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Bascom v. Hall

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

July 16, 2018

HILTON HALL; and DR. ANDREW TAM, Defendants.



         Plaintiff, currently an inmate at Autry State Prison in Pelham, Georgia, submitted a Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 contesting certain conditions of his confinement while incarcerated at Coffee Correctional Facility in Nicholls, Georgia. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff also filed and was granted a Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. (Docs. 2, 4.) For the reasons set forth below, I RECOMMEND that the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's supervisory claims against Defendant Hilton Hall, and DENY Plaintiff leave to appeal in forma pauperis. However, Plaintiff's allegations arguably state a colorable Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference to serious medical needs claim against Defendant Tam and a colorable First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendant Hall; these claims shall proceed. Accordingly, the Court DIRECTS the United States Marshal to serve Defendants with a copy of Plaintiff's Complaint and this Order.


         On May 6, 2016, at approximately 2:30 p.m., Plaintiff was assaulted by another inmate at Coffee Correctional Facility in the Unit 4 dorm, breaking his jaw in two places. (Doc. 1, p. 5.) Plaintiff was not allowed medical care until the following day at 10:30 a.m., whereupon Defendant Dr. Andrew Tam diagnosed Plaintiff with a broken jaw and determined he would need outside surgery. (Id.) Plaintiff was taken to the Mayo Clinic in Waycross, Georgia, that same day, May 7, 2016, but did not have his jaw wired because there was no available oral surgeon. (Id. at p. 6.) Upon return to Coffee Correctional, Plaintiff was placed in the medical unit where he was not given any medication for several days as he awaited an available medical professional. On May 10, 2016, Dr. Mosely wired Plaintiff's jaw shut at an off-site facility. After surgery, Plaintiff was placed back in the medical unit, still without any medication for pain or swelling. Defendant Tam informed Plaintiff that he would need to remain in the medical unit for up to six weeks while he recovered, but on May 12, 2016, Defendant Tam discharged Plaintiff due to needed cell space. Plaintiff requested protective custody but was denied.

         On May 18, 2016, Plaintiff was again assaulted by numerous inmates in the Unit 4 dorm, breaking Plaintiff's jaw a second time. During this assault, Plaintiff was stabbed multiple times, had his knee dislocated, and his toe cut. Plaintiff was taken to medical where he remained for over three weeks until he could walk on his own. (Id.) Plaintiff was then placed in segregation where he filed a grievance regarding his medical care. (Id. at pp. 6-7.) Plaintiff's grievance allegedly caused a retaliatory transfer to another institution on June 17, 2016, before his jaw had sufficient time to heal. (Id.) The doctor at Plaintiff's new institution improperly removed the wires in Plaintiff's jaw and now Plaintiff suffers “excruciating” pain when he talks. (Id. at p. 7.) Plaintiff argues Defendant Tam violated his rights by discharging him from the medical unit before his jaw could heal and subjecting him to subsequent harm, despite Plaintiff's security classification and Defendant Tam's knowledge that Plaintiff needed more time to heal. (Id.) As relief for these alleged constitutional violations, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages and any other relief to which he is entitled. (Id. at p. 8.)


         Plaintiff brings this action in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Docs. 2, 4.) 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 Fed.Appx. 675, 678 (11th Cir. 2010) (per curiam). 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.”). The requisite review of Plaintiff's Complaint raises several doctrines of law, which the Court discusses as follows.


         I. Deliberate Indifference to Serious Medical Needs Claims

         The cruel and unusual punishment standard of the Eighth Amendment requires prison officials to “ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). In the medical care context, the standard for cruel and unusual punishment, embodied in the principles expressed in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976), is whether a prison official exhibits a deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of an inmate. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 828. However, “not every claim by a prisoner that he has not received adequate medical treatment states a violation of the Eighth Amendment.” Harris v. Thigpen, 941 F.2d 1495, 1505 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105). Rather, “an inmate must allege acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.” Hill v. DeKalb Reg'l Youth Det. Ctr., 40 F.3d 1176, 1186 (11th Cir. 1994).

         Thus, in order to prove a deliberate indifference to medical care claim, a prisoner must: (1) “satisfy the objective component by showing that [he] had a serious medical need”; (2) “satisfy the subjective component by showing that the prison official acted with deliberate indifference to [his] serious medical need”; and (3) “show that the injury was caused by the defendant's wrongful conduct.” Goebert v. Lee County, 510 F.3d 1312, 1326 (11th Cir. 2007). As to the first component, a medical need is serious if it “‘has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or [is] one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.'” Id. (quoting Hill, 40 F.3d at 1187). Under the second, subjective component, the Eleventh Circuit has consistently required that “a defendant know of and disregard an excessive risk to an inmate's health and safety.” Haney v. City of Cumming, 69 F.3d 1098, 1102 (11th Cir. 1995). Thus, the subjective component requires an inmate to prove: “(1) subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm; (2) disregard of that risk; (3) by conduct that is more than mere negligence.” Melton v. Abston, 841 F.3d 1207, 1223 (11th Cir. 2016).[2]

         “Conduct that is more than mere negligence includes: (1) grossly inadequate care; (2) a decision to take an easier but less efficacious course of treatment; and (3) medical care that is so cursory as to amount to no treatment at all.” Bingham v. Thomas, 654 F.3d 1171, 1176 (11th Cir. 2011). Additionally, a defendant who “delays necessary treatment for non-medical reasons” or “knowingly interfere[s] ...

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