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Young v. Myhrer

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

March 21, 2017

KIMBERLY MYHRER, et al., Defendants.


          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction and Procedural History

         Plaintiff Ronnie Guy Young (“Mr. Young”) initiated this civil rights lawsuit on March 7, 2014. On May 30, 2014, Mr. Young filed a first amended complaint (Doc. 10) against the following seven individual defendants who have all been sued in their personal capacities only: Kimberly Myhrer (“Officer Myhrer”), Ronald Higgins (“Officer Higgins”), Timothy Laatsch (“Sergeant Laatsch”), Shanna Young (“Officer Young”), Matthew Joiner (“Officer Joiner”), David Mitchell (“Officer Mitchell”), and Shane Mills (“Officer Mills”) (collectively, the “Defendants”). (Doc. 10 ¶¶ 4-6).

         By virtue of the court's prior ruling on summary judgment, Mr. Young's federal counts for deliberate indifference and conspiracy to interfere with civil rights were dismissed with prejudice (Doc. 55 at 24), and only his state law claims for negligence, wantonness, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress remained in this lawsuit. (Id. at 24, 29). Defendants filed an interlocutory appeal on September 18, 2015, challenging the court's rejection of their state sovereign immunity defense raised under the Jailer Liability Protection Act of 2011 (the “Jailer Act”) to these state law claims on summary judgment. (Doc. 57).

         On July 1, 2016, the Eleventh Circuit reversed this court's sovereign immunity ruling adverse to Defendants and remanded this case for a determination in the first instance:[1]

[W]hether the individual defendants are entitled to summary judgment on state sovereign immunity grounds under Ala. Code §§ 14-6-1 & 36-22-3(b). It should specifically consider whether the defendants acted in compliance with the law as the amended statutes require, and in so doing will have to address who has the burden on that issue.

         (Doc. 63-1 at 9-10). On December 12, 2016, this court entered an order establishing a briefing schedule on the remand issues identified by the Eleventh Circuit under the Jailer Act. (Doc. 64).

         Defendants filed their initial brief (Doc. 65) on December 29, 2016. Mr. Young filed his responsive brief (Doc. 66) on January 19, 2017. On January 25, 2017, Defendants replied. (Doc. 67). Having considered the parties' arguments on remand, the court concludes that the sovereign immunity defense afforded to Defendants under the Jailer Act precludes the state law claims that Mr. Young has asserted against them. Therefore, the state law section of the court's previous summary judgment decision (Doc. 55 at 24-29) is due to be vacated. Further, that portion of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 49) that deals with Mr. Young's state law claims is due to be treated as one requesting a Rule 12(b)(1) dismissal of those counts on state sovereign immunity grounds. Accordingly, Counts I and II of Mr. Young's lawsuit remain dismissed with prejudice while Counts III and IV are due to be dismissed without prejudice.[2]

         II. Factual Background[3]

         Mr. Young has an extensive criminal history in California, having been convicted of assault with a firearm, possession of drugs, and possession of drugs with the intent to distribute. AF No. 1.1.[4] He has spent 18 of his 46 years of life in state prisons in California. AF No. 1.2. Although born and raised in California, he has family in Shelby County, Alabama. AF No. 2.

         In 2011, Mr. Young was convicted in California of distribution of methamphetamines and received a sentence of either four years of incarceration or participation in an in-house drug program. AF No. 3.1. Mr. Young participated in the program for approximately one and a half months, at which time he fled to Alabama. AF No. 3.2. A fugitive from justice warrant was issued by California Department of Corrections on February 13, 2012 for the arrest of Mr. Young. AF No. 4.

