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Simmons v. Williams

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

April 29, 2015

ANTONIO SIMMONS, Plaintiff,
v.
STANLEY WILLIAMS, Warden; JAMES DEAL, Deputy Warden of Security; WAYNE JOHNSON, Deputy Warden of Care and Treatment; ERIC SMOKES, Unit Manager; JOHNNY DAVIS, Lieutenant; RONNIE BYNUM, Lieutenant and DHO; CURTIS WHITFIELD, Sergeant of CERT Team; ANTONIO ABALOS, C.O. II of CERT Team; JOHNATHAN SANTIAGO, C.O. II of CERT Team; ZECHARIAH JONES, C.O. II of CERT Team; GRIFFIN, C.O. II of CERT Team; and ANDREW MCFARLANE, Captain, Defendants.

ORDER and MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

R. STAN BAKER, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, who is currently housed at Smith State Prison in Glennville, Georgia, filed a cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, et seq., contesting certain conditions of his confinement. The undersigned has conducted an initial review of Plaintiff's Complaint as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned RECOMMENDS Plaintiff's official capacity claims against all Defendants, sexual abuse claims, stand-alone verbal threats claims, substantive due process claims, and deprivation of property claims, as well as his monetary damages claims pursuant to the RLUIPA against Defendants Whitfield, Santiago, Abalos, and Griffin, be DISMISSED. Plaintiff's request for the issuance of a preliminary injunction should be DENIED at this time. The Court ORDERS that a copy of Plaintiff's Complaint and this Order shall be served upon Defendants Bynum, Whitfield, Abalos, Santiago, Williams, Davis, Deal, Jones, McFarlane, Smokes, Griffin, and Johnson. The Court provides additional instructions to Plaintiff and Defendants pertaining to the future litigation of this action, which the parties are urged to read and follow.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

In any civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity, Section 1915A requires the Court to screen the complaint for cognizable claims before or as soon as possible after docketing. The court must dismiss the complaint or any portion of the complaint that is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary damages from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b)(1) & (2).

In conducting this initial review, the Court must ensure that a prisoner plaintiff has complied with the mandates of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 & 1915A. However, in determining compliance, the Court shall be 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. Dugger, 860 F.2d 1010, 1011 (11th Cir. 1988).

In addition, the Court is guided by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals' opinion in Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d 1483, 1490 (11th Cir. 1997). In Mitchell, the Eleventh Circuit interpreted the language contained in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), which is nearly identical to that contained in the screening provisions at Section 1915A(b). As the language of Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) closely tracks the language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court held that the same standards for determining whether to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) should be applied to the initial review of prisoner complaints under Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). Mitchell, 112 F.3d at 1490. While the court in Mitchell interpreted Section 1915(e), its interpretation guides this Court in applying the identical language of Section 1915A.

A dismissal pursuant to Section 1915A (b)(1) for failure to state a claim is governed by the same standards as dismissals for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007). To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, "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 quotation omitted). A plaintiff must assert "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not" suffice. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Because "[p]ro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys[, ]" they are liberally construed. Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006).

PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

Plaintiff asserts a broad spectrum of contentions in his Complaint. His far-ranging allegations include claims of excessive uses of force, violations of his religious rights, and retaliation for his exercise of free speech.

Plaintiff contends that he was subjected to two (2) instances of excessive force and violations of his First Amendment rights on April 12, 2013. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that Correctional Emergency Response Team ("CERT") officers, led by Defendants Whitfield and Santiago, ordered Plaintiff to take his clothes off and submit to a cavity search.[1] According to Plaintiff, this cavity search required him to take off his clothes, come to the tray flap, bend over at the waist, and spread his buttocks so officers could visually inspect the anal cavity. Plaintiff contends he and his cell mate informed Defendant Santiago that they could not be in the presence of another man while naked, as to do so is against their religious beliefs. (Doc. 1, p. 7.) Plaintiff alleges he and his cell mate requested that they be allowed another manner in which to comply with the order. Plaintiff maintains he made several pleas to the officers to allow him to comply with the directive without violating his religious beliefs.

Defendants Whitfield, Santiago, Abalos, and Griffin approached his cell once again, and Plaintiff states he and Defendant Whitfield were able to agree to a manner in which to have this search conducted. (Id. at p. 9.) Plaintiff alleges Defendant Whitfield dishonored this agreement, and Defendant Abalos sprayed him with mace, which caused him to suffer pain, suffering, and injuries. (Id. at p. 10.) According to Plaintiff, he did nothing to warrant being sprayed with mace. Plaintiff states that he was forced to stay in his cell, which was filled with mace, and he could not breathe and lost consciousness. Plaintiff also claims that when members of the CERT eventually came back to his cell, he informed Defendant Abalos that he needed medical attention. Plaintiff further contends Defendant Abalos once again instructed him to comply with the directive to submit to a strip search, and Plaintiff complied over objection and under the threat of more force.

Plaintiff alleges Defendants Williams, Deal, Johnson, McFarlane, and Smokes watched as these events were happening and did nothing. (Id. at p. 12.) Plaintiff avers he was taken to the showers, and the water was far too hot, which intensified the burning and pain from the mace spray. Plaintiff states he called to Defendant Williams while he was in the shower and told Defendant Williams he was in pain, yet Defendant Williams simply told him to comply with given orders next time. Plaintiff asserts Defendants Williams, Deal, and McFarlane knew he was in pain and in need of medical attention but did nothing to help him.

