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Herrera v. Oliver

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

February 14, 2019

TREY OLIVER, III, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Reynaldo Herrera, Jr. an Alabama prison inmate proceeding pro se and informa pauperis, filed his complaint under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983. (Doc. 1). This action was referred to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72(a)(2)(R) and is now before the undersigned on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 15). After careful review of the pleadings, and for the reasons set out below, the undersigned recommends that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be granted in favor of Defendants and that the claims asserted against Defendants Trey Oliver, III, Sam Cochran, and Sam Houston be dismissed with prejudice.

         I. Summary of Allegations and Background.

         In his complaint, Plaintiff Reynaldo Herrera, Jr. (“Herrera”) challenges the conditions of his confinement while incarcerated at Mobile County Metro Jail (“Mobile Metro Jail” or “the jail”).[1] Specifically, Herrera alleges that he was exposed to toxic waste (in the form of backed up sewage drainage in his cell and shower), contaminated water, faulty air ventilation, extreme temperatures, and general unsanitary conditions (including, rusted tables, dirty cells, bacteria, mold, continuous plumbing problems). (Doc. 1 at 4). Additionally, Herrera claims he was denied adequate medical care. Id. Herrera claims he notified the defendants numerous times, verbally and through filed grievances, of the deficient conditions but his complaints were ignored. Herrera is suing Warden Trey Oliver, III., Sheriff Sam Cochran, and Deputy Warden Sam Houston for the alleged Eighth Amendment violations. (Id. at 5-6). Herrera requests that the challenged conditions “be fixed” and further requests compensatory and punitive damages in the amount of $3, 000, 000.00. (Id. at 7).

         Defendants have answered Herrera's suit and filed a Special Report in support of their denial of all allegations. (Docs. 12, 13). Defendants' pleadings have been converted by the Court into a Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 15), to which Plaintiff Herrera has responded. (Doc. 27). After a thorough review of the record, this motion is ripe for consideration.

         II. Legal Standards.

         a. Summary Judgment.

         Summary Judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)[2]; see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Garczynski v. Bradshaw, 573 F.3d 1158, 1165 (2009) ("[S]ummary judgment is appropriate even if 'some alleged factual dispute' between the parties remains, so long as there is 'no genuine issue of material fact.'"(emphasis omitted)).

         The party asking for summary judgment "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the 'pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The movant can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing there is no dispute of material fact, or by showing, or pointing out to, the district court that the nonmoving party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-24.

Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(e) "requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324. To avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party "must do more than show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). On the other hand, the evidence of the nonmovant must be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in its favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

ThyssenKrupp Steel USA, LLC v. United Forming, Inc., 926 F.Supp.2d 1286, 1289-90 (S.D. Ala. Jan. 29, 2013) (citations omitted).

         The requirement to view the facts in the nonmoving party's favor extends only to "genuine" disputes over material facts. A genuine dispute requires more than "some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Garczynski, 573 F.3d at 1165 (internal citations omitted). A "mere scintilla" of evidence is insufficient; the nonmoving party must produce substantial evidence in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Id. In addition, "[t]here is no burden upon the district court to distill every potential argument that could be made based upon the materials before it on summary judgment." Resolution Trust Corp. v. Dunmar Corp., 43 F.3d 587, 599 (11th Cir. 1995). More importantly, where "opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 1776, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007); see also Logan v. Smith, 439 Fed.Appx. 798, 800 (11th Cir. Aug. 29, 2011) ("In cases where opposing parties tell different versions of the same events one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record-such that no reasonable jury could believe it-a court should not adopt the contradicted allegations." (citations omitted) (unpublished)).[3]

         b. Eleventh Amendment Immunity.

         It is unclear from the complaint whether Herrera is suing the defendants in their official or individual capacities. To the extent Herrera seeks to impose liability against Sheriff Cochran, Warden Oliver, and Deputy Warden Houston in their official capacities, the defendants are immune from suit, as the liability imposed, in reality, is on the entity the individuals represent versus the individuals themselves. Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 471-72, 105 S.Ct. 873, 83 L.Ed.2d 878 (1985).

