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Bell v. Brown

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

August 11, 2017

SPENCER JERROD BELL, Plaintiff,
v.
FELISHA BROWN; FAYE CLIFTON; JANE DOE; JOHN DOE; EMANUEL COUNTY JAIL; EMANUEL COUNTY JAIL MEDICAL DEPARTMENT; MAC LAMB; WAYNE MCKENNY; MAC RINER; and SHERIFF TYSON STEVENS, Defendants.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          R. STAN BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, who is currently incarcerated at Central State Prison in Macon, Georgia, filed a cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 contesting certain conditions of his confinement while housed at Emanuel County Jail. Plaintiff also filed a Motion to Add a Defendant, (doc. 15). For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to Add a Defendant.[1] (Doc. 15.)

         In addition, the Court has conducted the requisite frivolity review of Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. For the reasons that follow, I RECOMMEND that the Court DISMISS: Plaintiff's official capacity claims against all Defendants; all claims against Emanuel County Jail and Emanuel County Jail Medical Department; and all claims against Defendants John Doe and Jane Doe. The Court should also DISMISS WITHOUT PREJUDICE Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference to medical needs claims pertaining to Plaintiff's gastrointestinal illness.

         However, Plaintiff has plausibly stated claims that Defendants Mac Lamb, Wayne McKenny, and Mac Riner used excessive force against him in violation of the Eighth Amendment. He also plausibly alleged that Defendants Felisha Brown, Faye Clifton, Lamb, Riner, and Sheriff Tyson Stevens violated his Eighth Amendment rights by disregarding his serious medical needs. These claims shall proceed. Consequently, the Court hereby ORDERS that the Amended Complaint, (doc. 18), and this Order be served on Defendants Brown, Clifton, Lamb, McKenny, Riner, and Stevens. 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.

         BACKGROUND[2]

         Plaintiff asserts he was assaulted by Emanuel County Jail staff and a “trustee inmate, ” Wayne McKenny, on September 13, 2016, and that Defendants subsequently ignored his medical needs arising from that assault. (Doc. 18.)

         Defendant Lamb threatened Plaintiff with a taser, kneed Plaintiff above his left eye, and “pressured” the right side of Plaintiff's face into the ground, all causing substantial swelling. (Id. at p. 1-2.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Mac Riner and Inmate Wayne McKenny participated in this assault. (Id.) Plaintiff states that McKenny forced Plaintiff's hands behind his back and forced his shoulder into the ground while handcuffing him. (Id.) Plaintiff avers he was also “handcuffed severely tight[ly]” and “thrown in a [ ] chair . . . in a room by [him]self” for no apparent reason. (Id. at p. 1.) As a result, Plaintiff lost sensation in his hands and his shoulders. (Id.) During the time in which he was handcuffed to the chair, Defendants Mac Lamb, Faye Clifton, Mac Riner, and Felisha Brown “peeped in [the room] occasionally laughing” while Plaintiff “cri[ed], yell[ed], and beg[ged] them to . . . loosen [the] cuffs” and take him to medical. (Id.)

         Shortly after the assault, Defendants Riner and Brown escorted Plaintiff to punitive segregation. During this escort, Plaintiff showed Riner and Brown his wounds and requested medical attention again. (Id.) Riner and Brown responded there was no medical staff at the jail and that they would not send him to an outside hospital. (Id.)

         Plaintiff was confined in punitive segregation from September 13, 2016 to September 15, 2016. (Id.) During this time, he asked for medical treatment for his “pain and wounds” several times but received no medical attention. Plaintiff asked for medical treatment multiple times, but Defendants Riner and Brown refused to provide him any medication and, instead, told Plaintiff to stop whining. (Id.) On September 13, 2016, Plaintiff asked an “Officer Chris” (whom Plaintiff has not named as a Defendant in this case) for ibuprofen, and Officer Chris stated that he could not give Plaintiff ibuprofen until he asked his supervisor. (Id.) Over the next two days in segregation, Plaintiff saw Officer Chris as well as Defendant Riner several times during their “routine rounds.” (Id.) While Officer Chris gave Plaintiff some ibuprofen, Defendant Riner refused to given Plaintiff any medical attention and told Plaintiff to stop whining. (Id.)

         On September 19, 2016, Plaintiff transitioned from punitive segregation to administrative segregation. (Id. at p. 2.) Following his move to administrative segregation, two inmates attacked Plaintiff.[3] (Id.) After this attack, Plaintiff saw Defendant Faye Clifton and told her that his feet were swollen, his wrists were badly wounded, and he still had no feeling in his hands. (Id.) Defendant Clifton told Plaintiff that he should not have been acting up, that a doctor was not present, and refused to provide him medical treatment. (Id.)

