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Ingle v. Shelby County

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

November 1, 2019

JOHNNY L. INGLE, Plaintiff,
SHELBY COUNTY, et al., Defendants.



         This Court dismissed Plaintiff Johnny L. Ingle's pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and granted him to leave to amend. (ECF No. 7.) Plaintiff timely amended his complaint (ECF No. 8) now in the screening process. Plaintiff does not list the parties he wishes to sue by name in the style of the case. But his amended complaint contains allegations that he seeks to sue the following: the Director of the Shelby County Correctional Center (“SCCC”), District Attorney General Amy Weirich, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner, Jr., Shelby County Chief Jailer Kirk Fields, Jailer First Name Unknown (“FNU”) Hurtado, [1] Jailer FNU Bass, Jailer FNU Pree, Sergeant FNU Panell, Jailer Big Will, Jailer FNU Hadley, and Jailer FNU Chaney. The Court DIRECTS the Clerk to list the Defendants accordingly. Plaintiff seeks to sue the Defendants in their individual and official capacities.


         Plaintiff provides far greater detail to his allegations than he did in his initial complaint. He first alleges a new claim, not included in his initial complaint: that on June 6, 2018, he petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the Shelby County Criminal Court. (ECF No. 8 at PageID 55.) The next month, the authorities transferred him to a hospital and placed him in a holding cell even though, he claims, he had no medical reason to be there. (Id.) He does not allege, however, who sent him to the hospital. (Id.)

         Plaintiff later learned that the trial court held a hearing on his habeas petition while he was at the hospital. (Id. at PageID 56.) He claims that officials intentionally held him at the hospital to prevent him from pursuing his habeas petition. (Id.) Plaintiff seeks to sue the director of the SCCC and District Attorney General Weirich, alleging they conspired to deny him access to the court. (Id.) The rest of his amended complaint amplifies claims he made in the original complaint.

         Plaintiff reiterates his original claims about the conditions at the Shelby County Jail (“Jail”) after his transfer from the SCCC. (ECF No. 8 at PageID 57-58; see ECF No. 7 at PageID 45.) He again seeks to sue Shelby County Mayor (Lee) Harris, Sheriff (Floyd) Bonner, and Chief Fields for his treatment and the conditions. (ECF No. 8 at 58-59.) He asserts that each Defendant knew the Jail was overcrowded but “ignored his obligation” under the Tennessee Constitution “to inspect and provide a safe comfortable Jail.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff also reiterates his allegations that Jailer Hurtado refused to move him to another cell, despite his cellmate's threats and loud, racist comments. (ECF No. 8 at PageID 60; see ECF No. 7 at PageID 45.) The cellmate eventually punched Plaintiff, who then had to wait for Hurtado to remove the cellmate before taking Plaintiff to a nurse. (ECF No. 8 at PageID 60.) Plaintiff alleges anew that Hurtado failed to protect Plaintiff because he knew the cellmate had made racist threats against staff members, yet Hurtado refused to honor Plaintiff's request for placement in another cell. (Id. at PageID 60-61.) Plaintiff also asserts that Chief Fields failed to train Hurtado to protect Plaintiff, and that Sheriff Bonner failed to ensure that Fields had properly trained Hurtado. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that the authorities made him serve fifteen days in segregation for the incident with his cellmate. (Id. at PageID 62.) He alleges that, during those fifteen days, they only allowed him to leave his cell twice for an hour each time. (Id.) One time, Jailer Bass told him not to tell other detainees. (Id.) And on the second occasion Jailer Bass placed Plaintiff in a “holding cage” no bigger than his cell. (Id.) Plaintiff allegedly asked Jailer Pree for more time out of the segregation cell. (Id.) But Pree allegedly refused his request. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that Jailers Bass and Pree knew he was entitled to one-hour out per day but wrongly denied him that time out of his cell. (Id. at PageID 62-63.) Plaintiff also seeks to hold Chief Fields and Sheriff Bonner responsible for denying him time out of his cell. (Id. at PageID 63.)

         Plaintiff next alleges that, when Sergeant Panell escorted him to segregation to serve his fifteen days, she told him what legal materials he could bring. (Id. at PageID 63.) But she was wrong. (Id.) Panell allowed Plaintiff to take only two folders of materials, even though Jail policy allows a shoebox-sized box per inmate. (Id. at PageID 63-64.) In segregation, a jailer Plaintiff refers to only as “Big Will” took one of his folders. (Id. at PageID 64.) Plaintiff alleges that the officers never returned these materials to him. (Id.) Plaintiff asserts that Panell and Big Will violated Jail policy when they confiscated his property. (Id. at PageID 64-65.) He also seeks to hold Chief Fields responsible for not ensuring that the jailers followed the Jail's policies. (Id. at PageID 65.)

