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Dickerson v. Adams

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

May 3, 2018




         Plaintiff, who is currently housed at Autry State Prison in Pelham, Georgia, filed a Complaint, as amended, [2] pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 contesting certain conditions of his confinement while he was housed at Jenkins Correctional Facility in Millen, Georgia. (Doc. 6.) Plaintiff also filed a Motion for Appointment of Counsel and for a Copy of this Court's Local Rules, (doc. 29), and a Motion for Leave to Appeal in Forma Pauperis and a Motion to Appoint Counsel before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, (docs. 31, 32). For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Appointment of Counsel, GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for Copies, and DISMISSES as prematurely and improvidently filed Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Appeal in Forma Pauperis and additional Motion for Appointment of Counsel. I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Adams and Jordan and DENY Plaintiff in forma pauperis status on appeal as to those claims. However, Plaintiff arguably states colorable deliberate indifference claims against Nurse Peacock and two John Doe officers. Accordingly, the Court DIRECTS the United States Marshal to serve a copy of Plaintiff's Recast Complaint and this Order, as set forth herein.


         Plaintiff asserts he was placed in general population at Jenkins Correctional Facility on March 28, 2017, and, on this same day, two gang members tried “to extort” Plaintiff because he has to walk with a cane. (Doc. 6, p. 5.) Plaintiff contends he refused to pay these two gang members, so they “jumped” him, yet he was able to get away from them. However, the gang members were able to catch Plaintiff when he was in the front part of the dormitory, at which time they kicked him and stomped his back, causing trauma to Plaintiff's spine and making him defecate in his pants. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges Officer Jane Doe allowed him to wash himself off, and he told her he was in pain. (Id. at p. 7.) Plaintiff also alleges two John Doe officers handcuffed him and took his cane, despite their knowledge that Plaintiff walks with a cane, had been assaulted, and was in severe pain. These two officers took Plaintiff to the medical unit, and he told Nurse Peacock that he was in severe pain and needed to go to the hospital. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, Nurse Peacock denied the request to go to the hospital. Instead, Plaintiff asserts the two officers took him to segregation for sixty-four (64) days without medical care, and he was charged with assaulting an inmate as a result of the assault he endured. (Id. at p. 8.) Plaintiff contends he was forced to sit on the shower floor three times a week while in segregation, which caused a painful and bleeding rash on his buttocks. (Id.)

         On June 1, 2017, Plaintiff avers another John Doe officer and Officer Bennett, neither of whom was trained in medical transport, picked him up by his hand, even though these officers knew of his injury and inability to walk. (Id. at p. 9.) Additionally, Plaintiff maintains these transport officials were made to put him in a wheelchair, yet he was still transported in a non-handicapped accessible van, which was exhausting and painful. (Id.)

         Plaintiff contends that, when he arrived at Autry State Prison, an officer there made him get on his butt and pulled him off the transport van backward, causing Plaintiff pain. (Id. at pp. 9-10.) Plaintiff asserts he had an x-ray taken on June 21, 2017, which revealed his spine had been re-injured compared to an x-ray and MRI from 2013. Plaintiff alleges he is now confined to a wheelchair due to this assault and has constant pain in his spine and legs. (Id. at p. 10.)

         Plaintiff contends Defendant Robert Adams was deliberately indifferent to his “right to be subjected to a non-gang ran hostile [e]nvironment knowing [he] was a disabled inmate, which subjected Plaintiff to be the target of gang attacks[.]” (Id. at p. 12.) Plaintiff also contends Defendants Adams and Adam Jordan were “deliberate[ly] indifferent” to his “right to due-process” because Plaintiff was placed in unlawful segregation. (Id. at p. 13.) Plaintiff asserts Nurse Peacock and the two John Doe officers who escorted him to the medical unit after his assault were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs-Nurse Peacock because he denied Plaintiff any medical care and the two John Doe officers because they did not provide him with a wheelchair. (Id. at pp. 12-13.)


         Plaintiff seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis. 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, 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, 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).

         The Court looks to the instructions for pleading contained in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when reviewing a complaint on an application to proceed in forma pauperis. 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 Fed.Appx. 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. Plaintiff's Claims Against Defendants Adams and Jordan

         Section 1983 liability must be based on something more than a defendant's supervisory position or a theory of respondeat superior.[3] 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 Fed.Appx. 865, 875 (11th Cir. 2011).

         It appears Plaintiff seeks to hold Defendants Adams and Jordan[4] liable solely based on their supervisory positions as Warden and Deputy Warden at Jenkins Correctional Facility. However, Plaintiff fails to present any facts indicating there is a causal connection between any actions or inaction of these Defendants and the alleged violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights. He does not allege that these Defendants were personally involved in the conditions that he complains of or that the conditions resulted from some custom or policy these Defendants promulgated or maintained. Plaintiff also fails to plausibly allege that these Defendants directed the allegedly unlawful conditions or ignored a widespread history of abuse in this regard. In fact, Plaintiff fails to make any factual allegations against Defendants Adams and Jordan, let alone even conclusory allegations that these Defendants were aware of or were personally responsible for the alleged violations of Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Accordingly, the Court should DISMISS Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Adams and Jordan.

