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Judd v. State

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

October 6, 2017

JAMES ARTHUR JUDD and THE ESTATE OF KEVIN BOWENS PLAINTIFFS
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Debra M. Brown UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This civil rights action is before the Court on the motion to dismiss filed by Marshall Fisher, Jerry Williams, Earnest Lee, Timothy Morris, Brenda Cox, Tara Roland, and Ella Foster. Doc. #37.

         I

         Procedural History

         On June 10, 2016, James Arthur Judd, as a wrongful death beneficiary and administrator of the estate of Kevin Bowens, filed a complaint in this Court against numerous persons and entities, including the State of Mississippi and the Mississippi Department of Corrections (“MDOC”). Doc. #1. The complaint alleged that the defendants acted with negligence and violated the constitutional rights of Bowens, a former inmate at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, by failing to protect Bowens from an attack by a fellow inmate which resulted in Bowens' death. Id.

         On February 7, 2017, the State and MDOC filed a joint answer asserting various affirmative defenses, including sovereign immunity. Doc. #10. The same day, the State and MDOC filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Doc. #11.

         On March 23, 2017, Judd, with leave of the Court, filed an amended complaint. Doc. #17. The amended complaint includes the same general allegations but adds as defendants the following past and former employees of MDOC: Christopher Epps, Marshall L. Fisher, Archie Longley, Jerry Williams, Earnest Lee, Timothy Morris, Brenda Cox, Tara Roland, Ella Foster, Jeran Turner, Tavarius Walls, and Kimberly Williams. See id. at ¶ 5.

         MDOC, Cox, Fisher, Lee, Morris, Roland, the State, and Williams, answered the amended complaint on April 25, 2017. Doc. #31. Foster filed a separate answer on May 9, 2017. Doc. #35.

         On May 10, 2017, this Court granted the State and MDOC's motion to dismiss. Doc. #36. Twelve days later, Cox, Fisher, Foster, Lee, Morris, Roland, and Williams (“moving defendants”) filed a motion to dismiss the official capacity claims brought against them. Doc. #37. Judd did not respond to the motion.

         II

         Relevant Standards

         The moving defendants, invoking Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6)[1] of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, seek dismissal of the official capacity claims on the grounds that they are protected by sovereign immunity and that they are not “persons” within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Doc. #38. The first of these defenses implicates Rule 12(b)(1). See Warnock v. Pecos Cty., 88 F.3d 341, 343 (5th Cir. 1996) (“Because sovereign immunity deprives the [federal] court of jurisdiction, … claims barred by sovereign immunity can be dismissed only under Rule 12(b)(1) and not with prejudice.”). However, the second defense - that the moving defendants are not “persons” within the meaning of § 1983 - concerns a plaintiff's ability to state a claim, thus mandating a Rule 12(b)(6) inquiry. See Lapides v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. Sys. of Ga., 535 U.S. 613, 617 (2002) (§ 1983 claim against non-person supplied supplemental jurisdiction); Fontana v. Paeste v. Gov't of Guam, 798 F.3d 1228, 1234 (9th Cir. 2015) (“Three circuits have held that whether a party is a person under § 1983 is not a jurisdictional question, but rather a statutory one. We agree and so hold.”) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted).

         A. Rule 12(b)(1)

         “Motions filed under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow a party to challenge the subject matter jurisdiction of the district court to hear a case.” Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001). A court may dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on: “(1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by ...


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