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Christian v. Thompson

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

October 3, 2019

B.J. THOMPSON et al., Defendants.



         Now before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 33) filed by Defendants B.J. Thompson, Shirley May, and Oklahoma Department of Corrections (“ODOC”). Plaintiff Deloray C. Christian, a state prisoner appearing pro se, has responded in opposition (Doc. No. 37), and Defendants have replied (Doc. No. 39).


         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated at North Fork Correctional Center (“NFCC”), an ODOC facility in Sayre, Oklahoma. The claims of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 11) arise from events that transpired at NFCC beginning in September 2017. Plaintiff asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, alleging that Defendants violated his constitutional rights under the Eighth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by: (1) denying him necessary medical care-specifically, a hip and knee arthroplasty, tertiary treatment, rehabilitation therapy, and appropriate accommodations; and (2) failing to properly administer the grievance procedure established by ODOC. See Am. Compl. at 4-5.

         Defendants Thompson and May are sued in both their individual and official capacities. See Id. at 3. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages in this action. See Id. at 5, 6, 8.


         I. Defendants' Immunity to Suit

         Citing the Eleventh Amendment, Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's claims to the extent they seek money damages from ODOC and from Defendants Thompson and May in their official capacities. See Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 10-11; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). The undersigned therefore is obligated to address whether these Defendants enjoy immunity from suit. See U.S. ex rel. Burlbaw v. Orenduff, 548 F.3d 931, 942 (10th Cir. 2008) (noting that if a state defendant raises Eleventh Amendment immunity, “addressing the threshold jurisdictional matter [is] obligatory”); Fent v. Okla. Water Res. Bd., 235 F.3d 553, 558-59 (10th Cir. 2000) (holding that Eleventh Amendment immunity “can be waived” but “constitutes a bar to the exercise of federal subject matter jurisdiction” when effectively asserted).

         Pursuant to the doctrine of sovereign immunity, as adopted in the Eleventh Amendment, a federal court may not hear a claim brought by a private citizen against a U.S. state. U.S. Const. amend. XI; Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54, 65 (1996).

But Eleventh Amendment immunity is not absolute. There are three exceptions. First, a state may consent to suit in federal court. Second, Congress may abrogate a state's sovereign immunity by appropriate legislation when it acts under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Finally, under Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), a plaintiff may bring suit against individual state officers acting in their official capacities if the complaint alleges an ongoing violation of federal law and the plaintiff seeks prospective relief.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation v. Pruitt, 669 F.3d 1159, 1166 (10th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted). Eleventh Amendment immunity applies to any state agencies considered to be “arms of the [s]tate.” Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989). A defendant's status as an arm of the state is a question of federal law, but courts make this determination by analyzing the “nature of the entity created by state law.” Steadfast Ins. Co. v. Agric. Ins. Co., 507 F.3d 1250, 1253 (10th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         “Oklahoma has not consented to be sued in federal court.” Berry v. Oklahoma, 495 Fed.Appx. 920, 921 (10th Cir. 2012); accord Callahan v. Poppell, 471 F.3d 1155, 1159 (10th Cir. 2006). Nor has Congress abrogated states' sovereign immunity through enactment of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Berry, 495 Fed.Appx. at 921-22. Thus, the State of Oklahoma's Eleventh Amendment immunity from suits seeking money damages in federal court remains intact.

         Here, the relevant state agency is ODOC, both as a named Defendant and because the individual Defendants were employed by that agency during the events giving rise to this lawsuit. See Am. Compl at 1, 2-3. “ODOC is . . . shielded by sovereign immunity because it is an arm of the state.” Berry, 495 Fed.Appx. at 922 (citing Eastwood v. Dep't of Corr. of Okla., 846 F.2d 627, 631-32 (10th Cir. 1988)). And “it is well-established that ‘the Eleventh Amendment precludes a federal court from assessing damages against state officials sued in their official capacities because such suits are in essence suits against the state.'” Peterson v. Lampert, 499 Fed.Appx. 782, 786 (10th Cir. 2012) (quoting Hunt v. Bennett, 17 F.3d 1263, 1267 (10th Cir. 1994)). ODOC's immunity therefore extends to Plaintiff's § 1983 claims against ODOC employees who are sued in their official capacities for damages. See Cleveland v. Martin, 590 Fed.Appx. 726, 730 (10th Cir. 2014).

         Defendant ODOC and Defendants Thompson and May, as employees of ODOC in their official capacities, therefore are protected by Eleventh Amendment immunity to the extent damages are sought by Plaintiff under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See id.; Eastwood, 846 F.2d at 632. As noted above, Plaintiff seeks only money damages in this lawsuit; there is no demand for “prospective relief.” Muscogee (Creek) Nation, 669 F.3d at 1166. Accordingly, Plaintiff's § 1983 claims against ODOC and against Defendants Thompson and May in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and shall be dismissed.

         II. Plaintiff's Individual-Capacity Claims

         A. Applicable Standard

         While the Court construes a pro se litigant's pleadings liberally, all parties must adhere to applicable procedural rules. See Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1218 (10th Cir. 2007). Under such rules, the complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The Court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint “will not supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiff's ...

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