United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
E. Conrad Senior United States District Judge
Jodie Shawntale Pennix, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se,
filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983, alleging that correctional officers used excessive
force against him, in violation of his constitutional rights.
After review of the record, the court concludes that the
defendants' partial motion to dismiss must be granted.
2018, Pennix was confined at River North Correctional Center
("RNCC"), a prison facility operated by the
Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC"). He
alleges the following sequence of events on which he bases
his § 1983 claims. On May 18, 2018, officers searched
Pennix's cell and discovered paraphernalia used to make
wine. Defendants Dean, Lundy, and Lyons called Pennix and his
cell mate into the hallway and told them they were being
moved to segregation. Lyons frisked Pennix and then ordered
him to kneel down to be handcuffed and shackled. Pennix asked
several times for help kneeling because he has "bad
knees." Mem. Supp. 3, ECF No. 1-2. Lyons refused to
shackle Pennix unless he was kneeling.
point, Dean "threw [Pennix] face-down onto the ground.
[He] did not resist. Dean punched [him] in the face.
Defendant Lundy kicked [Pennix] under his eye" and on
his nose, then "dropped his knee onto [Pennix's]
head several times." Id. While Pennix was on
the ground, Dean and Lyons placed him in handcuffs and
shackles. When he was fully restrained, they picked him up
and escorted him outside. On the way, "Dean bent
[Pennix's] left wrist backwards" and Lyons
"torqued [his] right arm upwards ... at ¶ 30-45
degree angle and causing him to experience immense pain in
his shoulder." Id. When Pennix complained that
the officers were hurting him, "Dean bent [his] wrist
even further," causing him to scream in pain.
Id. at 4. Dean "threw [Pennix] into the cement
face-first, causing him to get 'road rash' on his
temple. He and Lyons started choking [Pennix] with his
shirt." Id. Pennix told them that he could not
breathe and was blacking out, and they loosened the shirt,
picked him up, and escorted him to segregation with no
further incident. From the incident, Pennix suffered "an
abrasion on the left side of his face, a bloody nose, a cut
under his right eye, cuts on his wrists and ankles, a lump on
his left forehead," back and knee pain, and mental
complaint, Pennix alleges (1) claims under § 1983 that
Dean, Lyons, and Lundy used excessive force against him, in
violation of the Eighth Amendment; (2) claims that Dean,
Lyons, and Lundy committed assault and battery against him in
violation of state law; and (3) claims that VDOC Director
Clarke is vicariously liable for his subordinates' state
law violations under the doctrine of respondeat
superior. As relief, Pennix seeks compensatory and
defendants have filed a partial motion to dismiss under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that they
are immune to Pennix's claims against them in their
official capacities and that Clarke is entitled to sovereign
immunity. Pennix has responded to the defendants' motion,
making it ripe for disposition.
purpose of a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) is
to test the sufficiency of the complaint, not to decide the
merits of the action. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro.
178 F.3d 231, 243-44 (4th Cir. 1999). At this stage of the
litigation, the court must accept the well-pleaded
allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable
factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiffs favor.
Id. at 244. To survive a motion to dismiss under
Rule 12(b)(6), the "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).
defendants argue that VDOC Director Clarke cannot be held
vicariously liable under respondeat superior for the
alleged state law violations committed by his
subordinates. In response to the defendants' motion,
Pennix concedes that his only claims against Clarke should be
dismissed as the defendants contend. The court agrees. See
Reid v. Newton, No. 3:13-CV-572, 2014 WL 1493569, at
*9 (E.D. Va. Apr. 14, 2014) (holding that a regional jail
superintendent could not be held liable under the doctrine of
respondeat superior because he merely supervised
subordinates, rather than appointed or employed deputies to
carry out his duties); Rasi v. Dep't of Corr.,
No. 7:08CV00203, 2009 WL 102530, at *10 (W.D. Va. Jan. 14,
2009) ("Public officers are generally not vicariously
liable for the actions of a subordinate unless the public
officer appointed that subordinate.") (citing First
Va. Bank-Colonial v. Baker. 301 S.E.2d 8, 13 n. 4 (Va.
1983) ("[A] public officer who appoints a deputy (as
distinguished from a mere assistant or subordinate) is
generally responsible for the [deputy's] official acts,
because the act of the deputy, by color of the
principal's authority, is that of the principal himself.
. . ."). Accordingly, the court will grant the motion to
dismiss as to Clarke.
defendants also argue that Pennix cannot prevail on his
claims for damages against Dean, Lundy, and Lyons in their
official capacities. The court agrees. State employees acting
in . their official capacities do not qualify as
"persons" subject to being sued under § 1983.
Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police. 491 U.S.
58, 71 (1989). The Eleventh Amendment precludes an award of
monetary damages against a state employee who has been sued
in his official capacity under § 1983. Cromer v.
Brown. 88 F.3d 1315, 1332 (4th Cir. 1996).
stated reasons, the court concludes that the defendants'
partial motion to dismiss must be granted. The action will go
forward on Pennix's remaining claims against Dean, Lundy,
and Lyons in their individual capacities. An appropriate
order will enter this day.