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Bright v. Wilcher

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

October 17, 2018

JOHN T. WILCHER, Sheriff, et al., Defendants.


         Proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, Michael Bright brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against various prison staff, contending that his Eighth Amendment rights have been violated. The Court, after screening his Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, ordered Bright to file an Amended Complaint to cure the deficiencies of his pleading. Bright complied, thus the Court screens his Amended Complaint.[1]

         I. Background[2]

         Bright asserts that Chatham County Jail staff have “knowingly and constantly kept[ ] [him] in both physical and mental harms way!” Doc. 8 at 1. He has been housed with “violent mental health inmates” and, as a result of this administrative decision, has been stabbed by one of his cellmates and bitten by another and “attacked” twice by gang members in his block. Id. He argues that, having only been charged with “stalking” (an offense he apparently considers to be non-violent), he has been incorrectly celled with violent offenders who pose an extreme and ongoing risk to his safety. Id. He also complains that the food is prepared in unsanitary conditions and the jail is overcrowded, with a constant population of 84 inmates in a facility built for 56 and three inmates regularly housed in a 9' x 12' cell made for two. Id. at 2.

         II. Analysis[3]

         As set forth in the Court's initial screening order, Bright names Sheriff John T. Wilcher, Chief Administrator Mr. Freesemann, Heads of “Classifs” Mr. O'Del, Ms. Miller, and Ms. Perry, as well as “All Senior Staff Members of Chatham County Jail” as defendants. Doc. 1; doc. 8. Aside from Sheriff Wilcher, who runs the jail in his official capacity, and “Ms. Perry, ” who enforces inmate assignment procedures (see doc. 8 at 2), Bright does not allege that any other defendant is responsible for, much less even tangentially involved with, setting or enforcing the celling practice at Chatham County Jail. Simply naming someone in a complaint does not state a plausible claim against them. Those other defendants should be DISMISSED.

         B. Eighth Amendment Violations

         Liberally construed, plaintiff's Amended Complaint waves at violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. To prove a claim for deliberate indifference to inhumane conditions under the Eighth Amendment, Bright bears the burden of showing that: (1) the challenged prison condition is extreme and poses an unreasonable risk of serious damage to his future health or safety (the objective component), and (2) the defendant knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to plaintiff's health or safety (the subjective component). Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004); Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). A prison condition does not violate the Eighth Amendment unless it involves “the wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain.” Chandler, 379 F.3d at 1289 (internal quotes omitted). Here, plaintiff has satisfied neither prong.

         i. Misclassification

         It is well established that “the Constitution does not require elaborate prisoner classification at the jail level.” Jones v. Diamond, 594 F.2d 997, 1016 (5th Cir. 1979), on reh'g, 636 F.2d 1364 (5th Cir. 1981); see also Moody v. Daggett, 429 U.S. 78, 88 n. 9 (1976) (the Due Process Clause is not implicated by prisoner classification and eligibility for rehabilitative programs, even where an inmates suffers “grievous loss” as a result). Indeed, “[n]ot having been convicted, pretrial detainees are all on the same footing and, in the absence of some special circumstance, are entitled to no different treatment than that accorded to others in the same class.” Jones, 594 F.2d at 1016. In other words, a pretrial detainee who faces felony charges (i.e., felony “stalking”), who is housed with other felony suspects, and who is attacked without warning by another pretrial detainee, fails to state a constitutional claim. Wiley v. Blanco, 2007 WL 1747019 at *5 (E.D. La. June 15, 2009); Yarbough v. Elrod, 1988 WL 58586 at *1 (N.D. Ill. May 31, 1988). Bright's claim, insofar as he alleges he was “misclassified” to the wrong celling unit, is dead in the water.

         And to the extent Bright alleges more -- namely, that he has been repeatedly attacked by the other prisoners in the violent felony unit -- he still fails to state a constitutional claim. “It is only when the officials fail to protect prisoners from homosexual attacks, personal violence, or unnecessary contact with the contagiously ill that the federal courts are warranted in entering the classification picture.” Jones, 594 F.2d at 1016. When prison officials become aware of a threat to an inmate's health and safety, the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment imposes a duty upon those officials to provide reasonable protection. Brown v. Hughes, 894 F.2d 1533, 1537 (11th Cir. 1990). “Merely negligent failure to protect an inmate from attack does not justify liability under section 1983, however.” Id. (citing Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S.344, 347-48 (1986)). The official's conduct must manifest “conscious or callous indifference to a prisoner's rights.” Zattler v. Wainwright, 802 F.2d 397, 400 (11th Cir. 1986). Prison officials are not held liable for every attack by one inmate upon another, Zattler, 802 F.2d at 400, 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, 894 F.2d at 1537.

         Here, the plaintiff has failed to offer any evidence that defendants Wilcher or Perry were aware that there was a strong likelihood that he would be assaulted if assigned to the “violent” classification. Nor has Bright even argued that such a strong likelihood would have been apparent to either defendant at the time of his confinement to Chatham County Jail. Moreover, while the plaintiff insists that defendant's classification decision was “incorrect, ” he has not shown that the classification decision was the result of anything more than mere negligence.[4] Indeed, his repeated complaints about Ms. Perry's “classification” decisions (which he contend are motivated in large part by her personal disdain for him) merely harp on her denial of his requests to be placed on “the waiting list for both the chaplains' program, and as a dog trainer, ” not his initial assignment to the “violent” offenders unit. Doc. 8 at 1-2.

         Even indulging the assumption that defendants intentionally misclassified Bright[5] in no way salvages his claim, for he has made no allegation that either Wilcher or Perry had any knowledge of a strong likelihood that plaintiff would be attacked if placed in his “violent” felony cell block. The Eighth Amendment, therefore, affords no basis for recovery against either for Bright's classification to the high-risk ward.

         ii. Food Preparation

         As to his culinary complaints, the Eighth Amendment is only concerned with “deprivations of essential food, medical care, or sanitation” or “other conditions intolerable for prison confinement.” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 348 (1981). When a prisoner's allegations concern quality or preparation of food, courts generally hold that the Constitution merely “requires that food be prepared in a manner that reasonably accords with sound sanitary procedures.” Kennibrew v. Russell, 578 F.Supp. 164, 168 (E.D. Tenn. 1983). Allegations of a single incident, or isolated incidents, of contamination are insufficient to state a claim. Hamm v. DeKalb Cnty., 774 F.2d 1567, 1575 (11th Cir. 1985). Rather, a plaintiff must show that unsanitary conditions “pose[d] an unreasonable risk of serious damage to his future health.” Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004) (internal quotes omitted); Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 ...

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