United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Western Division
ESTATE OF JOSEPH LAVERNE STURDIVANT, et al. PLAINTIFFS
VICTOR SMITH DEFENDANT
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STARRETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
reasons above, the Court denies in part and defers ruling in
part on Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
. The Court denies the motion with respect to
Defendant's arguments concerning res judicata and
collateral estoppel. The Court defers ruling on
Defendant's qualified immunity argument. Plaintiff shall
file a Rule 7(a) reply on or before July 30, 2019. Defendant
may then file a supplemental brief on or before August 7,
2019, to which Plaintiff may respond on or before August 14,
the second lawsuit arising from the death of Joey Sturdivant,
a pretrial detainee in the Adams County Jail. In March 2016,
four other inmates assaulted Sturdivant. Officers then
segregated Sturdivant by putting him in “the
hold.” One of the inmates who had assaulted him gained
access to Sturdivant's cell and attacked him once again.
Plaintiffs allege that Defendant, a correctional officer,
conspired with inmates to release them from their cells and
give them access to Sturdivant's cell. Later that day,
officers found Sturdivant dead in his cell. He had hanged
himself with a sheet. Plaintiffs allege that Sturdivant had
threatened to commit suicide, and that he had been behaving
erratically earlier that day.
February 2017, Sturdivant's mother filed a lawsuit in
this Court against Adams County, Mississippi, Victor Smith,
and two other correctional officers. See Complaint,
Sturdivant v. Adams County, Miss., No.
5:17-CV-20-KS-MTP (S.D.Miss. Feb. 15, 2017), ECF No. 1. The
Court dismissed Plaintiffs' claims against the other two
officers. Memorandum Opinion and Order at 3-5, Sturdivant
v. Adams County, Miss., No. 5:17-CV-20-KS-MTP (S.D.Miss.
Apr. 7, 2017), ECF No. 11. The remaining Defendants - Adams
County and Victor Smith - eventually filed motions for
summary judgment, which the Court granted. Memorandum Opinion
and Order, Sturdivant v. Adams County, Miss. (Sturdivant
I), No. 5:17-CV-20-KS-MTP (S.D.Miss. Dec. 18, 2018), ECF
the Court held that Plaintiffs did not have standing to
assert Section 1983 claims arising from Victor Smith's
alleged use of excessive force and failure to protect
Sturdivant from other inmates. Id. at 4-7. The Court
noted that standing under Section 1983 is determined by
reference to the venue state's wrongful death or survival
statutes. Id. at 4 (citing Pluet v.
Frazier, 355 F.3d 381, 383 (5th Cir. 2004)). Under
Mississippi law, only an estate's administrator can bring
an action for survival claims. Johnson v. Med. Express
Ambulance Serv., Inc., 565 F.Supp.2d 699, 703 (S.D.Miss.
2008); Miss. Code Ann. § 91-7-233. However, wrongful
death beneficiaries may “recover survival-type
damages” in a wrongful death action for personal
injuries sustained by the decedent as long as “the same
wrongful conduct caused both [his] personal injury and death
. . . .” Johnson, 565 F.Supp.2d at 703. If the
same conduct that allegedly caused the injury to the decedent
did not cause his death, the wrongful death beneficiaries can
not recover on the survival claim under the wrongful death
statute. In re Estate of England, 846 So.2d 1060,
1068 (Miss. Ct. App. 2003).
failed to respond to Defendants' request for an admission
that the “sole proximate cause of Joseph Laverne
Sturdivant's death was suicide.” See
Exhibit 4, Sturdivant v. Adams County, Miss., No.
5:17-CV-20-KS-MTP (S.D.Miss. Sept. 17, 2018), ECF No. 50-4.
Therefore, in Plaintiffs' previous case, it was
conclusively established that the “sole proximate
cause” of Sturdivant's death was suicide.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 36(b). Because the misconduct
alleged by Plaintiffs - Smith's use of excessive force
and failure to protect Sturdivant from other inmates - did
not cause Sturdivant's death, his wrongful death
beneficiaries could not recover on the survival claims.
Sturdivant I, at 5.
standing is assessed by reference to the time when a suit was
filed, Three Expo Events, LLC v. City of Dallas, 907
F.3d 333, 345 (5th Cir. 2018), and Plaintiffs did not open
Sturdivant's estate until they received Defendants'
Motions for Summary Judgment, eighteen months after the suit
was filed. Therefore, the Court held that Plaintiffs did not
have standing to pursue Sturdivant's § 1983 claims
for injuries caused by Smith's alleged use of excessive
force and/or failure to protect him from other inmates. The
Court dismissed those claims without prejudice.
also argued that Plaintiffs did not plead any claim that he
was deliberately indifferent to the risk of Sturdivant
committing suicide. The Court agreed, noting that Plaintiffs
did not mention suicide in the Complaint. Plaintiffs had also
not requested leave to amend the complaint. Therefore, the
Court concluded that there were no claims before the court
related to Smith's alleged deliberate indifference to the
risk that Sturdivant would commit suicide.
Court entered a final judgment. Plaintiffs later filed a
motion for relief from the judgment as to their purported
claim that Smith was deliberately indifferent to the risk
that Sturdivant would prevent suicide, but the Court denied
the motion. Sturdivant v. Adams County, Miss., No.
5:17-CV-20-KS-MTP, 2019 WL 722598 (S.D.Miss. Feb. 20, 2019).
than a month later, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit. Victor
Smith, in his individual capacity, is the only Defendant.
Plaintiffs allege that Smith violated Sturdivant's rights
by failing to provide necessary medical care, failing to
prevent his suicide, and failing to protect him from other
inmates. Smith filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
. He argues that Plaintiffs' claims are barred by the
doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata. He also
argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity from
Standard of Review
“motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c)
is subject to the same standard as a motion to dismiss under
Rule 12(b)(6).” Doe v. MySpace, Inc., 528 F.3d
413, 418 (5th Cir. 2008). To survive a motion to dismiss
under Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim
to relief that is plausible on its face.” Great
Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. LLC v. La. State, 624 F.3d
201, 210 (5th Cir. 2010) (punctuation omitted). “To be
plausible, the complaint's factual allegations must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Id. (punctuation omitted). The Court
must “accept all well-pleaded facts as true and
construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff.” Id. But the Court will not accept
as true “conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual
inferences, or legal conclusions.” Id.
Likewise, “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action will not do.” PSKS, Inc. v. Leegin
Creative Leather Prods., Inc., 615 F.3d 412, 417 (5th
Cir. 2010) (punctuation omitted). “While legal
conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they
must be supported by factual allegations.” Ashcroft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950, 173
L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).