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Taylor v. Epps

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

May 18, 2015

KENYA TAYLOR, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
CHRISTOPHER EPPS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE COMMISSIONER OF THE MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL., Defendants.

ORDER

DANIEL P. JORDAN, III, District Judge.

This civil-rights action is before the Court on motion of Defendants for dismissal pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Plaintiffs have responded in opposition. Having considered the parties' submissions, along with the pertinent authorities, the Court finds that Defendants' motion should be granted in part and denied in part, as set forth below.

I. Factual and Procedural History

The eleven plaintiffs in this action are current or former correctional officers at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) in Pearl, Mississippi, which falls under the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC). On November 28, 2013, shortly after "muster, " these female guards were separated from the male guards and subjected to individual strip searches in the bathroom. Am. Compl. [25] at 3. Plaintiffs "were required to disrobe down to their underwear, pull up their bras, rub themselves between their thighs, run their hands around their underwear, turn around and bend over." Id. at 3-4. They contend the searches were not conducted in accordance with MDOC's policies and violated their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches. Plaintiffs also assert state-law claims of false imprisonment and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In their prayer for relief, they seek punitive damages, expenses, and attorneys' fees.

Plaintiffs named the following six individuals as defendants in their individual and official capacities: Christopher Epps, former Commissioner of MDOC; Johnnie Denmark, Superintendent of CMCF; and Andrease Buckner, Kimeiriakis Buck, Travis Crane, and Flora Bogan, all correctional officers with MDOC. Plaintiffs explain that Buckner, Buck, Crane, and Bogan were "involved in conducting the illegal strip searches" and Epps and Denmark are liable based on "their supervisory roles within MDOC and... in developing, implementing, and enforcing MDOC policies." Pls.' Resp. [31] at 1.

Defendants Epps, Denmark, Buckner, and Bogan answered Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint and moved for dismissal under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Neither Buck nor Crane joined in the motion, and it appears that neither has filed an answer. The moving Defendants submit that the § 1983 official-capacity claims are barred by Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity, the § 1983 individual-capacity claims are insufficiently pleaded and otherwise barred by qualified immunity, and the state-law claims are barred by the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA). The Court addresses each of these arguments below.

II. Motion to Dismiss Standard

In their motion to dismiss, Defendants invoke both Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). The Court presumes that Defendants seek dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) for those claims barred by Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. See Warnock v. Pecos Cnty., Tex., 88 F.3d 341, 343 (5th Cir. 1996) ("Because sovereign immunity deprives the court of jurisdiction, the claims barred by sovereign immunity can be dismissed only under Rule 12(b)(1) and not with prejudice."). All other claims will be evaluated under Rule 12(b)(6).

A. Rule 12(b)(1)

"A Rule 12(b)(1) motion should be granted only if it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove a plausible set of facts that establish subject-matter jurisdiction." Davis v. United States, 597 F.3d 646, 649 (5th Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted). In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, "the court may consider any one of the following: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint plus undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint, undisputed facts, and the court's resolution of disputed facts." Id. at 649-50 (citing Lane v. Halliburton, 529 F.3d 548, 557 (5th Cir. 2008)). Finally, the party asserting subject-matter jurisdiction bears the burden of proof. Id. at 649.

B. Rule 12(b)(6)

In considering a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the "court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'" Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dall. Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 324 (5th Cir. 1999) (per curiam)). To overcome a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Plaintiff must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. at 555 (citations and footnote omitted). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). It follows that "where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not show[n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). "This standard simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary claims or elements." In re S. Scrap Material Co., LLC, 541 F.3d 584, 587 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

III. Analysis

A. Section 1983 Official-Capacity Claims

Defendants first assert that Plaintiffs' § 1983 official-capacity claims are barred by Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. The Eleventh Amendment "bars suits in federal court by citizens of a state against their own state or a state agency or department." Delahoussaye v. City of New Iberia, 937 F.2d 144, 146 (5th Cir. 1991) (internal quotation marks omitted). An official-capacity suit for damages is essentially a suit against the state and is subject to sovereign immunity. See Marquez v. Woody, 440 F.Appx. 318, 324 n.9 (5th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (noting that claims against state officials in their official capacities for damages are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity because the state that employs the officers is the real party in interest).

In response, Plaintiffs argue that their Amended Complaint fixes the problem by asserting claims under the MTCA, which, according to them, "represents a waiver of sovereign immunity." Pls.' Resp. [31] at 5. Plaintiffs' point is not entirely clear.[1] If Plaintiffs intended to suggest that the MTCA waives Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity as to the § 1983 official-capacity claims, then the argument fails. The MTCA does offer limited waivers from the sovereign immunity codified in Mississippi Code Section 11-46-3, but it expressly preserves Mississippi's right to invoke Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-5(4); see also Delaney v. Miss. Dep't of Pub. Safety, No. 3:12CV229TSL-MTP, 2013 WL 286365, at *3 (S.D.Miss. Jan. 24, 2013), aff'd, 554 F.Appx. 279 (5th Cir. 2014) (same). It is more likely that Plaintiffs have simply waived the § 1983 official-capacity claims in light of the Eleventh Amendment and instead pursue MTCA official-capacity claims. The § 1983 official-capacity claims will therefore be dismissed without prejudice. See Warnock, 88 F.3d at 343 (noting that dismissal under the Eleventh Amendment must be without prejudice). The MTCA official-capacity claims are addressed below.

B. Section 1983 Individual-Capacity Claims

Defendants next move for dismissal of Plaintiffs' § 1983 individual-capacity claims based on qualified immunity. "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, 132 S.Ct. 2088, 2093 (2012). To determine if an individual is entitled to qualified immunity, the Court applies a two-step analysis. The Court first asks "whether, considered in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the plaintiff has alleged facts that, if proven, would establish that the official violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights." Senu-Oke v. Jackson State Univ., ...


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