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Rodriguez v. Bryson

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

January 25, 2018

Commissioner HOMER BRYSON, et al., Defendants.



         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(a) and 1915(e), United States Magistrate Judge Charles H. Weigle conducted a screening (Doc. 14) of Plaintiff Hjalmar Rodriguez, Jr.'s complaint (Doc. 1). The Magistrate Judge recommends the following claims be allowed to proceed for further factual development: (1) religious freedom claims against Defendants Bryson, Sellers, Chatman, Caldwell, Sutton, Martin, Bishop, Powell, and McCloud; (2) Eighth Amendment claims regarding contaminated food against Defendants Sutton, Martin, Chatman, and Caldwell; (3) Eighth Amendment claims regarding nutritionally inadequate meals against Defendants Bryson, Sellers, Chatman, Caldwell, Sutton, and Martin; (4) Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference to medical care claims regarding dental care against Defendants Adair, Gore, Burnside, Reid, Forts, Butts, Lewis, and Chatman; (5) Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference to medical care claims regarding Rodriguez's shoulder injury against Defendants Burnside, Bishop, Powell, and Williams; and (6) the retaliation claims against Defendant Burnside. Doc. 14 at 1-2. The Magistrate Judge recommended that the remainder of Rodriguez's claims be dismissed. Id. Rodriguez also moved for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order (Doc. 11), which the Magistrate Judge recommends should be denied. Doc. 14 at 2, 20-21.

         Rodriguez has objected to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation. Doc. 38. Additionally, Rodriguez has moved to amend his complaint (Doc. 39) and has filed an amended complaint (Doc. 39-1) in which he names new defendants and amends the claims that the Magistrate Judge recommends be dismissed. The Court GRANTS Rodriguez's motion to amend (Doc. 39). To the extent the Magistrate Judge recommends that Rodriguez's claims should proceed for further factual development, the Recommendation is ADOPTED. But to the extent the Magistrate Judge recommends that Rodriguez's claims should be dismissed, the Recommendation is REJECTED as moot in light of Rodriguez's amended complaint. As stated below, the Court has performed its own §§ 1915A(a) and 1915(e) screening of Rodriguez's amended complaint.

         I. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(a) AND1915(e) SCREENING

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, when a prisoner seeks redress from a government entity, official, or employee then the court must conduct a preliminary screening. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Similarly, a court must conduct a screening when a plaintiff proceeds in forma pauperis. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). Both statutes apply here. At the screening stage, a court must accept all of the plaintiff's factual allegations as true. Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006); Hughes v. Lott, 350 F.3d 1157, 1159-60 (11th Cir. 2003). Pro se pleadings are “held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be liberally construed.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). But a pro se complaint must still be dismissed if it: (1) is frivolous or malicious; (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (3) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         A frivolous claim is one that “lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Miller v. Donald, 541 F.3d 1091, 1100 (11th Cir. 2008) (quotation marks omitted). Courts may dismiss claims based on “indisputably meritless legal” theories and “whose factual contentions are clearly baseless.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). A complaint fails to state a claim if it lacks “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 complaint must state sufficient factual allegation “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and cannot “merely create[ ] a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (first alteration in original). Thus, the complaint must allege enough facts “to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” supporting the plaintiff's claim. Id. at 556. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Additionally, Rodriguez alleges claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and thus must allege that (1) he was deprived a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or a statute of the United States and (2) that the act or omission was committed by someone acting under color of state law. Hale v. Tallapoosa County, 50 F.3d 1579, 1582 (11th Cir. 1995). A complaint alleging claims under § 1983 is subject to dismissal if it fails to satisfy these requirements or fails to provide factual allegations in support of the claims stated therein.

         A. Eighth Amendment Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs Claims

         To state a claim for deliberate indifference to medial needs, a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to establish “(1) a serious medical need; (2) the defendants' deliberate indifference to that need; and (3) causation between that indifference and the plaintiff's injury.” Easley v. Dep't of Corr., 590 F. App'x 860, 868 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Townsend v. Jefferson Cty., 601 F.3d 1152, 1158 (11th Cir. 2010)). In addition, “[w]hen a lay person is accused of deliberate indifference, the plaintiff must present[ ] evidence that her situation was so obviously dire that [a lay person] must have known that a medical professional had grossly misjudged [the plaintiff's] condition.” Kuhne v. Florida Dep't of Corr., 618 Fed.Appx. 498, 507 (11th Cir. 2015) (citation and quotation marks omitted) (some alterations in original); see also Townsend, 601 F.3d at 1159.

