Watkins v. Mitchem

CourtAlabama Court of Civil Appeals
Citation50 So.3d 485
Docket Number2090005.
PartiesLorenzo WATKINS v. Billy MITCHEM et al.
Decision Date07 May 2010

Lorenzo Watkins, pro se.

Troy King, atty. gen., and Todd E. Hughes, asst. atty. gen., for appellees.

MOORE, Judge.

Lorenzo Watkins appeals from a judgment entered in favor of defendants Warden Billy Mitchem; Captain Lloyd Wallace; Lieutenant Darwin Halbrooks; and the Alabama Department of Corrections (hereinafter sometimes collectively referred to as "the defendants"). We affirm in part and reverse in part.

Procedural Background

On June 19, 2009, Watkins, who was an inmate in protective custody at the Limestone Correctional Facility at that time, filed a complaint in the Montgomery Circuit Court, alleging that the defendants' acts and omissions had violated his constitutional rights. Watkins sought injunctive relief as well as monetary damages against the defendants; 1 he also requested a jury trial.

On June 30, 2009, the trial court entered an order granting Watkins permission to file his complaint without immediate payment of a filing fee and ordering the Department of Corrections to withhold a designated portion of the funds in Watkins's prison money account until he had paid the filing fee. The trial court also ordered the defendants to answer Watkins's complaintwithin 30 days and stated: "This matter is ORDERED set on August 25, 2009."

On August 24, 2009, the defendants collectively filed an answer to Watkins's complaint, generally denying that Watkins had been deprived of his constitutional rights as alleged in the complaint. The defendants asserted, among other things, that they were entitled to sovereign immunity and qualified immunity and that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The defendants also moved for a judgment as a matter of law.

On August 25, 2009, the day after the defendants filed their answer, the trial court conducted the hearing that had been previously set. The defendants, through counsel, appeared at the hearing; Watkins, however, was not present. 2

On September 11, 2009, the trial court ordered the matter reset for Monday, October 5, 2009; that order was electronically entered into the State Judicial Information System on September 14, 2009. However, also on September 14, 2009, the trial court entered a judgment, stating:

"THIS CAUSE coming before the Court for trial on the Plaintiff's Complaint and Defendants' Answer, and after reviewing same, the Court finds that judgment in this cause is due to be entered in favor of the Defendants. Therefore, it is hereby ORDERED, ADJUDGED and DECREED that final judgment be entered in this cause against the Plaintiff and in favor of the Defendants, and it is further ordered that this case be DISMISSED, with prejudice.
"Costs, in the amount of $201.00, are taxed against the Plaintiff in the amount of twenty-five (25%) per available sums of his [prison money] account."

On September 25, 2009, Watkins filed his notice of appeal.

The Pleadings

Reading Watkins's complaint in the light most favorable to him, see Harden v. Ritter, 710 So.2d 1254, 1255-56 (Ala.Civ.App.1997), Watkins alleges that, in November or December 2008, he received a "behavioral citation" for alleged misconduct. Watkins, who asserted that he had formerly served as a corrections officer, alleged that, pursuant to prison policy, a behavioral citation is given for less serious disciplinary infractions and carries no right to due process, while a "disciplinary citation" is given for more serious infractions and entitles an inmate to due process. Watkins further alleged that, despite having received a less serious behavioral citation, he was punished by placement in administrative segregation for six months and by the removal of his privileges. Watkins claimed that he was denied due process to which he was entitled before receiving a punishment of that severity. Watkins also alleged that he notified Lieutenant Halbrooks and Captain Wallace of those violations but that they failed to take any corrective action.

Watkins also alleged that Warden Mitchem had adopted a policy of documenting all alleged infractions by inmates in protective custody as "behavioral citations," to which no due-process rights attached, regardless of the punishment imposed for such infractions. Watkins alleged that the defendants' acts and omissions had deprived him of due process and equal protection of the law, his right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment, and his right to offer testimony on his own behalf.

Watkins attached to his complaint documents from the Limestone Correctional Facility that tended to support his allegations regarding the imposition of extended administrative segregation as punishment for inmates in protective custody charged with a behavioral citation. For example, Watkins attached to his complaint a copy of the December 2008 "behavioral citation" he had received as a result of insubordinate statements he allegedly had made to an officer on November 25, 2008. That citation indicated that "due to inmate's [protective-custody] status, increase [administrative segregation] for an extended period of time."

Watkins also attached to his complaint a copy of a letter written by him, dated February 15, 2009, and addressed to "Mrs. Harris," inquiring when he would receive a "reclass[ification] hearing." Across the bottom of that letter was handwritten: "No reclass needed, you were only moved from P.C. [protective custody] to permanent Admin. Segreg. No reclass needed." 3

The defendants filed a joint answer to Watkins's complaint. In their answer, the defendants asserted, among other things, that no constitutional violations had occurred in punishing Watkins for his misconduct and that they were entitled to sovereign immunity and qualified immunity; the defendants also asserted that they were entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Considering only Watkins's allegations and the defendants' defenses, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of the defendants.

