United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
MARC T. TREADWELL, District Judge.
Before the Court is the Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Stephen Hyles (Doc. 35) to grant Defendant Ann Tyndal's motion to dismiss (Doc. 27) the amended complaint (Doc. 13) because she is entitled to qualified immunity. The Plaintiff Allah Allah objected to the Recommendation. (Doc. 36). Having reviewed the Recommendation and the Plaintiff's objection, and having made a de novo determination of the portions of the Recommendation to which the Plaintiff objects, the Court REJECTS the Recommendation and DENIES the Defendant's motion to dismiss.
The claim against Tyndal arises out of events surrounding a broken continuous positive airway pressure ("CPAP") machine used by Allah to alleviate the problems and risks associated with his obstructive sleep apnea. Four years before Allah filed his complaint, a physician diagnosed Allah with obstructive sleep apnea and prescribed a CPAP machine to help him breathe while he sleeps. (Doc. 1-1 at 5). Without it, Allah "periodically stops breathing, chokes[, ] and gasps for air during sleep." (Doc. 13 at ¶ 47). Allah alleges his roommate told him he "appears to be choking in his sleep." (Doc. 1-1 at 5). Moreover, the machine allegedly prevents possible death by suffocation. (Doc. 13 at ¶¶ 59-60). However, the tubing for the face mask on his machine had deteriorated, so the machine no longer worked properly. (Doc. 13 at ¶ 46).
In September 2012, Allah met with Tyndal, whose job was to order medical parts and supplies prescribed by a physician. (Doc. 1-1 at 3, 7-8). Tyndal informed Allah his machine was outdated and the face mask and tubing needed to be replaced. (Doc. 13 at ¶ 49). She instructed him to bring his CPAP machine to her so that she could order replacement parts, and he complied. (Doc. 13 at ¶ 49). After the new parts arrived, Allah met with Tyndal again, but the parts did not fit his CPAP machine model. (Doc. 13 at ¶ 50). Tyndal said that a new machine would have to be ordered, and she would continue to search for replacement parts. (Docs. 13 at ¶ 52; 1-1 at 8). Several months went by, but Allah never heard from Tyndal again. (Doc. 1-1 at 8). Tyndal subsequently retired in late February 2013 at the latest. (Doc. 1-1 at 10).
In January 2013, five months after his initial appointment with Tyndal, Allah filed a grievance for the failure to provide him a working CPAP machine. (Doc. 13 at ¶ 54). During the grievance process, Allah alleges Tyndal "wrote a statement claiming [Allah] failed to bring his CPAP machine to medical - when laid in for sick call as requested - as a result no CPAP parts would be ordered for his machine." (Doc. 13 at ¶ 61). According to Allah, however, he complied with Tyndal's instructions to bring in the CPAP machine. (Doc. 13 at ¶ 49). Thus, he contends Tyndal knowingly lied to Warden Gramiak and otherwise "intentionally and maliciously engaged in acts via fraudulent statements to subvert and preclude [him] from receiving proper medical treatment." (Doc. 13 at ¶¶ 49, 61-62). His grievance was denied. (Doc. 13 at ¶ 62). No new CPAP parts were ordered until February when a Nurse Lovett reordered them. They arrived on February 27, 2013. (Doc. 1-1 at 9-10).
Allah asserted a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deliberate indifference to his medical needs. Allah named Tyndal, among other prison employees, as a defendant in her individual and official capacities. (Doc. 1-1). In his first Recommendation (Doc. 20), Magistrate Judge Hyles recommended dismissing all claims against Warden Gramiak and Deputy Warden Chaney and Allah's official capacity claim against Tyndal. Magistrate Judge Hyles recommended that Allah's claim against Tyndal in her individual capacity go forward. (Doc. 20 at 16). The Court adopted the Recommendation. (Doc. 25).
The pending motion to dismiss primarily argues that Allah's amended complaint fails to state a claim because Allah "fail[ed] to demonstrate that Defendant Tyndal was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs." (Doc. 27-1 at 6). The motion also raises Tyndal's qualified immunity defense, but just barely. Although the amended complaint states Tyndal was deliberately indifferent to Allah's serious medical needs and "proximately cause[d]" his inability to receive a working a CPAP machine, Tyndal does not identify, much less address, the alleged constitutional violation or whether it was clearly established. The motion simply states: "Plaintiff cannot show that the law regarding Defendant's alleged actions was clearly established such that her action would amount to a § 1983 violation." (Doc. 27-1 at 12). In his brief in response to the motion to dismiss, Allah argues, as he alleges in his complaint and amended complaint, that Tyndal's actions constituted deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs and cites to cases regarding deliberate indifference. (Doc. 31 at 4-5). Tyndal's reply brief, on the issue of qualified immunity, simply states she is entitled to qualified immunity because Allah failed to sufficiently allege she was deliberately indifferent. (Doc. 34 at 2).
The Recommendation now before the Court recommends granting Tyndal's motion to dismiss on qualified immunity grounds because "[t]here is no law, case law or otherwise, that establishes that a prison employee's false statements resulting in a grievance denial is unconstitutional." (Doc. 35 at 6).
A. Motion to Dismiss Standard
To avoid dismissal pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 697 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "At the motion to dismiss stage, all well-pleaded facts are accepted as true, and the reasonable inferences therefrom are construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Garfield v. NDC Health Corp., 466 F.3d 1255, 1261 (11th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). However, "where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not shown' - that the pleader is entitled to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. "[C]onclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal." Oxford Asset Mgmt., Ltd. v. Jaharis, 297 F.3d 1182, 1188 (11th Cir. 2002). Where there are dispositive issues of law, a court may dismiss a claim regardless of the alleged facts. Marshall Cnty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cnty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted).
B. Qualified Immunity Standard
"Qualified immunity offers complete protection for individual public officials performing discretionary functions insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Sherrod v. Johnson, 667 F.3d 1359, 1363 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). "Once discretionary authority is established, the burden then shifts to the plaintiff to show that qualified immunity should not apply.'" Edwards v. Shanley, 666 F.3d 1289, 1294 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Lewis v. City of W. Palm Beach, 561 F.3d 1288, 1291 (11th Cir. 2009)). To meet this burden, a plaintiff must establish that "the officer's conduct amounted to a constitutional violation" and "the right violated was clearly established' at the time of ...