United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION ON REMAND
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS United States District Judge.
Introduction and Procedural History
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).
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.
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
[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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. AF No. 9.4.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rule 12(b)(1) Generally
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
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
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.
State Sovereign Immunity Generally
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
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 ...