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Jones v. Tyson Foods, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi

October 3, 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, in His, Official Capacity as Correctional Supervisor of Leflore County, Restitution Center and in His Individual Capacity, DEFENDANTS

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Marvin Jones, Plaintiff: Joseph Robert Murray, II, LEAD ATTORNEY, MURRAY LAW FIRM, PLLC, Ripley, MS.

For Tyson Foods, Inc., Defendant: R. David Kaufman, LEAD ATTORNEY, Christopher R. Fontan, William Easom Jones, III, BRUNINI, GRANTHAM, GROWER & HEWES, Jackson, MS.

For Haley Barbour, in his official capacity of Governor of the State of Mississipp, 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, in his official capacity as Correctional Supervisor of Leflore County Restitution Center and in his individual capacties, Defendants: Tommy D. Goodwin, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Jackson, MS.

OPINION

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MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT BASED ON QUALIFIED IMMUNITY FILED BY DEFENDANTS CHRISTOPHER EPPS, LEE McTEER, AND JONATHAN BRADLEY

GLEN H. DAVIDSON, SENIOR JUDGE.

Presently before the Court is a motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity [48] jointly filed by Defendants Christopher Epps, Lee McTeer, and Jonathan Bradley in their individual capacities. Upon due consideration, the Court finds that the motion [48] should be granted in part and denied in part, as set forth below.

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 Jonathan Bradley, in his individual capacity and official capacity as the Correctional Supervisor of Leflore County Restitution Center (" Bradley" ).

The alleged facts are set out in some detail in this Court's two previous memorandum opinions in this case, see Mem. Ops. [57 and 59]; therefore, the Court incorporates the facts set out in those opinions into this opinion, and for background purposes merely summarizes Plaintiff's claims as follows: Plaintiff's amended complaint asserts under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that (1) Defendants violated Plaintiff's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment when they subjected Plaintiff and others to the inherently harmful conditions of a chicken plant wherein workers were forced to work sometimes " covered in chicken feces" and " in an environment filled with dust, feathers, and chicken feces," even if physically ill, and alongside illegal immigrants who might carry diseases such as TB and workers who might " urinat[e] close to the slaughter line," Pl.'s Am. Compl. [12] ¶ ¶ 15, 20, 24-26, 31, 52, 58, 62, 71-75; (2) Defendants violated Plaintiff's Thirteenth Amendment right to be free from slavery and/or involuntary servitude by forcefully detaining Plaintiff at Leflore County Restitution Center even after he had satisfied his restitution, as part of a conspiracy " to deprive, by force[,] intimidation[,] or threat, [Plaintiff] from receiving

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his freedom after he satisfied the terms of his sentencing," to " deny [Plaintiff] his civil rights," and " to intimidate him," id. ¶ ¶ 2, 3, 40, 59, 63, 66-70, 79-82; (3) Defendants violated Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment due process rights by its actions, id. ¶ ¶ 64, 76-78; and (4) Defendants failed to adequately train and supervise their administration, staff, and/or faculty not to violate a resident's Eighth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, which was the proximate cause of Plaintiff's injuries, id. ¶ ¶ 53, 83-87. Plaintiff's amended complaint asserts under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 that " Defendants conspired to deprive, by force, intimidation, or threat, [Plaintiff] from receiving his freedom after he satisfied the terms of his sentencing." Id. ¶ 2. The amended complaint further asserts under state law that (1) Defendants were negligent and/or grossly negligent in providing an unsanitary work environment for Plaintiff, thus causing him foreseeable harm, id. ¶ ¶ 89-94; (2) Defendants committed the tort of battery against Plaintiff, id. ¶ ¶ 95-97; and (3) Defendants' conduct subjected Plaintiff to intentional infliction of emotional distress, id. ¶ ¶ 98-102. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' actions 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. Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief that Defendants' alleged actions violated his Eighth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights; nominal and actual damages for Defendants' alleged violations of his state and federal constitutional rights; compensatory and punitive damages against Defendants for the alleged state torts of negligence and gross negligence; and the costs of litigation, including attorney's fees and expenses pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

Defendants Barbour, Epps, McTeer, and Bradley previously filed motions to dismiss on Eleventh Amendment immunity grounds [16, 35, & 37]. Tyson subsequently filed a motion to dismiss [18] the amended complaint pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. On September 11, 2013, the Court entered a memorandum opinion [57] and Order [56] ruling on the Eleventh Amendment motions to dismiss, sustaining all official-capacity claims against McTeer and Bradley and the official-capacity claims for declaratory relief brought against Barbour and Epps, but dismissing all other official-capacity claims against Barbour and Epps on Eleventh Amendment immunity grounds. That same day, the Court entered another memorandum opinion [59] and Order [58], sustaining certain claims against Tyson--negligence, gross negligence, and conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on an alleged violation of Plaintiff's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment--but dismissing all other claims against Tyson.