Plaintiff contends he was taken from the shower when one of the officers, who he believes to be Defendant Abalos, grabbed him "inappropriately on the buttock." (Id. at p. 13.) Plaintiff also avers Defendant Abalos dragged him to the medical unit using the "chicken wing" maneuver under the direction of Defendant Whitfield, which caused great pain and the dislocation of his shoulder. Plaintiff states he was dragged to the shower and to medical while exposing his "awrah"[2]-which Plaintiff describes as the area between his waist and knees- because he and his cell mate were only given one (1) pair of boxer shorts. (Id. at p. 12, 14.) Plaintiff alleges the medical staff provided no medical treatment whatsoever. (Id. at p. 15.) Plaintiff also claims Defendant Griffin videotaped everything that occurred in the medical unit until Defendant Whitfield directed him to turn off the camera. Plaintiff asserts Defendant Smokes noticed Plaintiff was "messed all up" because he did not follow orders, but Defendant Smokes did nothing to help him. (Id. at p. 14.) Plaintiff contends he was not allowed to clean or sanitize his cell for one to two weeks once he returned to it, even though everything in the cell was covered in mace spray.

Plaintiff says he was given a false disciplinary report later this same date based on failure to follow instructions. (Id. at p. 16.) Plaintiff also claims Defendant Abalos served the disciplinary report on him and reminded Plaintiff that he had been told to withdraw his grievances. Plaintiff states he and several other inmates called the Prison Rape Elimination Act ("PREA") hotline and reported the alleged sexual assault and misconduct by the officers. (Id.) Plaintiff asserts he filed a grievance about the events of April 12, 2013, on April 15, 2013. Plaintiff also asserts Defendant Johnson approached him two days later and threatened him with disciplinary reports and other measures because of the grievance he filed and for calling the PREA hotline. (Id. at p. 17.) Plaintiff alleges he received another false disciplinary report from Defendant Johnson. Plaintiff contends that, during the disciplinary hearings on these two disciplinary reports, he was denied his rights to call witnesses and to present evidence by Defendant Bynum.

Plaintiff alleges Defendant Bynum imposed severe and unconstitutional punishment on him, and this was done for the purposes of retaliation. Specifically, Plaintiff contends Defendant Bynum imposed the following sanctions against him: nine (9) months' outdoor recreation restriction, and 450 days' commissary, telephone, and package restrictions. According to Plaintiff, the sanctions he received "resulted in conditions of confinement that are much worse than what is normal for prisoners." (Id. at p. 19.) Plaintiff contends that the events of April 12, 2013, and the events resulting thereafter, were put into motion because he was falsely accused of being a member of a gang two months prior. (Id. at pp. 19-21.)

Plaintiff also sets forth events which allegedly occurred from June 13, 2013, through April 3, 2013. According to Plaintiff, these events occurred as a result of Defendants retaliating against him because he filed grievances. Specifically, Plaintiff claims Defendants Williams and Johnson approached him on June 14, 2013, and threatened him by stating the grievances he was filing had gotten him "in trouble", and Plaintiff should stop if he "knew what was best" for him. (Id. at p. 21.) Plaintiff states he was "harassed and threatened" by Defendants Abalos and Jones while he was in the intake area on June 19, 2013. Plaintiff also states Defendants Williams and Deal threatened him on July 5, 2013, based on the grievances and other paperwork Plaintiff had filed. According to Plaintiff, Defendants Williams and Smokes came to his cell and threatened him on July 30, 2013, and Defendant Williams told Plaintiff he would have the CERT officers (including Defendants Whitfield, Santiago, Abalos, Griffin, and Jones) hurt him and that he was trying to find a "justifiable" way to kill him. (Id.) Plaintiff maintains Defendant Williams directed Defendants Whitfield, Santiago, Abalos, Griffin, and Jones and other CERT members to make Plaintiff shave and to use force if necessary, even though Plaintiff informed them it was against his religious beliefs to shave. However, Plaintiff avers the CERT members were called away and did not return.

Plaintiff maintains he was threatened with several acts over the course of several months' time, yet these threatened acts did not occur. (Id. at pp. 22-25.) As an exception, Plaintiff states he was shaved or forced to shave, in violation of his religious beliefs. Plaintiff further contends Defendant Davis did a "shakedown" of his cell on November 4, 2013, and took some of his property. Plaintiff also contends Defendant Davis forced him to shave on this same date and "said something about the papers [he] filed." (Id. at p. 23.)

Plaintiff claims he was removed from his cell on February 6, 2013, and placed in a "hard cell" for no reason at all. According to Plaintiff, a hard cell is a "punishment cell[, ]" and his placement in this cell "is clear that it was done in retaliation[.]" (Id. at p. 24.) However, Plaintiff fails to allege who is responsible for this move.

Plaintiff names each Defendant in his individual and official capacity.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff's allegations implicate numerous theories of liability, and the undersigned addresses each of these in turn. This Court accepts Plaintiff's non-conclusory factual allegations as true, as it must at this stage.

I. Official Capacity Claims

To the extent Plaintiff brings claims against Defendants in their official capacities for monetary relief, his claims are due to be dismissed under the doctrine of Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. It is well established that the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution bars 42 U.S.C. § 1983 monetary damages claims against the state or an agency of the state. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984). A lawsuit against a correctional officer in his official capacity is no different from a suit against the government itself; such a defendant is immune. Smith v. Fla. Dep't of Corr., 318 F.App'x 726, 728 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Powell v. Barrett, 496 F.3d 1288, 1308 & n.27 (11th Cir. 2007)). Furthermore, Eleventh Amendment immunity also shields states and state officers in their official capacity from suit under the RLUIPA. Sossamon v. Texas, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 1651 (Apr. 20, 2011). Accordingly, Plaintiff's monetary damages claims against each Defendant in his official capacity should be dismissed.

II. Sexual Abuse

A. Underlying ...


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