Analysis

On appeal, Watkins contends, among other things, that the record before the trial court was insufficient to support the judgment entered in favor of the defendants. In its judgment, the trial court indicated that it was relying on only Watkins's complaint and the defendants' answer.4 Thus, we consider only the facts alleged in Watkins's complaint and the defenses asserted in the defendants' answer to determine whether those pleadings properly supported a judgment in favor of the defendants.

We treat the trial court's judgment as a judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(c), Ala. R. Civ. P. Our standard of review is de novo.5

" 'When a motion for judgment on the pleadings is made by a party, "the trial court reviews the pleadings filed in the case and, if the pleadings show that no genuine issue of material fact is presented, the trial court will enter a judgment for the party entitled to a judgment according to the law." B.K.W. Enters., Inc. v. Tractor & Equip. Co., 603 So.2d 989, 991 (Ala.1992). See also Deaton, Inc. v. Monroe, 762 So.2d 840 (Ala.2000). A judgment on the pleadings is subject to a de novo review. Harden v. Ritter, 710 So.2d 1254, 1255 (Ala.Civ.App.1997). A court reviewing a judgment on the pleadings accepts the facts stated in thecomplaint as true and views them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at 1255-56. If matters outside the pleadings are presented to and considered by the trial court, then the motion for a judgment on the pleadings must be treated as a motion for a summary judgment. See Rule 12(c), Ala. R. Civ. P. Otherwise, in deciding a motion for a judgment on the pleadings, the trial court is bound by the pleadings. See Stockman v. Echlin, Inc., 604 So.2d 393, 394 (Ala.1992).' "
Medlock v. Safeway Ins. Co. of Alabama, 15 So.3d 501, 507 (Ala.2009) (quoting Universal Underwriters Ins. Co. v. Thompson, 776 So.2d 81, 82-83 (Ala.2000)). "A motion for judgment on the pleadings ... theoretically is directed towards a determination of the substantive merits of the controversy...." 5C Charles Alan Wright and Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1369 at 259 (3d ed.2004) (comparing and contrasting a motion to dismiss and a motion for a judgment on the pleadings).
"[W]hen it is considering a motion for a judgment on the pleadings, the trial court must review the pleadings filed in the case, and only if the pleadings show that no genuine issue of material fact is presented should the trial court enter a judgment for the moving party. See Rule 12(c), Ala. R. Civ. P.; B.K.W. Enterprises, Inc. v. Tractor & Equipment Co., 603 So.2d 989 (Ala.1992). A motion for a judgment on the pleadings is designed to provoke a search of the pleadings for the purpose of determining whether there is an issue of fact that requires the introduction of proof. Warren v. Rasco, 457 So.2d 399 (Ala.1984)."

Ex parte Alfa Fin. Corp., 762 So.2d 850, 854 (Ala.1999).

Watkins asserted a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; that statute provides, in pertinent part,

"[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in any action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress...."

In Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989), the United States Supreme Court concluded that a state was not a "person" subject to suit under § 1983. Id. at 65-66. The Court also concluded that actions filed pursuant to § 1983 and asserting claims for damages against government officials or employees in their official capacities were, in essence, claims asserted against the state itself...

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7 cases
  • McConico v. Patterson, 2140939.
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
    • 11 Marzo 2016
    ...sued in their individual capacities may be entitled to qualified immunity, also known as state-agent immunity. Watkins v. Mitchem, 50 So.3d 485, 489–91 (Ala.Civ.App.2010) ; Ex parte Rizk, 791 So.2d 911, 912 (Ala.2000)." ‘[A] motion to dismiss is typically not the appropriate vehicle by whic......
  • Turner v. Moore
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
    • 29 Julio 2011
    ...in favor of the individual defendants on the basis of that affirmative defense, that judgment was prematurely entered.”Watkins v. Mitchem, 50 So.3d 485, 489–91 (Ala.Civ.App.2010). In his complaint, Turner stated that he was suing Moore, Smith, and Graham in their individual capacities. As e......
  • Sweatman v. Giles
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
    • 19 Abril 2013
    ...not explicitly assert qualified immunity, we discuss its application in this case out of an abundance of caution. In Watkins v. Mitchem, 50 So.3d 485 (Ala.Civ.App.2010), this court addressed the application of sovereign immunity and qualified immunity to state employees in the context of § ......
  • Bearden v. Coker, 2110543.
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
    • 11 Enero 2013
    ...210, 212 (1938), the supreme court held that a county board of registrars is an independent agency of the state. In Watkins v. Mitchem, 50 So.3d 485, 489–90 (Ala.Civ.App.2010), this court stated: “In Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1......
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