         II. Plaintiff's Failure to Protect Claim Against Defendant Adams

         Plaintiff's contention that Defendant Adams was deliberately indifferent to his placement in a dormitory with gang members implicates the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. That proscription imposes a constitutional duty upon prison officials to take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of prison inmates. Caldwell v. Warden, FCI Talladega, 748 F.3d 1090, 1099-100 (11th Cir. 2014). While “[p]rison officials have a duty . . . to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners[, i]t is not, however, every injury suffered by one prisoner at the hands of another that translates into a constitutional liability. . . .” Purcell ex rel. Estate of Morgan v. Toombs County, 400 F.3d 1313, 1319 (11th Cir. 2005) (ellipses in original) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833, 834 (1994)).

         To show an Eighth Amendment violation, a plaintiff must “allege facts sufficient to show ‘(1) a substantial risk of serious harm; (2) the defendants' deliberate indifference to that risk; and (3) causation.'” Lane v. Philbin, 835 F.3d 1302, 1307 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting Hale, 50 F.3d at 1582). The Court assesses the first element-a substantial risk of serious harm-under an objective standard. Caldwell, 748 F.3d at 1099. The objective component requires a plaintiff to show that the condition he complains of is sufficiently serious to violate the Eighth Amendment. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8 (1992); Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278, 1289-90 (11th Cir. 2004).

         The second element-the defendant's deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm-has three components: “(1) subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm; (2) disregard of that risk; (3) by conduct that is more than mere negligence.” Farrow v. West, 320 F.3d 1235, 1245 (11th Cir. 2003) (citing McElligott v. Foley, 182 F.3d 1248, 1255 (11th Cir. 1999)).[5] The “subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm” component requires a defendant to have “actual knowledge that an inmate faced a substantial risk of serious harm[.]” Caldwell, 748 F.3d at 1099.

         Thus, “[t]o be deliberately indifferent a prison official must know of and disregard ‘an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw that inference.'” Smith v. Reg'l Dir. of Fla. Dep't of Corr., 368 Fed.Appx. 9, 14 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Purcell, 400 F.3d at 1319-20). “[S]imple negligence is not actionable under § 1983, and a plaintiff must allege ‘a conscious or callous indifference to a prisoner's rights.'” Id. (quoting Williams v. Bennett, 689 F.2d 1370, 1380 (11th Cir. 1982)); see also Carter v. Galloway, 352 F.3d 1346, 1350 (11th Cir. 2003) (“[M]erely negligent failure to protect an inmate from attack does not justify liability under section 1983 . . . .”) (citations and internal quotations omitted).

         “[A]n excessive risk of inmate-on-inmate violence at a jail creates a substantial risk of serious harm.” Purcell, 400 F.3d at 1320. “A prisoner has a right . . . to be reasonably protected from constant threat of violence . . . from his fellow inmates.” Id. at 1320-21 (citing Woodhous v. Virginia, 487 F.2d 889, 890 (4th Cir. 1973)). However, prison officials are not held liable for every attack by one inmate upon another, Zatler v. Wainwright, 802 F.2d 397, 400 (11th Cir. 1986), nor are they guarantors of a prisoner's safety. Popham v. City of Talladega, 908 F.2d 1561, 1564 (11th Cir. 1990). Rather, a prison official must be faced with a known risk of injury that rises to the level of a “strong likelihood rather than a mere possibility” before his failure to protect an inmate can be said to constitute deliberate indifference. Brown v. Hughes, 894 F.2d 1533, 1537 (11th Cir. 1990). Thus, to state an Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim, a plaintiff must show that the defendant knew that Plaintiff faced a risk of injury and that risk was a strong likelihood.

         Plaintiff fails to allege that Defendant Adams knew Plaintiff faced a specific threat to his safety. Plaintiff only alleges that Defendant Adams was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's safety because Plaintiff is disabled, which subjected him to be the target of gang attacks. (Doc. 6, p. 12.) Plaintiff does not even allege that he informed Defendant Adams that he had been threatened with harm or that any specific person or persons posed a threat to his safety. By simply knowing that Plaintiff is disabled, Defendant Adams could not have known that Plaintiff faced a risk of injury, much less that the risk of injury was a strong likelihood. Moreover, Plaintiff has failed to plausibly allege that Defendant Adams drew such an inference. Consequently, Plaintiff has failed to meet both the objective and subjective prongs of a deliberate indifference to safety claim. See Proctor v. Georgia ex rel. Olens, No. 5:12-CV-342 HL, 2013 WL 3063527, at *8 (M.D. Ga. June 17, 2013) (“Nowhere in the first amended complaint does Plaintiff specifically allege that any particular ...

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