United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO
THOMAS ANDERSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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 (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.
PROPER MOTION BEFORE THE COURT
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).
the Court will continue to treat the instant Motion as a Rule
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.
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.
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.
STANDARD OF LAW
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).
Requirements of the PLRA
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