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Cooper v. Dozier

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

February 2, 2018

GREGORY DOZIER, et al., Defendants.


          Charles H. Weigle, United States Magistrate Judge.

         In accordance with the Court's previous order, pro se Plaintiff Ernest Cooper, who is presently incarcerated at the Riverbend Correctional Facility in Milledgeville, Georgia, has filed an Amended Complaint seeking relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (ECF No. 9). For the following reasons, Plaintiff's medical deliberate indifference claims against Defendants GEO Group, Inc., Head, Bailey, Coleman, Young, and Harris may proceed for further factual development. It is RECOMMENDED, however, that Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Dozier be DISMISSED without prejudice.

         I. Preliminary Screening

         A. Standard of Review

         In accordance with the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), the district courts are obligated to conduct a preliminary screening of every complaint filed by a prisoner who seeks 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 IFP. Both statutes apply in this case, and the standard of review is the same. When conducting preliminary screening, the Court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint 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, like the one in this case, are “held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be liberally construed.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Still, the Court must dismiss a prisoner complaint if it “(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. §1915A(b).

         A claim is frivolous if it “lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Miller v. Donald, 541 F.3d 1091, 1100 (11th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court may dismiss claims that are based on “indisputably meritless legal” theories and “claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). A complaint fails to state a claim if it does not include “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)). The factual allegations in a complaint “must be enough 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). In other words, the complaint must allege enough facts “to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” supporting a 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.

         To state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that (1) an act or omission deprived him of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or a statute of the United States; and (2) the act or omission was committed by a person acting under color of state law. Hale v. Tallapoosa Cnty., 50 F.3d 1579, 1582 (11th Cir. 1995). If a litigant cannot satisfy these requirements or fails to provide factual allegations in support of his claim or claims, the complaint is subject to dismissal. See Chappell v. Rich, 340 F.3d 1279, 1282-84 (11th Cir. 2003).

         B. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff's claims arise from his treatment at the Riverbend Correctional Facility (“RCF”). Compl. 5, ECF No. 1. According to Plaintiff, on April 22, 2015, he informed the prison dental staff that he had an “active dental plan” and needed dental work done. Id. After waiting for his promised services for over a year, Plaintiff filed several grievances requesting care. Id. at 6. At that time, Plaintiff was informed that “the institution does not have a dentist” and that he “would have to get all of [his] teeth extracted if [he] wanted to have [his] mouth fixed with dentures.” Id. Plaintiff continued to complain about his lack of treatment, which by that point was causing him “severe pain and gum disease and bone disease.” Id. Ultimately, Plaintiff had to have several teeth extracted. Id.

         In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff names as Defendants (1) Gregory Dozier, the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections; (2) Frederick Head, the warden at RCF; (3) GEO Group, Inc., the contract medical provider at RCF; (4) Tammy Bailey, the medical director at RCF; (5) and Charles Coleman, Steve Young, and Audrey Harris, all of whom appear to have served as nursing directors at RCF during the relevant time period. Am. Compl. 1-7, ECF No. 9. Plaintiff contends that Defendants' failure to provide him with adequate dental care violated his constitutional rights, and he seeks injunctive relief and monetary damages as a result. Id. at 7.

         C. Plaintiff's Claims

         A prisoner who demonstrates that a prison official was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs can state a claim under the Eighth Amendment. Farrow v. West, 320 F.3d 1235, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003). “In certain circumstances, the need for dental care combined with the effects of not receiving it may give rise to a sufficiently serious medical need to show objectively a substantial risk of serious harm.” Id. at 1243-44. Plaintiff alleges that he had a “treatment plan . . . set up for dental care and treatment, ” that the services ordered in the treatment plan were not provided to him for a “prolonged period of time, ” and that he suffered “serious pain, ” bone and gum disease, and tooth loss as a result of the delay in treatment. Compl. 5, ECF No. 1. These allegations are sufficient to establish that Plaintiff had serious medical needs for purposes of preliminary screening. See, e.g., Farrow, 320 F.3d at 1243 (defining a serious medical need as one that has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring medical treatment); see also Mann v. Taser Int'l, 588 F.3d 1291, 1307 (11th Cir. 2009) (holding that a serious medical need may be “determined by whether a delay in treating the need worsens the condition”).

         Plaintiff must also allege facts sufficient to show that each Defendant was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Farrow, 320 F.3d at 1243. “To show that a prison official acted with deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, a plaintiff must satisfy both an objective and a subjective inquiry.” Id. A plaintiff must first “set forth evidence of an objectively serious medical need, ” and must also “prove that the prison official acted with an attitude of ‘deliberate indifference' to that serious medical need.” Id. In other words, prison officials must both “know of and then disregard an excessive risk to the prisoner.” Dunn v. Martin, 178 F. App'x 876, 877 (11th Cir. 2006) (per curiam).

         Plaintiff alleges that on multiple occasions, he communicated his need for treatment and his symptoms, which included “severe pain, ” to Defendants Bailey, Coleman, Young, and Harris. Am. Compl. 3-7, ECF No. 9. Plaintiff's allegations that these Defendants repeatedly ...

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