him and told other inmates that he was a homosexual and a "snitch," that incarceration under these conditions posed a substantial risk of serious bodily harm, that prison officials were on notice of Sergeant Ingram's sexual harassment because of Mr. Thomas' complaints of the excessive risk to his safety caused by Sergeant Ingram's conduct, and that prison officials failed to take reasonable measures to guarantee his safety. The absence of proper supervision, training and discipline in such circumstances is enough to demonstrate deliberate indifference and may form the basis of an Eighth Amendment claim. See Farmer v. Brennan, 114 S. Ct. at 1979, 1981.
The Court concludes that plaintiff's allegations, which must be assumed to be true for the purposes of this motion, are sufficient to state a claim for relief against both Sergeant Ingram and the District of Columbia.
B. Municipal Liability
Defendants contend that the District of Columbia cannot be held liable for Sergeant Ingram's alleged conduct because plaintiff cannot demonstrate the existence of an unconstitutional custom or practice of the District of Columbia, as required by Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611, 98 S. Ct. 2018 (1978), and because Sergeant Ingram himself did not have policymaking authority. While the law is clear that a plaintiff cannot hold a municipality liable solely on the basis of respondeat superior, a widespread practice or custom, even an informal one, can meet Monell's standard for the imposition of municipal liability. See Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. at 690-91.
Defendants argue that there is no practice or custom of permitting sexual harassment or assault because District of Columbia regulations expressly prohibit intimate relations between prison guards and inmates.
This argument misses the point. While the regulations may exist, violations of them, or a pattern of such violations, may themselves be a practice or custom. The District of Columbia is not off the hook merely because regulations exist. Even if the conduct is otherwise prohibited, the failure of the District of Columbia to safeguard against known unconstitutional conduct may amount to a tacit approval of the conduct. See Women Prisoners of the District of Columbia Dep't of Corrections v. D.C., 877 F. Supp. 634, No. 93-2052, slip op. at 63; Haynesworth v. Miller, 261 U.S. App. D.C. 66, 820 F.2d 1245, 1258 (D.C. Cir. 1987).
The amended complaint alleges "a pattern or practice . . . by defendant District of Columbia of failing to take action to correct or remedy the unlawful conduct of defendant Ingram" and "a custom or practice of defendant District of Columbia of failing to properly train or supervise defendant Ingram." Pl.'s Am. Compl. P 21 see also PP 24-27. It details plaintiff's repeated complaints to prison officials, including the Lorton Administrator, and the lack of any response or action. Pl.'s Am. Compl. PP 16-21. Taking plaintiff's allegations as true, as the Court must on a motion to dismiss, plaintiff has alleged that prison officials were both "aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists. . ." and conscious of the risk of harm. Farmer v. Brennan, 114 S. Ct. at 1979, 1981.
The absence of proper supervision, training and discipline in such circumstances is objectively unreasonable and may demonstrate deliberate indifference. These facts, if proven, could sustain a finding of liability on the part of the District of Columbia. Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 103 L. Ed. 2d 412, 109 S. Ct. 1197 (1989); Haynesworth v. Miller, 820 F.2d at 1262-63. The Court concludes that plaintiff's allegations are sufficient to state a claim for relief against the District of Columbia.
C. Qualified Immunity
Officials like Sergeant Ingram are entitled to qualified immunity from civil damage claims for constitutional and statutory violations asserted against them in their personal capacity unless their conduct violates "clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. " Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396, 102 S. Ct. 2727 (1982). Under Harlow, this reasonableness determination requires an objective, not a subjective, analysis, McSurely v. McClellan, 225 U.S. App. D.C. 67, 697 F.2d 309, 316 (D.C. Cir. 1982), and the plaintiff has the burden of showing "a prima facie case of defendants' knowledge of impropriety, actual or constructive." Krohn v. United States, 742 F.2d 24, 31 (1st Cir. 1984); see Hunter v. District of Columbia, 943 F.2d at 75. Thus, under Harlow, subjective inquiries into the state of mind of the defendants are irrelevant; the only appropriate inquiry is whether on an objective analysis a reasonable person would conclude that a defendant's alleged actions violated clearly established law or were objectively unreasonable. Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526, 86 L. Ed. 2d 411, 105 S. Ct. 2806 (1985); Brogsdale v. Barry, 288 U.S. App. D.C. 311, 926 F.2d 1184 (D.C. Cir. 1991).
In this case, the Court concludes that plaintiff has met his prima facie burden of establishing that Sergeant Ingram is not entitled to immunity from plaintiff's claims against him in his individual capacity. The complaint alleges that Sergeant Ingram threatened, coerced and attempted to force an inmate to engage in sexual relations with him. The Court concludes that a trier of fact could conclude that any reasonable prison official would have known that to try to force an unwanted and prohibited sexual act on an inmate is objectively unreasonable and in violation of the inmate's rights. See Gullatte v. Potts, 654 F.2d 1007, 1014-15 (5th Cir. 1981); Women Prisoners of the District of Columbia Dep't of Corrections v. D.C., 877 F. Supp. 634, No. 93-2052, slip op. at 68-73. Sergeant Ingram is not entitled to qualified immunity.
Accordingly, upon full consideration of the papers filed by the parties and the arguments of counsel, and for the reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion, it is hereby
ORDERED that defendants' Motion To Dismiss Or, In The Alternative, For Summary Judgment is DENIED; and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that further proceedings in this action will be scheduled by separate order of the Court.
PAUL L. FRIEDMAN
United States District Judge