         The entity Sheriff Cochran and Wardens Oliver and Houston represent for consideration of immunity from suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is determined by reference to state law. Carr v. City of Florence, 916 F.2d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir. 1990). Alabama law holds that a sheriff is a state, rather than a county, official for purposes of immunity from suit. Parker v. Amerson, 519 So.2d 442 (Ala. 1987); Ala. Const. Art. V § 112 (listing county sheriffs as members of the state's executive department); see also Taylor v. Adams, 221 F.3d 1254, 1256 (11th Cir. 2000) ("Alabama sheriffs operating jails are state officers protected by Eleventh Amendment immunity."). Similarly, "employees of the sheriff, deputies [and officers] in their official capacities, are [] entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity." Scruggs v. Lee, 256 Fed.Appx. 229, 232 (11th Cir. 2007); Lancaster v. Monroe Cnty., 116 F.3d 1419, 1429 (11th Cir. 1997) ("[J]ailers are state officials for the purpose of Eleventh Amendment immunity."). There is no dispute that Defendants Cochran, Oliver, and Houston, in their official capacities as sheriff and wardens, are arms of the state for Eleventh Amendment Immunity purposes and are therefore barred from suit for monetary damages in this action.

         c. Qualified Immunity.

         Defendants further assert the defense of qualified immunity as a bar from suit against them in their individual capacities. (Doc. 13). Qualified immunity offers complete protection for individual government officials performing discretionary functions "insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). "Qualified immunity balances two important interests - the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably." Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 815, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). A party is eligible to claim qualified immunity if he was acting within the line and scope of his employment. Holloman ex rel. Holloman v. Harland, 370 F.3d 1252, 1264 (11th Cir. 2004). Based on Plaintiff's complaint allegations and the record, clearly the defendants were acting within their discretionary authority at the time the complaint arose. Thus, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to establish that qualified immunity is inappropriate. Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th Cir. 2002).

         The Supreme Court has mandated a two-step analysis for resolving qualified immunity claims. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 2156, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001). First, a court must decide whether the facts that a plaintiff has alleged "show the [defendant's] conduct violated a constitutional right." Id. Second, the court must decide "whether the right was clearly established." Id. The determination of these elements may be conducted in any order. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). Therefore, the Court will proceed with its analysis of whether Plaintiff has successfully alleged a constitutional violation.

         III. Discussion.

         At the time the complaint arose, Herrera was being held as a pretrial detainee at the Mobile Metro Jail; thus, his claims fall under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535-36, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979). However, the standard for providing basic necessities and the conditions of confinement for inmates is regarded by the courts as the same “minimum standard allowed by the due process clause . . . as that allowed by the [E]ighth [A]mendment for convicted persons.” Hamm v. DeKalb Cnty., 774 F.2d 1567, 1573-74 (11th Cir. 1985); see also, Johnson v. Bessemer, 741 Fed.Appx. 694, 699 n.5 (11th Cir. 2018) (noting the “objectively reasonable” test of Kingsly v. Hendrickson, 576 U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 2466, 192 L.Ed.2d 416 (2015) as applicable to excessive force claims only); Collins v. Bates., No. 2:14-CV-231-WHA, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124277, *10-115 (M.D. Ala., Aug. 4, 2017) (recognizing the Eleventh Circuit's continued utilization of the Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference standard in deciding claims of pretrial detainees which challenge medical treatment and other conditions).

         The Eighth Amendment provides that, “[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” U.S. Const. amend. VIII. Prison conditions constitute cruel and unusual punishment only when they result in the "unquestioned and serious deprivation of basic human needs." Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 69 L.Ed.2d 59 (1981).

The Eighth Amendment governs the conditions under which convicted prisoners are confined and the treatment they receive while in prison. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994). Although the Amendment does not require comfortable prisons, it prohibits inhumane ones. Id. The Eighth Amendment guarantees that prisoners will not be "deprive[d] ... of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 2399, 69 L.Ed.2d 59 (1981) (quoted in Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004)). "[B]asic human necessities include food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care, and personal safety." Harris v. Thigpen, 941 F.2d 1495, 1511 (11th Cir. 1991) (cited in Collins v. Homestead Corr. Inst., 452 Fed.Appx. 848, 850-851 (11th Cir. 2011)). "[T]o make out a claim for an unconstitutional condition of confinement, ...

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