Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Fifth Circuit Reinstates Guard’s Lawsuit Claiming Other Guards Raped Her in Texas Prison

On November 18, 2021, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reinstated a suit filed by a former Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) guard alleging three other guards raped her at the Stiles Unit near Beaumont.

The former guard, Tiffany Carver, filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, alleging three fellow guards—Sgt. Roderick Atwood, Herman Smith, and Keith Watson—raped her at the prison in December 2017. The suit named TDCJ, the Stiles Unit, and the guards in their official capacities as defendants.

TDCJ then moved to dismiss the claims against it on the basis of sovereign immunity. The district court granted the motion and also dismissed the claims against the Stiles Unit, saying the prison lacked the capacity to be sued. But the guards failed to respond to summonses or defend themselves in any way, so the court’s clerk entered a default judgment against them. The court issued but then canceled an order to show cause why the judgment should not be granted, again citing sovereign immunity, and dismissed the claims with prejudice on January 21, 2021, without giving Carver any prior notice. See: Carver v. Atwood, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11879 (E.D. Tex.).

Carver appealed. Taking up the case, the Fifth Circuit agreed that a lawsuit against the guards was barred by sovereign immunity and that this deprived the district court of jurisdiction. Further, it could dismiss the case for that lack of jurisdiction. However, it could not dismiss with prejudice and without prior notice, robbing Carver of an opportunity to amend her complaint.

The Court held that, under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 15, 18(a), and 20, as well as its case law, Carver should have been given the opportunity to amend her complaint to, for instance, sue the defendants in their personal capacities. Further, Carver should have been given notice that the district court was considering dismissal and an opportunity to respond prior to that dismissal. Therefore, the court reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings. See: Carver v. Atwood, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 34297 (5th Cir.). 

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal cases

Carver v. Atwood

Carver v. Atwood