United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
TERAH C. MORRIS, Plaintiff,
MRS. FLETCHER, et al, Defendants.
K. MOON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
C. Morris, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se,
filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983, alleging that defendants failed to provide him adequate
mental health treatment, diagnose him with gender identity
disorder ("GID"), and give him hormone shots.
Defendant Dr. Happy Smith filed a "Plea of Qualified
Immunity, " which I construe as a motion to dismiss.
Morris responded to the motion and it is ripe for
disposition. After reviewing the record, I conclude that Dr.
Smith has not established that he is entitled to qualified
immunity and, therefore, will deny his motion to dismiss.
alleges that he met with Dr. Smith concerning an evaluation
and diagnosis of GID and his need for hormone shots. Morris
states that Dr. Smith "refused" the shots and told
Morris that "they don't provide hormone shots or
pills" and that Morris "look[ed] like a male to
him." Morris states that Dr. Smith "never tried to
diagnose [him] or anything." Morris claims that Dr.
Smith was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical
need by failing to diagnose him, preventing him from
obtaining a "competent evaluation, " and by not
treating his GID or gender dysphoria.
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). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a
court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as
true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the
plaintiff. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94
(2007). Legal conclusions in the guise of factual
allegations, however, are not entitled to a presumption of
truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).
a complaint "does not need detailed factual allegations,
a plaintiffs obligation to provide the grounds of his
entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and
conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of
action's elements will not do." Bell Ail. Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations and
quotations omitted). "Factual allegations must be enough
to raise a right to relief above the speculative level,
" id., with all the allegations in the
complaint taken as true and all reasonable inferences drawn
in the plaintiffs favor, Chao v. Rivendell Woods,
Inc., 415 F.3d 342, 346 (4th Cir. 2005). Rule 12(b)(6)
does "not require heightened fact pleading of specifics,
but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at
570. Consequently, "only a complaint that states a
plausible claim for relief survives a motion to
dismiss." Id. A claim is plausible if the
complaint contains "factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged, " and if there is
"more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has
acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
order to allow for the development of a potentially
meritorious claim, federal courts have an obligation to
construe pro se pleadings liberally. See, e.g.,
Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364, 365 (1982) (citation
omitted). Moreover, "[l]iberal construction of the
pleadings is particularly appropriate where . . . there is
a pro se complaint raising civil rights
issues." Smith v. Smith, 589 F.3d 736, 738 (4th
Cir. 2009) (quoting Loe v. Armistead, 582 F.2d 1291,
1295 (4th Cir. 1978)). Nevertheless, "[principles
requiring generous construction of pro se complaints
are not . . . without limits." Beaudett v. City of
Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). "A
pro se plaintiff still must allege facts that state
a cause of action." Bracey v. Buchanan, 55
F.Supp.2d 416, 421 (E.D. Va. 1999) (quoting Sado v.
Leland Memorial Hospital, 933 F.Supp. 490, 493 (D. Md.
Smith asserts that he is entitled to qualified immunity. The
onus is on a defendant asserting qualified immunity to put
forth authorities and argument showing that he is entitled to
it. "The burden of proof and persuasion with respect to
a defense of qualified immunity rests on the official
asserting that defense." Meyers v. Baltimore Cty.,
Md., 713 F.3d 723, 731 (4th Cir. 2013). Dr. Smith has
not met his burden.
doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials
'from liability for civil damages insofar as their
conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.'" Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223,
231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S.
800, 818 (1982)). When a defendant asserts the affirmative
defense of qualified immunity, the court must determine
"whether the facts that a plaintiff has alleged . . .
make out a violation of a constitutional right[, ]" and
"whether the right at issue was 'clearly
established' at the time of defendant's alleged
misconduct." Id. at 232 (citing Saucier v.
Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)). In determining whether
the law was clearly established, the court "ordinarily
need not look beyond the decisions of the Supreme Court, [the
Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals], and the highest court of
the state in which the case arose." Lefemine v.
Wideman, 672 F.3d 292, 298 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 251
(1999)), vacated on other grounds, 133 S.Ct. 9
support of his qualified immunity argument, Dr. Smith states
that Morris's "allegations against Dr. Smith do not
demonstrate any violation of any clearly established law, let
alone any violation of any clearly established law of which
Dr. Smith should have been aware." The facts, as I must
view them for purposes of a motion to dismiss, are sufficient
to state a plausible claim that Dr. Smith's conduct
amounted to a constitutional violation. Moreover, a
reasonable officer would have known at that time that failing
to provide an inmate adequate medical and mental health
treatment, assessment, or medication for a serious medical
need would be ...