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Hubbard v. Epps

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

November 5, 2014

ROBERT A. HUBBARD, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTOPHER EPPS, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

JOHN C. GARGIULO, District Judge.

This case is before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Christopher Epps on July 14, 2014. [32]. Plaintiff Robert Hubbard did not file a response. Having considered the motion, case record, and applicable law, the undersigned is of the opinion that the motion for summary judgment should be granted.

Facts

Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging unconstitutional conditions of prison confinement pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on March 8, 2013.[1] [1]. Plaintiff was incarcerated as a post-conviction inmate in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) when the complaint was filed. Plaintiff was released from prison after the filing of his complaint and is no longer incarcerated.

The complaint alleges that Plaintiff was exposed to excessive amounts of second-hand tobacco smoke as a prisoner in the custody of the MDOC. Plaintiff further alleges that he suffers from headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, and coughing of green mucus from his throat as a result of the exposure. Plaintiff claims that the exposure harmed his physical health and violated his constitutional rights under the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff seeks only monetary relief.

All claims against the MDOC were dismissed on June 25, 2013. [12]. The Court subsequently conducted an evidentiary hearing pursuant to Spears v. McCotter, 766 F.2d 179 (5th Cir. 1985), on March 10, 2014. Plaintiff clarified that his complaint alleges that the smoke-free policy at SMCI is not being enforced, thereby allowing inmates at the facility to smoke. Plaintiff claims that the failure of Defendant Christopher Epps to enforce the nonsmoking policies caused him to be exposed to high amounts of second-hand tobacco smoke. Defendant Christopher Epps is the Commissioner of the MDOC.

On July 14, 2014, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on sovereign and qualified immunity. [32]. Attached thereto is a sworn affidavit signed by Defendant stating that "as Commissioner, I have no personal role in the enforcement of smoking policies at MDOC facilities, including, but not limited to, South Mississippi Correctional Institute (SMCI)." [32-1, ¶4]. The affidavit further states that Defendant has had no personal involvement with Plaintiff. [32-1, ¶9]. Plaintiff did not respond to Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

Legal Standard

"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(a). "A factual dispute is genuine' where a reasonable party would return a verdict for the non-moving party." Chiu v. Plano Indep. Sch. Dist., 339 F.3d 273, 282 (5th Cir. 2003). When considering a summary judgment motion, a court "must view 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). "Unsubstantiated 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).

Analysis

I. All claims asserted against Defendant Epps in his official capacity should be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.

A cause of action "against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official's office." Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). Sovereign immunity precludes suits against state agencies, officials, and employees when a plaintiff seeks recovery of monetary damages from the State or from public funds. Karpovs v. Miss. 663 F.2d 640, 643 (5th Cir.1981). Absent consent, a state "is immune from suits brought in federal court by her own citizens as well as by the citizens of another state." Pennhurst State School and Hosp., 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984).

The doctrine of sovereign immunity thus precludes all claims asserted against Defendant in his official capacity as Commissioner of the MDOC. Any claim asserted against Defendant in his official capacity must therefore be construed as a claim against the State of Mississippi. As Mississippi has not consented to suit in this Court or otherwise waived its sovereign immunity, neither it nor Defendant can be held liable for Plaintiff's claims for money damages. Defendant is therefore entitled to summary judgment to the extent Plaintiff asserts claims against Defendant in his official capacity. See Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 742 (5th Cir. 2002) ("Oliver also sought damages against Scott and Johnson in their official and individual capacities. The district court held that the Eleventh Amendment bars Oliver's suit for damages against officials in their official capacity. We twice have held that the Eleventh Amendment bars recovering § 1983 money damages from TDCJ [Texas Department of Criminal Justice] officers in their official capacity.").

II. All claims asserted against Defendant Epps in his individual capacity should also be dismissed ...


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