Wamble v. Cnty. of Jones

Decision Date08 June 2012
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 2:09cv103KS-MTP
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Mississippi

This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss [#66] filed on behalf of defendants Mississippi Department of Public Safety ("MDPS"), the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol ("MHSP"), and Jerry Merrill in his official capacity (collectively, the "State Defendants"), and on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed on behalf of Jerry Merrill, in his individual capacity [#68], and on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed on behalf of Jones County, Mississippi and Sheriff Alex Hodge [#64]. The Court, having reviewed the motions, the response, the briefs of counsel, the pleadings and exhibits on file, and being otherwise fully advised in the premises, finds that the motions are well taken and should be granted. The Court finds specifically as follows:


This is a civil rights action in which the Plaintiff, Greg Wamble, challenges the constitutionality of Jones County's alleged, unofficial policy or custom of strip-searching pre-trial detainees at the Jones County Adult Detention Facility and using "chill rooms" to discipline non-compliant detainees. Wamble seeks to certify a class comprised of persons who have been and will be subjected to these alleged practices. On behalf of this putative class, he seeks a declaration that Jones County's alleged strip-search and chill room policies/customs are unconstitutional and an injunction barring Jones County from continuing to implement these alleged policies/customs. He also seeks compensatory and punitive damages against all Defendants based on the alleged strip-searches to which he was subjected and his alleged placement in a "chill room." Wamble brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

On June 19, 2008, at approximately 7:50 p.m., Wamble was pulled over by Defendant Merrill, who was an MHSP officer, for speeding on Interstate Highway 59 in Jones County. Merrill ordered Wamble to step out of his vehicle, which Wamble did. Wamble alleges that Merrill then "commanded him without any reasonable basis to lean against the car and spread his legs[.]" He further alleges that "[w]ithout reasonable suspicion or cause, Officer Merrill aggressively cuffed [him] and proceeded to conduct an unlawful search of his vehicle[.]" Merrill put Wamble in his squad car and transported him to the Jones County adult Detention Center. Wamble alleges that Merrill informed him that he was being arrested merely for speeding and having an expired license. However, the Booking Sheet shows he was charged with speeding,disorderly conduct, driving with an expired driver licenses and simple assault on a police officer.

During the booking process, Wamble was walked to the medical room where he was to undergo a search. Wamble allegedly refused to comply with requests of the deputies or to assist with the search. Wamble asserts that "[u]pon his refusal to consent to the invasive body cavity search, five officers, including Officer Merrill, assembled around [him] and informed him that the search would occur and that such searches were conducted on everyone who came to the jail regardless of the charges or cause for arrest." At that point, all of his clothes were removed by the deputies, and at some point, Wamble stood up, then fell back to the floor, catching himself right before impact.

Subsequently, Wamble "was [allegedly] commanded to get up, but upon being unable to do so because of his pain, the officers rolled him onto a sheet and dragged him dressed solely in his underwear to a chill room." It appears that Wamble does not allege that Merrill was involved in moving him to the chill room. Once in the "chill room," Wamble was allegedly "provided with neither clothing . . . or with blankets or bedding[.]"

Wamble asserts that he then requested an ambulance, but that he was "subjected to the conditions of the chill room for four hours before any ambulance personnel were summoned." Paramedics came to the jail and transported Wamble to the local hospital. After an hour or two stay, he was released. Once back at the jail Wamble walked on his own to the booking area. Shortly thereafter, at approximately 4:45 a.m., he bonded out.

Wamble contends that on June 24, 2008, he met with Jones County Sheriff AlexHodge, "to discuss the defendants' policy, custom and practice of strip searches[.]" According to Wamble, Sheriff Hodge "admitted that the policy, custom and practice of strip searches was applied to all pre-arraignment detainees, regardless of the nature of the charges and without regard to consideration of whether there is a reasonable suspicion that the detainee may have weapons or contraband." Wamble claims that Sheriff Hodge is "personally responsible for the promulgation and continuation of the strip search policy, practice and custom[.]"

Wamble alleges that the "defendants" have a "policy, practice and custom of subjecting pre-arraignment detainees . . . to strip and visual body cavity searches without having . . . a reasonable suspicion that the search will be productive of contraband or weapons." He also avers that "defendants have a policy, practice and custom of utilizing confinement in chill rooms as punishment for non-violent, non-suicidal, and non-destructive detainees who are dubbed 'non-compliant.'"

Wamble asserts two causes of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. First, he asserts a cause of action for violations of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights based on the alleged strip-searches that he was allegedly forced to undergo. Second, he asserts a cause of action for violations of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights based on the Defendants' alleged use of a "chill room" during his detention at the Jones County Adult Detention Facility.

The State Defendants have filed the instant motion pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and (6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, respectively. MDPS and MHSP argue that they are entitled to the immunity provided by the EleventhAmendment to the Constitution of the United States as against all of Wamble's claims and that Wamble lacks standing to pursue his claims for injunctive relief against them. Merrill argues that Wamble's claims against him in his official capacity are moot. Merrill also filed a motion for summary judgment on Wamble's individual capacity claims against him on the basis of qualified immunity.


A Rule 12(b)(1) motion attacks the court's jurisdiction to hear and to decide any issues in the case and therefore the court must address that at any time during the pendency of the litigation that is asserted, or even upon its own motion. See Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F. 2d 404 (5th Cir. 1981). It is well settled that on a 12(b)(1) motion the court may go outside the pleadings and consider additional facts, whether contested or not and may even resolve issues of contested facts.

If, however, the court limits its review to the face of the pleadings, the safeguards under Rule 12(b)(6) apply. Dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate if a party fails to state a claim under which relief can be granted. The allegation that the complaint must be accepted is true when the court considers whether the plaintiff has stated a cause of action. See Cramer v. Skinner, 931 F. 2d 1020 (5th Cir. 1991)(cert. denied, 60 U.S.L.W. 3057, 112 S. Ct. 298, 116 L. Ed. 2d 242 (1991)). Only the complaint and allegations contained therein are to be considered in reaching a decision on a defendant's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.

The complaint should not be dismissed unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiffs can prove no set of facts in support of his or her claims which would entitle himor her to relief. While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations to survive a 12(b)(6) motion, the United States Supreme court has held that 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." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 540, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65, 167 L.Ed.2d 929, 940 (2007) (other citations omitted).

State Defendants and the Eleventh Amendment

The party seeking to assert federal jurisdiction bears the burden of proving that subject matter jurisdiction exists. See, e.g., Howery v. Allstate Ins. Co., 243 F.3d 912, 919 (5th Cir. 2001). The State Defendants assert that Wamble cannot carry that burden with respect to MDPS and MHSP, since the Eleventh Amendment bars all of the requested relief against them. "The Eleventh Amendment prohibits the citizens from bringing suit against the state unless the state waives its immunity." Ganther v. Ingle, 75 F.3d 207, 209 (5th Cir. 1996) (quoting Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 149, 28 S. Ct. 441, 449-50, 52 L. Ed. 714, 725 (1908)). The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution provides;

The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

While the language of the Amendment does not specifically address suits against the State by...

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