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Goodwin v. Woods

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Gainesville Division

March 3, 2015

NICHOLAS JOSEPH GOODWIN, Hall Cnty. ID #36865, Plaintiff,


J. CLAY FULLER, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, confined at the Hall County Detention Center ("HCDC") in Gainesville, Georgia, signed and filed his complaint in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action on January 5, 2015 (Doc. 1 at 5); received leave to proceed in forma pauperis (Docs. 2, 3); and paid the required initial partial filing fee (Docs. 7, 8; Unnumbered Docket Entry dated Feb. 13, 2015). This matter is now ready for an initial screening.

I. The Legal Framework

To state a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that a person acting under color of state law deprived him of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Richardson v. Johnson, 598 F.3d 734, 737 (11th Cir. 2010). Title 28 U.S.C. § 1915A requires a federal court to conduct an initial screening of a prisoner complaint seeking redress from a governmental entity, or from an officer or employee of such an entity, to determine whether the complaint (1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. A complaint is frivolous when it "has little or no chance of success"-for example, when it appears "from the face of the complaint that the factual allegations are clearly baseless[, ] the legal theories are indisputably meritless, " or "the defendant's absolute immunity justifies dismissal before service of process." Carroll v. Gross, 984 F.2d 392, 393 (11th Cir. 1993) (internal quotations omitted). A complaint must "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotations omitted). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice, " and "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives." Id. at 678-79. To be plausible, the complaint must contain "well-pleaded facts" that "permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct." Id. at 679.

II. Plaintiff's Causes Of Action

Plaintiff sues six HCDC officials: (1) Capt. Woods, (2) Lt. Sullivan, (3) Sgt. Lachner, (4) Deputy Cook, (5) Deputy Calderon and (6) Deputy Zelinski. (Doc. 1 at 1, 3). Plaintiff alleges the following. On December 21, 2004, after Deputy Calderon found tobacco in a trash can at the HCDC, Plaintiff was told that he was "kicked out of work release." ( Id. at 6). Plaintiff objected that he never saw proof of a violation and that the timing of the accusation was suspicious, coming as it did only three days after he had stated an "oral grievance... about Officer Cook involving sexual harassment/abuse on [Plaintiff] and other inmates during a frisk' search." ( Id. ). Plaintiff had presented this oral grievance to Officers Zelinski and Calderon, who apparently did not report it "as it was not included in their diary' from that day." ( Id. ).

Plaintiff alleges that from the time he was ordered into the work release program on September 3, 2014, his behavior was above reproach, until the December 21st "search." ( Id. at 7). After the discovery of the tobacco, he was placed in lock down for 8 days. ( Id. at 8). On December 29, 2014, he was brought to the office of Lt. Sullivan, the work release commander, and told that he would not be eligible for work release if he continued to press his grievance against Deputy Cook. ( Id. at 8-9). Plaintiff explained that "Cook was inappropriately touching [him] and went too far with how he made references to penis size (inmates present) and being asked to call him Big Daddy.'" ( Id. at 9). Although tempted by the prospect of returning to work release and being able to help support his children, Plaintiff ultimately decided not to abandon his "principals" and his grievance against Cook. ( Id. ).

Plaintiff also alleges discrimination because he must wait 30 days to re-apply for work release, along with "roughly 12" other inmates, whereas the son of a Gainesville judge, who "was caught red handed' smoking tobacco and removed from work release, " was allowed to return "within 48 hours." ( Id. at 9-10).

1. Retaliation For Complaining About Officer Cook

Plaintiff has a right to complain about the conditions of his confinement without fear of retaliation.

It is an established principle of constitutional law that an inmate is considered to be exercising his First Amendment right of freedom of speech when he complains to the prison's administrators about the conditions of his confinement. See, e.g., Farrow v. West, 320 F.3d 1235, 1248 (11th Cir. 2003). It is also established that an inmate may maintain a cause of action against prison administrators who retaliate against him for making such complaints. Id. To prevail, the inmate must establish these elements: (1) his speech was constitutionally protected; (2) the inmate suffered adverse action such that the administrator's allegedly retaliatory conduct would likely deter a person of ordinary firmness from engaging in such speech; and (3) there is a causal relationship between the retaliatory action and the protected speech. See Bennett v. Hendrix, 423 F.3d 1247, 1250, 1254 (11th Cir. 2005). Smith v. Mosley, 532 F.3d 1270, 1276 (11th Cir. 2008); see id. at 1276 n.15 (citing Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1112 (11th Cir. 2006), to the effect that the "First Amendment rights to free speech and to petition the government for a redress of grievances are violated when a prisoner is punished for filing a grievance concerning the conditions of his imprisonment").

Plaintiff has stated a plausible retaliation claim against Officer Calderon and Lt. Sullivan, but he has not alleged that any other named Defendant took any action in retaliation for the exercise of his First Amendment rights.

2. Sexual Abuse Or Harassment

Plaintiff's assertion, without more, that Deputy Cook's frisk search was actionable because it included "inappropriate touching" (Doc. 1 at 9) does not state a plausible § 1983 claim for relief. In Moton v. Walker, 545 Fed.Appx. 856 (11th Cir. 2013), the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment to a prison guard, Walker, who "conducted a visual body cavity search of Moton that required [Moton] to remove his clothing." Id. at 857. "Walker instructed Moton to bend at the waist, spread his buttocks, and cough, and he had to perform those actions three times. Moton allege[d] that the search was unjustified because Walker had a lewd, sadistic, malicious smile on his face' ...

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