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Morales v. Lee

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

January 23, 2015

JACK LEE, ET AL., Defendants.


GLEN E. CONRAD, Chief District Judge.

Angel Centero Morales, also known as Angel Centeno Morales, a Virginia inmate proceeding fro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that while he was an inmate at the Middle River Regional Jail ("the jail"), a jail officer sexually assaulted him. Morales sued the jail, its superintendent, and the assailant officer, Carl Moore. Morales later obtained counsel and filed an amended complaint, renewing his constitutional claims under § 1983 and adding related state law claims against all of the defendants and the jail authority. The jail, jail authority, and the superintendent, Jack Lee, have filed dispositive motions, and Morales has responded, making these motions ripe for disposition. After review of the record, the court dismisses the state law claims as time barred; dismisses the § 1983 claims against the jail and the jail authority; and grants summary judgment for Lee. Furthermore, the court will require Morales to provide service information for Defendant Carl Moore in thirty (30) days if he wishes to avoid dismissal under Rule 4(m) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

I. Background

During his time as an inmate at the jail, Morales worked as a staff cook. On November 14, 2011, he was preparing lunch for jail staff and talking to another inmate kitchen worker named Hodgins. Officer Moore was also in the kitchen, conducting his rounds. Hodgins suddenly stopped talking. Morales turned to look and recognized Moore. As he turned, he felt a forceful poke of an object right into his rectum. Morales asked Moore if he had really just stuck something into his rectum, and Moore said, "Yes, and who do you think they will believe?" (Morales Affid. 1, ECF 55-1.)

Moore was making rounds of the kitchen area on the following day, while Morales was working. After Morales and Hodgins went to the break room, Moore walked in, holding his genitals and repeatedly telling Morales in Spanish to "s*** his dick." (Id.)

After Morales reported these events to jail officials, they reviewed surveillance camera footage of the kitchen, which confirmed Morales' account of Moore's assault. Officials immediately suspended Moore. With help from a jail official, Morales filed a criminal summons, stating that Officer Moore had shoved a pipe, also known as a "chase" into his rectum. Moore ultimately pleaded guilty and was convicted of misdemeanor sexual battery of an inmate by a jail employee. See Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-67.4. Moore was also fired by the jail authority.

Officer Washington told Morales that he was right to report Moore's conduct because sooner or later, someone would have reported it. A female officer told Morales said that she had seen Moore chase an inmate while making sexual gestures. Captain Moubray, who interviewed Morales about the incident, said he was not surprised at Moore's actions toward Morales, because staff had previously complained about similar behavior by Moore. Officer Hon told Morales she had heard several complaints about Moore, but that none were followed through or written up.

Within days of Moore's assault, Morales was transferred to another jail. Later, a psychiatrist at a state correctional center examined Morales, and diagnosed and treated him for psychological issues, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, related to Moore's attack.

In his amended complaint, Morales asserts a § 1983 claim of cruel and unusual punishment (Count IV) and state law assault and battery claims (Counts I & III) against Officer Moore; a § 1983 claim of supervisory liability (Count V) and a state law negligence claim (Count VI) against Jack Lee as the jail superintendent and state law claims of assault, battery, and negligence (Count II, IV, & VII) against the jail authority.[1]

II. Discussion

A. Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint to determine whether the plaintiff has properly stated a claim; "it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (emphasis added). "[T]he complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

The jail is operated by the jail authority. Morales named only the jail in his original, pro se complaint, but in the amended complaint, referred to this defendant as the jail authority. Because the amended complaint dropped all claims against the jail itself, the court will dismiss all such claims. To state a § 1983 claim against the jail authority, Morales would have to state facts showing that "an official policy or custom" of the jail authority caused the deprivation of his constitutional rights through Moore's actions. Carter v. Morris, 164 F.3d 215, 218 (4th Cir. 1999). Morales concedes, and his submissions reflect, that he has insufficient information to establish any such claim. (Resp. 6, ECF No. 55.) Therefore, the court will dismiss all § 1983 claims against the jail authority.

As stated, Morales also seeks to bring state law claims of assault, battery, and negligence against Jack Lee and the jail authority, as Moore's supervisor and employer, respectively. Defendants argue that these state law claims are time barred under Virginia Code Ann. § 8.01-243.2, because ...

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