United States District Court, D. Vermont
ORDER (DOCS. 32, 37, 39, 40)
HONORABLE J. GARVAN MURTHA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Allen Rheaume, a Vermont inmate proceeding pro se, brings
this action under42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking compensatory
and punitive damages against Defendants Corey Griswold, Jacy
Dennett, Dale Messier, and Robert Norris (collectively,
“Defendants”), employees of the Franklin County
Sheriff’s Department. (Doc. 5 (“Am.
Compl.”).) Defendants move to dismiss all official
capacity claims and the individual capacity claims against
Messier and Norris under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
12(b)(1) and (6). (Doc. 32.) Rheaume also filed motions
requesting the Court order the U.S. Marshals to complete
service on Norris (Doc. 37), an extension of time to complete
service on Norris (Doc. 39), and appointment of counsel (Doc.
40). For the reasons that follow, Defendants’ motion to
dismiss (Doc. 32) is GRANTED. Rheaume’s motion for
appointment of counsel is DENIED, and his motions regarding
serving Norris are DENIED as moot
alleges that on March 17, 2004, at 10:00 p.m., he was
arrested by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office at a
private residence at 10 Adams Street, St. Albans, Vermont.
(Am. Compl. ¶ 1.) Defendants Corey Griswold and Jacy
Dennett transported Rheaume to the Franklin County jail and
then to Northwest State Correctional Facility
(“NWSCF”) in Swanton, Vermont. Handcuffs and leg
irons were placed on Rheaume with such excessive force that
he “though[t] he was going to die from the
pressure.” Id. ¶ 4. Despite his numerous
requests to have the restraints loosened, they were not
loosened or removed from the time of arrest through his
lodging at NWSCF. Id. ¶ 15. He sought immediate
medical services at NWSCF. He alleges he could not feel his
hands and lower legs for six months and suffers permanent
injury of nerve damage in his lower legs that has resulted in
constant pain. Id. ¶¶ 18-19.
alleges Dale Messier and Robert Norris failed to properly
train and supervise Griswold and Dennett. (Am. Compl. ¶
move to dismiss Rheaume’s claims against all Defendants
in their official capacities and the individual capacity
claims against Messier and Norris. (Doc. 32.) Rheaume opposes
the motion. (Doc. 35.) Defendants filed a reply (Doc. 36) and
Rheaume filed a sur-reply (Doc. 38). Defendants argue
dismissal is appropriate under both Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
and under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted. They assert subject matter
jurisdiction is lacking because Vermont sheriffs and deputies
have sovereign immunity in their official capacities. (Doc.
32 at 3-5.) Defendants Messier and Norris also argue the
individual capacity claims against them fail to state a
claim. Id. at 7-11.
should grant a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss if it is not
authorized by statute or the Constitution to adjudicate the
plaintiff’s claims. See Makarova v. United
States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000). The party
asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of
proving its existence by a preponderance of the evidence.
Id. In determining whether subject matter
jurisdiction exists, the court may look to evidence outside
the complaint. Id. (citing Kamen v. Am. Tel.
& Tel. Co., 791 F.2d 1006, 1011 (2d Cir. 1986)). In
reviewing the complaint, the Court notes that because the
Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, it must construe his
submissions liberally and interpret them to raise the
strongest arguments they suggest. See Triestman v. Fed.
Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006).
While pro se litigants are afforded a liberal pleading
standard, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94
(2007), nonetheless, a pro se litigant is not exempt from
compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive
law, Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir.
purpose of § 1983 is to deter state actors from using
the badge of their authority to deprive individuals of their
federally guaranteed rights and to provide relief to victims
if such deterrence fails.” Wyatt v. Cole, 504
U.S. 158, 161 (1992).
outset, the Court notes Rheaume requests Defendant Messier,
former Franklin County Sheriff, be dismissed because he
“had nothing to do with any of the allegations”
in the complaint. (Doc. 35 at 9.) Accordingly, all claims
against Defendant Messier are dismissed.
argue they are entitled to Eleventh Amendment sovereign
immunity. The Eleventh Amendment of the United States
Constitution prohibits a citizen from bringing a suit against
his or her own state or its agencies in federal court, absent
a waiver of immunity and consent to suit by the state or a
valid abrogation of constitutional immunity by Congress.
Kimel v. Fla. Bd. of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 72-73
(2000); Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf
& Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 142-47 (1993);
Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465
U.S. 89, 97-100 (1984). The Eleventh Amendment pertains only
to official capacity claims, see Kentucky v. Graham,
472 U.S. 159, 169 (1985); individual capacity claims are not
protected by the Eleventh Amendment, Hafer v. Melo,
502 U.S. 21, 30-31 (1991). Sovereign immunity is a threshold
issue that must be addressed prior to considering dismissal
for failure to state a claim. See Rhulen Agency, Inc. v.
Ala. Ins. Guar. Ass’n, 896 F.2d 674, 678 (2d Cir.
State of Vermont has preserved its immunity under the
Eleventh Amendment by statute, thereby rendering Vermont
state agencies immune from suit. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 12,
§ 5601(g). “A claim against a government officer
in his official capacity is, and should be treated as, a
claim against the entity that employs the officer.”
Mathie v. Fries, 121 F.3d 808, 818 (2d Cir. 1997).
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has noted a Vermont
sheriff or deputy sheriff is “likely a state official
when performing his general duties.” Huminski v.
Corsones, 396 F.3d 53, 73 (2d Cir. 2005). Given the
guidance provided by the Huminski decision, the
Court finds Defendants Griswold and Dennett--both Franklin
County Sheriff’s Department Deputies--were acting as
state officials when they performed their duties in
transporting Rheaume on March 17, 2004. Likewise, Sheriff
Norris’ supervision of Griswold and Dennett is a
general duty. Accordingly, the constitutional claims for
damages against Griswold, Dennett, and Norris in their
official capacities are dismissed because they are barred by
Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. See Darcy v.
Lippman, 356 F. App’x 434, 437 (2d Cir. 2009)
(“The Eleventh Amendment likewise bars [plaintiff] from
pursuing a claim for damages against the individual
defendants in their official capacities.”).
Norris argues all claims against him should be dismissed for
failure to state a claim because the amended complaint fails
to allege sufficient personal involvement. (Doc. 32 at 7-
11.) Rheaume argues Norris “failed to train and
properly supervise Sheriff Officers Griswold and Dennett in
the proper use and application of the HOBBLE Restraint . . .
and also allowed . . . these HOBBLE RESTRAINTS to be placed