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Jones v. Tyson Foods, Inc.

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

September 11, 2013

MARVIN JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
TYSON FOODS, INC.; HALEY BARBOUR, in His Official Capacity of Governor of the State of Mississippi; CHRISTOPHER EPPS, in His Individual and Official Capacities as Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections; LEE McTEER, in His Official Capacity as Community Correctional Director for Region I and in His Individual Capacity; JONATHAN BRADLEY, [1] in His Official Capacity as Correctional Supervisor of Leflore County Restitution Center and in His Individual Capacity Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION RULING ON MOTIONS TO DISMISS ON ELEVENTH AMENDMENT IMMUNITY GROUNDS

GLEN H. DAVIDSON, Senior District Judge.

Presently before the Court are motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Lee McTeer and Jonathon Bradley [16], Haley Barbour [35], and Christopher Epps [37], all in their official capacities. These motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for review. Upon due consideration, the Court finds McTeer's and Bradley's motion to dismiss [16] shall be denied, and Barbour's motion to dismiss [35] and Epps' motion to dismiss [37] shall each be granted in part and denied in part.[2]

A. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff Marvin Jones ("Plaintiff"), a former resident of Leflore County Restitution Center, brings this suit for monetary and declaratory relief, alleging that his constitutional rights were violated when he was subjected to dangerous conditions and contracted mycobacterium tuberculosis ("TB") while fulfilling the terms of his restitution at a chicken-processing plant, Tyson Foods, Inc., in Carthage, Mississippi ("Tyson"). Plaintiff sues Tyson; Haley Barbour, in his official capacity as the then - Governor of Mississippi ("Barbour"); Christopher Epps, in his individual capacity and official capacity as the Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections ("Epps"); Lee McTeer, in his individual capacity and official capacity as the Community Correctional Director for Region I ("McTeer"); and Jonathon Bradley, in his individual capacity and official capacity as the Correctional Supervisor of Leflore County Restitution Center ("Bradley").

Plaintiff alleges the following facts: After serving a three-month term at the Clay County Jail for embezzling money from a Dollar General store, Plaintiff was assigned to Leflore County Restitution Center. Bradley immediately assigned Plaintiff to work at the Tyson Foods chicken plant in Carthage, Mississippi, as a chicken hanger, a position which required Plaintiff to "hang[ ] live chickens on a moving wire by their feet in an environment filled with dust, feathers, and chicken feces." Pl.'s Am. Compl. [12] ¶ 20. Plaintiff "had to conduct his work among chickens compelled to release feces due to the nature in which [Tyson] was processing the poultry"; thus, Plaintiff "would, at times, be covered in chicken feces." Id. ¶ 24. Despite knowledge of the physical danger of exposure to TB, Defendants failed to test Plaintiff monthly for TB. Id. ¶ 39. Plaintiff began to suffer swelling in his face, neck, and hands. Id. ¶ 32. Plaintiff asked his work supervisor if he could see the company's nurse, but the supervisor would not allow him to do so. Id. After two weeks at Tyson, Plaintiff could no longer fulfill his work obligations due to his medical ailments; thus, Plaintiff returned to Leflore County Restitution Center, where he awaited his next assignment. Id. ¶ 33. Bradley became angry towards Plaintiff "because [Plaintiff] could not fulfill his duties" at Tyson, and Bradley did not assign Plaintiff to work at any other facility for two months, during which time Plaintiff was "essentially left in limbo." Id. ¶ 34. Bradley then assigned Plaintiff to work at Tyson again, "contrary to [Plaintiff's] best interest and despite the fact [that] he had a medical condition hampering his productivity at [Tyson]." Id. ¶ 37. "Despite earning the money to satisfy his restitution and any other legitimate outstanding debt, [Plaintiff], against his will, was forced to remain at [Leflore County Restitution Center] while at [Tyson]." Id. ¶ 40. Plaintiff was then released from Leflore County Restitution Center and allowed to return home. Id. ¶ 41. After his release, Plaintiff received a letter from the Mississippi State Department of Health informing him that he may have been exposed to TB during his assignment at Tyson. Id. ¶¶ 42, 65. After undergoing a tuberculin skin test, Plaintiff learned that he did, in fact, have TB. Id. ¶ 42. As a result of the disease, Plaintiff suffers from "muscle spasms, acute fever, night sweats, loss of appetite, weight loss, and a host of side effects from medications he must take" and is "unable to work." Id. ¶ 43.