         On December 28, 2009, James Wesley Howard (“Mr. Howard”) was arrested and charged with the murder of Kara Nichole Lee (“Kara Lee”), and was incarcerated in the Shelby County Jail pending trial for capital murder. AF No. 5.1. Kara Lee was approximately 2 years old at the time of her death and Mr. Howard was the boyfriend of Kara Lee's mother, Britany Lee. AF No. 5.2. Mr. Young's nephew, William Young, Jr., (“William Young”) was the father of Kara Lee. AF No. 5.3. While Mr. Young was in Alabama as a fugitive from California, he spoke with William Young several times about Mr. Howard, and during these conversations William Young told Mr. Young that Mr. Howard was incarcerated in the Shelby County jail. AF No. 6.

         On the early morning hours of March 9, 2012, Mr. Young was arrested by the U.S. Marshal's Service at the home of his brother, George Young, in Shelby, Alabama. AF No. 7. Mr. Young was transported to the Shelby County jail and booked in on March 9, 2012. AF No. 8.1. The booking officers received a report that Mr. Young was a known felon, gang member, had a history of carrying a gun, assaulting police officers, and was an escape risk. AF No. 8.2. It was also reported that Mr. Young had claimed to be a member of the Southern Brotherhood, a white supremacist gang. AF No. 8.3.

         During the booking process, an Inmate Questionnaire (the “Questionnaire”) was completed which Mr. Young signed. AF No. 9.1; (see also Doc. 51-11 at 4 at 10 (Officer Higgins's answering affirmatively that he was the officer who asked Mr. Young the questions on the Questionnaire)). Question number 25 asked Mr. Young if he was “aware of any reason [he] should be separated from another inmate while [he] is here?” to which Mr. Young responded “no”. AF No. 9.2. Officer Higgins asked Mr. Young the questions verbatim as set out on the Questionnaire, and marked down Mr. Young's responses. AF No. 9.3; (see also Doc. 51-11 at 4 at 11 (Officer Higgins's testifying that “Sergeant Myers told me that you are to ask each question verbatim to the inmate, and that's how I asked them, verbatim”)). Further, Mr. Young signed the Questionnaire attesting to the accuracy of the information. AF No. 9.3. Additionally, at no time did Mr. Young inform the booking officers about his adverse affiliation with Mr. Howard or otherwise indicate that he should be separated from Mr. Howard.[5] AF No. 9.4.

         Mr. Young testified that he heard the [Deputy] U.S. Marshal state to the booking officers that he was to remain in isolation, as opposed to being placed in the general population. (Doc. 52 at 6 ¶ 10). Initially, Officer Myhrer placed Mr. Young in administrative segregation. AF No. 10.

         On March 10, 2012, Officer Joiner classified Mr. Young as a maximum security inmate based on his extensive history of assaultive behavior and on the reports from the arresting officers. AF No. 11.1. However, Officer Joiner could not confirm these claims through the National Crime Information Center, and therefore the classification evaluation of Mr. Young continued. AF No. 11.2.

         On March 12, 2012, Sergeant Laatsch continued to investigate Mr. Young's criminal and behavioral history in order to further assess his classification status. AF No. 12.1. Due to the fact that Sergeant Laatsch had received conflicting reports as to Mr. Young's criminal history and since he could not confirm the charges of assaults against officers and escape attempts, Sergeant Laatsch had Mr. Young moved from an administrative segregation cell to Unit B-3, which is a single person lockdown cell. AF No. 12.2.

         On the morning of March 14, 2012, Sergeant Laatsch continued his investigation into the behavioral reports concerning Mr. Young. AF No. 16.1. He was unsuccessful in confirming that Mr. Young was an escape risk and had a violent history toward correction staff while at previous institutions. AF No. 16.2. He further reviewed Mr. Young's history and considered a report from Sergeant Dixon[6] of his interview of Mr. Young. AF No. 16.3. Sergeant Dixon had reported to Sergeant Laatsch that Mr. Young did not deny some of his past aggressive behavior but declared that he was not like that anymore. AF No. 16.4. Based on the prior charges of kidnapping first and an aggravated assault from California, Sergeant Laatsch took into consideration the behavioral reports on Mr. Young to classify him with a medium designation instead of continuing to keep him in segregation. AF No. 16.5.

