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Guerry v. Frakes

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

February 22, 2017

SCOTT FRAKES, Director; BRIAN GAGE, Warden; GUIFFE, Worker; and THOMPSON, Worker; Defendants.


          Richard G. Kopf, Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Brian Frank Guerry (“Guerry”), currently an inmate at the Omaha Correctional Center, was an inmate at the Tecumseh State Correctional Center (“TSCI”) during a prison riot that occurred at TSCI on May 10, 2015. Guerry filed suit against Defendants Scott Frakes (“Frakes”), Director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, Brian Gage (“Gage”), Warden of TSCI, Chelsea Guiffre (“Guiffre”), a unit manager, and Daniel Thompson (“Thompson”), a case worker, in their individual capacities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging Eighth Amendment failure-to-protect claims. (Filing No. 1.)[1] Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) on the basis of qualified immunity. (Filing Nos. 41, 42.) For the reasons that follow, the court will deny Defendants' Motion without prejudice to reassertion in a motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges he resided in the protective custody unit of the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution (“TSCI”) on May 10, 2015. Plaintiff claims he resided in the protective custody unit because he is a sex offender and fears violence from gangs within general population based on an assault he suffered from them in 2013. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 4.)

         At approximately 4:00 p.m. on this date, Plaintiff began to suffer from smoke inhalation. He called officers in the unit's “control bubble” for help. At this time, the control bubble was staffed by three jail officials, including Guiffre[2] and Thompson. Plaintiff alleges Guiffre and Thompson remotely opened some cell doors in the unit, but not others. Plaintiff's cell door was among those opened. (Id.)

         Plaintiff exited his cell and called out for help, but Guiffre and Thompson were no longer in the control bubble. (Id.) He proceeded to go to the “small yard, ” where prison staff had instructed protective-custody inmates to go during a fire, but the door to the small yard was locked. Instead, Guiffre and Thompson had unlocked the door to the “Bigger fence in area yard, ” which allowed general-population inmates, including gang members, to enter the unit. (Id. at CM/ECF pp. 5, 13.) For the next nine or so hours, general population inmates entered the protective-custody unit, harassed protective-custody inmates, and started fires. The general population inmates had access to the control bubble. During this time, Plaintiff and ten other inmates locked themselves into a cell. Plaintiff alleges he suffered approximately 10 hours of smoke inhalation. (Id. at CM/ECF pp. 6-7.) Law enforcement arrived at approximately 2:00 a.m. the following morning and provided assistance. (Id. at CM/ECF p. 7.)

         Plaintiff alleges prison staff immediately returned him to his cell, and did not treat him for smoke inhalation. Following the prison riot, Plaintiff “ask[ed] for days to be seen by medical, ” but he was advised there would be no inmate movement. Finally, on June 3, 2015, Plaintiff received medical attention. (Id.)

         Guerry filed grievances with prison officials. (Id. at CM/ECF pp. 17-20.) The following response is attached to Guerry's Complaint:

You contend while housed at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution (TSCI) that during the May 10, 2015 TSCI disturbance, TSCI staff failed to protect Protective Custody inmates by abandoning their posts and leaving Protective Custody inmates to be victimized by General Population inmates. During the time period you mention in your Grievance, TSCI staff was busy working through a significant emergency situation. TSCI inmate and staff safety was an area of primary concern during the entire period surrounding the May 10, 2015 disturbance. The May 10, 2015 TSCI disturbance ultimately impacted all aspects of facility operations in some way. TSCI staff made every effort to provide the best environment possible considering the circumstances and difficulties created by the May 10, 2015 incident.

(Id. at CM/ECF p. 20.)


         “Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate where no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Minch Family LLLP v. Buffalo-Red River Watershed Dist., 628 F.3d 960, 965 (8th Cir. 2010) (citing Faibisch v. Univ. of Minn., 304 F.3d 797, 803 (8th Cir. 2002)). This is the same standard used to address a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Ashley Cnty., Ark. v. Pfizer, Inc., 552 F.3d 659, 665 (8th Cir. 2009).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations in a complaint, assumed true, must suffice “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Northstar Indus., Inc. v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 576 F.3d 827, 832 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although a complaint need not include 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.” C.N. v. Willmar Pub. Sch., Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 347, 591 F.3d 624, 629-30 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Instead, the complaint must set forth “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 630 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ritchie v. St. Louis Jewish Light,630 F.3d 713, 716 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal,556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Courts must accept ... specific factual allegations as true but are not required to accept ... legal conclusions.” Outdoor Cent., Inc. v., Inc.,643 F.3d 1115, 1120 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Brown v. Medtronic, Inc., 628 F.3d 451, 459 (8th Cir. 2010)) (internal quotation marks omitted). When ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must rule “on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true, ” and “a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and ‘that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.'” Twombly, 550 U.S. at ...

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