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McKenzie v. Anderson

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

February 5, 2018




         Plaintiff, currently housed at the Federal Correctional Institution in Pollock, Louisiana, filed a cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 contesting certain events that occurred while he was housed at the Bulloch County Jail in Statesboro, Georgia. (Doc. 1.) For the reasons set forth below, I RECOMMEND that the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages against Defendant Staten in his official capacity and all claims against Defendants Anderson, Oglesby, and Transform Health Care Rx. Additionally, the Court should DENY Plaintiff leave to appeal in forma pauperis as to his claims against Defendants Anderson, Oglesby, and Transform Health Care Rx. However, Plaintiff's allegations arguably state colorable claims for relief against Defendants Staten, Pope, and Nurse Jane Doe. Accordingly, the Court DIRECTS the United States Marshal to serve these Defendants with a copy of Plaintiff's Complaint and supporting Brief, (docs. 1, 2), and this Order.


         On June 12 and 13, 2015, Plaintiff was attacked by four other inmates at the Bulloch County Jail. (Doc. 2, p. 3.) As a result of this attack, Plaintiff suffered severe injuries to his “ribs, head, face, and to his left eye[, ]” and was taken to the emergency room at Statesboro Regional Hospital. (Id. at p. 4.) After treatment, the emergency room doctors determined that Plaintiff “required emergency corrective surgery to his left eye . . . .” (Id.) However, Plaintiff did not receive this corrective surgery until October 2015. (Id. at p. 5.) Due to the delay, Plaintiff “had to get his orbit re-broken when he receive[d] surgery” and ultimately “lost the mobility in his left eye and is suffering from drainage from that eye, ” continued pain, and loss of vision. (Id.)

         Plaintiff claims that Defendants Doe and Pope contributed to this delay by refusing to order surgery despite the hospital's recommendation and exacerbated his condition by providing inadequate treatment during the four-month delay. (Id. at pp. 7-9.) Plaintiff also contends that Defendant Staten contributed to the delay by withholding permission for the corrective surgery. (Id. at p. 9.)


         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, 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, 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 . . . .”) (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.”).


         I. Dismissal of Supervisory Liability Claims Against Defendant Anderson

         Section 1983 liability must be based on something more than a defendant's supervisory position or a theory of respondeat superior. Bryant v. Jones, 575 F.3d 1281, 1299 (11th Cir. 2009); Braddy v. Fla. Dep't of Labor & Emp't Sec., 133 F.3d 797, 801 (11th Cir. 1998). A supervisor may be liable only through personal participation in the alleged constitutional violation or when there is a causal connection between the supervisor's conduct and the alleged violations. Id. at 802. “To state a claim against a supervisory defendant, the plaintiff must allege (1) the supervisor's personal involvement in the violation of his constitutional rights, (2) the existence of a custom or policy that resulted in deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's constitutional rights, (3) facts supporting an inference that the supervisor directed the unlawful action or knowingly failed to prevent it, or (4) a history of widespread abuse that put the supervisor on notice of an alleged deprivation that he then failed to correct.” Barr v. Gee, 437 F. App'x 865, 875 (11th Cir. 2011).

         It appears that Plaintiff is only seeking to hold Defendant Anderson liable due to his position as Sheriff of the Bulloch County Sheriff's Department. Plaintiff fails to make any factual allegations that Defendant Anderson directly participated in or was otherwise causally connected to the alleged deprivation of his constitutional rights. Instead, Plaintiff only provides conclusory assertions that Defendant Anderson “abused [his] authority by depriving Plaintiff the proper medical treatment.” (Doc. 2, p. 9.) As set forth above, such conclusory allegations are an insufficient basis for Section 1983 liability. Thus, the Court should DISMISS Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Anderson.

