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Gravitt v. Wright

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division

June 9, 2014

ALISHA GRAVITT, Plaintiff;
v.
TRAVIS WRIGHT, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

L. SCOTT COOGLER, District Judge.

Alisha Gravitt ("Gravitt") filed a civil rights action in this Court, seeking money damages along with declaratory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983"). All Defendants have filed an answer responding to the claims for money damages, but Defendant Rick Harris has moved to dismiss Gravitt's demands for declaratory and injunctive relief. (Doc. 9.) The motion has been fully briefed, and for the reasons discussed below, it is due to be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Gravitt was incarcerated at the Winston County jail (the "Jail") from May 2012 until June 19, 2012, while she was awaiting trial. Defendants Travis Wright ("Wright") and James Whitman ("Whitman") were employed as corrections officers at the Jail while Gravitt was held there, and Defendant Rick Harris ("Harris") was the sheriff of Winston County, Alabama.

During her incarceration, Gravitt claims that Wright sprayed her with a powerful "pepper"-type spray known as "freeze" while she was confined to a small holding cell. According to Gravitt, Wright had no justification for spraying her, and he did so only for his own amusement. Additionally, Wright and the other Defendants allegedly exacerbated the effects of the spray by denying her access to adequate ventilation and medical care. Specifically, Wright left Gravitt in the small, poorly ventilated holding cell and did not provide her with a shower or permit her to flush her eyes with water.

In addition to the spraying incident, Gravitt also complains that the Defendants ignored her medical needs while she was incarcerated. She suffers from congestive heart failure and claims that she was denied medical treatment. At one point, Wright allegedly kicked her when she collapsed and told her to "quit faking it." Ultimately, Gravitt was released from the Jail because she needed significant medical treatment. There is no indication that Gravitt has returned to the Jail since her release in 2012.

On April 4, 2014, Gravitt filed her complaint in this Court. She alleges § 1983 claims based on violations of her Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights for the spraying and kicking incidents and deliberate indifference to her medical needs. Gravitt's claims against the Defendants for money damages based on these violations are not at issue. However, Gravitt demands injunctive and declaratory relief against Harris in his official capacity, seeking to have this Court declare a number of policies at the Jail unconstitutional.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Standing is an Article III doctrine limiting the jurisdiction of the federal courts to actual "cases" and "controversies." Socialist Workers Party v. Leahy, 145 F.3d 1240, 1244 (11th Cir. 1998). In order to establish standing, a plaintiff "must demonstrate injury in fact, causation, and redressability." I.L. v. Alabama, 739 F.3d 1273, 1278 (11th Cir. 2014). As Gravitt is the party invoking this Court's jurisdiction, she has the burden of establishing standing. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 2136 (1992).

"[E]ach element of standing must be supported with the manner and degree of evidence required at the successive stages of the litigation.'" Church v. City of Huntsville, 30 F.3d 1332, 1336 (11th Cir. 1994) (quoting Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561, 112 S.Ct. at 2136). When raised at the motion to dismiss stage, "general factual allegations of injury resulting from the defendant's conduct may be sufficient to show standing." America's Health Ins. Plans v. Hudgens, 742 F.3d 1319, 1327 (11th Cir. 2014). However, a defendant may raise a facial attack upon a plaintiff's standing, and the Court must consider whether the allegations in the complaint, taken as true, support an inference of standing. See Carmichael v. Kellogg, Brown & Root Servs., Inc., 572 F.3d 1271, 1279 (11th Cir. 2009).

III. DISCUSSION

At this stage in the litigation, Harris has raised a facial challenge to Gravitt's standing to pursue declaratory and injunctive relief only. Unlike money damages, both declaratory and injunctive relief are forms of prospective relief. See McGee v. Solicitor Gen. of Richmond Cnty., Ga., 727 F.3d 1322, 1325 (11th Cir. 2013) (explaining that "[d]eclaratory relief is by its nature prospective"); see also Church, 30 F.3d at 1337 (noting that "injunctions regulate future conduct"). "For a plaintiff seeking prospective relief to have standing, [s]he must show a sufficient likelihood that [s]he will be affected by the allegedly unlawful conduct in the future.'" Koziara v. City of Casselberry, 392 F.3d 1302, 1305 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Johnson v. Bd. of Regents, 263 F.3d 1234, 1265 (11th Cir. 2001).

Turning to the complaint, Gravitt pleaded that she was held in the Winston County jail "[f ]rom mid May 2012, until June 19, 2012." (Doc. 1 at 2 ¶ 5.) Additionally, Gravitt pleaded that she "was released from custody because of her serious medical needs." ( Id. at 10-11 ¶ 41.) Indeed, Gravitt appears to challenge the Jail release policy. Thus, it is clear from the face of the complaint that Gravitt has been released from the Jail, and she has not included any facts to suggest that she has either returned there since her release or is otherwise likely to return to the jail in the future.[1]

Although Gravitt has pleaded facts to suggest that she was harmed while at the Winston County jail, this would only establish a live controversy on a claim for money damages and not a claim for declaratory or injunctive relief. Adler v. Duval County School Bd., 112 F.3d 1475, 1477 (11th Cir. 1997) ("Equitable relief is a prospective remedy, intended to prevent future injuries. In contrast, a claim for money damages looks back in time and is intended to redress a past injury."). When a prisoner has been held in a jail but is later released or transferred, "[t]he general rule is that a prisoner's transfer or release from a jail moots his individual claim for declaratory and injunctive relief." McKinnon v. Talladega Cnty., Ala., 745 F.2d 1360, 1363 (11th Cir. 1984). In addition, Gravitt has not pleaded any facts to suggest that her release was part of an effort to ...


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