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Compton v. Perry

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Waycross Division

January 28, 2015



JAMES E. GRAHAM, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, who is currently incarcerated at Riverbend Correctional Facility in Milledgeville, Georgia (Doc. 4, p. 1), filed a cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2014) contesting certain conditions of his confinement while housed at Coffee Correctional Facility in Nicholls, Georgia (Doc. 1, pp. 1, 3). A prisoner proceeding in a civil action against officers or employees of government entities must comply with the mandates of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915, 1915A (2014). In determining compliance, the undersigned is guided by the longstanding principle that pro se pleadings are entitled to liberal construction. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Walker v. Duaaer, 860 F.2d 1010, 1011 (11th Cir. 1988).

Section 1915A requires a district court to screen a prisoner's complaint for cognizable claims before, or as soon as possible after, docketing. 28 U.S.0 § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint, or any portion thereof, that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary damages from a defendant who is immune. Id . § 191 5A(b).

Section 1915, which governs a prisoner's payment of filing fees, states that a court must dismiss an action that "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted." Id . § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). In Mitchell v. Farcass, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted the language in section 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). 112 F.3d 1483, 1490 (11th Cir. 1997). Noting that this language closely tracks the language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court held that the same standards for deciding whether to dismiss under that rule for failure to state a claim apply equally in evaluating prisoner complaints filed pursuant to section 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). Id . While the court in Mitchell interpreted section 1915, its interpretation guides this Court in applying the nearly identical language of the screening provisions in section 1915A.

Plaintiff contends that Dr. Tam ("Tam"), a dentist at Coffee Correctional Facility, diagnosed Plaintiff with periodontal disease and placed him on a cleaning list but, against prison policy, failed to provide Plaintiff with information and a prognosis for the future healing of his disease. (Doc. 1, pp. 9-10). Plaintiff asserts that he filed a grievance requesting treatment and medication and complaining of swollen and bleeding gums; "the formation of deep pockets between his teeth"; the loosening and shifting of his teeth; and severe halitosis. (Id. at p. 10). According to Plaintiff, his grievance was denied, without any examination of his condition, by Coffee Correctional Facility Clinical Supervisor Michael Giddens ("Giddens") and Warden Grady Perry ("Perry") and, on appeal, by Dr. Sharon Lewis ("Lewis"), Medical Director of the Georgia Department of Corrections. (Id. at pp. 10-11). Plaintiff filed the instant action naming Tam, Giddens, Perry, and Corrections Corporation of America ("CCA")-a private entity that owns and operates Coffee Correctional Facility-as Defendants individually and naming Lewis as a Defendant both individually and in her official capacity. (See id. at p. 1). Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to the Eighth Amendment for alleged deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. (Id. at p. 11).

A plaintiff must set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief." FED. R. Civ. P. 8(A)(2). While the plaintiff need not provide detailed factual allegations, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. labal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (1937) (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). To state a claim for relief under section 1983, the plaintiff must satisfy two elements. First, the plaintiff must allege that an act or omission deprived him "of some right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States." Hale v. Tallapoosa Cnty., 50 F.3d 1579, 1582 (11th Cir. 1995). Second, the plaintiff must allege that the act or omission was committed by "a person acting under color of state law." Id.

Plaintiff cannot sustain a claim against Defendant Lewis in her official capacity. A lawsuit against a state agency or a state officer in her official capacity is no different from a suit against a state itself; such a defendant is immune. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 67, 71 (1989) (finding that section 1983 does not abrogate well-established immunities under the Eleventh Amendment). Because the State of Georgia would be the real party in interest in a suit against Defendant Lewis in her official capacity as Medical Director of the Georgia Department of Corrections, the Eleventh Amendment immunizes this actor from suit. See Free v. Granger, 887 F.2d 1552, 1557 (11th Cir. 1989). Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Lewis in her official capacity should be DISMISSED for this reason.

Plaintiff also fails to state a claim against Defendant CCA. CCA is a private entity that contracts with the Georgia Department of Corrections to perform "a function traditionally within the exclusive prerogative of the state" and therefore is subject to suit under section 1983. Craig v. Floyd Cnty., Ga., 643 F.3d 1306, 1310 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Buckner v. Toro, 116 F.3d 450, 452 (11th Cir. 1997)). Liability in section 1983 actions, however, must be based on something more than a theory of respondeat superior. Braddy v. Fla. Dep't of Labor & Emp't Sec., 133 F.3d 797, 801 (11th Cir. 1998). A supervisor may be liable only "when the supervisor personally participates in the alleged constitutional violation or when there is a causal connection between the actions of the supervising official and the alleged constitutional deprivation." Id. at 802 (quoting Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 671 (11th Cir. 1990)). Specifically, to state a claim for relief against a supervisory defendant, a plaintiff must allege

(1) the supervisor's personal involvement in the violation of his constitutional rights, (2) the existence of a custom or policy that resulted in deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's constitutional rights, (3) facts supporting an inference that the supervisor directed the unlawful action or knowingly failed to prevent it, or (4) a history of widespread abuse that put the supervisor on notice of an alleged deprivation that he then failed to correct.

Barr v. Gee, 437 F.Appx. 865, 875 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing West v. Tillman, 496 F.3d 1321, 1328-29 (11th Cir. 2007)).

It appears that Plaintiff seeks to hold CCA liable based solely on the alleged actions of its employees, Defendants Tam, Giddens, and Perry; however, nothing in Plaintiff's Complaint indicates that CCA had any involvement in, or any custom or history resulting in, Plaintiff's inability to access the dental treatment that he seeks. In fact, Plaintiff alleges that the CCA employees' actions giving rise to his claims were taken in contravention of CCA policy regarding the treatment of periodontal disease. (Doc. 1, pp. 9-11). As a result, Plaintiff's Complaint fails to plausibly suggest that CCA could be held liable for any potential constitutional violation arising out of the actions of its employees in this case, and, accordingly, Plaintiff's claims against this Defendant should be DISMISSED.

Relevant to Plaintiff's claims against the remaining Defendants-Tam, Giddens, Perry, and Lewis, individually-the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment imposes upon prison officials a constitutional duty to take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety and health of prisoners. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832-33 (1994); see also U.S. Const. amend. VIII. This duty to safeguard forbids prison officials from demonstrating deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of inmates. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 832; see also Farrow v. West, 320 F.3d 1235, 1247 (11th Cir. 2003) (finding that a delay in treatment for a nonsevere dental condition constituted deliberate indifference, based on the plaintiff's "recognized need for... treatment, the nature of his continuing problems, the sheer length of the delay involved, and the lack of any reasonable explanation for the inordinate delay").

Plaintiff's allegations, when read in a light most favorable to the Plaintiff, arguably state colorable claims for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 1915A against Defendants Tam, Giddens, Perry, and Lewis for alleged violations of the Eighth Amendment. A copy of Plaintiff's Complaint and a copy of this Order shall be served upon Defendants Tam, Giddens, Perry, and Lewis by the United States Marshal without prepayment of cost. If any Defendant elects to file a Waiver of Reply, then he or she ...

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