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Jones v. Williams

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

July 16, 2018

ROBERT JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN DOUG WILLIAMS; and ERIC SMOKES, Defendants.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          R. STAN BAKER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, currently an inmate at Hays State Prison in Trion, Georgia, submitted an Amended Complaint in the above-captioned action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 contesting certain conditions of his confinement while he was housed at Smith State Prison in Glennville, Georgia. (Doc. 5.) While proceeding before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Plaintiff was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Docs. 6, 7.) Plaintiff also filed a Motion to Appoint Counsel. (Doc. 17.) For the reasons set forth below, I DENY Plaintiff's Motion to Appoint Counsel, and I RECOMMEND that the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages against Defendants in their official capacities and DENY Plaintiff leave to appeal in forma pauperis as to those claims. However, Plaintiff' arguably states colorable Eighth Amendment claims against Defendants, and those claims shall proceed. Accordingly, the Court DIRECTS the United States Marshal to serve Defendants Williams and Smokes with a copy of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint and Brief, (docs. 5, 16), and this Order.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff originally filed this action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, where he also submitted his Amended Complaint. (Docs. 1, 5.) After reviewing Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, the Northern District Court dismissed Defendant Gray Jorges and transferred Plaintiff's remaining claims against Defendants Williams and Smokes to the Statesboro Division of this District. (Docs. 8, 12, 13, 14.) In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff raises claims against Defendants Williams and Smokes that implicate the Eighth Amendment. (Doc. 5.) Plaintiff also filed a Brief in support of his Amended Complaint where he objected to the Northern District's findings and clarified and supplemented his contentions. (Doc. 16.)

         On July 15, 2016, while at Smith State Prison, Plaintiff notified counselor Picard that he was experiencing significant mental health problems. (Doc. 5, p. 3.) Counselor Picard, however, did not come back to see Plaintiff until three days later. (Id.) When Picard met with Plaintiff on July 18, she eventually had Plaintiff placed in a suicide cell. (Id. at p. 5.) While in the suicide watch cell, Plaintiff alleges Defendant Smokes came to inquire about Plaintiff's mental health and current status in the suicide cell. After listening to Plaintiff's issues, Defendant Smokes asked if Plaintiff wanted to back to general population, despite Plaintiff telling Defendant Smokes he had yet to see a doctor. Plaintiff replied yes, allegedly because Defendant Smokes “was not trying to understand what [he] was going through.” (Id.) That next day, on July 22, Plaintiff attempted to hang himself, but two officers and an inmate pulled him to safety. Plaintiff was taken to medical and then to Emory Hospital. (Id.)

         Defendant Williams came to visit Plaintiff at Emory. (Id. at p. 4.) While at the hospital, Defendant Williams allegedly took cell phone video of Plaintiff saying that he “was ok.” (Id.) Plaintiff further alleges Defendant Williams took this video to cover up a violation of Plaintiff's rights. Plaintiff avers he was then taken to Georgia State Prison where he was confined without clothes for two weeks before being taken to Hays State Prison on August 8, 2016. (Id.)

         Plaintiff asserts Defendant Williams and Smokes were deliberately indifferent to his serious mental health needs. (Doc. 16.) Plaintiff claims that Defendant Smokes acted with deliberate indifference because he let Plaintiff out of suicide watch without an evaluation from medical personnel. (Id. at p. 2.) Similarly, Plaintiff claims Defendant Williams acted with deliberate indifference because he did nothing while viewing video footage that showed Defendant Smokes transferring Plaintiff from suicide watch without a medical evaluation. (Id. at p. 5.) Plaintiff also claims Defendant Williams was aware Plaintiff went to the shower without supervision the day of his attempted suicide and that officers did not follow procedure in saving him. (Id.) As relief, Plaintiff requests nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages or a reduction in his sentence. (Doc. 5, p. 5; see also Doc. 17, p. 3.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Plaintiff brings this action in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Docs. 6, 7.) 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.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Motion to Appoint Counsel (Doc. 17)

         Plaintiff moves for the appointment of counsel. (Doc. 17.) Plaintiff, however, has no constitutional right to the appointment of counsel in this civil case. Wright v. Langford, 562 Fed.Appx. 769, 777 (11th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (citing Bass v. Perrin, 170 F.3d 1312, 1320 (11th Cir. 1999)). “Although a court may, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1), appoint counsel for an indigent plaintiff, it has broad discretion in making this decision, and should appoint counsel only in exceptional circumstances.” Wright, 562 Fed.Appx. at 777 (citing Bass, 170 F.3d at 1320). Appointment of counsel in a civil case is a “privilege that is justified only by exceptional circumstances, such as where the facts and legal issues are so novel or complex as to require the assistance of a trained practitioner.” Fowler v. Jones, 899 F.2d 1088, 1096 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Poole v. Lambert, 819 F.2d 1025, 1028 (11th Cir. 1987); Wahl v. McIver, 773 F.2d 1169, 1174 (11th Cir. 1985)). The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has explained that “the key” to assessing whether counsel should be appointed “is whether the pro se litigant needs help in presenting the essential merits of his or her position to the court. Where the facts and issues are simple, he or she usually will not need such help.” McDaniels v. Lee, 405 Fed.Appx. 456, 457 (11th Cir. 2010) (per curiam) (quoting Kilgo v. Ricks, 983 F.2d 189, 193 (11th Cir. 1993)).

         The Court has reviewed the record and pleadings in this case, and there are no “exceptional circumstances” warranting the appointment of counsel. While the Court understands that Plaintiff is incarcerated, this Court has repeatedly found that “prisoners do not receive special consideration notwithstanding the challenges of litigating a case while incarcerated.” Hampton v. Peeples, No. CV 614-104, 2015 WL 4112435, at *2 (S.D. Ga. July 7, 2015). “Indeed, the Eleventh Circuit has consistently upheld district courts' decisions to refuse appointment of counsel in 42 U.S.C. § 1983 actions similar to this case for want of exceptional circumstances.” Id. (citing Smith v. Warden, Hardee Corr. Inst., 597 Fed.Appx. 1027, 1030 (11th Cir. 2015) (per curiam); Wright, 562 Fed.Appx. at 777; Faulkner v. Monroe Cty. Sheriff's Dep't, 523 Fed.Appx. 696, 702 (11th Cir. 2013) (per curiam); McDaniels v. Lee, 405 Fed.Appx. 456, 457 (11th Cir. 2010) (per curiam); Sims v. Nguyen, 403 Fed.Appx. 410, 414 (11th Cir. 2010) (per curiam); Fowler, 899 F.2d at 1091, 1096; Wahl, 773 F.2d at 1174). This case is not so complex legally or factually to prevent Plaintiff from presenting “the essential merits of his position” to the Court. Thus, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion to Appoint Counsel.

         II. Dismissal of ...


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