On March 15, 2013, Defendants Epps, McTeer, and Bradley (" these Defendants" ) filed the present motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity [48]. Plaintiff filed a response to the motion, and these Defendants filed a reply.

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The motion is now ripe for review, and the Court finds as follows.

B. Qualified Immunity Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment " should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Weaver v. CCA Indus., Inc., 529 F.3d 335, 339 (5th Cir. 2008). The rule " mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a sufficient showing to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548.

The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. Under Rule 56(a), the burden then shifts to the nonmovant to " go beyond the pleadings and by. . . affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.' " Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548; Littlefield v. Forney Indep. Sch. Dist., 268 F.3d 275, 282 (5th Cir. 2001); Willis v. Roche Biomedical Labs., Inc., 61 F.3d 313, 315 (5th Cir. 1995).

Where the parties dispute the facts, the Court must view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007) (internal citations omitted). " However, a nonmovant may not overcome the summary judgment standard with conclusional allegations, unsupported assertions, or presentation of only a scintilla of evidence." McClure v. Boles, 490 F.Appx. 666, 667 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing Hathaway v. Bazany, 507 F.3d 312, 319 (5th Cir. 2007)).

The usual summary judgment burden of proof is altered in the case of a qualified immunity defense. See Gates v. Tex. Dep't of Protective and Regulatory Servs., 537 F.3d 404, 419 (5th Cir. 2008). An official need only plead his good faith, which then shifts the burden to the plaintiff, who must rebut the defense by establishing that the official's allegedly wrongful conduct violated clearly established law. See Michalik v. Hermann, 422 F.3d 252, 262 (5th Cir. 2005) (citing Bazan v. Hidalgo County, 246 F.3d 481, 489 (5th Cir. 2001)). The plaintiff bears the burden of negating the defense and cannot rest on conclusory assertions, but must demonstrate genuine issues of material fact regarding the reasonableness of the official's conduct. See id. at 262; see also Ontiveros v. City of Rosenberg, Tex., 564 F.3d 379, 382 (5th Cir. 2009) (noting that, to avoid summary judgment on qualified immunity, a plaintiff need not present absolute proof but must offer more than mere allegations).

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds, the Court must first determine whether the allegations in Plaintiff's amended complaint are sufficient to negate these Defendants' assertions of qualified immunity. See Fleming v. Tunica County, 497 F.Appx. 381, 388 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing Backe v. LeBlanc, 691 F.3d 645, 648 (5th Cir. 2012) and Wicks v. Miss. State Emp't Servs., 41 F.3d 991, 995 (5th Cir. 1995)). " Negating qualified immunity 'demands more than bald allegations and conclusionary

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statements.' " Id. (quoting Wicks, 41 F.3d at 995). " [I]f the actions [that a defendant official] claims he took are different from those the [plaintiff] allege[s,] . . . then discovery may be necessary before [the official]'s motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds can be resolved." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 646 n.6, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987). However, Plaintiff " must allege facts specifically focusing on the conduct of [the individual defendants] which caused his injury." See Fleming, 497 F.Appx. at 388. " [A] plaintiff seeking to overcome qualified immunity must plead specific facts that both allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the harm [the plaintiff] has alleged and that defeat a qualified immunity defense with equal specificity." Backe, 691 F.3d at 648.

