United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
DELORAY C. CHRISTIAN, Plaintiff,
B.J. THOMPSON et al., Defendants.
CHARLES B. GOODWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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).
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.
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.
Defendants' Immunity to Suit
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).
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
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
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.
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).
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.
Plaintiff's Individual-Capacity Claims
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 ...