Thibodeaux v. Bordelon, 83-4027

Citation740 F.2d 329
Decision Date16 August 1984
Docket NumberNo. 83-4027,83-4027
PartiesJames THIBODEAUX, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. James BORDELON, Linda Brown, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)

Edward J. Milligan, Jr., Lafayette, La., for plaintiff-appellant.

Fontenot & Mitchell, John Clyde Fontenot, Ville Platte, La., for Dalbes Fontenot.

Jack Fruge, Sr., Christopher B. Fruge, Ville Plate, La., for all defendants-appellees except Fontenot.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

Before WISDOM, REAVLEY, and JOHNSON, Circuit Judges.

WISDOM, Circuit Judge:

This appeal presents the question whether a pretrial detainee suffers a deprivation of any constitutional rights when he sustains bodily injury because of the negligence of city officials responsible for supervising the jail housing the detainee. The question turns particularly on the applicability of Parratt v. Taylor, 1981, 451 U.S. 527, 101 S.Ct. 1908, 68 L.Ed.2d 420, to an alleged negligent deprivation of liberty without due process. The district court held that the plaintiff in this case had not alleged facts establishing a constitutional violation. The court accordingly dismissed the complaint under rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. We agree with the district court and affirm its judgment.

I. Facts 1

The plaintiff, James Thibodeaux, filed this civil rights suit against Dalbes Fontenot, a co-detainee, and various officials and employees of the city of Ville Platte, Louisiana, including the mayor, members of the governing body of the city, the chief of police, and the custodian of the city jail. In his complaint, Thibodeaux alleges that he was detained in the Ville Platte City Jail on May 8, 1980, awaiting the disposition of charges against him for simple burglary and theft. The defendant Dalbes Fontenot, who had been confined in the cell adjacent to Thibodeaux's, set fire to the jail. The plaintiff suffered severe and painful injuries as a result of the fire.

Thibodeaux alleges that Fontenot was intoxicated at the time of the fire and that the other defendants knew or should have known of Fontenot's intoxicated condition. The complaint asserts that the defendants acted negligently by incarcerating the plaintiff in a cell next to that of an intoxicated inmate likely to injure other inmates, and by failing to exercise adequate supervision to protect the plaintiff from injury. The complaint does not allege any deficiencies in the procedures followed by jailhouse personnel in dealing with intoxicated inmates. Nor does the plaintiff charge the city officials and employees with conduct any more culpable than the alleged negligence. 2

The complaint asserts that the defendants' negligence deprived the plaintiff of rights, privileges, and immunities secured by the United States Constitution, particularly his rights under the eighth and fourteenth amendments. Thibodeaux contends that he is entitled to relief under 42 U.S.C.A. Sec. 1983 (1981). 3 He seeks compensatory damages for bodily pain and injuries and for his medical expenses, as well as punitive damages and attorney's fees.

Dalbes Fontenot, the arsonist co-detainee, and the city officials and employees filed separate motions to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. 4 The district court granted both motions, and the plaintiff appealed.

II. Defendant Dalbes Fontenot

The district court treated Dalbes Fontenot's motion as a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. 5 The court held that the plaintiff had failed to state a claim against Dalbes Fontenot under section 1983, because that defendant had not acted under color of state law. See Ruling of Dec. 3, 1982, W.D.La., Record at 103-04. This holding is unquestionably correct.

Section 1983 affords redress only for conduct committed by a person acting under color of state law. E.g., Flagg Brothers, Inc. v. Brooks, 1978, 436 U.S. 149, 155-56, 98 S.Ct. 1729, 1732-33, 56 L.Ed.2d 185. A person acts under color of state law only when exercising power "possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law". United States v. Classic, 1941, 313 U.S. 299, 326, 61 S.Ct. 1031, 1043, 85 L.Ed. 1368; accord, e.g., Polk County v. Dodson, 1981, 454 U.S. 312, 317-18, 102 S.Ct. 445, 449-50, 70 L.Ed.2d 509. Thibodeaux's complaint, of course, could not allege facts implying that Dalbes Fontenot acted with any such authority when he set fire to the Ville Platte City Jail. We affirm the district court's dismissal of the complaint with respect to Dalbes Fontenot.

