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Davis v. Hinton

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

November 27, 2017

MELVIN LEE DAVIS PLAINTIFF
v.
TOMMY HINTON, STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, MARSHALL L. FISHER, JACQUELYN BANKS, MARSHALL TURNER, and JOHN AND JANE DOES 2-10 DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS BASED ON ELEVENTH AMENDMENT AND QUALIFIED IMMUNITY (ECF NO. 60)

          JOHN C. GARGIULO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT is the Motion to Dismiss Based on Eleventh Amendment and Qualified Immunity (ECF No. 60) filed by Defendants Tommy Hinton, in his official capacity; State of Mississippi; Mississippi Department of Corrections; Marshall Fisher; Jacquelyn Banks; and Marshall Turner. The Motion is fully briefed: Plaintiff Melvin Lee Davis filed a Response in Opposition (ECF No. 62), and Defendants filed a Reply (ECF No. 63). Having considered the submissions of the parties, the record as a whole, and relevant law, the Court determines that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Based on Eleventh Amendment and Qualified Immunity (ECF No. 60) will be GRANTED. Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Tommy Hinton, in his official capacity; State of Mississippi; Mississippi Department of Corrections; Marshall Fisher; Jacquelyn Banks; and Marshall Turner will be dismissed with prejudice on the basis of Defendants' sovereign immunity and qualified immunity. The stay of proceedings will be lifted and Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Tommy Hinton, in his individual capacity, will proceed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff Melvin Lee Davis is a federal inmate in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (“MDOC”). He “is and was at all times … incarcerated in area SMCI II Lockdown at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution” (“SMCI”). Amend. Comp. (ECF No. 46, at 2). Plaintiff filed his original pro se Complaint (ECF No. 1) on October 26, 2015, naming Tommy Hinton as the sole defendant and seeking monetary damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his constitutional rights. On September 20, 2016, the Court held an omnibus hearing, [1] during which Plaintiff expanded upon the allegations in his Complaint and the Court set case management deadlines. See Minute Entry Sept. 20, 2016. The parties also consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. Order Reassigning Case Upon Consent (ECF No. 35).

         After observing Plaintiff at the omnibus hearing, the Court concluded that “exceptional circumstances warranting appointment of counsel are present in the instant case” and granted Plaintiff's request for appointment of counsel. Order (ECF No. 32, at 3). The Court appointed G. Morgan Holder, of the law firm Smith & Holder, PLLC, to represent Plaintiff in this matter. Order Appointing Counsel (ECF No. 33). Plaintiff was thereafter granted leave to amend his complaint, see Text Order Nov. 2, 2016, and he filed his First Amended Complaint (ECF No. 46) on November 5, 2016. His First Amended Complaint added Jacquelyn Banks, Marshall Fisher, Marshall Turner, MDOC, and the State of Mississippi as defendants and made allegations that they violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights. See (ECF No. 46, at 3-20).

         On April 18, 2017, Defendants Banks, Fisher, Turner, MDOC, the State of Mississippi, and Hinton, in his official capacity only, filed the instant Motion to Dismiss Based on Eleventh Amendment and Qualified Immunity (ECF No. 60) and an accompanying Memorandum in Support (ECF No. 61). The Motion argues that Plaintiffs' claims against Defendants Banks, Fisher, Turner, MDOC, the State of Mississippi, and Hinton, in his official capacity, should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(1) because Plaintiff's allegations do not overcome their qualified and sovereign immunities. (ECF No. 61, at 3-4). B. Factual Allegations Melvin Davis has been incarcerated at SMCI since October 25, 2010. (ECF No. 46, at 2). On June 2, 2015, Mr. Davis witnessed a “brutal assault with a weapon involving numerous inmates and SMCI staff.” Id. at 10. He says the incident “centered around a prison gang[, ] which certain staff members at SMCI assisted in running drugs.” Id. The following day, he drafted a letter describing the incident and handed it to the correctional officers making unit rounds for delivery to Defendant Banks, Defendant Turner, and other unnamed officers. Id.

         Davis asserts that Defendant Hinton was one of the officers “assisting the gangs in distributing narcotics throughout the campus” and “would control housing assignments for better access to inmates … believed [to be] snitching on gang activities.” Id. at 9. He says “Defendant Hinton overheard the conversation between Mr. Davis and the other correctional officers” and moments later “gave Mr. Davis a direct order to lay face down in his cell, forced him to place his hands behind his back, and proceeded to violently assault Mr. Davis by stomping on his back area.” Id. at 10. “As a result of the unprovoked, vicious assault by Defendant Hinton, Mr. Davis sustained personal injuries, including but not limited to, permanent back injuries.” Id. Davis states that several correctional officers were in a position to assist him and intervene “but refused to do so.” Id.

         Davis asserts that, prior to this attack, he had put Defendants on notice of “critical problems of safety, security, drugs, and violence at SMCI and of the specific risk that the prison conditions created for Mr. Davis.” Id. at 8. He says that, “[b]y way of verbal statements and letters, ” he “notified staff lieutenants, corrections officers, Defendant Banks, and other Doe Defendants of the ongoing assaults and threats against him and that he was in danger.” Id. Davis says that “Defendants reviewed [his letters], letters from other inmates, and other incident reports in which a high rate of deaths, stabbings, and assaults was documented due to the pervasive gang activity at SMCI.” Id. at 8-9.

         Davis also alleges that “[p]rior to and at the time of Mr. Davis's injuries, the following conditions at SMCI posed a substantial risk of harm to SMCI inmates:

(a) Fights occurred between inmates on a regular basis resulting in injuries requiring medical attention and hospitalization;
(b) Inmates throughout the prison, and particularly in the area where Mr. Davis was housed, possessed weapons such as shanks and knives;
(c) Weapons were not confiscated from prisoners as required by state law and standard operating procedures;
(d) Stabbings and deaths were often reported;
(e) Critical security posts were either unmanned or manned with inadequate personnel;
(f) Known violent prisoners were not monitored and supervised, which contributed to inmate-on-inmate violence and officer-on-inmate violence;
(g) Locks on the doors to cells often did not work, allowing inmates to avoid being locked down and preventing effective separation of inmates from one another;
(h) Prisoners often slept in cells in which they were not assigned; (i) Gang leaders exercised control over housing assignments and were permitted to expel prisoners they no longer wanted in their dorms; (j) Prisoners were allowed to move undetected across the prison campus to unauthorized areas; (k) Officers were injured by inmates or were reported to injure inmates on several occasions; [and] (1) Officers assisted gang members in running drugs through the prison.

Id. at 7-8. Davis asserts that “The foregoing conditions posed a significant risk of harm to prisoners in violations of clearly established law.” Id. at 8.

         Despite being on notice of these conditions, Davis states that Defendants (1) “failed to take reasonable steps to protect inmates from other inmates and rogue staff, ” (2) failed to take “reasonable steps to ensure adequate staffing” at SMCI, (3) “continued to permit gangs to control the activities in Area II at SMCI and throughout the prison campus, ” (3) “failed to ensure that prisoners found with shanks were properly disciplined to deter inmates from possessing deadly weapons, ” and (4) “failed to ensure that officers conducted adequate contraband searches.” Id. at 9-10. He asserts that “Defendants Fisher, Banks, Turner, and Sims[2]” failed to promulgate, implement, and enforce procedures, rules, policies, and/or customs ...


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