Franklin v. Curry

Decision Date23 December 2013
Docket NumberNo. 13–10129.,13–10129.
Citation738 F.3d 1246
PartiesCindy Laine FRANKLIN, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. Chris CURRY, individually, John Samaniego, individually, et al., Defendants–Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit


Leigh King Forstman, Pittman Dutton & Hellums, PC, Birmingham, AL, for PlaintiffAppellee.

David J. Canupp, George W. Royer, Jr., Lanier Ford Shaver & Payne, PC, Huntsville, AL, Frank C. Ellis, Jr., Wallace Ellis Fowler & Head, Columbiana, AL, for DefendantsAppellants.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. D.C. Docket No. 2:12–cv–03646–AKK.

Before MARCUS, BLACK and RIPPLE,* Circuit Judges.


This case arises from Cindy Laine Franklin's allegation that Michael Keith Gay, a corrections officer at the Shelby County Jail, sexually assaulted her, and Franklin's ensuing lawsuit against Gay and various other officers at the jail. The officers other than Gay (Appellants or the Supervisory Defendants) moved for dismissal on the basis of qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion, and this interlocutory appeal followed. Upon review, we hold that Franklin has failed to plead a constitutional violation and that Appellants are therefore entitled to qualified immunity.


We begin with a recitation of the facts as drawn from Franklin's complaint. Although the complaint provides little information concerning the sequence and temporal relation of events, we must accept Franklin's well-pleaded allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in her favor. See Keating v. City of Miami, 598 F.3d 753, 762 (11th Cir.2010).1

As alleged in the complaint, on October 19, 2010, Franklin was transferred to Shelby County Jail as a pretrial detainee. During the ensuing booking procedure, Gay said to Franklin, “I want to see your rug.” Franklin responded that Gay “would get in trouble,” to which Gay replied, “there is nothing you can do.” As Gay took Franklin's fingerprints, he placed her hand on his genitals, causing Franklin to object and tell Gay to leave her alone.

Some time later, as Franklin slept in her cell, Gay jolted her awake by getting on top of her with his pants unzipped. Gay forced his penis into Franklin's mouth as she resisted. Franklin told her boyfriend and her parole officer about the incident, after which John Samaniego, a chief deputy at the jail, came to speak with her.2 The Alabama Bureau of Investigation obtained a statement from Franklin and commenced a formal investigation of her claims. Franklin spoke with other female detainees who told her that Gay had sexually abused another female inmate and engaged in sex with another. Gay eventually resigned.

Franklin commenced the instant action against Gay, Chris Curry, Sheriff of Shelby County, and five other prison officials: Samaniego, the chief deputy who spoke with her about the assault; Chris George, Division Commander of Investigations; Chris Corbell, Division Commander of Uniform; Jay Fondren, Division Commander of Corrections; and Ken Burchfield, Division Commander of Administration. Franklin asserted constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all of the officers in their individual capacities. The Supervisory Defendants–Curry, Samaniego, George, Corbell, Fondren, and Burchfield—moved to dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity.3 The district court denied the motion, finding that Franklin had asserted a violation of a clearly established constitutional right by alleging that she had been harmed by the Supervisory Defendants' deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm. The Supervisory Defendants now appeal the district court's denial of their motion.


A district court's denial of qualified immunity on a motion to dismiss is an appealable order that we review de novo. Rehberg v. Paulk, 611 F.3d 828, 837 n. 5 (11th Cir.2010).


Qualified immunity shields government officials acting within their discretionary authority from liability unless the officials “violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). The parties do not dispute that the Supervisory Defendants are government officials who were acting within the scope of their discretionary authority. Thus, to evaluate their entitlement to qualified immunity, we ask whether Franklin has alleged a violation of a constitutional right and, if so, whether the constitutional right violated was clearly established at the time of the violation. Keating, 598 F.3d at 762. We hold that Franklin failed to allege a violation of a constitutional right and thus falls short of this standard.

In determining whether Franklin alleged a constitutional violation, the district court made two related errors. First, it applied an incorrect legal standard. Second, the district court allowed Franklin to satisfy the standard it applied with conclusory allegations. We address each error in turn.

A. The Legal Standard for Deliberate Indifference

In analyzing Franklin's claims against the Supervisory Defendants, the district court erred by finding allegations that they “knew or should have known” of a substantial risk of serious harm sufficient to state a deliberate indifference claim. Deliberate indifference requires more than constructive knowledge.

The district court began its analysis correctly, stating that, “to establish supervisory liability under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that the supervisor personally participated in the alleged unconstitutional conduct or that there is a causal connection between the actions of a supervising official and the alleged constitutional deprivation.” D. Ct. Order at 6 (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted); see Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1360 (11th Cir.2003). The district court then explained that a plaintiff can show a causal connection, inter alia, when “the supervisor's policy or custom resulted in deliberate indifference.” D. Ct. Order at 6 (internal quotation marks omitted). To this point, the district court's analysis was sound. However, the court then went astray when it concluded that Franklin had alleged a causal connection, stating:

Franklin alleges that a causal connection exists because Sheriff Curry was on notice of Officer Gay's alleged conduct and the need to correct this practice, but failed to do so, and because Sheriff Curry'spolicy or custom resulted in deliberate indifference,


[w]ith respect to Officers Samaniego, Burchfield, Fondren, Corbell and George, Franklin alleges that they too knew or should have known of Officer Gay's pattern of inappropriate conduct with female detainees and inmates but “were deliberately indifferent....”

D. Ct. Order at 7 (emphasis added). In reaching these conclusions, the district court neglected to analyze whether Franklin had properly alleged deliberate indifference. In fact, the elements of deliberate indifference do not appear anywhere in the district court's order.4

Its first step should have been to identify the precise constitutional violation charged—in this case, deliberate indifference—and to explain what the violation requires. See Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 140, 99 S.Ct. 2689, 2692, 61 L.Ed.2d 433 (1979) (before discussing liability in a § 1983 suit, “it is necessary to isolate the precise constitutional violation with which [the defendant] is charged”). Had the district court done so, Franklin's failure to allege the required elements would have been apparent.

Deliberate indifference requires the following: (1) subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm; (2) disregard of that risk; (3) by conduct that is more than gross negligence.” Goodman v. Kimbrough, 718 F.3d 1325, 1331–32 (11th Cir.2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). Franklin's allegations that the Supervisory Defendants “knew or should have known” of a substantial risk clearly fall short of this standard. “Were we to accept that theory of liability, the deliberate indifference standard would be silently metamorphosed into a font of tort law—a brand of negligence redux—which the Supreme Court has made abundantly clear it is not.” Id. at 1334. As we have stated, [t]o be deliberately indifferent a prison official must know of and disregard an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference. Id. at 1332 (internal quotation marks omitted). Franklin failed to allege the Supervisory Defendants actually knew of the serious risk Gay posed even in the most conclusory fashion. Because of this failure, Franklin did not allege a constitutional violation, and Appellants were entitled to qualified immunity.

B. Franklin's Factual Allegations

The district court's second error was finding purely conclusory allegations—i.e., a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action”—sufficient to satisfy the standard it applied. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). It is important that defendants be apprised of the conduct that forms the basis of the charges against them. Conclusory allegations fail to apprise defendants of the factual basis of the plaintiff's claims. Accordingly, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require a pleading to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Specifically, [t]o 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.’ Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). The...

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