         Plaintiff alleges that included in his lost property was a copy of the first petition for a writ of habeas corpus he filed in the Shelby County Criminal Court. (Id.) But because Big Will and Panell took his property, he could not include a copy of that petition with his second petition as state law requires. (Id.) Plaintiff does not allege that his second petition was denied or refused on that basis but alleges that he was “denied a fair opportunity to present all of [his] issues.” (Id. at PageID 66.) He seeks to hold Big Will and Panell responsible. (Id.) And he asserts that Mayor Harris, Sheriff Bonner, and Chief Fields “failed to investigate the Jail to ensure of [sic] Ingles United States constitutional rights.” (Id.)

         Finally, Plaintiff alleges an array of one-time incidents-an unnamed jailer took his shoes once even though jailers allowed all African American detainees to keep theirs;[2] Jailer Hadley did not give him a spork; Jailer Chaney refused to retrieve his property even though he had returned another detainee's property; Jailer Chaney made a racist comment; an unnamed jailer took his legal papers; an inmate stole his laundry; other inmates gave him their soiled laundry; officers forced him to wear torn clothes; and unnamed jailers are racially discriminating against him. (Id. at PageID 67.)

         Given these allegations, Plaintiff requests damages and an order “requiring all Jailers to remain on their post during shift changes until properly relieved.” (Id. at PageID 57, 59, 61, 63, 65, 66.)


         The Court announced the legal standards for evaluating claims in an inmate's complaint in the prior order of dismissal (ECF No. 7 at PageID 46-48) and will not reiterate them here.


         I. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint Fails to State a Claim Against Any Defendant in His or Her Official Capacity

         A. Shelby County

         Plaintiff again seeks to sue the Defendants in their official capacities. Plaintiff alleges that each Defendant except District Attorney General Weirich is an employee of Shelby County. As noted in the Court's previous order, those claims are construed as against Shelby County. (ECF No. 7 at PageID 48.) For the same reasons discussed before, Plaintiff fails to state a claim against any Shelby County Defendant in his or her official capacity. (Id. at PageID 48-49.) The Court therefore DISMISSES his claims against these Defendants in their official capacities.

         B. State of Tennessee

         Plaintiff also seeks damages against District Attorney General Weirich in her official capacity. As a District Attorney General, Defendant Weirich is an employee of the State of Tennessee, not Shelby County. See White v. Swafford v. Gerbitz, 860 F.2d 661, 663 n.2 (6th Cir. 1988) (noting that district attorneys general and their assistants “prosecute suits on behalf of the state, Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-7-103, and receive an annual salary payable out of the state treasury, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 8-7-105 and 8-7-201” and are thus employees of the State of Tennessee); see also Hembree v. Office of the Dist. Attorney Gen. for the 13th Judicial Dist. of Tenn., No. 2:18-cv-00097, 2019 WL 1437913, at *2 (M.D. Tenn. Apr. 1, 2019). Claims against her in her official capacity are therefore construed as against the State of Tennessee. See Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989).

         But Plaintiff does not state a valid claim against the State of Tennessee. The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution says that “[t]he 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. Courts have interpreted the Eleventh Amendment to prohibit citizens from suing their own states in federal court unless the state first waives its sovereign immunity. Welch v. Tex. Dep't of Highways & Pub. Transp., 483 U.S. 468, 472 (1987); Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984); see also Va. Office for Protection & Advocacy v. Stewart, 131 S.Ct. 1632, 1638 (2011) (“A State may waive its sovereign immunity at its pleasure, and in some circumstances Congress may abrogate it by appropriate legislation. But absent waiver or valid abrogation, federal courts may not entertain a private person's suit against a State.” (citations omitted)).

         Tennessee has not waived its sovereign immunity. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-13-102(a). Moreover, a state is not a person under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Lapides v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. Sys. of Ga., 535 U.S. 613, 617 (2002); Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989).

         So the Court DISMISSES Plaintiff's claims against District Attorney General Weirich in her official capacity.

         II. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint Sufficiently States a Claim Against Jailers Hurtado, Bass, and ...

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