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Ross v. Hall

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

November 20, 2018



         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.




         This matter comes before the Court on Motion to Dismiss filed on behalf of defendant Lt. Brian Hall (R. Doc. 21). The motion is opposed. See R. Doc. 25.

         The pro se plaintiff, an inmate incarcerated at Louisiana State Penitentiary (“LSP”), Angola, Louisiana, filed this proceeding pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Lt. Brian Hall and Msgt. Lance Osbourne complaining that his constitutional rights have been violated through the use of excessive force. The plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as declaratory relief.

         Defendant Hall first seeks dismissal on jurisdictional grounds, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, of the plaintiff's claim against his in his official capacity. In this regard, the defendant is 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). In addition, in Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21 (1991), 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. Accordingly, the plaintiff's claims asserted against defendant Lt. Hall in his official capacity, for monetary damages, are subject to dismissal. In contrast, the plaintiff's claims for monetary damages asserted against this defendant in his individual capacity remains viable because a claim against a state official in an individual capacity, seeking to impose personal liability for actions taken under color of state law, is not treated as a suit against the state. Id. at 29. The plaintiff's claim for declaratory relief asserted against defendant Lt. Hall in his official capacity also remains viable because such a claim is not treated as a claim against the state. Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, supra, 491 U.S. at 71 n.10. Of course, the plaintiff must prove a deprivation of a constitutional right to obtain any relief.

         Turning to the plaintiff's claims that are not subject to dismissal on the basis of Eleventh Amendment immunity, defendant Lt. Hall next asserts, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 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). Notwithstanding, 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 as amended, the plaintiff alleges the following. On September 9, 2015, Msgt. Lance Osbourne threatened to slap the plaintiff before physically assaulting the plaintiff, who was in full restraints. Osbourne had personal feelings of disgust toward the plaintiff. He approached the plaintiff, lifted him off the floor, and slammed him. Osbourne then proceeded to kick the plaintiff several times. Subsequent to the attack, Ross was issued a duty status and placed in a neck brace.

         On September 10, 2015, Osbourne walked down the tier during shift change. The plaintiff was scared that Osbourne would alter his food or attack him again, so he began screaming for help and asking for a supervisor. The plaintiff threatened to throw something at Osbourne if he continued down the tier. When Osbourne came closer, the plaintiff threw something at him. Shortly after, defendant Lt. Hall arrived. He immediately shook his can of chemical agent and sprayed the plaintiff. The plaintiff was then placed in full restraints, and defendant Lt. Hall began hitting the plaintiff in his face until he was unconscious. The plaintiff suffered two black eyes, a swollen face, bruised ribs, bleeding and swelling to his mouth, lock jaw, and mental pain. Osbourne and defendant Lt. Hall resigned a short time later.

         In response to the plaintiff's allegations, the defendant has asserted that he is entitled to qualified immunity in connection with the plaintiff's claims. 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). As enunciated in Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001), the first step in the analysis is to consider whether, taking the facts as alleged in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the defendant's conduct violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights. Id. at 201. Second, the district court looks to whether the rights allegedly violated were clearly established. Id. This inquiry, the Court stated, is undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad, general proposition. Id. 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 which he confronted. Id.

         Undertaking the qualified immunity analysis, the Court finds that the defendant's motion should be granted in part. Specifically, the Court concludes that the plaintiff's claim against ...

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