C. Analysis and Discussion

As a preliminary matter, the Court addresses Plaintiff's contention in his response that the Court should allow discovery prior to ruling on these Defendants' qualified immunity motion. The Court has freely allowed immunity-related discovery throughout this litigation; the only stay imposed on discovery was for discovery on the merits. See Order [22] at 1 (" all proceedings unrelated to the issue of immunity shall be stayed pending the court's ruling" on immunity motions). Qualified immunity is " both a defense to liability and a limited entitlement not to stand trial or face the other burdens of litigation. Provided it turns on an issue of law, a district-court order denying qualified immunity conclusively determines that the defendant must bear the burdens of discovery and is conceptually distinct from the merits of the plaintiff's claim." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 672, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Thus, engaging in discovery on the merits is not necessary, nor is it proper, prior to a ruling on the present qualified immunity motion. In fact, the United States Supreme Court has stated: " Unless the plaintiff's allegations state a claim of violation of clearly established law, a defendant pleading qualified immunity is entitled to dismissal before the commencement of discovery." See Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985). For these reasons, the Court finds that it should rule on the present qualified immunity summary judgment motion at this time, but the Court will note if merits-discovery is needed to resolve certain issues presented in the motion.

The Court will now address these Defendants' qualified immunity arguments as they pertain to (1) the § 1983 claims and (a) these Defendants' alleged personal involvement in constitutional deprivations, (b) Eighth Amendment violation, (c) Thirteenth Amendment violation, (d) Fourteenth Amendment violation, and (e) these Defendants' alleged failure to train or supervise; (2) the § 1985(3) conspiracy claim; (3) the 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) prior physical injury issue; and (4) the state law claims.

1. Section 1983 Claims Against Epps, McTeer, and Bradley in Their Individual Capacities

These Defendants contend that they are qualifiedly immune from suit on the § 1983 claims. " Section 1983 provides a cause of action against any person who deprives an individual of federally guaranteed rights 'under color' of state law." Filarsky v. Delia, __ U.S. __, __, 132 S.Ct. 1657, 1661, 182 L.Ed.2d 662 (Apr. 17, 2012) (citing § 1983). " Anyone whose conduct is 'fairly attributable to the state' can be sued

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as a state actor under § 1983." See id., 132 S.Ct. at 1661; see also Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 937, 102 S.Ct. 2744, 73 L.Ed.2d 482 (1982). [1]

However, such state actors enjoy various protections from liability derived from the common law, such as absolute or qualified immunity. See Filarsky, 132 S.Ct. at 1660; see also id. at 1662 (it is well settled that " common law protections well grounded in history and reason had not been abrogated by covert inclusion in the general language of § 1983" ) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). " Qualified immunity shields government officials from civil damages liability unless the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct." Reichle v. Howards, __ U.S. __, __, 132 S.Ct. 2088, 2093, 182 L.Ed.2d 985 (June 4, 2012); see Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. __, __, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2080, 179 L.Ed.2d 1149 (2011); Murrell v. Chandler, 277 F.Appx. 341, 343 (5th Cir. 2008) (per curiam) (citing Morin v. Caire, 77 F.3d 116, 120 (5th Cir. 1996)). Thus, in evaluating a claim of qualified immunity, courts consider (1) whether the plaintiff has alleged a violation of a constitutional right, and (2) whether that right was clearly established at the time of the alleged misconduct. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001), overruled in part by Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). Courts have discretion to determine which of these questions to address first. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236, 129 S.Ct. 808. And often deciding one of these questions obviates the need to decide the other; " [t]his approach comports with our usual reluctance to decide constitutional questions unnecessarily." See Reichle, 132 S.Ct. at 2093; Pearson, 555 U.S. at 241, 129 S.Ct. 808. See also Camreta v. Greene, 563 U.S. __, __, 131 S.Ct. 2020, 2030-2031, 179 L.Ed.2d 1118 (2011); al-Kidd, 131 S.Ct. at 2080.

Defendants argue that the § 1983 claims should be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to allege the following: (a) these Defendants' personal involvement in the alleged constitutional deprivations; (b) an Eighth Amendment deprivation; (c) a Thirteenth Amendment deprivation; (d) a Fourteenth Amendment due process deprivation; and (e) a valid failure-to-train-and-supervise claim. The Court addresses the arguments as follows.

a. Personal Involvement in Alleged Constitutional Deprivations

These Defendants first argue that they are qualifiedly immune from suit on the § 1983 claims because Plaintiff has failed to allege that these Defendants were personally involved in the alleged constitutional deprivations.

i. Epps and McTeer

These Defendants maintain that Plaintiff's sole allegations pertaining to Epps' and McTeer's purported involvement in the alleged constitutional deprivations is that Epps and McTeer are responsible for the alleged constitutional deprivations due to their supervisory positions as the Commissioner of Mississippi Department of Corrections (" MDOC" ) and Correctional Director for Region I, respectively, and

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that these allegations are insufficient to show personal involvement in the alleged constitutional deprivations or a causal connection between their acts and the alleged constitutional deprivation, as § 1983 does not create supervisory liability.

