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Huger v. Anderson

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

July 7, 2014

SHELDON L. HUGER, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER M.D. ANDERSON, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION, ORDER, AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

L. PATRICK AULD, Magistrate Judge.

This case comes before the Court for a recommended ruling on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Docket Entry 18) at 1). (See Docket Entry dated June 5, 2014.) For the reasons that follow, the instant Motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

Background

Plaintiff commenced this case by filing a pro se prisoner form Complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Defendant acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's safety in allowing another inmate to attack Plaintiff. (Docket Entry 2 at 3.)[1] The "Statement of Claim" section of Plaintiff's Complaint states in its entirety: On 10-9-12, [Plaintiff] was injured because [Defendant], of the Cabarrus County Jail, allowed an inmate, Demarlow Perry, to exit his cell at the same time that [Plaintiff] was also out of [his] cell, because [Plaintiff] was a jail trustee, allowing inmate Perry to attack [Plaintiff]. This incident should have never occured [sic] because:

(1) Inmate Perry and [Plaintiff] have been on "keep separate" since August 2012 because inmate Perry assaulted [Plaintiff] at that time;
(2) Inmate Perry is on "keep separate" from everyone in the jail because he has assaulted other inmates by sucker-punching them, causing severe damage.
(3) [Defendant] knew that inmate Perry has the reputation for assaulting other inmates for nothing at all. Therefore, since so many detainees were assaulted by inmate Perry, jail officers must have known that detainees faced a "substantial risk of serious harm, " which makes [Defendant's] actions deliberate and pervasive.

(Id.) The Complaint states that "Plaintiff is seeking monetary relief in the amount of $20, 000.00 for injuries to the head, neck, hips, feet, hands and face. Also for pain and suffering, humiliation, shock, post traumatic stress disorder and punitive and exemplary damages." (Id. at 4.) Defendant filed the instant Motion (Docket Entry 18) to which Plaintiff has not responded (see Docket Entries dated May 5, 2014, to present).[2]

Discussion

Defendant seeks dismissal for "lack of personal jurisdiction over [] [D]efendant, lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1)[, ](2) and (6) respectively, of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure." (Docket Entry 20 at 1.) In that regard, Defendant first argues that his alleged actions "are protected from liability by the doctrine of governmental immunity, which is a bar to recovery by [] [P]laintiff. As such, [] [P]laintiff's [C]omplaint should be dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction over [] [D]efendant and lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and (2), respectively." (Id. at 2; see also Id . at 2-3 (citing Moffit v. City of Asheville , 103 N.C. 237, 9 S.E. 695 (1889), as establishing "doctrine of governmental or sovereign immunity").)

Under North Carolina law, governmental or "[s]overeign immunity ordinarily grants the state, its counties, and its public officials, in their official capacity, an unqualified and absolute immunity from law suits." Paquette v. County of Durham , 155 N.C.App. 415, 418, 573 S.E.2d 715, 717 (2002). This immunity, however, does not apply to actions pursuant to Section 1983. See Id . at 18-19 (citing Corum v. University of N.C. , 330 N.C. 761, 772 (1992) ("[U]nder the federal cases interpreting section 1983, sovereign immunity alleged under state law is not a permissible defense to section 1983 actions.")); see also Martinez v. State of Cal. , 444 U.S. 277, 284 n.8 (1980) ("Conduct by persons acting under color of state law which is wrongful under 42 U.S.C. § 1983... cannot be immunized by state law. A construction of the federal statute which permitted a state immunity defense to have controlling effect would transmute a basic guarantee into an illusory promise; and the supremacy clause of the Constitution insures that the proper construction may be enforced." (internal quotation marks omitted)). North Carolina immunity doctrines do not, therefore, divest this Court of either personal jurisdiction over Defendant or subject matter jurisdiction over this action.

Nevertheless, to the extent Plaintiff intended that the Complaint assert a claim(s) against Defendant in his official capacity, such claim(s) cannot go forward. Section 1983 does contemplate suits against local governmental entities and their officials (Docket Entry 20 at 1 (identifying Defendant as "a detention officer at the Cabarrus County Detention Center")). See Monell v. Department of Soc. Servs. , 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). However, under Section 1983, "claims against officers in their official capacities are claims against the entities for which the officers were acting.... [T]o establish liability on behalf of the entity, it must be shown that the actions of the officers were unconstitutional and were taken pursuant to a custom or policy of the entity." Giancola v. State of W.Va. Dep't of Pub. Safety , 830 F.2d 547, 550 (4th Cir. 1987) (emphasis added). Because the Complaint fails to allege that Defendant acted pursuant to any custom or policy of the Cabarrus County Detention Center (see Docket Entry 2 at 3), the Court should dismiss any claim(s) against Defendant in his official capacity.

However, dismissal of any official capacity claim(s) does not, as Defendant supposes, end Plaintiff's suit. Defendant contends that "he was sued in his official capacity as a detention officer." (Docket Entry 20 at 2 (emphasis added).) As grounds for that contention, Defendant argues that, "[a]bsent some clear indication to the contrary, it is presumed that the defendant is sued in only his official capacity." (Id. (citing Mullis v. Sechrest , 347 N.C. 548, 495 S.E.2d 721 (1998)).) Although such a presumption may exist under North Carolina law, it does not apply in the context of a Section 1983 suit in this Court.

"[A] plaintiff need not plead expressly the capacity in which he is suing a defendant in order to state a cause of action under § 1983." Biggs v. Meadows , ...


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