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Puckett v. Corporal Dustin Ward

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

November 20, 2017




         Before the Court is the Motion of Defendants Corporal Dustin Ward, Sergeant Jamie Johnson, Warden Mike Parris, Unit Manager Joel Smith, and Correctional Officer Phillip Ward[3] (collectively “Defendants”) to Dismiss Plaintiff Donald Puckett's claims made under 42 U.S.C § 1983 (“section 1983”) and Tennessee common law (ECF No. 27). Defendants first argue that this Court lacks jurisdiction under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, (the “PLRA”) because Plaintiff failed to allege compliance with the pre-suit exhaustion requirements. Second, Defendants argue that section 1983 does not permit claims under a theory of respondeat superior, and therefore claims against the “supervisory defendants” cannot be sustained. Defendants next argue that they are all entitled to qualified immunity for the section 1983 claims. And finally, Defendants argue that they have absolute immunity from Plaintiff's state law negligence claims. For reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED. Plaintiff's claims against Defendants are DISMISSED, however, without prejudice. Plaintiff is GRANTED leave to amend his Complaint. Any amended complaint must be filed within thirty days of the entry of this Order.


         Plaintiff correctly mentions that when, as is the case here, a defendant has presented the Court with matters outside the pleadings in his motion to dismiss, it is appropriate for the Court to convert the motion into a motion for summary judgment. Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that when a party moving under Rule 12(b)(6) presents matters outside the pleadings and the court does not exclude the materials, the court must treat the Rule 12(b)(6) motion as a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). The Court declines to do so today, however, and as a result must exclude the filed affidavits from its consideration of this Motion. The Court proceeds as it does because neither party has provided the Court with a statement of the material facts so as to properly assist it in discerning whether Defendant is entitled to summary judgment. See id.; W.D. Tenn. Local R. 56.1(a)-(b).

         Therefore, the Court will continue to treat the instant Motion as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.


         The following facts as alleged by Plaintiff in his Complaint are taken as true at this stage of the proceedings. On or about February 5, 2016, Plaintiff was inmate at the Northwest Correctional Complex (“NWCX”) located in Tiptonville, Lake County, TN. He was working in the kitchen at NWCX. Anthony Byrd was an inmate in close custody in a high secure area at NWCX. If Byrd was to be out of his cell, he was to be handcuffed, shackled, and escorted by two guards at all times. Byrd was released from his cell in the high secure area by a correctional officer and was allowed in the kitchen area where Plaintiff was working. Byrd then stabbed Plaintiff with a seven-and-a-half-inch knife several times. Plaintiff was transported to the Med One hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was hospitalized until February 18, 2016, with serious, life-threatening injuries involving stab wounds to the internal organs of his body. It was generally known that Byrd (1) posed a great to the general population-and Plaintiff in particular, (2) was to be in close custody or very high security, and (3) was to be handcuffed, shackled, and escorted by two guards whenever he was out of his cell. But yet Byrd was allowed out of his cell without handcuffs, shackles, or an escort and then further permitted in the kitchen area, where he violently assaulted Plaintiff.

         NWCX or the Tennessee Department of Corrections permitted insufficiently trained correctional officers to work in high risk and secure areas, placing the inmates at risk. Defendant Parris is the Warden of NWCX and was responsible for the operations of NWCX. Defendant Dustin Ward was the supervisor of the correctional officer who let Byrd out of his cell. Defendant Johnson was the supervisor of the high secure area. Defendant Smith is the unit manager in charge of the area. Defendant Ellis is a correctional officer who may have let Byrd out of his cell. Defendant Phillip Ward is a correctional officer who may have let Byrd out of his cell.


         A defendant may move to dismiss a claim for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted” under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must treat all of the well-pleaded allegations of the pleadings as true and construe all of the allegations in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Saylor v. Parker Seal Co., 975 F.2d 252, 254 (6th Cir. 1992). Legal conclusions and unwarranted factual inferences, however, need not be accepted as true. Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 12 (6th Cir. 1987) (citing Westlake v. Lucas, 537 F.2d 857, 858 (6th Cir. 1976); Davis H. Elliot Co. v. Caribbean Utilities Co., 513 F.2d 1176, 1182 (6th Cir. 1975); Blackburn v. Fisk Univ., 443 F.2d 121, 124 (6th Cir. 1971)). “To avoid dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain either direct or inferential allegations with respect to all the material elements of the claim.” Wittstock v. Mark A. Van Sile, Inc., 330 F.3d 899, 902 (6th Cir. 2003). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, a complaint need only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although this standard does not require “detailed factual allegations, ” it does require more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)); see also Reilly v. Vadlamudi, 680 F.3d 617, 622 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In order to survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must allege facts that, if accepted as true, are sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570. “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. Requirements of the PLRA

         The PLRA precludes actions under federal law regarding prison conditions without exhausting all available administrative remedies first. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Defendants argue that because Plaintiff has failed to even allege that he attempted to file a prison grievance to exhaust his administrative remedies, the PLRA has deprived this Court of jurisdiction over his federal claims. Plaintiff responds that exhaustion, however, is an affirmative defense, and, therefore, an inmate need not specifically plead or demonstrate exhaustion in his complaint. Plaintiff directs the Court to Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007), in which the Supreme Court expressly held that “failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense under the PLRA, and that inmates are not required to specially plead or demonstrate exhaustion in their complaints.” Jones, 549 at 216. Defendants are asking the Court to dismiss this action precisely because Plaintiff failed to do something that he is not required to do. Thus, the Court finds Defendants' argument to be misguided. A dismissal on the basis of failure to demonstrate exhaustion is inappropriate at the motion-to-dismiss stage.

         B. Failure ...

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