III. The Other Defendants

In granting the motion filed by the city officials, the district court held that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the action against these defendants. The basis for the court's decision was that, "for reasons set forth in Parratt v. Taylor", the facts alleged in the complaint did not establish a violation of section 1983. Reasons for Ruling, W.D.La. Jan. 4, 1983, Record at 115. The court's rationale is apparent from its reference to Parratt v. Taylor, 1981, 451 U.S. 527, 101 S.Ct. 1908, 68 L.Ed.2d 420. The plaintiff in Parratt alleged that he was deprived of property without due process of law when prison officials negligently lost a hobby kit that the plaintiff had ordered through the mail. The Supreme Court held that the availability of a postdeprivation action for damages under state law negated the contention that the deprivation was without due process of law. Id. at 540-44, 101 S.Ct. 1915-17. Accordingly, the district judge in the present case concluded that the availability of a tort remedy under Louisiana law vitiated the plaintiff's cause of action based on the alleged negligence of the city officials.

Viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the complaint asserts two constitutional violations: subjection of the plaintiff to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the eighth amendment as incorporated into the fourteenth amendment; and deprivation of a liberty interest without due process of law, in violation of the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment. We examine each asserted violation separately.

A. The Eighth Amendment

We agree with the district court's conclusion that the complaint does not allege facts constituting a violation of the eighth amendment. We do not agree, however, for the reasons implied by the district court's ruling. As we explain more fully in another decision of this panel, Augustine v. Doe, 5 Cir.1984, 740 F.2d 322, at 325 [1984], the Parratt analysis applies only to asserted violations of procedural due process; it does not apply to alleged violations of substantive constitutional proscriptions applicable to the states because of incorporation into the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment. Accord Daniels v. Williams, 4 Cir.1983, 720 F.2d 792, 796 n. 3; Wolf-Lillie v. Sonquist, 7 Cir.1983, 699 F.2d 864, 871-72; Palmer v. Hudson, 4 Cir.1983, 697 F.2d 1220, 1225, aff'd in part, rev'd in part on other grounds, 1984, --- U.S. ----, 104 S.Ct. 3194, 82 L.Ed.2d 393 [1984]; Duncan v. Poythress, 5 Cir.1981, 657 F.2d 691, 704-05, cert. dismissed, 1982, 459 U.S. 1012, 103 S.Ct. 368, 74 L.Ed.2d 504; Juncker v. Tinney, D.Md.1982, 549 F.Supp. 574, 582; Al-Mustafa Irshad v. Spann, E.D.Va.1982, 543 F.Supp. 922, 926 (dicta); The Supreme Court, 1981 Term, 96 Harv.L.Rev. 62, 105 (1982). See also Gerstein v. Pugh, 1975, 420 U.S. 103, 125 n. 27, 95 S.Ct. 854, 869 n. 27, 43 L.Ed.2d 54, stating that the Supreme Court's due process decisions do not apply to the question of "what process is due" under the fourth amendment, and Ingraham v. Wright, 1977, 430 U.S. 651, 653, 658, 97 S.Ct. 1401, 1403, 1405, 51 L.Ed.2d 711, implying that the availability of postdeprivation state-law remedies is irrelevant to the issue whether the defendants' conduct violated the eighth amendment.

Notwithstanding the inapplicability of Parratt to Thibodeaux's eighth amendment allegation, Thibodeaux cannot recover on the basis of that amendment. The Supreme Court has made it clear that the eighth amendment protects only those who have been convicted of a crime. Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. at 664, 671-72, 97 S.Ct. at 1408, 1412-13. The amendment does not protect pretrial detainees. Bell v. Wolfish, 1979, 441 U.S. 520, 535 n. 16, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 1872 n. 16, 60 L.Ed.2d 447. As the Court explained in Ingraham:

"Eighth Amendment scrutiny is appropriate only after the State has complied with the constitutional guarantees traditionally associated with criminal prosecutions.... [T]he State does not acquire the power to punish with which the Eighth Amendment is concerned until after it has secured a formal adjudication of guilt in accordance with due process of law. Where the State seeks to impose punishment without such an adjudication, the pertinent constitutional guarantee is the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."

430 U.S. at 671 n. 40, 97 S.Ct. at 1412 n. 40 (emphasis added). 6 Because Thibodeaux was a pretrial detainee at the time of the alleged injury, he cannot state a cause of action under the eighth amendment. We turn now to the viability of Thibodeaux's suit under the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment.

B. Procedural Due Process

Parratt held that, to allege a violation of procedural due process, it is not sufficient simply to assert a deprivation of a protected property interest by persons acting under color of state law. The plaintiff must also allege that the state procedures available for challenging the deprivation do not satisfy the requirements of due process. See 451 U.S. at 537, 101 S.Ct. at 1914. In addressing the issue of "what process is due a person when an employee of a State negligently takes his property", the Court noted that many of its decisions required that a hearing take place before the state...

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