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Johnson v. Forsyth Cnty. BD. of Comm'rs

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

April 14, 2015

RICKY J. JOHNSON, GDC ID #1124129, Plaintiff,


RICHARD W. STORY, District Judge.

Plaintiff has sued numerous Defendants on several claims, which he raises in his initial (Doc. 1) and supplemental (Doc. 7) complaints. The Magistrate Judge's Non-Final Report and Recommendation ("Report") (Doc. 8) recommends (1) allowing Plaintiff's three access-to-courts claims to proceed against the former and current Sheriffs of Forsyth County, Sheriffs Paxton and Piper, respectively; (2) allowing Plaintiff's medical deliberate indifference claim to proceed against Sheriff Piper and three other individual Defendants; (3) allowing Plaintiff's two retaliation claims to proceed against Sheriff Piper and six other individual Defendants; and (4) dismissing Plaintiff's conditions-of-confinement claim and the remaining Defendants. (Report at 27-28; see Doc. 6). Plaintiff objects. (Doc. 11). Plaintiff's motion for an extension of time to file his objections (Doc. 10) is GRANTED.

In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Rule 72 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court has conducted a de novo review of those portions of the Report to which Plaintiff objects, and has reviewed the remainder of the Report for plain error. See United States v. Slay, 714 F.2d 1093, 1095 (11th Cir. 1983).

I. Plaintiff's Objections

A. The Conditions of Confinement Claim

Plaintiff first objects that he has stated a plausible claim for relief regarding the conditions of his confinement in Maximum Isolation ("Max Iso") at the Forsyth County Detention Center ("FCDC") during a period of approximately three months. (Doc. 11 at 2-7). The Report summarizes Plaintiff's claim in this regard as follows:

Plaintiff alleges that he was subjected to inhumane conditions in the Max Iso unit, including lights that were on 24 hours per day; no recreation, sunlight or fresh air; and no access to puzzles, games or books that are available to inmates housed elsewhere. (Doc. 7 at 11). Plaintiff alleges that he spent over three months in Max Iso and now suffers from various ailments induced by his stay there, including insomnia, migraine headaches, a diminished ability to concentrate, claustrophobia and shortness of breath. (Id. ).... Plaintiff seeks to add Sheriff Piper, Capt. Smith, Lt. Fee and Sgt. Hughes as Defendants to this claim. (Id. at 16). (Report at 23-24). The Report finds that given the short duration of Plaintiff's Max Iso detention, the conditions there did "not amount to an extreme deprivation of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.'" (Id. at 25-26 (quoting Taylor v. Adams, 221 F.3d 1254, 1257 (11th Cir. 2000))).

Plaintiff argues that "[s]ome courts have held constant illumination unconstitutional." (Doc. 11 at 3). He asserts that his claim "involves high intensity lighting" in his Max Iso cell "for 24 hours per day for over three months, at over 150 watts." (Id. at 4). Although there do not appear to be any decisions in Plaintiff's favor in this Circuit, courts in other Circuits have deemed the issue that Plaintiff raises at least worthy of factual development beyond the frivolity review stage, and some have granted relief on such claims. See, e.g., Obama v. Burl, 477 Fed.Appx. 409, 411-12 (8th Cir. 2012) (reversing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A dismissal of plaintiff's claim that "the constant lighting in isolation caused [him] inability to sleep, emotional distress, and constant headaches"; remanding to district court for further consideration of the claim; and citing Keenan v. Hall, 83 F.3d 1083, 1090-91 (9th Cir. 1996), to the effect that there is "no legitimate penological justification for requiring inmates to suffer physical and psychological harm by living in constant illumination").

Plaintiff also argues that being "locked in a windowless cell approximately six feet by nine feet (a small bathroom) without being permitted to go outside for exercise or fresh air" for more than 90 days constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. (Doc. 11 at 5); see Delaney v. DeTella, 256 F.3d 679, 681, 683-84 (6th Cir. 2001) (affirming-because "exercise is no longer considered an optional form of recreation, but is instead a necessary requirement for physical and mental well-being"-denial of qualified immunity to prison guards on inmate's claim that "for just over 6 months... [he] was denied all out-of-cell exercise"; but noting that the length of time without the opportunity for exercise is critical in assessing the constitutionality of the denial).

Plaintiff's objections to the Report's recommendation to dismiss his conditions-of-confinement claim are well-taken, and that claim will be allowed to proceed with respect to the alleged constant illumination in his Max Iso cell and the alleged complete denial of opportunities for out-of-cell exercise for more than 90 days.

B. The Corporate Medical Defendants

Plaintiff next objects to the recommended dismissal of Correct Health and North Atlanta Surgical Associates ("Surgical Associates") with regard to his medical deliberate indifference claim. (Doc. 11 at 7-11). With respect to Surgical Associates, the Report states:

[A]lthough Plaintiff refers to Surgical Associates and/or its doctors as the "medical provider" for the FCDC (Doc. 7 at 3-5), he alleges specifically that Correct Health is the "contracted health care provider" at the FCDC (id. at 13). Plaintiff cannot have it both ways. The Court finds it implausible that the FCDC has two contracted health care providers. Without more specific evidence indicating that Surgical Associates is also a contracted health care provider for the FCDC, in addition to Correct Health, the Court reaches the reasonable conclusion that Surgical Associates is a private, not a state, actor under [42 U.S.C.] § 1983, and that from time to time it provides ...

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