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Alexander v. Geo

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

January 6, 2015

HOWARD W. ALEXANDER, Plaintiff,
v.
GEO, E. L. SPARKMAN, AND CHRISTOPHER EPPS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

F. KEITH BALL, Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court is the motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of some of the claims in this case filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants Christopher Epps and E. L. Sparkman have moved for summary judgment [37] on the basis of Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity and qualified immunity. Plaintiff did not respond to the motion [37]. This case is presently set for trial on February 23, 2015.

At the omnibus hearing, the parties consented to have a United States magistrate judge conduct any and all further proceedings in the case and order the entry of final judgment, and the District Judge subsequently entered an order of reference. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. Plaintiff, who is incarcerated, is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis ("IFP"). 28 U.S.C. § 1915. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants the defendants' motion [37] for summary judgment and dismisses Alexander's claims against Epps and Sparkman.

I. Plaintiff's Claims

Plaintiff is currently a convicted prisoner and resides in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections ("MDOC") at East Mississippi Correctional Facility ("EMCF"), located in Meridian, Mississippi. At the time of the events forming the basis of this lawsuit, from January to October 2011, Plaintiff was also housed at EMCF. Defendants are the former Commissioner of the MDOC, Christopher Epps; former MDOC Deputy Commissioner of Institutions, E. L. Sparkman; and GEO, a private company which managed the facility during the relevant time period.[2]

In sum, Plaintiff alleges that all defendants failed to protect him from harm when they failed to protect him from self-inflicted wounds, despite being placed on suicide watch. He also alleges that the defendants treated him with deliberate indifference by failing to provide him adequate medical attention for his self-inflicted wounds. In a Response [12] to Order, Alexander also stated that Epps and Sparkman violated his rights when they failed to transfer him to the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield, Mississippi. [12] at 3.

At the omnibus hearing, Alexander was given an opportunity to elaborate upon his claims. Alexander continued to assert claims of denial of medical attention despite his own testimony that he received medical attention, including surgery at a local hospital, for treatment of his self-inflicted wounds. As to his claims against Sparkman and Epps, he made vague allegations that Sparkman was aware of his condition because he had brought it to Sparkman's attention and that his family had called Sparkman about his condition. He further stated that he had sued Sparkman because he was in charge of the facility. Alexander stated that he had sued Epps because he was the head of the MDOC. Alexander testified that both Epps and Sparkman should be held liable because they are in positions of authority over the prison.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states, in relevant part, that "[t]he 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). An issue of fact is genuine if the "evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable factfinder to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Lemoine v. New Horizons Ranch and Center, 174 F.3d 629, 633 (5th Cir. 1999)(quoting Colston v. Barnhart, 146 F.3d 282, 284 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 119 S.Ct. 618 (1998)). Issues of fact are material if "resolution of the issues might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Lemoine, 174 F.3d at 633. "Federal summary judgment procedure requires the court to pierce through the pleadings and their adroit craftsmanship to reach the substance of the claim.'" Hicks v. Brysch, 989 F.Supp. 797, 806 (W.D. Tex. 1997)(citing Tacon Mech. Contractors v. Aetna Cas. and Sur. Co., 65 F.3d 486, 488 (5th Cir. 1995)). The Court does not, "however, in the absence of any proof, assume the nonmoving [or opposing] party could or would prove the necessary facts." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994)(en banc)(emphasis omitted). Moreover, the nonmoving party's burden to come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, " Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986), is not satisfied by "conclusory allegations" or by "unsubstantiated assertions, " or by only a "scintilla" of evidence. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

Although the defendants have raised the defenses of sovereign immunity and qualified immunity, "if it becomes evident that the plaintiff has failed to state or otherwise to establish a claim, then the defendant[s] [are] entitled to dismissal on that basis." Wells v. Bonner, 45 F.3d 90, 93 (5th Cir. 1995)(citing Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 231-33 (1991)). Thus, if the Court finds that Alexander's claims are not cognizable under § 1983, it need not reach the question of whether the defendants are entitled to immunity. Id.

III. Discussion

Having considered Defendants' filings, Plaintiff's omnibus hearing testimony, and the Complaint, the Court finds that summary judgment should be granted in favor of Defendants Epps and Sparkman.

A. Official Capacity Claims

Defendants Epps and Sparkman have moved for summary judgment on Alexander's claims against them in their official capacity. Alexander has not ...


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