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Marshall v. G.D.C.I. Food Service

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

April 30, 2019

G.D.C.I., FOOD SERVICE, et al., Defendants.



         In accordance with the Court's April 26, 2018 Order granting his Motion for Reconsideration, doc. 13, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to contest certain conditions of his confinement while he was incarcerated at Rogers State Prison in Reidsville, Georgia.[1] Doc. 16. Plaintiff also filed a Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. Doc. 3. For the following reasons, I GRANT Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. Doc. 3. I also RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's claims against the Georgia Department of Corrections, Supervisor Peterson, and Dr. Lewis for failure to state a claim. However, I find that Plaintiff has stated a colorable claim for deliberate indifference against Defendants Hall, White, and Tatum in their individual capacities and ORDER the United States Marshals Service to serve a copy of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint and this Order on Defendants Hall, White, and Tatum.


         In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts that, on the morning of December 22, 2015, while on work detail at Rogers State Prison, the cannery equipment with which Plaintiff was working malfunctioned.[2] Doc. 16 at 2-3. More specifically, Plaintiff alleges that his left hand was caught under a shroud which was not properly secured and that this permanently injured his hand. Id. at 2, 3, 14. Plaintiff alleges he wrote to Defendants Hall, White, and Tatum prior to the accident, notifying them that “the shroud was not properly secured as it should have been.” Id. at 3. Plaintiff also alleges that Dr. Sharon Lewis took an unreasonable amount of time to review his medical grievance and that this caused him to file the suit now before the Court. Id. at 2. In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff also names “Supervisor Peterson” and the Georgia Department of Corrections (“GDC”) as Defendants.[3] Id. at 5, 17. However, as to these Defendants, Plaintiff states only that GDC “has a duty of care under state law [to ensure the wellbeing of inmates under its control]” and that “Supervisor Peterson and the maintenance crew who . . . worked the morning of 12-22-15 did ‘pose' an unreasonable risk of serious damage to Plaintiffs future health and safety[.]” Id.


         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 or 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 § 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. . . .”) (emphasis omitted) (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. Claims Against the GDC

         Read liberally, Plaintiff alleges in his Amended Complaint that the GDC was negligent for failing to maintain canning equipment. Doc. 16 at 17. This allegation is insufficient to sustain a claim against the GDC. The GDC is an arm of the state and is immune from suit under § 1983 based on the Eleventh Amendment. See Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 67 (1989); Stevens v. Gay, 864 F.2d 113, 115 (11th Cir. 1989) (“The Eleventh Amendment bars this action against the Georgia Department of Corrections and Board of Corrections.”). “The Eleventh Amendment insulates a state from suit brought by individuals in federal court unless the state either consents to suit or waives its Eleventh Amendment immunity.” Stevens, 864 F.2d at 114 (citing Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98-100 (1984)). A lawsuit against a state agency or employee in its official capacity is no different from a suit against a state itself; such a defendant is immune. Will, 491 U.S. at 71. In enacting § 1983, Congress did not intend to abrogate “well-established immunities or defenses” under the common law or the Eleventh Amendment. Id. at 67. Arms or agencies of the state, such as the Department of Corrections, are therefore immune from suit. See Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978) (“There can be no doubt, however, that suit against the State and its Board of Corrections is barred by the Eleventh Amendment, unless [Georgia] has consented to the filing of such a suit.”); Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663 (1974). Accordingly, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's claims against the GDC.

         II. Deliberate Indifference Claims

         Plaintiff asserts deliberate indifference claims against Supervisor Peterson, Officers Hall and White, and Warden Tatum in their individual capacities.[4] “The Eighth Amendment prohibits deliberate indifference to an inmate's health or safety.” Smith v. Owens, 625 Fed.Appx. 924, 927 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Hope v. Pelzer, 539 U.S. 730, 737-38 (2002)). A plaintiff must plead more than mere negligence to state a claim for an Eighth Amendment violation. Smalls v. Berrios, Case No: 3:06cv95, 2007 WL 1827465 at *5 (N.D. Fla. June 25, 2007). A plaintiff must instead show: (1) an objective, serious risk of physical harm; (2) a subjective, deliberate indifference by defendant to that risk; (3) and causation. Id. at *4; Alexander v. Barefield, Case No: 5:06cv22, 2007 ...

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