         II. Dismissal of Claims against Defendant Transform Health Care Rx

         Plaintiff also names Transform Health Care Rx (“Transform Health”) as a Defendant, apparently due to its role as employer of several other named Defendants. Though Transform Health is a private entity, prison contractors are considered state actors. Therefore, Transform Health is subject to suit under Section 1983. See Farrow v. West, 320 F.3d 1235, 1239 n.3 (11th Cir. 2003); see also Ancata v. Prison Health Servs., 769 F.3d 700, 703 (11th Cir. 1985). However, as established above, supervisors, employers, and private contractors cannot be sued under Section 1983 simply on a theory of respondeat superior. Howell v. Evans, 922 F.2d 712, 724 (11th Cir. 1991), vacated pursuant to settlement, 931 F.2d 711 (11th Cir. 1991), reinstated by unpublished order (June 24, 1991) (determining plaintiff needed to establish more than respondeat superior to hold contracting medical services provider liable). “Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to § 1983 actions, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, violated the Constitution.” Rosa v. Fla. Dep't of Corr., 522 F. App'x 710, 714 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676) (internal quotations omitted).

         Therefore, to hold an employer such as Transform Health liable, Plaintiff must demonstrate that either: (1) Transform Health actually participated in the alleged constitutional violation; or (2) there is a causal connection between the actions of Transform Health and the alleged constitutional violation. See Hartley v. Parnell, 193 F.3d 1263, 1269 (11th Cir. 1999) (citing Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 671 (11th Cir. 1990)). Here, Plaintiff does not allege that Defendant Transform Health actually participated in any purported constitutional violation. Similarly, Plaintiff fails to allege a causal connection between Defendant Transform Health and the asserted constitutional violations. See Zatler v. Wainwright, 802 F.2d 397, 401 (11th Cir. 1986) (per curiam) (requiring an affirmative causal connection between a defendant and an alleged constitutional violation). Plaintiff does not allege that Transform Health implemented an improper custom or policy, directed its subordinates to act unlawfully, or knew they would act unlawfully and failed to stop them from doing so. Instead, Plaintiff simply states that Transform Health employed Defendants Pope and Doe and that four months later, he received surgery from another health care provider. (Doc. 2, p. 4.) Thus, Plaintiff has failed to allege any facts that would result in liability for Defendant Transform Health, and the Court should DISMISS Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Transform Health.

         III. Claims for Monetary Damages Against Defendant Staten in His Official Capacity

         The Eleventh Amendment bars Plaintiff's claims against Defendants in their official capacities. Traditional principles of state sovereignty and the Eleventh Amendment immunize states from private suits, and Section 1983 does not abrogate that immunity without the state's consent. Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 712-13 (1999), Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 67 (1989). Because a lawsuit against a state officer in his official capacity is “no different from a suit against the [s]tate itself, ” immunity also extends to the state officer. Id. at 71. Furthermore, it is well-settled law that sheriffs and members of the sheriff department acting in a law enforcement capacity are acting on behalf of the state. See Manders v. Lee, 338 F.3d 1304, 1308 (11th Cir. 2003); Grech v. Clayton Cty., 335 F.3d 1326, 1347 (11th Cir. 2003) (“[T]he sheriff acts on behalf of the State in his function as a law enforcement officer . . .”). As this Court has recognized:

Since Manders was decided in 2003, the relevant Georgia law remains essentially unchanged. Indeed, it is now ‘insurmountable' that Georgia sheriffs act as arms of the state-not as county officials . . . . In sum, Manders and its progeny dictate that where a sheriff and his deputies are performing their official and authorized duties as state actors . . . they are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from a § 1983 claim for money damages or other retrospective relief brought against them in their official capacities.

Frederick v. Brown, No. CV 113-176, 2015 WL 4756765, at *14 (S.D. Ga. Aug. 10, 2015) (internal citations omitted) (citing Manders, 338 F.3d at 132; Grech, 335 F.3d at 1332-40; Hall v. Fries, No. 7:13-CV-105 HL, 2014 WL 1389063, at *4-5 (M.D. Ga. Apr. 9, 2014); Scott v. Mercier, No. 5:06-CV-33, 2007 WL 2728440 (S.D. Ga. Sept. 14, 2007); and Lewis ...

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