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Harris v. Allen

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

May 3, 2019

WALTER HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN MARTY ALLEN, Defendant.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BENJAMIN W. CHEESBRO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 while incarcerated at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, Georgia, to challenge certain conditions of his confinement. Doc. 1. After the requisite frivolity review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages against Defendant Allen in his official capacity. However, the Court FINDS Plaintiff sets forth a non-frivolous Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Allen. Consequently, a copy of Plaintiff's Complaint, doc. 1, and a copy of this Order shall be served upon Defendant Allen by the United States Marshal without prepayment of cost.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff's allegations arise from a routine inspection of the F-2 dormitory unit on October 11, 2017. Doc. 1 at 6. Because all inmates are required to stand at attention by their assigned cells during dormitory inspections, “the entire dormitory of prisoners can hear every word” when prison staff addresses an inmate. Id. Plaintiff alleges that during a dormitory inspection on October 11, 2017, Defendant Allen approached him and said, “I see that you have your goat-tee [sic] all shaped up for your boyfriends.” Id. Other inmates overheard this statement, and, due to the statements, Plaintiff became the target of several verbal and physical assaults from various, unnamed inmates. Id. at 6-7. Plaintiff alleges that he “ha[s] been in[] two fights because of what the warden said.” Id. at 14.

         Plaintiff also states that the October 11, 2017 incident was “not the first time” Defendant “made statements about [Plaintiff's] sexual preferences” and that Defendant “continues to make [him] feel extremely uncomfortable when [Defendant] confronts him concerning [his] sexual orientation.” Id. at 10. The prison Sexual Abuse Response Team (“SART”) investigated Plaintiff's claims and “could neither prove nor disprove” his allegations. Id. at 5.

         Plaintiff brings an Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Allen in his individual and official capacities. Id. at 1. As relief, Plaintiff requests a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, payment for future medical expenses, and $500, 000 in punitive damages. Id. at 9.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Plaintiff is bringing 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, malicious, or if it 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, 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).

         The Court looks to the instructions for pleadings 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 § 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.”).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Dismissal of Official Capacity Claims

         Plaintiff cannot sustain a § 1983 claim against Defendant Allen in his official capacity. States are immune from private suits pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment and traditional principles of state sovereignty. Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 712-13 (1999). Section 1983 does not abrogate the well-established immunities of a state from suit without its consent. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 67 (1989). Because a lawsuit against a state officer in his official capacity is “no different from a suit against the [s]tate itself, ” such a defendant is immune from suit under § 1983. Id. at 71. Here, the State of Georgia would be the real party in interest in a suit against Defendant Allen in his official capacity. Accordingly, the Eleventh Amendment immunizes Defendant Allen from suits for monetary damages brought against him in in his official capacity. See Thomas v. U.S. Postal Serv., 364 Fed.Appx. 600, 601 (11th Cir. 2010); Carey v. Free, 272 Fed.Appx. 875, 876 (11th Cir. 2008) (“State defendants sued in their official capacity for monetary damages under § 1983 are immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment.”); Free v. ...


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