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S.M.B. v. West Virginia Regional Jail

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division

September 1, 2017

S.M.B., Plaintiff,



         Pending before the Court is Defendants Michael York's and P. Owen's Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 9. Plaintiff brought suit against Defendants alleging violations of the state and federal constitutions and common law negligence for failing to protect him from physical and sexual assault by his fellow inmates at the Western Regional Jail. Defendants, employees of the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority (“WVJCFA”), believe they are entitled to qualified immunity and should be dismissed from the suit. Defendants also contend that the West Virginia Constitution does not permit money damages. For the following reasons the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the Motion to Dismiss.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff was initially detained at Western Regional Jail (“WRJ”) in October 2014 as a pretrial detainee. Compl. ¶¶ 3, 12, ECF No. 1. He was housed in POD C-1. Id. ¶ 13 During his time in C-1 a number of inmates harassed and threatened to kill Plaintiff and one inmate even constructed a noose out of bed sheets. Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff notified WRJ staff about the threats and harassment, and he was placed in protective custody. Id. ¶ 15. At some point after he was placed in protective custody, Plaintiff was released on bond. Id.

         On February 20, 2015, Plaintiff was again detained at the WRJ after his bond was revoked. Id. ¶¶ 11, 16. Upon admission, Plaintiff informed Defendant John Doe #1 that he should not be housed in POD C-1 due to the presence of the same inmates that had threatened him during his previous stay in C-1. Id. ¶ 17. Defendants York and Owens were on duty as booking officers or supervisors on February 20 and 21. Id. ¶¶ 5, 6. Plaintiff alleges that one or more of the Defendants responded to his protestations that he “shouldn't have come back to jail” and his safety “was a personal problem.” Id. ¶ 19. Defendants did not conduct a review of records related to Plaintiff's previous stay, and Plaintiff was assigned to C-1. Id. ¶ 20.

         Within hours of his arrival inmates that had threatened his life during his previous stay physically and sexually assaulted Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 21. During their assault the inmates rendered Plaintiff unconscious and inflicted such injury that Plaintiff required emergency surgery to repair his spleen. Id. ¶ 22. Plaintiff also suffered a number of broken bones and other injuries consistent with sexual assault. Id.

         Plaintiff filed this suit claiming Defendants violated his federal and state constitutional rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and Defendants negligently performed their duties when they reassigned Plaintiff to POD C-1. Id. ¶¶ 24-42.

         Defendants York and Owens now move the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against them pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss 1, ECF No. 9. Defendants believe they are entitled to qualified immunity for their conduct as WVJCFA employees and that West Virginia does not permit recovery of money damages for violations of the state constitution. Id. 3, 6.

         II. Legal Standard

         When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court follows a two-step approach: (1) “begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth, ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009), and then (2) “[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id.

         For the first step, the complaint must provide the plaintiff's “grounds of . . . entitlement to relief” in more factual detail than mere “labels and conclusions.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). “[A] formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. at 555. “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         For the second step, a court must take the remaining factual allegations in the complaint as true, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56. The complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 555, 570 (internal quotation marks omitted). Plausibility is established “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “The plausibility standard . . . asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. Discussion

         a. Quali ...

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