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Marlin Riggs v. Corrections Corporation of America

September 6, 2011

MARLIN RIGGS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CORRECTIONS CORPORATION OF AMERICA, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: U. S. District Judge Honorable Edward J. Lodge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

Currently before the Court in this prisoner civil rights matter is Defendant's Motion To Dismiss Complaint for Damages and Violation of Constitutional Law. (Dkt. 182.) Plaintiff has responded to the Motion (Dkt. 191), Defendant has submitted a Reply (Dkt. 198), and the matter is now ripe for the Court's decision.

The Court finds that decisional process would not be aided by oral argument, and it will resolve this matter after consideration of the parties' written briefing. D. Idaho L. Civ. R. 7.1(d). For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

Idaho prisoner Marlin Riggs initiated this lawsuit by filing a pro se prisoner civil rights Complaint on January 12, 2009, alleging that prison employees and officials at the Idaho Correctional Center (ICC) had failed to protect him from violence and were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. (Dkt. 3.) The Court first consolidated, but later severed, other cases that included similar claims. (Dkt. 8.) The Court then appointed counsel to assist Riggs. (Dkts. 11, 15.)

This case has traveled a long and circuitous path since that time. For over a year, Riggs's individual claims for damages were joined with the claims of other inmates who were seeking to certify a class action. (Dkt. 16, pp. 78-80.) Recently, at the request of the parties, Riggs's claims were severed from the potential class action (Dkt. 176), and he has since filed an Amended Complaint naming Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) as the only Defendant. (Dkt. 177, 190.)

In the pending Motion to Dismiss, CCA argues that Riggs failed to exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit as to all claims except an Eighth Amendment claim based on the failure to protect him from harm. (Dkt. 183, p. 3.) CCA further contends that Riggs's claim that CCA is vicariously liable for the acts of its employees must be dismissed because no cause of action for vicarious liability exists under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Dkt. 183, p. 9.)

Riggs now concedes that he is not raising separate and independent claims for relief based on CCA's alleged failure to adequately investigate assaults, discipline employees, punish prisoners who commit assaults, or refer assaults for prosecution. (Dkt. 191, at 2.) He instead characterizes these as factual allegations illustrating CCA's policies and customs that resulted in deliberate indifference to his health and safety. (Id.) He has also omitted any claim against CCA on a theory that it is vicariously liable for the acts of its employees. (Dkts. 189, 190, 191.)

With these clarifications, the parties appear to agree that Riggs is now pursuing two Eighth Amendment claims in his Amended Complaint: (1) that CCA has implemented policies and practices that created an unsafe environment at ICC, leading to a failure to protect Riggs from a physical assault on May 11, 2008, which caused serious injuries; and (2) that CCA has implemented policies and practices that resulted in inadequate medical care for Riggs's injuries following the assault.

With the issues now narrowed, CCA argues that the second claim -- constitutionally inadequate medical care -- must be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. (Dkt. 198, p. 2.) The Court agrees.

STANDARD OF LAW

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) provides that "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title ... until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). "There is no question that exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA and that unexhausted claims cannot be brought in court." Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007). This requirement is intended to give "prison officials an opportunity to resolve disputes concerning the exercise of their responsibilities before being haled into court." Id. at 204.

Proper exhaustion is required, meaning that "a prisoner must complete the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural rules, including deadlines, as a precondition to bringing suit in federal court." Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 88 (2006). "The level of detail necessary in a grievance to comply with the grievance procedures will vary from system to system and claim to claim, but it is the prison's requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion." Jones, 549 U.S. at 218.

A claim that a prisoner failed to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense that should ordinarily be brought as an unenumerated motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Wyatt v. Terhune, 315 F.3d 1108, 1119 (9th Cir. 2002). ...


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