United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division
ELIZABETH K. DILLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Mateen Haleem, a former pretrial detainee at Middle River
Regional Jail (MRRJ), alleges that a prison doctor, Dr.
Moises Quinones, and other unknown prison officials
improperly denied him both his seizure medication and his
prescribed narcotic medication while he was held at MRRJ.
Both his original complaint and his proposed amended
complaint contain three claims, although they list more
counts than that. (Compl., Dkt. No. 1; Proposed Am. Compl.,
Dkt. No. 23-1.) Count I alleges a violation of Haleem's
Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, against two John Doe correctional officers.
Count II also asserts a § 1983 claim, alleging
violations of Haleem's Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth
Amendment rights against Dr. Quinones and, in the proposed
amended complaint, a third John Doe defendant. Count III
asserts a state law claim, which Haleem has titled as a claim
for “respondeat superior, ” against the Middle
River Regional Jail Authority (MRRJA) for the acts of all the
before the court are three motions, all of which have been
fully briefed and argued. The first is MRRJA's motion to
dismiss the claim against it on the grounds that it is
entitled to sovereign immunity under Virginia law. (Dkt. No.
9.) Because the court concludes that MRRJA, a regional jail
authority, is entitled to sovereign immunity, the court
dismisses the claim against MRRJA for lack of jurisdiction.
second and third motions are related to one another, to an
extent. The second is Dr. Quinones' motion for summary
judgment. (Dkt. No. 14.) He has provided undisputed
information that he was not employed at the jail during the
time-frames alleged in the original complaint (August 2016
through November 2016) and thus seeks dismissal of the claim
against him on that ground. In response to that motion,
Haleem sought leave to amend his complaint to add different,
“corrected” time-frames. Haleem concedes that the
claims in the original complaint are subject to dismissal
because Quinones was not at MRRJ during the alleged time
frame, but he asks that they be dismissed without prejudice.
So, as fleshed out at the hearing, the parties appear to
agree that the claims related to any August 2016 or later
time-frame should be dismissed; the only dispute is whether
the dismissal should be with or without prejudice. The court
concludes that Quinones is entitled to summary judgment, and
it will dismiss with prejudice any claims alleged that are
based on events in August 2016 or later.
third pending motion is Haleem's motion to amend (Dkt.
No. 23), which the jail argues should be denied as futile
with regard to the claims against it, and which defendant
Quinones has not opposed. The court will grant the motion to
amend in part, and will allow the amendment to add the 2015
claims against Quinones and to add a third John Doe defendant
as to the 2016 occurrences. The motion is denied insofar as
Haleem continues to include a claim against MRRJA because
such a claim is futile. It is also denied as futile as to any
claim brought under the Fourth and Eighth Amendments. The
court's reasoning as to all of these rulings is discussed
in more detail herein.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
detailed recitation of the allegations of the complaint is
not required for a resolution of the motions before the
court. In the original complaint, Haleem alleged that he
served “two stints” at MRRJ as a pretrial
detainee. (Compl. at 2, Dkt. No. 1.) Prior to being housed
there, Haleem was on prescribed narcotic pain medication to
treat injuries resulting from a vehicle accident. He also had
been taking an anti-seizure mediation since the age of nine.
During both times that he was housed at MRRJ, he was denied
his seizure medication and his prescribed narcotic pain
medication. He claims this resulted in “severe pain,
” and also caused him to black out and suffer at least
one seizure. (Id.)
further alleges that two defendants “punished” him
because he filed grievances about “rotten and maggot
filled food.” (Id. at 3.) They repeatedly
doused him with pepper spray although he was not resisting,
and they cuffed his hands behind his back, mangling his
finger until it broke. (Id.)
original complaint, in a section setting forth the facts
related to his claim against Dr. Quinones, there are repeated
references to dates in August 2016 and later. (Id.
¶¶ 9, 10, 18, 19.) There are no earlier dates
explicitly listed. In the proposed amended complaint, the
claims asserted are divided into two time-frames: the first
asserting claims against Quinones during Haleem's first
“stint” in 2015; the second asserting claims
against a new defendant, John Doe #3, arising from
Haleem's second “stint” in 2016.
(Compare Compl., Dkt. No. 1, with Proposed
Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 23-1.)
MRRJA's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of
motion to dismiss is brought pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and is based entirely on its
argument that it is entitled to sovereign immunity as to the
state law claim of “respondeat superior” brought
against it in Count III.
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) tests the court's
subject-matter jurisdiction over a plaintiff's claim. The
plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that
subject-matter jurisdiction exists. Evans v. B.F. Perkins
Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). In deciding a
Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, “the district court is
to regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue, and
may consider evidence outside the pleadings without
converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.”
Id. (quoting Richmond, Fredericksburg &
Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768
(4th Cir. 1991)). It must, however, “view the alleged
facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, similar
to an evaluation pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).” Lovern
v. Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir. 1999). Dismissal
under Rule 12(b)(1) is proper “only if the material
jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party
is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.”