         In the afternoon of March 14, 2012, prior to the end of his shift, Sergeant Laatsch sent an email to Officer Joiner informing him that he was unable to complete three inmate housing moves during the day shift, and for Officer Joiner to make these moves during his shift if he had the time. AF No. 17.1. One of these housing moves was for Mr. Young to be moved from his B3 single cell to Pod A, Block 6. AF No. 17.2. Pod A, Block 6 (A-6) houses both maximum and medium security inmates having a history of assaultive behavior. AF No. 18.

         Pod A is comprised of a number of cell blocks. AF No. 19.1. Each block contains a number of cells. AF No. 19.2. In the center of the pod is a tower manned by a correctional officer, with a view into each block. AF No. 19.3. There are two additional officers assigned to the pod who act as rovers throughout the pod. AF No. 19.4.

         Each block surrounding the tower is triangular in shape. AF No. 19.5. A-6 is comprised of a large room with tables, chairs, phones, a television, and showers, referred to as the “dayroom”. AF No. 19.6. Along the back wall of the block are two-man cells, configured in a lower and upper level. AF No. 19.7. The cell doors routinely remain open during the day so that inmates can utilize the dayroom and go to and from their cells. AF No. 19.8.

         Each block is monitored by a closed circuit camera which feeds into the tower. AF No. 20.1. Each block is also equipped with an intercom system which an inmate can use to communicate directly with the tower guard. AF No. 20.2.

         Mr. Howard was housed in A-6. AF No. 21.1. Within a few minutes of Mr. Young entering A-6, Mr. Howard approached Mr. Young and introduced himself to him. AF No. 21.2. Mr. Young confronted Mr. Howard with the death of his great niece, and the two began to argue in the dayroom. AF No. 21.3.

         Mr. Young accused Mr. Howard of killing his niece, to which Mr. Howard responded that he was innocent and had paperwork in his cell showing that the DNA results were inconclusive. AF No. 22.1. Mr. Howard left the dayroom and went up the steps to his cell located on the upper level. AF No. 22.2. Mr. Young followed Mr. Howard up the steps to Mr. Howard's cell. AF No. 22.3.

         Immediately after Mr. Howard entered his cell, he bent down next to his bunk and started going through his paperwork. AF No. 23.1. While Mr. Young was standing beside and over Mr. Howard, Mr. Young began punching Mr. Howard in the head. AF No. 23.2. Mr. Howard retaliated and punched Mr. Young several times, knocking him to the floor. AF No. 23.3. Mr. Howard kicked Mr. Young several times and then left the cell. AF No. 23.4.

         Mr. Young was taken to the jail medical unit and then transferred to the Shelby Baptist Medical Center. AF No. 24.1. From there he was transported to UAB Hospital. AF No. 24.2.

         While Mr. Young criticizes its thoroughness (Doc. 52 at 8 ¶ 25), an investigation into the fight took place, including a recorded interview of Mr. Young. AF No. 25.1. During the interview, Mr. Young claimed not to remember any details of the fight and that his last memory was of him packing his belongings to move from B-3 to A-6. AF No. 25.2. Additionally, Mr. Young admitted in the interview that he knew Mr. Howard was in the Shelby County jail and further admitted that he did not inform the correctional officers of his relationship to Mr. Howard or that he should be separated from Mr. Howard. AF No. 26.

         On multiple occasions prior to his fight with Mr. Howard, Mr. Young had the opportunity to inform the jail guards of his adverse affiliation with Mr. Howard and yet he never did this. AF No. 32.1. More specifically, Mr. Young interacted with the guards on a routine basis throughout the day, including being escorted by guards to the shower and being served meals. AF Nos. 32.2, 32.3, 32.4. Additionally, Mr. Young could have informed Sergeant Dixon about his knowledge of Mr. Howard while being interviewed, but failed to do so. AF No. 32.5.

