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Williams v. Mercado

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

January 18, 2018

DWIGHT WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT MERCADO AND MONROE BARNES, Defendants.

          ORDER

          MARCIA MORALES HOWARD United States District Judge

         I. Status

         Plaintiff Dwight Williams, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action on May 31, 2016, [1] by filing a Civil Rights Complaint (Doc. 1). Williams filed an Amended Complaint (Amended Complaint; Doc. 13) on February 28, 2017. He names as defendants Monroe Barnes and Robert Mercado. In the Amended Complaint, Williams asserts that Defendants permanently suspended Samona Taylor[2] from visiting him in prison in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. As relief, Williams seeks compensatory and punitive damages, and “an injunction striking down the indefinite suspension of” Samona Taylor's visitation privileges. Amended Complaint at 7.

         Before the Court is Defendant Mercado's Motion to Dismiss (Mercado Motion; Doc. 23). The Court advised Williams that he had thirty days to respond to a motion to dismiss and that the granting of a motion to dismiss would be an adjudication of the case that could foreclose subsequent litigation on the matter (Court Order; Doc. 14). On May 23, 2017, Williams filed a response in opposition to the Mercado Motion. See Reply to Defendant Mercado's Motion to Dismiss (Mercado Response; Doc. 27).

         Also before the Court is Defendant Barnes' Motion to Dismiss (Barnes Motion; Doc. 26). When Williams did not respond to the Barnes Motion within thirty days, the Court directed Williams (1) to show cause why the claims against Barnes should not be dismissed for failure to comply with the Court Order and (2) to file a response to the Barnes Motion by August 9, 2017. Doc. 28. On August 2, 2017, Williams filed a response in opposition to the Barnes Motion. See Reply to Defendant Mercado's Motion to Dismiss (Barnes Response; Doc. 29).[3]

         Because the Barnes Motion and Mercado Motion (collectively, the Motions) present identical arguments in support of dismissal, the Court will address the Motions together. The Court notes that Barnes and Mercado also submitted identical exhibits in support of the Motions. Docs. 23-1 and 26-1. Barnes and Mercado state that the Court may consider the exhibits without converting their Motions to ones for summary judgment because they are central to Williams' claim and the exhibits are authentic public records. See Barnes Motion at 2; Mercado Motion at 2. Generally, a district court “must convert a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment if it considers materials outside the complaint.” Day v. Taylor, 400 F.3d 1272, 1275-76 (11th Cir. 2005). However, a district court may consider material beyond the four corners of a complaint in ruling on a motion to dismiss if the material “is (1) central to the plaintiff's claim, and (2) its authenticity is not challenged.” SFM Holdings, Ltd. v. Banc of Am. Sec., LLC, 600 F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir. 2010). Upon review of the Motions, the Court determines that consideration of the exhibits submitted by Barnes and Mercado is unnecessary to their resolution. Thus, whether or not the exhibits meet the exception to the general rule, the Court declines to consider them, and will analyze the Motions under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         II. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept the factual allegations set forth in the complaint as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 n.1 (2002); see also Lotierzo v. Woman's World Med. Ctr., Inc., 278 F.3d 1180, 1182 (11th Cir. 2002). In addition, all reasonable inferences should be drawn in favor of the plaintiff. See Omar ex. rel. Cannon v. Lindsey, 334 F.3d 1246, 1247 (11th Cir. 2003) (per curiam). Nonetheless, the plaintiff must still meet some minimal pleading requirements. Jackson v. BellSouth Telecomm., 372 F.3d 1250, 1262-63 (11th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). Indeed, while “[s]pecific facts are not necessary[, ]” the complaint should “‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Further, the plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content 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); see Miljkovic v.Shafritz and Dinkin, P.A., 791 F.3d 1291, 1297 (11th Cir. 2015) (citation and footnote omitted). A “plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do[.]” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotations omitted); see also Jackson, 372 F.3d at 1262 (explaining that “conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal”) (internal citation and quotations omitted). Indeed, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions[, ]” which simply “are not entitled to [an] assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 680. Thus, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must determine whether the complaint contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face[.]'” Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Consistent with this authority, the Eleventh Circuit has instructed:

To survive a motion to dismiss, [plaintiff]'s complaint must have set out facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This means he must have alleged "factual content that allow[ed] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant[s] [were] liable for the misconduct." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The allegations must be plausible, but plausibility is not probability. See id.

Lane v. Philbin, 835 F.3d 1302, 1305 (11th Cir. 2016).

         III. Williams' Amended Complaint [4]

         On April 27, 2014, Williams received a visit from Samona Taylor during the visiting hours at Columbia Correctional Institution. Amended Complaint at 4. After the visiting hours, Mercado and Officer Marcus Cooper conducted strip searches on Williams and other inmates. Id. During the search of Williams' clothing, Mercado found tissue paper and assumed the tissue paper was used “as an attempt to push unknown contraband into [Williams'] anal area.” Id. Williams tried to explain to Mercado that the “supposed white object was nothing more than wadded toilet paper” used for Williams inflamed hemorrhoids, but Mercado refused to listen and “ordered [Williams] to stop.” Id. Mercado handcuffed Williams and escorted him to a dry cell for further examination. Id. In the dry cell, Williams removed the tissue paper from his rectal area and gave it to the prison officials. Id. Prison officials then physically and visually examined Williams' rectum. Id. at 5. During this process, Mercado “repeatedly stated that [Williams] would never see [his] girlfriend again.” Id. After the examination, prison officials moved Williams to an administrative confinement cell. Id.

         On April 28, 2014, Mercado wrote a disciplinary report (DR) stating that Williams disobeyed a verbal or written order. Id. Prison officials found Williams guilty of disobeying an order and “sentenced [him] ¶ 30 days of DC confinement.” Id. Following the April 27th incident, prison officials suspended Samona Taylor's visitation privileges with Williams. See id. Williams “appealed the DR” to the Assistant Warden. Id. Despite the fact that no contraband had been found “on or in [Williams'] body, ” the Assistant Warden denied the appeal on May 19, 2014. Id.

         On May 28, 2014, Williams filed a grievance regarding the suspension of Samona Taylor's visitation privileges. Id. Classification Officer J. Tomlinson denied the grievance stating “Samona Taylor's privileges were suspended permanently based on the DR and incident report.” Id. Williams appeal of the denial of this grievance was “returned without action.” Id. Williams filed another grievance on June 2, 2014, denying the fact that he or Samona Taylor attempted to introduce contraband into the correctional institution, and explaining “how he was dry celled, and physically searched and no contraband was ever found.” Id. at 5-6. On June 11, 2014, Assistant Warden Polk denied the grievance stating that an incident report completed on April 27, 2014, provided enough evidence that Samona Taylor passed contraband to Williams and Williams was “clearly observed attempting to push contraband into his rectal area.” Id. at 6. In the denial, the Assistant Warden noted that Williams' visitation had been suspended indefinitely for violating Chapter 33-601.727(1)(c) of the Florida Administrative Code. Id. Williams appealed the denial of the grievance to the Warden on February 25, 2015. Id. at 7. The Warden denied the appeal ‚Äústating that the visitor's visitation privileges were suspended for a serious rule violation, and that [Williams] was found guilty of an infraction involving ...


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