         1. Claim against Dr. Bearing

         Rodriguez claims that Defendant Dr. Bearing, the dentist at the GDCP, failed to provide him with adequate medical care for his tooth injury. Doc. 39-1 ¶ 76-77. Defendant Bearing treated Rodriguez for a cracked tooth on February 9, 2016-28 days after Rodriguez's initial request for such an appointment. Id. ¶ 76. Rodriguez has not alleged any facts suggesting that Bearing was responsible for this delay and does not state that the care he received was inadequate. Rather, Rodriguez's complaint against Defendant Bearing is that, after treating Rodriguez and telling Rodriguez to inform prison officials if he experienced pain, Bearing did nothing to alleviate Rodriguez's expressed concerns that the prison officials were ignoring his requests for medical care and that they would not assist him in getting dental care in the future. Id. ¶ 77. But nothing in Rodriguez's allegations suggests that Bearing had any control over the actions of the prison officials that Rodriguez alleged ignored his complaints. As such, Rodriguez has failed to state a claim against Defendant Bearing, and this claim is DISMISSED without prejudice.

         2. Claims against Doe Defendants and Johnson

         In his original complaint, Rodriguez alleges claims against unidentified members of the prison's kitchen staff and unnamed dental assistants. Doc. 1 ¶ 15, 17. The Magistrate Judge recommended that these claims against Doe Defendants be dismissed because Rodriguez did not provide a sufficient description to identify the individuals involved to allow for service of process. Doc. 14 at 5. In his amended complaint, Rodriguez again alleges claims against unnamed members of the prison kitchen staff and unnamed members of the “Dental staff.” Doc. 39-1 ¶ 15, 17. And in his objection to the Recommendation he claims that his description of these individuals is sufficient to allow identification of those defendants for service. Doc. 38 at 2. The Court disagrees. Generally, “fictitious-party pleading is not permitted in federal court.” Richardson v. Johnson, 598 F.3d 734, 738 (11th Cir. 2010) (per curiam). However, such a claim may proceed if the plaintiff provides a sufficient description to allow for service of process. Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1215-16 (11th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). Here, Rodriguez's description of the unnamed kitchen staff members-“p.m. [and] a.m. shift”-and the unnamed dental staff members-those “responsible for making timely appointments for emergency situations”-is not specific enough to determine those individuals identify and allow for service. See Doc. 39-1 ¶ 15, 17. Accordingly, those claims are DISMISSED without prejudice. In his objection, Rodriguez also moves for a subpoena to determine the names of these unnamed defendants. Doc. 38 at 2. That motion is DENIED. Rodriguez will have the opportunity to conduct discovery, and if he is able to identify the relevant kitchen staff members through that process then he may move to amend his claims.

         Additionally, in his amended complaint, Rodriguez specifically names “Ms. Johnson Dental Assistant” as one of the unnamed dental assistants referenced in his original complaint. Doc. 39-1 ¶ 15. Rodriguez alleges that Johnson is somehow responsible for the alleged failure to provide medical treatment because of her role in Rodriguez's inability to get a dental appointment. Id. ¶ 15, 84. In his complaint, Rodriguez recites the general difficulty that prisoners have obtaining a dental appointment and the difficulty he particularly experienced. Id. ¶ 72, 75-77, 80-83. But Rodriguez does not allege that Johnson had any role causing the delay in prisoners receiving dental appointments. The only allegation against Johnson relates to an exchange she had with Rodriguez on May 3, 2016 when Rodriguez was brought to a medical appointment. Id. ¶ 84. Rodriguez alleges that he asked Johnson about the status of his dental appointment and that he was in pain and had been assured he would receive an appointment. Id. Johnson responded that Rodriguez was on the waiting list. Id. Rodriguez does allege that he told Johnson he was in pain but, from his allegations, she would not be expected to know that a medical professional had grossly misjudged Rodriguez's condition. Accordingly, Rodriguez's claim against Defendant Johnson is DISMISSED without prejudice.

         3. Claims against Fink and Maye

         Rodriguez claims that Defendants Fink and Maye, G.D.C.P. officers, were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs because they failed to assist him in procuring medical treatment despite Rodriguez's notifying them of his dental injury and pain. Doc. 39-1 ¶ 60-67. However, Rodriguez states in his amended complaint that both Defendants Fink and Maye, when first told of the dental injury, notified their superiors of Rodriguez's medical complaints. Id. Rodriguez also claims that both Fink and Maye, after initially notifying their superiors, failed to do so again in response to later complaints and failed to do anything beyond notifying their superiors. Id. First, the allegations do not show that Fink and Maye “must have known that a medical professional had grossly misjudged [Rodriguez's] injuries.” Kuhne, 618 F. ...

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