         Mr. Young also could have brought the potential conflict issue to Defendants' attention when he was being moved, but instead he remained silent and never informed any Defendants (or other correctional personnel) about this combustible relationship. AF Nos. 32.6, 32.7. Finally, Mr. Young also could have alerted the tower guard via the intercom system in the dayroom that he should not be housed in the same block as Mr. Howard, once he realized his presence. AF No. 32.8. Instead, Mr. Young followed Mr. Howard to Mr. Howard's cell and instigated a physical fight with him. AF No. 32.9.

         On March 16, 2012, Mr. Young was returned back to the jail from UAB Hospital, and then was extradited to California on March 27, 2012, to serve out his sentence. AF No. 27.

         III. Standards

         A. Rule 12(b)(1) Generally

         As the Eleventh Circuit has explained the standard on motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction:

Attacks on subject matter jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) come in two forms. Facial attacks” on the complaint “require[] the court merely to look and see if [the] plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a basis of subject matter jurisdiction, and the allegations in his complaint are taken as true for the purposes of the motion.” Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit Corp., 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 953, 101 S.Ct. 358, 66 L.Ed.2d 217 (1980) (citing Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977)). “Factual attacks, ” on the other hand, challenge “the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, irrespective of the pleadings, and matters outside the pleadings, such as testimony and affidavits, are considered.” Id.
These two forms of attack differ substantially. On a facial attack, a plaintiff is afforded safeguards similar to those provided in opposing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion-the court must consider the allegations of the complaint to be true. Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 412 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 897, 102 S.Ct. 396, 70 L.Ed.2d 212 (1981). But when the attack is factual,
the trial court may proceed as it never could under 12(b)(6) or Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Because at issue in a factual 12(b)(1) motion is the trial court's jurisdiction-its very power to hear the case-there is substantial authority that the trial court is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case. In short, no presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's allegations, and the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims.
Id. at 412-13 (quoting Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891).

Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1528-29 (11th Cir. 1990) (emphasis added). Here, the jurisdictional attack by Defendants on Mr. Young's state law claims is factual.

         B. State Sovereign Immunity Generally

         As the Eleventh Circuit set forth the Alabama sovereign immunity doctrine in Lancaster v. Monroe County, 116 F.3d 1419 (11th Cir. 1997), abrogation on other grounds as recognized by Melton v. Abston, 841 F.3d 1207, 1233 (11th Cir. 2016):

“[U]nder Alabama law, a claim against an Alabama sheriff in his individual capacity is barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.” McMillian v. Johnson, 101 F.3d 1363, 1365 (11th Cir. 1996) cert. denied, (June 27, 1997) (No. 96-1756). The source of absolute sovereign immunity is Article I, § 14 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901, which provides that “the State of Alabama shall never be made a defendant in any court of law or equity.” That provision bars any suit against the state of Alabama or its agencies. See Phillips v. Thomas, 555 So.2d 81, 83 (Ala. 1989). That provision also grants immunity to state officers and employees in their official and individual capacities, when the action is, in reality, a suit against the state. See Id. . . .
In deciding whether an action against a state officer is, in fact, an action against the state, Alabama law instructs us to consider the nature of the action and the relief sought. See Phillips, 555 So.2d at 83. According to Parker v. Amerson, if the “nature of the action” is a suit against a state official for the negligent performance of his statutory duties, that action is in reality a suit against the state. See 519 So.2d at 446. It does not matter, either, that Ms. Lancaster seeks only damages from the individual defendants. The same relief was sought from the deputy sheriff in Alexander; nevertheless, the Alabama Supreme Court treated the suit as one against the state. See Alexander, 652 So.2d at 1143-44.

Lancaster, 116 F.3d at 1430-31 (emphasis added); see also McMillian v. Johnson, 101 F.3d 1363, 1365 (“Notwithstanding this confusing language in Tinney, the holding of the case is clear: under Alabama law, a claim against an Alabama sheriff in his individual capacity ...

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