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Jackson v. Georgia Department of Corrections

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

November 7, 2017




         This case is currently before the United States Magistrate Judge for preliminary screening as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Plaintiff Roderick Jackson, an inmate confined at Macon State Prison, filed the above-captioned proceeding seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff may proceed with his Eighth Amendment claims against Defendants McKenzie and McLaughlin as they relate to his confinement in administrative segregation. Plaintiff may also proceed with his First Amendment retaliation claims against Defendants McLaughlin and McKenzie. Plaintiff may also proceed with his Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) claims against all Defendants, but to the extent that he seeks monetary damages under RLUIPA, or to bring his RLUIPA claims against Defendants in their individual capacities, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's RLUIPA claims be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

         It is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's claims against Defendant McLaughlin based on respondeat superior be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJDUICE. It is RECOMMNEDED that Plaintiff's remaining Eighth Amendment claims-including those based on (1) a failure to train, (2) Plaintiff's initial transfer to Macon State Prison, and (3) Plaintiff's confinement in general population be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. It is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's conspiracy, defamation, and Fourteenth Amendment claims also be DIMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. It is further RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims against Defendant Georgia Department of Corrections be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.


         Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a complaint in the Superior Court of Macon County on August 29, 2016. Accompanying Plaintiff's complaint was a “Notice of Lawsuit and Request for Waiver of service of Summons” in which Plaintiff requested that Defendants waive service of process and obtain a copy of his complaint from the Macon Superior Court. See Notice, ECF No. 1-4 at 8. Defendants did not file a waiver of service, and Plaintiff filed a second document in which he requested the Macon County Superior Court “order default judgment.” Pl.'s Showing Documents Sent, ECF No. 1-4 at 14. The Superior Court of Macon County denied Plaintiff's motion for default judgment on June 23, 2017. See Order Denying Plaintiff's Motion, ECF No. 1-4 at 2. Defendants were then served on June 29, 2017. Sheriff's Entry of Service, ECF No. 1-2 at 2. Defendants filed an answer and a notice of removal on July 28, 2017. Defendants have paid the Court's $400.00 filing fee, and this case is now ripe for review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).

         II. Preliminary Review of Plaintiff's Complaint

         A. Standard for Preliminary Review

         Under the PLRA, the district courts are obligated to conduct a preliminary screening of every complaint filed by a prisoner seeking redress from a government entity, official, or employee. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Screening is also required, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), when the plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis (IFP). Only Section 1915A(a) is applicable here, but the standard of review is the same. See Thompson v. Hicks, 213 F. App'x 939, 942 (11th Cir. 2007) (Section 1915A “does not distinguish between in forma pauperis plaintiffs and plaintiffs who pay the filing fee, ” review is appropriate for both). When conducting a preliminary review, the district court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and make all inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Brown v. Johnson, 387 F.3d 1344, 1347 (11th Cir. 2004). Pro se pleadings are also “held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys, ” and a pro se complaint is thus “liberally construed.” Tannenbaum v. United States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998) (per curiam). However, the district court cannot allow a plaintiff to litigate frivolous, conclusory, or speculative claims. As part of the preliminary screening, the court shall dismiss a complaint, or any part thereof, prior to service, if it is apparent that the plaintiff's claims are frivolous or if his allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted - i.e., that the plaintiff is not entitled to relief based on the facts alleged. See § 1915A(b); § 1915(e).

         To state a viable claim, the complaint must include “enough factual matter” to “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests” and create “a reasonable expectation” that discovery will reveal evidence to prove the claim(s). Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). The claims cannot be speculative or based solely on beliefs or suspicions but must be supported by allegations of relevant and discoverable fact. Id. Thus, neither legal conclusions nor a recitation of legally relevant terms, standing alone, is sufficient to survive preliminary review. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009) (“labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements” of a cause of action is not enough). Claims without an arguable basis in law or fact will be dismissed as frivolous. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Bilal v. Driver, 251 F.3d 1346, 1349 (11th Cir. 2001) (claims frivolous if “clearly baseless” or “legal theories are indisputably meritless”).