Plaintiff argues in response that although it is well understood in the law that respondeat superior does not afford a basis for liability under § 1983, see Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978), this Court should find that the Monell rule does not apply in the case sub judice based on the dissent in Board of County Commissioners of Bryan County, Oklahoma v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 117 S.Ct. 1382, 137 L.Ed.2d 626 (1997). This argument is unavailing. The Court agrees that the strong dissents in Brown suggest that deliberate indifference liability and respondeat superior liability may be one and the same. See Brown, 520 U.S. at 416-37, 117 S.Ct. 1382; Connick v. Thompson, __ U.S. __, __, 131 S.Ct. 1350, 1365 n.12, 179 L.Ed.2d 417 (Mar. 29, 2011) (interpreting the Brown dissents). However, since those dissents, the United States Supreme Court has consistently held that a § 1983 claim cannot proceed on a respondeat superior theory. See e.g., Connick, 131 S.Ct. at 1365 n.12 (" We stand by the longstanding rule-reaffirmed by a unanimous Court earlier this Term that to prove a violation of § 1983, a plaintiff must prove that " the municipality's own wrongful conduct caused his injury, not that the municipality is ultimately responsible for the torts of its employees." ) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The Fifth Circuit has also repeatedly indicated that " [l]iability under the doctrine of respondeat superior is not cognizable in § 1983 actions." See, e.g., Beaulieu v. Lavigne, 539 Fed.Appx. 421, 2013 WL 4478228, at *4 (2013) (quoting Sanders-Burns v. City of Plano, Tex., 594 F.3d 366, 380 (5th Cir. 2010)). Because this Court is bound by the precedent of the United States Supreme Court and the Fifth Circuit, the Court finds that Plaintiff's respondeat superior liability theory may not be brought in this § 1983 action.

Plaintiff's amended complaint does not allege that either Epps or McTeer had personal involvement in the events leading to his injury, nor does he allege that Epps or McTeer committed wrongful acts that were causally related to the alleged constitutional violations. At the time of the alleged incidents, Epps was the Commissioner of MDOC, but Plaintiff does not allege that Epps had any personal involvement with the alleged incidents, including placing him in the unsanitary, unhealthy work environment at Tyson and detaining him after he had completed paying off his restitution. McTeer was Community Correctional Director for Region I, which includes Leflore County Restitution Center where Plaintiff was a resident during the alleged incidents, but Plaintiff also does not allege that McTeer had any personal involvement with the alleged incidents giving rise to this suit. Simply, there are no allegations that either Epps or McTeer were involved in the incidents giving rise to this suit. Although Plaintiff does vaguely allege that McTeer was involved in making unconstitutional policies that resulted in Plaintiff's injury, Pl.'s Am. Compl. [12] ¶ 45, no alleged facts support this statement. Similarly, although Plaintiff does vaguely allege that Epps and McTeer, as well as all other Defendants in the case sub judice, " failed to train and supervise their officers, agents, servants, employees and attorneys, and all other persons in active concert or participation," id. ¶ 53, no alleged facts support this statement. Therefore, the amended complaint

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lacks allegations that indicate that Epps and McTeer were personally involved in the alleged constitutional deprivations or that sufficiently tie the alleged constitutional violations to Epps' or McTeer's alleged wrongful conduct. For these reasons, Epps and McTeer are qualifiedly immune from suit on all § 1983 claims for damages asserted against them in their individual capacities. See, e.g., Fleming, 497 F.Appx. at 389; Champagne v. Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, 188 F.3d 312, 314 (5th Cir. 1999).

However, qualified immunity only extends to the § 1983 claims for damages. Johnson v. Epps, 479 F.Appx. 583, 591 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing Chrissy F. by Medley v. Miss. Dep't of Pub. Welfare, 925 F.2d 844, 849 (5th Cir. 1991)); accord Scribner v. Linthicum, 232 F.Appx. 395, 397 (5th Cir. 2007) (per curiam). See also Burton v. Owens, 511 F.Appx. 385, 2013 WL 586825, at *3 (5th Cir. Feb. 14, 2013) (per curiam) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982) (stating that in certain circumstances " [g]overnment officials sued for damages under ยง 1983 are entitled to qualified immunity, and thus protected from liability for civil damages" ) (emphases added)). Thus, because the present motion ...


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