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Haleem v. Quinones

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

October 1, 2017

DR. MOISES QUINONES, [1] et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff 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.[2] (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 individual defendants.

         Pending 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.

         The 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.

         The 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.[3] 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.


         A 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.)

         Haleem further alleges that two defendants[4] “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.)

         In the 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.)


         A. MRRJA's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction

         MRRJA's 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.

         A 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).

         The 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);[5] 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).[6]

         This 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.

         The 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).

         MRRJA 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.[7] If it has such a status, then sovereign immunity bars the claims in this case.

         Virginia's 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 present?” Id.

The six attributes the Hampton Roads court mentioned were:
(1) Creation as a body corporate and politic and as a political subdivision of ...

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