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Stafford v. Hamm

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

January 6, 2015

ZABRIEL ANTHONY STAFFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
Officer ASHLEY HAMM, Counselor HURT, Warden FREDERICK HEAD, and GEO CORPORATION, Defendants.

ORDER

HUGH LAWSON, District Judge.

Plaintiff ZABRIEL ANTHONY STAFFORD, a state prisoner confined at the Riverbend Correctional Facility in Milledgeville, Georgia, has filed a pro se civil rights complaint and was granted leave to proceed in this action in forma pauperis. [1] The Court has now conducted a preliminary review of both Plaintiff's Complaint and Amended Complaint, as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), and finds that Plaintiff's allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Plaintiff's Complaint is accordingly DISMISSED. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).

I. Standard of Review

Because Plaintiff is a prisoner "seeking redress from a governmental entity or [an] officer or employee of a governmental entity, " this Court is required to conduct a preliminary screening of his Complaint. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In so doing, the district court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true. Brown v. Johnson, 387 F.3d 1344, 1347 (11th Cir. 2004). Pro se pleadings, like the one in this case, are also "held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys" and must be "liberally construed" by the court. Tannenbaum v. United States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998).

A pro se pleading is, nonetheless, subject to dismissal prior to service if the court finds that the complaint, when construed liberally and viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). To state a claim, a complaint must include "enough factual matter (taken as true)" to "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests[.]" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). The plaintiff must also allege sufficient facts to "raise the right to relief above the speculative level" and create "a reasonable expectation" that discovery will reveal evidence necessary to prove a claim. See id. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

II. Plaintiff's Complaint

This action arises out of Plaintiff's confinement at the Riverbend Correctional Facility. In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he has been threatened by prison officials - specifically Officer Hamm and Counselor Hurt - and attacked by other inmates because he has HIV. Plaintiff, at some point in time, allegedly overheard other inmates tell officers and staff that prisoners "with aids do not have any business trying to take classes to go to a transitional center" and that "we kill niggers with Aids at state camps like Macon State Prison." Plaintiff also overhead, at some point, Officer Hamm and Counselor Hurt tell the inmates, "Y'all need to go ahead and kill him so that we won't have that problem here in J-Building[;] he doesn't belong here period." On July 19, 2014, Plaintiff was attacked by two inmates. Plaintiff further alleges that he has been "discriminated against, " because of his medical condition; that he is not allowed clippers, shaves, haircuts, or "certain details" due to his condition; and that he is now being "watched all the time" and threatened by both officers and other inmates.

Plaintiff thus filed the present lawsuit against Officer Hamm and Counselor Hurt. After reviewing Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 1), the United States Magistrate Judge found that the allegations and nature of Plaintiff claims were unclear; Plaintiff was accordingly directed to supplement his Complaint. An Amended Complaint (Doc. 8) has now been filed.

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint provides little clarification. It instead adds new defendants, Warden Fredrick Head and "Geo Corporation, " and makes allegations against them. Plaintiff specifically claims that, at some point in 2012, he complained about discriminatory treatment to an "audit member" for Geo Corporation and also told them that he "had been beaten up pursuant to a hit ordered by Officer Hamm and Counselor Hurt." Plaintiff also apparently filed grievances against the officers. The Amended Complaint then states that Plaintiff is bringing Eighth Amendment claims against Warden Head and Geo Corporation for "failure to protect."

A. Eighth Amendment Claims against Officer Hamm and Counselor Hurt

Based on the allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint, the Magistrate Judge presumed that he wished to bring Eighth Amendment claims against Officer Hamm and Counselor Hurt. "Numerous courts-including the Eleventh Circuit-have recognized that inciting other inmates to harm a prisoner... has the potential for great harm and may constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment." Jones v. St. Lawrence, No. CV408-095, 2008 WL 5142396, at *5 (S.D. Ga. Dec. 5, 2008). See Harmon v. Berry, 728 F.2d 1407, 1409 (11th Cir. 1984) (per curiam) (allegation that officer endangered prisoner's life by telling inmates he was a snitch, thereby exposing him to the possibility of inmate retaliation, is sufficient to survive preliminary review). In order to state a cognizable claim, however, a plaintiff must, at the very least, include "enough factual matter (taken as true)" to give the defendants "fair notice" of what his claims are and the grounds upon which they rest. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56. Plaintiff's pleadings fail to do that.

As discussed above, Plaintiff's original complaint contained only vague allegations against these defendants. Plaintiff claimed not to remember the "exact dates" of when the events occurred and made no attempt to specify when the inciting statements were made or to whom. This vague timeline is made even more unclear by those allegations contained in his Amended Complaint. Plaintiff now alleges that, at some point during or before 2012, he complained of being "beaten up pursuant to a hit ordered by Officer Hamm and Counselor Hurt." The Court is unable to discern whether this is a different event involving Hamm and Hurt or if Plaintiff is again referring to the officers' statement "to go ahead and kill" Plaintiff, as was pled in his original complaint. If the latter is correct, it would mean that Defendants' alleged statements were made as much as two years before Plaintiff's most recent injuries; in which case, Plaintiff has not shown a causal connection between his 2014 injury and the conduct of Defendants in or before 2012. If the former is correct, the Amended Complaint must be read as alleging that Defendants incited inmates to injure Plaintiff on more than one occasion. In that event, however, Plaintiff's claims fail to provide sufficient factual information about Defendants' conduct and Plaintiff's injuries to state a claim. It is simply unclear whether Plaintiff is attempting to bring claims against Defendants based on conduct occurring in 2012 or 2014 or both.

While Plaintiff may have been unable to specify the exact "date and time" of the events giving rise to his claims against these defendants, he should know in what year the alleged constitutional violations occurred. Plaintiff should also have been able to specify the factual basis for the claims being brought against Officer Hamm and Counselor Hurt. Yet, despite the Magistrate Judge's clear warning that his original complaint did not "provide sufficient information about the events and the time at which they occurred to link Defendants' alleged conduct to the actions giving rise to Plaintiff's injuries, " see Order, Oct. 29, 2014 (Doc. 5), Plaintiff failed to provide more specific allegations in his Amended Complaint.

The Court therefore finds that Plaintiff's allegations fail to provide Defendants "fair notice" of what his claims are and the grounds upon which they rest. Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Hamm and Hurt ...


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