         On or around September 19, 2016, Plaintiff eventually saw a doctor at the jail. (Id.) Plaintiff showed the doctor injuries to his wrists, shoulders, feet, and knees and told her that he could not feel his hands. (Id.) He requested that the doctor examine his feet and give him an x-ray, but she responded that there was nothing she could do and that his nerves would come back. (Id.) The doctor then asked Plaintiff to step outside. Defendant Clifton was present during Plaintiff's trip to medical, and she “blurted out [‘]we not about [sic] to send you to an outside Doctor.[']” (Id.) After Plaintiff stepped outside, Defendant Clifton discussed his medical condition with the doctor, and eventually Defendant Clifton provided Plaintiff two Tylenol and two packs of antibiotic ointment. (Id.)

         Plaintiff maintains that there is not a “qualified person” to administer medicine and make medical decisions at the jail. (Id.) Instead, he states that the medical administrator, the Warden, and Sherriff Stevens maintain a policy of having “inadequately trained” jailers make decisions regarding inmates' medical needs. (Id.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Plaintiff seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1), the Court may authorize the filing of a civil lawsuit without the prepayment of fees if the plaintiff submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all of his assets and shows an inability to pay the filing fee and also includes a statement of the nature of the action which shows that he is entitled to redress. Even if the plaintiff proves indigence, the Court must dismiss the action if it is frivolous or malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(ii). Additionally, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review a complaint in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity. Upon such screening, the Court must dismiss a complaint, or any portion thereof, that is frivolous or malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted or which seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         When reviewing a Complaint on an application to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court is guided by the instructions for pleading contained in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 (“A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain [among other things] . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”); Fed.R.Civ.P. 10 (requiring that claims be set forth in numbered paragraphs, each limited to a single set of circumstances). Further, a claim is frivolous under Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) “if it is ‘without arguable merit either in law or fact.'” Napier v. Preslicka, 314 F.3d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting Bilal v. Driver, 251 F.3d 1346, 1349 (11th Cir. 2001)).

         Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Thompson v. Rundle, 393 F. App'x 675, 678 (11th Cir. 2010). Under that standard, this Court must determine whether the complaint contains “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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A plaintiff must assert “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not” suffice. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Section 1915 also “accords judges not only the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless.” Bilal, 251 F.3d at 1349 (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)).

         In its analysis, the Court will abide by the long-standing principle that the pleadings of unrepresented parties are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys and, therefore, must be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006) (“Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys.”) (emphasis omitted) (quoting Hughes v. Lott, 350 F.3d 1157, 1160 (11th Cir. 2003)). However, Plaintiff's unrepresented status will not excuse mistakes regarding procedural rules. McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) (“We have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel.”).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Motion to Add Defendant

         Plaintiff filed a Motion to Add Defendant, seeking to add excessive force claims against inmate Wayne McKenny. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), a party may amend a complaint “once as a matter of course at any time before a responsive pleading is served.” The Eleventh Circuit has made clear that the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) does not change this right to amend. Brown v. Johnson, 387 F.3d 1344, 1349 (11th Cir. 2004) (“We agree with the majority of circuits that the PLRA does not preclude the district court from granting a motion to amend.”). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2) further directs that “[t]he court should freely give leave [to amend pleadings] when justice so requires.”

         However, “[t]he policy of generously permitting amendments under Rule 15(a) primarily involves new theories of liability against existing Defendants. The decision of whether to allow a Plaintiff to join additional defendants is governed by a different standard. That decision is left to the discretion of the district court.” Anderson v. Tyus, No. 4:06-CV-4, 2008 WL 4525143, at *2 (N.D. Fla. 2008) (citing Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1215 (11th Cir. 1992)). In Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1215-16 (11th Cir. 1992), the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that the district court abused its discretion by denying plaintiff's motion to add a “John Doe” defendant when it was possible that discovery would reveal the identity of that defendant. However, the Court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff's motion to add a defendant when addition of the defendant would be futile under Rule 15(a). See id. (finding that district court did not abuse discretion in denying plaintiff's motion to add defendant when plaintiff's allegations against that defendant failed to state a claim); See also Lavender v. Kearney, 206 F. App'x 860, 865 (11th Cir. 2006) (same).

         Here, Plaintiff seeks to add another inmate as a Defendant. In order to state a claim for relief under Section 1983, a plaintiff must satisfy two elements. First, a 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 Cty., 50 F.3d 1579, 1582 (11th Cir. 1995). Second, a plaintiff must allege that the act or omission was committed by “a person acting under color of state law.” Id. The state-actor requirement traditionally precludes suit against a private party under Section 1983, because a private party may qualify as a state actor for Section 1983 purposes only in “rare circumstances.” Harvey v. Harvey, 949 F.2d 1127, 1130 (11th Cir. 1992). The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recognizes that a private entity may be liable as a “state actor” for a constitutional violation only in the following circumstances: (1) “the State has coerced or at least significantly encouraged the action alleged to violate the Constitution”; (2) “the private parties performed a public function that was traditionally the exclusive prerogative of the State”; or (3) “the State had so far ...


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