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Ex parte Ruffin

Supreme Court of Alabama

August 29, 2014

Ex parte Harvey Ruffin, Shelton Patterson, Sandra Giles, and Kenneth Jones;
v.
Harvey Ruffin, Shelton Patterson, Sandra Giles, and Kenneth Jones) (In re: Thomas Donahey, Jr.

Released for Publication April 13, 2015.

(Montgomery Circuit Court, CV-12-0702, Charles Price, Trial Judge).

For Petitioners: Luther Strange, Atty. Gen., John C. Neiman, Jr., Deputy Atty. Gen.; Anne Adams Hill, Gen. Counsel, Alyce R. Addison, Asst. Atty. Gen., Alabama Department of Corrections, Legal Division.

Thomas Donahey, Jr., Respondent, Pro se.

MAIN, Justice. Moore, C.J., and Stuart, Bolin, Parker, Murdock, Shaw, Wise, and Bryan, JJ., concur.

OPINION

Page 751

PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

MAIN, Justice.

Lt. Harvey Ruffin, a correctional officer at the Bullock Correctional Facility (" the facility" ); Sgt. Shelton Patterson, a correctional officer at the facility; Sandra Giles, the deputy warden of the facility; and Kenneth Jones, the warden of the facility (hereinafter referred to collectively as " the petitioners" ), the defendants in an action filed by Thomas Donahey, Jr., petition for a writ of mandamus directing the Montgomery Circuit Court to grant their motion for a summary judgment on the ground that they are entitled to immunity. We grant the petition and issue the writ.

Page 752

I. Facts and Procedural History

On July 25, 2010, Donahey was attacked and injured while in the custody of the Mental Health Residential Therapeutic Unit of the facility. Donahey was stabbed several times with an ink pen by another inmate, Bruce Smith. During the incident, one of the facility's correctional officers observed several inmates running from one of the inmate dorms. The fleeing inmates reported that another inmate was being stabbed. The correctional officer radioed for immediate assistance. Two correctional officers responded to the call for assistance, including Lt. Ruffin. Lt. Ruffin responded and observed Donahey " sitting on the side of his bed bleeding" and Smith " standing behind Donahey, with his hands held over his head, and stating that 'the voices' had told him to attack Donahey." Donahey was taken to the facility's health-care unit for medical treatment and was later released back to his dormitory. Smith was handcuffed and taken to the facility's stabilization/segregation unit and was charged with assaulting another inmate.

On July 6, 2012, Donahey, acting pro se, sued Lt. Ruffin, Warden Jones, Deputy Warden Giles, and Sgt. Patterson, who was allegedly present while Donahey was being treated in the health-care unit following the attack. Donahey alleged that the petitioners negligently, wantonly, and recklessly failed to protect him from an attack by another inmate. In his complaint, Donahey alleged that the petitioners knew that Smith had a history of violence and that he had attacked other inmates and prison guards. Donahey also alleged that the petitioners knew that Smith did not like Donahey and that they should not have housed Donahey and Smith together. Donahey also alleged that the failure to protect him from the attack constituted a violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Donahey demanded judgment in the amount of $250,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages.[1]

On August 28, 2013, the petitioners jointly moved for a summary judgment on the ground that they are immune from Donahey's lawsuit. Each petitioner submitted an affidavit in support of the summary-judgment motion. Lt. Ruffin testified that, contrary to Donahey's claims that Smith was known to be violent, Smith's last disciplinary infraction involving any form of violence was in 2005. The petitioners testified that both Donahey and Smith were housed at the mental-health unit and both were receiving treatment for mental-health issues. Warden Jones testified that inmates are routinely housed together unless there is a compelling reason to segregate particular inmates from the general population. The petitioners described the attack as " spontaneous." They testified that the security staff responded immediately to the attack and that medical aid was promptly rendered to Donahey, while Smith was placed in the segregation unit and charged with a disciplinary violation. Deputy Warden Giles testified that there was nothing that would have given the correctional-security staff reason to foresee Smith's attack on Donahey. Although Sgt. Patterson testified that he did not recall being present at the time of the incident, he stated that security personal quickly notify the mental-health staff any time they witness an inmate in mental distress.

Donahey filed no response and submitted no evidence in opposition to the summary-judgment

Page 753

motion.[2] Thus the sworn statements submitted by the petitioners were uncontroverted. A hearing on the motion was held on November 6, 2013.[3] On November 7, 2013, the trial court entered an order denying the summary-judgment motion without explanation. The petitioners jointly petitioned for a writ of mandamus ordering the Montgomery Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in their favor on the basis that they are immune from liability.

II. Standard of Review

Although the denial of a motion for a summary judgment is generally not appealable, this Court has held that the denial of a motion for a summary judgment grounded on a claim of immunity is reviewable by a petition for a writ of mandamus. Ex parte Kennedy, 992 So.2d 1276, 1280 (Ala. 2008). In such case, we apply the following standard of review:

" '" While the general rule is that the denial of a motion for summary judgment is not reviewable, ... the denial of a motion for summary judgment grounded on a claim of immunity is reviewable by petition for writ of mandamus." Ex parte Rizk, 791 So.2d 911, 912 (Ala. 2000). A writ of mandamus is an extraordinary remedy available only when there is: " (a) a clear legal right to the order sought; (2) an imperative duty upon the respondent to perform, accompanied by a refusal to do so; (3) the lack of another adequate remedy; and (4) the ...

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