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Painter v. Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority

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

August 29, 2017

Katherine Painter, Plaintiff,
v.
Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority, ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORMAN K. MOON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Katherine Painter alleges that she was sexually assaulted by a guard while incarcerated at the Lynchburg Adult Detention Center. Plaintiff brings claims under the Eighth Amendment, through 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against: Corrections Officer Farrar, who allegedly committed the assault; Corrections Officer Pitts, who allegedly knew of the assault yet failed to intervene; and the Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority (“BRRJA”), which allegedly had policies or customs which caused the assault.

         Defendants Pitts and BRRJA have moved to dismiss the claims against them. Defendant Pitts’ motion will be granted because Plaintiff has not asserted adequate factual allegations to support the legal conclusion that Pitts knew sexual assault was being committed. Thus, Pitts is entitled to qualified immunity on the basis that failing to intervene to prevent sexual acts (as opposed to sexual assault) between a guard and inmate is not a clearly established constitutional violation. Defendant BRRJA’s motion will be granted because the BRRJA is not subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         I. Facts as Alleged

         Plaintiff Painter was an inmate at the Lynchburg Adult Detention Center, which is operated by Defendant BRRJA. (Dkt. 1 ¶¶ 16, 9). Defendant Timothy Farrar was a Corrections Officer who worked a night shift at the intake department of the Detention Center. (Id. ¶ 17). In this role, Farrar would threaten to take away Plaintiff’s blanket and withhold snacks from her unless she showed him her naked body.[1] (Id. ¶¶ 21–22). Farrar would also stand outside Plaintiff’s cell and watch her use the toilet. (Id. ¶ 23).

         Farrar viewed Plaintiff’s medical file and learned that she had a gastrointestinal disorder that required medication. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 26). Normally, this medication was brought by nursing staff. (Id. ¶ 25). On April 24, 2015, Plaintiff asked for medication to treat gastrointestinal pain, and it was brought to her by Farrar instead of the normal nursing staff. (Id. ¶¶ 28, 29). Farrar told Plaintiff he would not give her the medication unless she would perform oral sex on him. (Id. ¶ 31). After initially refusing, Plaintiff eventually agreed to do so because her gastrointestinal issues were so intense. (Id. ¶¶ 32–35). Plaintiff stopped performing oral sex because she began to feel very ill. (Id. ¶ 36). Records indicate that Plaintiff’s cell door remained open for over nine minutes after Farrar initially entered. (Id. ¶ 40).

         This incident was noticed by another defendant, Corrections Officer Pitts. Pitts was sitting at a nearby desk using a computer, and saw Farrar enter and exit Plaintiff’s cell. (Id. ¶¶ 42, 43). Pitts raised his head and looked in the direction of Plaintiff’s cell upon hearing a sexually suggestive noise coming from the cell. (Id. ¶ 44). Another inmate in a nearby cell, Jamarcus Butler, heard “lip smacking noises” coming from the cell while Farrar was inside. (Id. ¶ 41). Butler confronted Farrar about what he heard, stating his belief that Farrar had engaged in sexual activity with Plaintiff and that Farrar “should be ashamed of himself.” (Id. ¶48).

         A second incident occurred on May 2, 2015. Farrar again entered Plaintiff’s cell and threatened to withhold her gastrointestinal medication unless she performed oral sex on him. (Id. ¶ 56). When Plaintiff responded that she had had a dental procedure that same day, Farrar forced vaginal intercourse instead. (Id. ¶¶ 57–60). Approximately two days later, Farrar again approached Plaintiff about oral sex, but she refused. (Id. ¶ 68).

         On May 5, 2015, a Sergeant Polk sent an internal memorandum stating that he was aware that intake officers had been granting “special privileges” to Plaintiff and having “long conversations” with her. (Id. ¶ 71). Farrar at several points intimated to Plaintiff that she would face reprisals if she reported any of his conduct to authorities. (Id. ¶¶ 72, 74). Despite these threats, Plaintiff reached out, both orally and in writing, to several other Correctional Officers about Farrar. (Id. ¶¶ 75, 77). These requests were either refused or ignored, and one request was shared with Farrar. (Id. ¶¶ 75, 79, 80).

         On May 8, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Prison Rape Elimination Act hotline to report the sexual assaults. (Id. ¶ 82). Three days later, Plaintiff was transferred to the Amherst Regional Jail Authority. (Id. ¶ 83). The Lynchburg Police Department opened an investigation into Plaintiff’s allegations, and interviewed Farrar on May 13th. (Id. ¶¶ 84, 85).

         Farrar admitted in the interview to having sexual relations with Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 85). Farrar also stated that he knew of other corrections officers having sexual contact with inmates. (Id. ¶ 87). Another inmate had complained of a prior instance of sexual harassment with Farrar in December of 2014, alleging that he asked her to unzip her jacket to show him a tattoo on her stomach, as a form of “flashing.” (Id. ¶¶ 89, 90).

         II. Standard of Review

         “In ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Kensington Volunteer Fire Dep’t, Inc. v. Montgomery Cty., Md., 684 F.3d 462, 467 (4th Cir. 2012); see also Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Stated differently, in order to survive a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         III. ...


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