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Wess v. Epps

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

September 10, 2014

JAMES ONEAL WESS, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTOPHER EPPS, ET AL., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

LINDA R. ANDERSON, Magistrate Judge.

This cause is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment [30] filed by Defendants Epps and Holman.[1] Having considered the entire record in this matter, the Court finds that the motion should be, and is hereby, granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

Plaintiff is an inmate in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), who is proceeding pro se in this litigation. Plaintiff brought this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, challenging the conditions of his confinement. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that while he was incarcerated at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, Mississippi, [2] Defendants failed to protect him from being stabbed by other inmates in violation of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. [1].

The Court held an omnibus or Spears hearing in this matter on January 24, 2013, at which Plaintiff was afforded the opportunity to fully explain his claim.[3] Plaintiff testified that while he was delivering food trays at Parchman, Defendants opened sally port doors, allowing a dozen unrestrained inmates to stab and beat Plaintiff, [4] though Plaintiff was in protective custody at the time. Plaintiff also testified that the attackers were yelling at Defendant Holman and Defendant Brown that they paid "you, " referring to the officers, to open the door. Plaintiff claims that his attackers should have been in their cells and not loose "on the tier."

Defendants have moved for summary judgment in this case on the bases, inter alia, that the Eleventh Amendment bars suits for damages against Defendants in their official capacities and that Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity with respect to the claims against them in their individual capacities.[5]

II. Standard of Review

"Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party can show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" United States v. Renda Marine, Inc., 667 F.3d 651, 655 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). "A factual dispute is genuine' where a reasonable party would return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Chiu v. Plano Indep. Sch. Dist., 339 F.3d 273, 282 (5th Cir. 2003) (quoting Lukan v. North Forest Indep. Sch. Dist., 183 F.3d 342, 345 (5th Cir. 1999)). When considering a summary judgment motion, a court "must review all facts and evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Juino v. Livingston Parish Fire Dist. No. 5, 717 F.3d 431, 433 (5th Cir. 2013). However, "[u]nsubstantiated assertions, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation are not sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment." Brown v. City of Houston, 337 F.3d 539, 541 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing Bridgmon v. Array Sys. Corp., 325 F.3d 572, 577 (5th Cir. 2003); Hugh Symons Group, plc v. Motorola, Inc., 292 F.3d 466, 468 (5th Cir. 2002)).

III. Discussion

A. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits suits against states in federal court brought by private citizens. Board of Trustees of the Univ. of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 363 (2001). This immunity from suit extends to state agencies and state officials sued in their official capacities for any relief, except certain types of injunctive relief. Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989); Pennhurst State School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100-103 (1984).

Plaintiff seeks to have Defendant Holman fired from her job. [1]. This is not the type of prospective injunctive relief that falls within an exception to the Eleventh Amendment bar. See, e.g., Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908). In Ex Parte Young, the Supreme Court recognized a narrow exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity which allows a state official to be sued in his or her official capacity for injunctive relief. 209 U.S. 123 , 159-160 (1908). "This exception strips the individual state actor of immunity and allows a private citizen to sue that individual in federal court for prospective injunctive relief based on allegations that the actor violated federal law." McKinley v. Abbott, 643 F.3d 403, 406 (5th Cir. 2011). A state official can be sued in his or her official capacity for prospective injunctive relief under Section 1983 because "official-capacity actions for prospective relief are not treated as actions against the State." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167, n. 14 (1985) (citing Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. at 159-160).

Termination of employment for an alleged failure to perform in the past is not the sort of prospective injunctive relief permitted pursuant to Ex Parte Young. "A section 1983 claim for damages... cannot overcome the Eleventh Amendment's barrier even with the help of Ex parte Young. Green v. Mansour, 474 U.S. 64 (1985). Declaratory relief is within Young' s purview, but only when violations of federal law are threatened or ongoing." Walker v. Livingston, 381 Fed.Appx. 477, 478-79 (5th Cir. 2010). Plaintiff has not alleged any ongoing issue with Defendant Holman, nor does anything in the record reflect an alleged ongoing constitutional violation. Rather, Plaintiff seeks Defendant Holman's termination as punishment for an alleged past wrong.

Accordingly, both Defendants are entitled to summary judgment as to Plaintiff's claims against them ...


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