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Early v. Crockett

Supreme Court of Arkansas

June 19, 2014

REGINALD R. EARLY, APPELLANT
v.
KEITH CROCKETT; CLAYBORN CARROLL; ROBERTA LEWIS; AND LAMON MAYO, APPELLEES

Page 142

APPEAL FROM THE JEFFERSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NO. CV-2010-279-5. HONORABLE JODI RAINES DENNIS, JUDGE.

Reginald R. Early, Pro se, appellant.

Dustin McDaniel, Att'y Gen., by: Gary L. Sullivan, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellees.

OPINION

Page 143

PAUL E. DANIELSON, Associate Justice.

Appellant Reginald R. Early, an inmate incarcerated in the Arkansas Department of Correction (" ADC" ), appeals pro se from the Jefferson County Circuit Court's order dismissing with prejudice his complaint against Appellees Keith Crockett, Clayborn Carroll, Roberta Lewis, and Lamon Mayo, current or former employees of the ADC, on the basis that his claims were barred by the doctrines of sovereign immunity pursuant to article 5, section 20, of the Arkansas Constitution and statutory immunity under Arkansas Code Annotated § 19-10-305 (Repl. 2007). He asserts the following points on appeal: (1) that the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment to Appellees on his claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against them in their official capacities where he was seeking declaratory and injunctive relief; (2) that the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment to Appellees on his failure-to-protect claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Appellees in their individual capacities; and (3) that the circuit court erred in granting Appellees summary judgment on his negligence claim that he brought against Appellees in their individual capacities. We affirm the circuit court's order in part and reverse and remand it in part.

On April 19, 2010, Early filed his complaint in the circuit court. Early's complaint stemmed from an incident at the

Page 144

Tucker Maximum Security Unit involving Early, an administratively segregated inmate, and Fred Hogan, an inmate assigned to the general population. Early asserted that his was a civil-rights action, under both 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act, for which he sought declaratory and injunctive relief, plus damages, resulting from Appellees' " failure to protect" him in violation of the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In addition, Early asserted claims of assault, battery, and negligence.

Early's claims were based on the following facts, which he set forth in his complaint. On March 19, 2009, Early was scheduled for an off-site medical appointment. Sergeant Crockett and another officer came to Early's cell to escort him to the captain's office prior to his transport for the appointment. Early alleged that Sergeant Crockett radioed Sergeant Carroll to advise him of Early's position and to request that the hallways be cleared. As a result of the radio communication, Sergeant Carroll directed the general-population inmates who were in the hallway into the shower area while Early was escorted through the hallway. Early stated in the complaint that once he was secure in the captain's office, the inmates who had been directed into the shower area were moved.

Early contended that, despite the shower area having been cleared, four inmates remained there. Early asserted that Sergeants Lewis, Mayo, and Crockett proceeded to escort him into the shower area to be strip-searched and that, at that time, Hogan approached him from behind and struck him on the right side of the chin, rendering him unconscious. Early alleged that he sustained injuries to his nose, face, tongue, and upper lip.

Early asserted that his suit was against Appellees in both their individual and official capacities and that Appellees had acted with deliberate and conscious indifference or in reckless disregard to his safety. He averred that Appellees failed to follow the prison's security policy of separating administratively segregated inmates and general-population inmates, and he further contended that Appellees' failure to protect him from attack by another inmate constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment and article 2, section 9 of the Arkansas Constitution, constituting assault and battery. Appellees answered the complaint and asserted failure to exhaust administrative remedies, sovereign immunity, and statutory immunity as affirmative defenses. In an amended complaint and second amended complaint that incorporated the allegations of his original complaint, Early alleged that Appellees knew, or should have known, that their conduct would result in his injury; that their actions and omissions were acts of deliberate indifference, conscious indifference, negligence, and willful, wanton, and malicious conduct; that their actions or omissions in failing to protect him from attack by another inmate constituted negligence, assault, and battery; and that they exposed him to, and failed to adequately protect him from, a known and dangerous condition.

On December 7, 2012, Appellees moved for summary judgment, asserting that Early's claims were barred by the doctrines of sovereign immunity and statutory immunity and further asserting that because both Early and Hogan had since been placed on each other's " enemy alert list," Early's request for injunctive relief was moot.[1] Early responded that his requests for declaratory and injunctive relief

Page 145

under § 1983 as against Appellees in their official capacities were not barred by sovereign immunity. Early also contended that his claim for negligence was not barred by statutory immunity. After considering Appellees' motion and Early's response, the circuit court entered an order of dismissal, finding that Early's claims were barred by the doctrines of sovereign immunity and statutory immunity and dismissing the matter with prejudice. Early now appeals.

I. Official-Capacities Claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Seeking Declaratory and Injunctive Relief

For his first point on appeal, Early argues that the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment on his civil-rights claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983[2] against Appellees in their official capacities. He contends that Appellees were not immune from his claims for declaratory and injunctive relief, and he further claims that any application of state sovereign or statutory immunity violates the Supremacy Clause.[3] Appellees do not address Early's argument regarding his request for declaratory and injunctive relief, but instead respond that they are not subject to a § 1983 suit for monetary damages, as state officials acting in their official capacities are not persons within the meaning of the federal statute. Early replies, asserting that a state official in his official capacity is a person for purposes of § 1983 because official-capacity actions seeking declaratory or injunctive, prospective relief are not treated as actions against the State. For this reason, Early contends, Appellees were not entitled to immunity.

The law is well settled regarding the standard of review used by this court in reviewing a grant of summary judgment. See Repking v. Lokey, 2010 Ark. 356, 377 S.W.3d 211. A circuit court will grant summary judgment only when it is apparent that no genuine issues of material fact exist requiring litigation and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See id . The burden of proof shifts to the opposing party once the moving party establishes a prima facie entitlement to summary judgment, and the opposing party must demonstrate the existence of a material issue of fact. See id . After reviewing the undisputed facts, the circuit court should deny summary judgment if, under the evidence, reasonable minds might reach different conclusions from the ...


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