United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Panama City Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
MICHAEL J. FRANK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
prisoner civil rights case is before the court on Defendants
Kelly and Holden's motion to dismiss (Doc. 17), and
Defendant Churchwell's identical motion to dismiss (Doc.
28). Plaintiff filed separate, identical responses to the
motions. (Docs. 22, 35). The undersigned concludes that the
Defendants' motions to dismiss should be granted and that
this case should be dismissed for failure to state a claim on
which relief may be granted and because the Defendants are
entitled to qualified immunity.
Background and Procedural History
Darian Dunston is an inmate of the Florida Department of
Corrections currently confined at Mayo Correctional
Institution Annex. Dunston was confined at the Northwest
Florida Reception Center (“NWFRC”) at the time of
the events giving rise to this lawsuit. Dunston is suing
three prison officials previously employed at NWFRC: Warden
W. Churchwell, Assistant Warden N. Kelly, and Correctional
Major J. Holden. Dunston claims that the Defendants violated
his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual
punishments. Specifically, Dunston contends that, in August
2013, while he was being held in disciplinary confinement, he
informed the Defendants that gang members threatened to kill
him upon his release into the general prison population.
Dunston claims that despite being confronted with this
information, the Defendants failed to take reasonable steps
to abate the threat. Dunston asserts that eight months after
reentering the general population, he was attacked by two
inmates-one of whom was a known gang member. As relief,
Dunston seeks $425, 000.00 in compensatory and punitive
damages from each Defendant. (Doc. 1).
Defendants move to dismiss Dunston's complaint under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12, on three grounds: (1) the
Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; (2)
Dunston's allegations fail to state a facially plausible
deliberate indifference claim under the Eighth Amendment; and
(3) Dunston's damages claims are barred by 42 U.S.C.
§ 1997e(e). (Doc. 17, pp. 5-12; Doc. 28, pp. 5-12).
Dunston opposes the Defendants' motions on each point.
(Docs. 22, 35).
Relevant Legal Principles
Motion to Dismiss Standard
12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes
dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To
survive dismissal, “a complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.'”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007)). “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. The mere possibility that the defendant acted
unlawfully is insufficient. Id.; see also 5
C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure
§ 1216, pp. 235-36 (3d ed. 2004) (noting that a
“pleading must contain something more . . . than . . .
a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a
legally cognizable right of action”).
complaint must include “[f]actual allegations . . .
[sufficient] to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, that is,
“across the line from conceivable to plausible.”
Id. at 570; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(reiterating that although Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure does not require detailed factual
allegations, it demands “more than an unadorned,
the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.”). A
complaint also may be dismissed for failure to state a claim
“when its allegations, on their face, show that an
affirmative defense bars recovery on the claim.”
Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1357 (11th Cir.
2003); see also Marsh v. Butler Cty., Ala., 268 F.3d
1014, 1022 (11th Cir. 2001); Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S.
199, 215 (2007) (reiterating that principle).
considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim,
the court accepts all well-pleaded factual allegations in the
complaint as true and evaluates all reasonable inferences
derived from those facts in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff. See Hunnings v. Texaco, Inc., 29 F.3d
1480, 1483 (11th Cir. 1994). Mere “labels and
conclusions, ” however, are not accepted as true.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Papasan v.
Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (explaining that on a
motion to dismiss, courts “are not bound to accept as
true a legal conclusion couched as a factual
allegation”); Franklin v. Curry, 738 F.3d
1246, 1251 (11th Cir. 2013) (holding that courts must follow
the Supreme Court's “‘two-pronged
approach' of first separating out the complaint's
conclusory legal allegations and then determining whether the
remaining well-pleaded factual allegations, accepted as true,
‘plausibly give rise to an entitlement to
relief.'” (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
679). Thus, a pleading that offers “a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not
do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
Qualified Immunity Standard
the qualified immunity doctrine, government officials
performing discretionary functions are immune not just from
liability, but from suit, unless the conduct which is the
basis for suit violates clearly established federal statutory
or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would
have known.” Sanders v. Howze, 177 F.3d 1245,
1249 (11th Cir. 1999) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald,
457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). “To be entitled to qualified
immunity, the defendant must first establish that he was
acting within the scope of his discretionary
authority.” Gaines v. Wardynski, 871 F.3d
1203, 1208 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Maddox v.
Stephens, 727 F.3d 1109, 1120 (11th Cir. 2013)). Once
that is shown, “the burden shifts to the plaintiff to
establish that qualified immunity is not appropriate.”
Id. The plaintiff must prove that “(1) the
defendant violated a constitutional right, and (2) this right
was clearly established at the time of the alleged
violation.” Holloman v. Harland, 370 F.3d
1252, 1264 (11th Cir. 2004).
established means that, at the time of the officer's
conduct, the law was sufficiently clear that every reasonable
official would understand that what he is doing is
unlawful.” Dist. of Columbia v. Wesby, U.S.,
138 S.Ct. 577, 589 (2018) (internal quotation marks and
citations omitted). Qualified immunity protects “all
but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate
the law.” Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341
(1986). The Eleventh Circuit “has repeatedly held that
a district court may dismiss a case on the basis of qualified
immunity at the Rule 12 stage.” Trotter v.
Shull, 720 Fed.Appx. 542, 543 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing
Cottone, 326 F.3d at 1357; Gonzalez v.
Reno, 325 F.3d 1228, 1233 (11th Cir. 2003); Skrtich
v. Thornton, 280 F.3d 1295, 1306 (11th Cir. 2002)).
Eighth Amendment Deliberate Indifference
officials have a duty . . . to protect prisoners from
violence at the hands of other prisoners.” Farmer
v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833 (1994) (internal quotation
marks and citations omitted). However “not . . . every
injury suffered by one prisoner at the hands of another . . .
translates into constitutional liability for prison officials
responsible for the victim's safety.”
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. It is only a “prison
official's deliberate ...