Evans, 166 F.3d at 647 (quoting Richmond,
Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R., 945 F.2d at 768).
subject of whether a regional jail authority is entitled to
sovereign immunity is an unsettled question, and it has not
been addressed by the Supreme Court of Virginia or the Fourth
Circuit. Most federal district courts in Virginia and at
least one Virginia circuit court that have addressed the
issue have concluded that regional jail authorities are not
entitled to sovereign immunity. See Heywood v. Va.
Peninsula Reg'l Jail Auth., No. 2:15-cv-195, 2015 WL
5026188, at *6 (E.D. Va. Aug. 21, 2015) (adopting report and
recommendation of magistrate judge that stated “the
undersigned is not persuaded that [the regional jail] should
be treated as a municipal corporation for purposes of
governmental immunity”); Boren v. Nw. Reg'l
Jail Auth., No. 5:13-cv-13, 2013 WL 5429421, at *4-5
(W.D. Va. Sept. 30, 2013) (holding that a regional jail
authority is neither an arm of the state nor entitled to be
treated as a municipal corporation and so is not entitled to
sovereign immunity); Heckenlaible v. Va. Reg'l
Peninsula Jail Auth., No. 4:06-cv-25, 2006 WL 3196750,
at *3-4 (E.D. Va. Nov. 1, 2006) (same); Finamore v.
Trent, No. CL15-000881 (Va. Cir. Ct. (Lynchburg) Oct.
27, 2016) (same); see also Thornhill v. Aylor, No.
3:15-cv-24, 2017 WL 2304225, at *2 (May 25, 2017)
(acknowledging and discussing that “there is a split
between the district courts in this circuit as to whether
regional jail authorities are entitled to state sovereign
immunity” and seeming to side with those courts that
conclude there is no such immunity, but declining to certify
the issue to the Supreme Court of Virginia). One judge in the
Eastern District of Virginia has held that a regional jail
authority does have sovereign immunity. Dowdy v. Pamunkey
Reg'l Jail Auth., No. 3:14-cv-3, 2014 WL 2002227
(E.D. Va. May 15, 2014).
court-with considerable respect for those judges who have
reached the contrary conclusion-is convinced that regional
jail authorities in Virginia are entitled to sovereign
immunity. Thus, it will grant MRRJA's motion to dismiss.
doctrine of sovereign immunity bars state tort claims against
the Commonwealth of Virginia unless it consents. Va.
Elec. & Power Co. v. Hampton Redev. & Housing
Auth., 225 S.E.2d 364, 367 (Va. 1976) (VEPCO);
see also Niese v. City of Alexandria, 564 S.E.2d
127, 132 (Va. 2002) (noting that the doctrine is “alive
and well” in Virginia) (citation omitted). The doctrine
extends to counties, as political subdivisions of the
Commonwealth, Mann v. Cty. Bd. of Arlington, 98
S.E.2d 515, 519 (Va. 1957), and applies to municipalities and
other public entities where the claims arise from
“governmental” as opposed to
“proprietary” functions, Niese, 564
S.E.2d at 132. It is clear that the operation of a jail is a
governmental function, Franklin v. Town of
Richlands, 170 S.E. 718, 719 (Va. 1933), and Haleem does
not contend otherwise. Indeed, it is well-established that a
jail maintained by a single jurisdiction is entitled to
sovereign immunity for the type of claim Haleem brings here.
Franklin, 170 S.E. at 720; Brown v.
Mitchell, 308 F.Supp.2d 682, 691 (E.D. Va. 2004)
(explaining that sovereign immunity precludes relief against
a city for the maintenance of a jail). See also Carter v.
Morris, 164 F.3d 215, 221 (4th Cir. 1999) (holding that
a city in Virginia has sovereign immunity for state tort
claims, including intentional torts, that arise from the
exercise of its governmental functions).
is a regional jail authority created by Augusta County, City
of Staunton, City of Waynesboro, City of Harrisonburg, and
Rockingham County, all of which independently enjoy sovereign
immunity either as counties, which are political subdivisions
of the Commonwealth, or as municipalities in the exercise of
their governmental functions, as discussed above. Thus, if
the member localities maintained their own, separate jails,
they would be entitled to sovereign immunity for the state
law claim asserted by Haleem. The question before the court,
though, is whether a regional jail authority like MRRJA can
be deemed to have the status of a municipal
corporation. If it has such a status, then sovereign
immunity bars the claims in this case.
seminal pronouncement on how to determine whether an entity
should be deemed a municipal corporation was made in
Hampton Roads Sanitation Dist. Comm'n v. Smith,
68 S.E.2d 497 (Va. 1952) (Hampton Roads). The
Hampton Roads court surveyed many decisions from
various jurisdictions and created a two-part inquiry to
resolve seemingly conflicting decisions on the issue,
directing courts to “concentrat[e] on two basic
factors.” Id. at 500. “The first is, how
many attributes of a municipal corporation does the entity in
dispute possess? The second is, in the light of this initial
consideration, what is the particular purpose for which it is
sought to determine whether or not a municipal corporation is
The six attributes the Hampton Roads court mentioned
(1) Creation as a body corporate and politic and as a
political subdivision of ...