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Dismissal of Failure to Protect Claim Reversed; No Showing Necessary to Survive Rule 12(b)(6) Dism

Dismissal of Failure to Protect Claim Reversed; No Showing Necessary to Survive Rule 12(b)(6) Dismissal

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court's dismissal of a civil committee's failure to protect and equal protection claims, for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

David Brown was a prisoner of the Illinois Sexually Violent Persons and Detention Facility (Facility), awaiting a civil commitment trial under the Illinois Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act.

On May 4, 2001, Brown, a Caucasian, was playing cards in an unsupervised day room when G.B., an African American prisoner who had attacked other Caucasian facility prisoners at other locations ... attacked and severely beat Brown several times in succession, causing Brown to suffer physical injuries.

Prior to the assault, Facility staff personally knew of G.B.'s propensity for violence and history of attacking Caucasian residents ... and were aware of a pattern of attacks by African-American residents in general against Caucasian residents at the Facility. Yet, they failed to take adequate measures to prevent such attacks from taking place.

Brown brought suit in federal court, alleging that Facility employees failed to protect him in violation of his due process rights by allowing [a] fellow resident with ... violent propensities to roam Facility common areas unsupervised. He also alleged that several Facility employees violated his right to equal protection by intentionally treating him and other Caucasian residents differently from similarly situated African American residents. But the district court dismissed both claims upon the Defendants' FRCP 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

Beginning with Brown's Failure to Protect Claim, the Seventh Circuit explained that since Brown was awaiting a civil commitment trial, but not yet convicted of a crime when the assault occurred, his status was comparable to that of a pretrial detainee. Therefore, his claim arose under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause rather than the Eighth Amendment. Even so, there is "little practical difference between the two standards," and
"claims brought under the Fourteenth Amendment are to be analyzed under the Eighth Amendment Test" set forth in Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994).

Applying this two-prong test, the appeals court found that having alleged ... exposure to a heightened risk of assault, posed by a specific individual with allegedly known violent propensities, Brown ... alleged sufficiently substantial risk to his safety. The appellate court then found that Brown's complaint, by asserting that the defendants "had knowledge" of G.B.'s violent propensities as evidenced by his alleged history of attacking Caucasians, sufficiently alleges that defendants were aware of an excessive risk posed to Brown. Additionally, Brown sufficiently alleged that defendants disregarded those risks, thereby sufficiently stating a failure to protect claim.

In reaching this result, the Seventh Circuit observed that the district court's findings misstate plaintiff's burden going forward... [T]o survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), he needed only allege ... And Brown has sufficiently alleged an equal protection violation.

Finally, the appeals court upheld the dismissal of Brown's claims against individual defendants for failure to train, because those claims may be maintained only against a municipality. It also upheld the dismissal of Brown's damages claims against the defendants in their official capacities. See: Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d 904 (7th Cir. 2005).

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