiff's subsequent administrative grievances filed relative to the foregoing misconduct.

         In response to Plaintiff's allegations, Defendants Vannoy and LeBlanc first seek dismissal of Plaintiff's claim asserted against them in their official capacity for monetary damages.[3] In this regard, Defendants are correct that' 1983 does not provide a federal forum for a litigant who seeks monetary damages against either a state or its officials acting in their official capacities, specifically because these officials are not seen to be "persons" within the meaning of' 1983. Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). See also Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21 (1991), wherein the United States Supreme Court addressed the distinction between official capacity and individual capacity lawsuits and made clear that a suit against a state official in an official capacity for monetary damages is treated as a suit against the state and is therefore barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Id. at 25. Notwithstanding, Plaintiff's pleadings make clear that he is not asserting a claim for monetary damages against Defendants Vannoy and LeBlanc in their official capacities. See R. Doc. 1 at pp. 2-3. See also R. Doc. 18 at p. 6, wherein Plaintiff states that he “filed suit against Defendants Vannoy and LeBlanc in their official capacities … to promulgate a policy” at LSP. In this regard, a claim for prospective injunctive relief asserted prison officials in their official capacities is not barred by the Eleventh Amendment because such a claim is not seen to be a claim asserted against the state. See Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, supra, 491 U.S. at 71 n. 10; 15 Am. Jur. 2d Civil Rights § 101. Accordingly, inasmuch as Plaintiff makes no claim herein against Defendants Vannoy and LeBlanc in their official capacities for monetary damages, this part of Defendants' Motion that seeks dismissal of such a claim is without merit and should be rejected.

         Turning to Plaintiff's remaining claims asserted against Defendants, the Court next notes that Plaintiff is not entitled to recover compensatory damages from any Defendant in this case in any event. Specifically, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e), “[n]o Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner ... for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury.” Plaintiff does not suggest in his Complaint that he has suffered any physical injury as a result of the events alleged herein. Accordingly, he is precluded from the recovery of compensatory damages and will be limited to a recovery of nominal or punitive damages if successful. See Hutchins v. McDaniels, 512 F.3d 193, 198 (5th Cir. 2007). Further, in order to recover punitive damages, Plaintiff would be required to make a showing that Defendants violated his constitutional rights with “evil intent” or “callous indifference.” See Allen v. Stalder, 201 Fed.Appx. 276 (5th Cir. 2006), citing Williams v. Kaufman County, 352 F.3d 994, 1015 (5th Cir. 2003).

         The Court next addresses Defendants= assertion that they are entitled to qualified immunity in connection with Plaintiff's substantive claims. Invoking this defense, Defendants contend that Plaintiff's allegations are insufficient to establish that any Defendant has participated in a violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights.

         The qualified immunity defense is a familiar one and, employing a two-step process, operates to protect public officials who are performing discretionary tasks. Huff v. Crites, 473 Fed.Appx. 398 (5th Cir. 2012). Taking the facts as alleged in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court considers whether Defendants' conduct violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights and whether the rights allegedly violated were clearly established at the time that the violation occurred. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009) (concluding that the rigid protocol mandated in Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001) B that called for consideration of the two-pronged analysis in a particular order B should not be "regarded as an inflexible requirement"). Under Pearson v. Callahan, courts have discretion to decide which of the two prongs of the analysis to address first. This inquiry, the Court stated, is undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad, general proposition. Saucier v. Katz, supra, 194 U.S. at 201. The relevant, dispositive inquiry in determining whether a constitutional right was clearly established is whether it would have been clear to a reasonable state official that his conduct was unlawful in the situation that he confronted. Id. at 202. The assertion of the qualified immunity defense alters the summary judgment burden of proof. Michalik v. Hermann, 422 F.3d 252, 262 (5th Cir. 2005). Once a defendant pleads qualified immunity, the burden shifts to Plaintiff, who “must rebut the defense by establishing that the official's allegedly wrongful conduct violated clearly established law and that genuine issues of material fact exist regarding the reasonableness of the official's conduct.” Gates v. Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, 537 F.3d 404, 419 (5th Cir. 2008), citing Michalik v. Hermann, supra, 422 F.3d at 262.

         Undertaking the qualified immunity analysis with respect to Plaintiff's claims against the moving Defendants, the Court concludes that Defendants= Motion to Dismiss should be granted, ...


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