         B. Background and Plaintiff's Claims

         Plaintiff complains that he is a “minimum security level inmate” inappropriately transferred to Macon State Prison, a “level 5 facility which houses a mixture of dangerous close security level inmates and dangerous medium security level inmates.” Compl. 6, ECF No. 1-1. Plaintiff states that being confined at Macon State Prison poses a likelihood of “imminent harm and substantial injury to Plaintiff's person.” Id. Plaintiff claims that after due to his transfer he is in constant fear of being hurt or killed and receives threats from other inmates. Id. at 9. He claims the constant fear and stress result in “severe sleep disorders in Plaintiff.” Plaintiff states that he is so deprived of sleep that he exists in a “zone of danger.” Plaintiffs appears to mean that he “could suddenly lose consciousness” while performing daily activities and injure himself. Id. at 10.

         According to Plaintiff, the officers at Macon State Prison are not trained to “deal with an individual who has mental health problems.” Id. at 15. Plaintiff claims that when he complained of the “zone of danger” at Macon State Prison, he was placed in disciplinary segregation. Plaintiff believes this was retaliatory. Plaintiff also alleges that his placement in administrative segregation amounts to a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights due to a risk that his mental health could deteriorate causing Plaintiff to require hospitalization.

         Finally, Plaintiff's religious beliefs prevent him from consuming meat. Accordingly, Plaintiff “continually requested that he be provided vegan meal trays.” Id. at 11. Plaintiff's requests were not honored, and Plaintiff claims he “suffer[ed] from extreme hunger, ” presumably as a result of foregoing meat based meals. According to Plaintiff, his hunger pressured him to modify his religious behavior and violate his religious beliefs as he “was forced against his religious beliefs” to eat meat. Id. at 12.

         Liberally construing the above allegations it appears that Plaintiff seeks to bring Eighth Amendment claims based on (1) his transfer to a high security prison, (2) deficiencies in the training of Macon State prison personnel, (3) his placement in segregation, and (4) his failure to received appropriate mental health treatment as well as First Amendment retaliation claims based on his placement in segregation, a RLUIPA claim based on his religious diet; and a Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claim. Plaintiff has also referenced defamation and conspiracy as claims in this action.

         1. Eighth Amendment Claims

         The Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment circumscribes “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” Thomas v. Bryant, 614 F.3d 1288, 1303 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 5 (1992)). The Eleventh Circuit recognizes “three distinct Eighth Amendment claims available to plaintiff inmates alleging cruel and unusual punishment, each of which requires a different showing to establish a constitutional violation.” Id. (citing Danley v. Allen, 540 F.3d 1298, 1306 (11th Cir. 2008)). Eighth Amendment prisoner claims may include those challenging conditions of confinement, excessive use of force, and deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious medical needs. Id. Here, Plaintiff raises Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement claims which has both an objective and subjective component.

         To satisfy the objective component, a prisoner must show that the conditions are extreme and pose an unreasonable risk of serious damage to an inmate's future health or safety. Helling v. McKinney 509 U.S. 25, 35 (1993). The Eighth Amendment guarantees only that an inmate will not be “deprive[d] . . . of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.” Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). To satisfy the subjective component, a prisoner must show that the defendant acted with deliberate indifference, by showing the defendant knew of, and disregarded, an excessive risk to inmate health and safety. McElligott v. Foley, 182 F.3d 1248, 1255 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994)).

         a. Defendant Georgia Department of Corrections

         Plaintiff seeks to hold the Georgia Department of Corrections liable for his transfer and the deficient training of Macon State Prison guards. Plaintiff first complains that he was inappropriately transferred from a minimum security prison to Macon State Prison, a “level 5 facility, ” which houses medium security and close security inmates. Plaintiff claims the transfer was made by prison officials “while knowing the likelihood of imminent harm and substantial injury” Plaintiff would face as a result of the transfer. According to Plaintiff, the injury he faced was exacerbated by his mental health condition. Plaintiff further alleges that while he was housed at Macon State Prison, he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. However, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

         The Constitution does not “guarantee that the convicted prisoner will be placed in any particular prison.” Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 223 (1976). Rather, “[i]t is plain that the transfer of an inmate to less amenable and more restrictive quarters for non-punitive reasons is well within the terms of confinement ordinarily contemplated by a prison sentence.” Al-Amin v. Donald, 165 F. App'x 733, 738-39 (11th Cir. 2006) (per curiam) (alteration in original) (quoting Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 468 (1983)). Plaintiff argues that his transfer rises to the level of deliberate indifference because of his mental illness. Plaintiff, however, has not explained the nature of his mental illness or how his condition would put him at risk in general population confinement. Plaintiff also has not alleged that his mental health condition is such ...

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