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Brown v. Hood

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

January 31, 2018




         Plaintiff Leonard Brown brings this suit under state law and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for an alleged sexual assault and related offenses he suffered while incarcerated. The case is before the Court on two motions. First, Defendants Marshall Turner and Jacquelyn Banks, in their official and individual capacities, filed a Motion to Dismiss Based on Eleventh Amendment Immunity, State Law Immunity[, ] and Qualified Immunity [20]. That motion is denied without prejudice as to the retaliation claims but is otherwise granted. Second, Defendant Jim Hood, Attorney General of the State of Mississippi, filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction [18]. His motion is granted.

         I. Background

         Brown, a post-conviction state inmate, says that “Officer Lucker” sexually assaulted him on July 24, 2015, while Brown was housed at the South Mississippi Correctional Institute (“SMCI”). After that, Defendants allegedly denied Brown's requests for medical care and then retaliated against Brown for complaining about the way he had been treated.

         Brown filed this lawsuit against Hood, Turner, Banks, and others on January 23, 2017. In it, he asserts § 1983 claims for violation of his rights under the First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution as well as state-law tort claims. Brown also seeks equitable relief, including a declaration that Defendants violated his rights and an injunction prohibiting future enforcement of the inmate exception to the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (“MTCA”). Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-9(1)(m). Hood, Turner, and Banks moved to dismiss the claims against them, and the issues they raised have been fully briefed.

         II. Standards

         A. Rule 12(b)(1)

         A motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) “challenge[s] the subject matter jurisdiction of the district court to hear a case.” Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001). Lack of subject-matter jurisdiction may be found based on: “(1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.” Id. “[T]he party asserting jurisdiction”-here, the plaintiff-“bears the burden of proof that jurisdiction does in fact exist.” Id.

         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)). But “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To overcome a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “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).

         III. Analysis

         A. Turner and Banks

         Turner and Banks seek dismissal on three grounds. They say that the Eleventh Amendment bars claims asserted against them in their official capacities; the inmate exception of the MTCA bars all state-law claims; and qualified immunity precludes the federal claims against them in their individual capacities. The Court will address each argument in turn.

         1. Eleventh Amendment

         The Eleventh Amendment provides: “The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend. XI. The Supreme Court has interpreted the amendment “to bar citizens from suing their own states as well as other states.” United States v. Tex. Tech Univ., 171 F.3d 279, 289 (5th Cir. 1999). Claims against officials in their official capacities are “treated as suits against the state.” Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991). So the Eleventh Amendment bars the official-capacity claims against Turner and Banks. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985).

         There is, however, an exception to sovereign immunity first recognized in Ex parte Young. 209 U.S. 123 (1908). That exception allows a plaintiff to sue a state official in his or her official capacity for prospective relief from an ongoing violation of federal law. See Va. Office for Protection & Advocacy v. Stewart, 563 U.S. 247, 255 (2011) (citing Verizon Md. Inc. v. Pub. Serv. Comm'n of Md., 535 U.S. 635, 645 (2002); Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123).

         Brown says the Ex parte Young exception applies here because “[a]s long as he is incarcerated at SMCI and the officers who threatened him are present, there is a continuing likelihood that he will request reassignment to another prison or seek a remedy which he alleges will be denied by the defendants who will retaliate against him.” Pl.'s Mem. [29] at 11-12. This argument would not save Brown's claims for monetary damages based on past violations, so those claims are dismissed as to Turner and Banks in their official capacities.

         Turning to prospective relief for ongoing federal offenses, Turner and Banks correctly observe that Brown's Complaint alleges only violations that occurred in the past and “fails to allege that the violations are ongoing.” Defs.' Reply [33] at 3. Indeed the only declaratory relief Brown seeks in his Complaint is a judgment declaring that Defendants' past acts “violated” his rights. See Compl. [1] at 18-19. This form of declaratory relief, and the alleged past violations of federal law Brown asserts, are not what Ex parte Young addresses. See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 277-78 (1986) (“Young has been focused on cases in which a violation of federal law by a state official is ongoing as opposed to cases in which federal law has been violated at one time or over a period of time in the past . . . .”).

         That leaves Brown's prayer for an injunction precluding the state from enforcing the MTCA's inmate exception. See Compl. [1] at 19. But to assert that claim against Turner and Banks in their official capacities, Brown must show that they “have some enforcement connection with the challenged statute.” Okpalobi v. Foster, 244 F.3d 405, 415 (5th Cir. 2001). And Brown must further show that Turner and Banks have “demonstrated [a] willingness . . . to enforce the statute.” Id. at 417.

         On this issue, Brown offers nothing more than the conclusory allegation that Turner and Banks “act in concert with the Mississippi Attorney General in enforcing the MTCA.” Pl.'s Mem. [29] at 13. But Turner and Banks are both prison officials working within the Mississippi Department of Corrections; they do not enforce the MTCA's inmate exception. The Eleventh Amendment bars all official-capacity claims against Turner and Banks.

         2. State-Law Claims

         Turner and Banks say they are immune from suit for alleged violations of state law under the MTCA's inmate exception, which provides:

A governmental entity and its employees acting within the course and scope of their employment or duties shall not be liable for any claim:
[] Of any claimant who at the time the claim arises is an inmate of any detention center, jail, workhouse, penal farm, penitentiary or other such institution, regardless of whether such claimant is or is not an inmate of any detention center, jail, workhouse, penal farm, penitentiary or other such institution when the claim is filed[.]

Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-9(1)(m).

         On its face, the statute provides Turner and Banks immunity from Brown's state-law claims against them. But Brown says that the Court should refuse to enforce the inmate exception as it “violates [his] federal and state due process rights.” Pl.'s Mem. [29] at 13-14. In his Complaint, he also argues that the inmate exception violates the remedy clause ...

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