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Wheeler v. Philbin

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

November 29, 2018

EDWARD PHILBIN, Warden; TOMMY TREMBLE, Deputy Warden of Security; and MICHAEL ALLEN, C.O. II, in their individual and official capacities, Defendants.



         Plaintiff, an inmate at Augusta State Medical Prison (“ASMP”) in Grovetown, Georgia, is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis (“IFP”) in this case filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Because he is proceeding IFP, Plaintiff's amended complaint must be screened to protect potential defendants. Phillips v. Mashburn, 746 F.2d 782, 785 (11th Cir. 1984); Al-Amin v. Donald, 165 Fed.Appx. 733, 736 (11th Cir. 2006).


         A. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff names as Defendants: (1) Edward Philbin, Warden; (2) Tommy Tremble, Deputy Warden of Security; and (3) Michael Allen, C.O. II. (Doc. no. 9, pp. 1-2.) Taking all of Plaintiff's allegations as true, as the Court must for purposes of the present screening, the facts are as follows.

         On March 28, 2018, Plaintiff was housed in the 12-A-1 lockdown unit at ASMP. (Id. at 2.) Officer Allen escorted Plaintiff to the showers during a routine shower call. (Id.) Officer Allen handcuffed Plaintiff behind his back and led Plaintiff out of his cell. (Id.) As they approached a nearby cell, two inmates without restraints unlawfully managed to get out of their cell and clearly had an intent to cause Plaintiff harm. (Id. at 3.) Officer Allen abandoned Plaintiff until backup arrived called in by another officer. (Id.) Officer Allen did not have a radio in his possession when the incident occurred. (Id.) Officer Allen also did not have a nightstick, taser, partner, or pepper spray to protect himself or Plaintiff. (Id.) The inmates punched, kicked, and beat Plaintiff with a combination lock. (Id.) Plaintiff was hospitalized as a result of the attack and received three staples on his head for his injuries. (Id.)

         Officer Allen was unprepared for the attack although a similar incident occurred before in the unit and a few times afterward. (Id.) Several prison guards and supervisors, including Warden Philbin and Deputy Warden Tremble, knew or should have known the locks on several doors in the unit were faulty and there was a substantial risk Plaintiff would be seriously harmed. (Id. at 3-4.) Officer Allen's decision to escort Plaintiff alone was a violation of Georgia Department of Corrections policy and could have resulted in Plaintiff being killed. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff seeks as relief the following: (1) declaratory relief; (2) $135, 000 in compensatory damages against Defendants, jointly and severally; (3) $50, 000 in punitive damages against each Defendant; (4) recovery of costs; and (5) any relief the Court deems just, proper, and equitable.

         B. DISCUSSION

         1. Legal Standard for Screening

         The amended complaint or any portion thereof may be dismissed if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or if it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune to such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b). A claim is frivolous if it “lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989). “Failure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard as dismissal for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).” Wilkerson v. H & S, Inc., 366 Fed.Appx. 49, 51 (11th Cir. 2010) (citing Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d 1483, 1490 (11th Cir. 1997)).

         To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the allegations in the amended complaint must “state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). That is, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. While Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure does not require detailed factual allegations, “it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. An amended complaint is insufficient if it “offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, '” or if it “tenders ‘naked assertions' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). In short, the amended complaint must provide a “‘plain statement' possess[ing] enough heft to ‘sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         Finally, the court affords a liberal construction to a pro se litigant's pleadings, holding them to a more lenient standard than those drafted by an attorney. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). However, this liberal construction does not mean that the court has a duty to re-write the complaint. Snow v. DirecTV, Inc., 450 F.3d 1314, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006).

         2. Defendants Philbin and Tremble Cannot Be Held Liable Based on a Theory of Supervisory Liability

         Plaintiff's amended complaint fails to state a claim against Defendants Philbin and Tremble because he is attempting to hold them liable merely in light of their supervisory positions. Therefore, he fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted against these Defendants. “Supervisory officials are not liable under § 1983 for the unconstitutional acts of their subordinates on the basis of respondeat superior or vicarious liability.” Hartley v. Parnell,193 F.3d 1263, 1269 (11th Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Rosa v. Fla. Dep't of Corr., 522 Fed.Appx. 710, 714 (11th Cir. 2013). Likewise, supervisors and employers cannot be sued under § 1983 simply on a theory of respondeat superior. See Kruger v. Jenne, 164 F.Supp.2d 1330, 1333-34 (S.D. Fla. ...

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