Plaintiff's claims may be summarized as follows: (1) Plaintiff's constitutional rights were violated pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, when he was forced to fulfill his restitution at Tyson, thus subjecting him to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment, slavery/indentured servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment, and lack of procedural and substantive due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; (2) Defendants failed to provide adequate training and/or supervise their administration, staff, arid/or faculty not to violate Plaintiff's and other residents' Eighth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights in violation of Section 1983; (3) "Defendants conspired to deprive, by force, intimidation, or threat, [Plaintiff] from receiving his freedom after he satisfied the terms of his sentencing" in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985, id. ¶ 2; and (2) Defendants were negligent and/or grossly negligent in providing an unsanitary work environment for Plaintiff, thus causing him foreseeable harm. Plaintiff alleges that all acts by Defendants were conducted "under the color and pretenses of the ordinances, policies, practices, customs, regulations, usages[, ] and/or statutes of the Counties of Leflore and/or Leake, as well as the State of Mississippi." Id. ¶ 44. Plaintiff further alleges that it is the policy, practice, or custom of Defendants to suppress the constitutional and statutory rights of those residents entrusted to their care, id. ¶¶ 46-49, and that "[t]he unlawful actions of Defendants... were taken or ratified by final policy makers for [Leflore County Restitution Center] and thus constitute policies, practices[, ] and usage sufficient to impose liability, " id. ¶ 50.

In lieu of answering the amended complaint [12], Defendants Barbour, Epps, McTeer, and Bradley have filed Rule 12(b)(1) motions to dismiss the official-capacity claims against them on Eleventh Amendment immunity grounds; Tyson has filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the claims against it; and Defendants Epps, McTeer, and Bradley have filed a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment [48] on the individual-capacity claims against them.

Courts should address a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, such as a motion for dismissal on Eleventh Amendment immunity grounds, before addressing a motion on the merits. See Ramming v, United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001); United States v. Tex. Tech Univ., 171 F.3d 279, 285-86 (5th Cir. 1999). Thus, it is proper for the Court to first rule on the Eleventh Amendment immunity motions to dismiss before delving into the other motions. Accordingly, in this opinion and corresponding order, the Court will rule only on the Eleventh Amendment immunity motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Barbour, Epps, McTeer, and Bradley ("these Defendants") concerning the claims against them in their official capacities.

B. Rule 12(b)(1) Standard

"[A] factual attack under Rule 12(b)(1) may occur at any stage of the proceedings, and plaintiff bears the burden of proof that jurisdiction does in fact exist." Arena v. Graybar Elec. Co., 669 F.3d 214, 223 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit. Corp., 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir. 1980) (citations omitted)). In such a consideration, the court must

take the well-pled factual allegations of the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.... [U]nder Rule 12(b)(1), the court may find a plausible set of facts by considering any of the following: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by the undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.

Lane v. Halliburton, 529 F.3d 548, 557 (5th Cir. 2008) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). As stated, these Defendants' Rule 12(b)(1) motions to dismiss are brought on sovereign immunity grounds.

C. Sovereign Immunity

Sovereign immunity is a broad jurisdictional doctrine prohibiting suit against the government absent the government's consent. Sovereign immunity was assumed at common law, brought from England to the colonies, and existed prior to the ratification of the United States Constitution. Although the term "sovereign immunity" nowhere appears in the Constitution, the concept was perhaps woven into the very fabric of the document. Andrew Hamilton explained:

It is inherent in the nature of sovereignty not to be amenable to the suit of an individual without its consent. This is the general sense, and the general practice of mankind; and the exemption, as one of the attributes of sovereignty, ...

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