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Hayward v. Doe

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

August 29, 2019



          Christopher L. Ray United States Magistrate Judge

         Dante Benjamin Hayward, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Complaint against three unidentified individuals ("John Does 1-3") and an unidentified stun gun manufacture ("Taser Company"). Doc. 1. The Court granted Hayward's Motion for Leave to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP), doc. 4, and he has provided all requested documentation, docs. 5 & 6. The Court now screens the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.[1]


         In April 2017, while imprisoned in the Effingham County Jail, Hayward overheard an altercation in which an inmate was ejected from his cell by fellow inmates for being a "child molester." Doc. 1 at 5. Shortly thereafter, two prison officials, one identified as "Cpl Vaulhoutine," instructed Hayward to collect his belongings and relocate to the cell from which the other inmate was ejected. Id. Hayward objected to the transfer, claiming to "fear for [his] life." Id. The officials then threatened Hayward with a stun gun. Id. He did not resist but was pushed against the wall and shot in the leg. Id. Despite falling to the floor, he continued to receive a constant shock from the stun gun until the "wire on the taser [] [b]urst into pieces." Id. at 6. The prison officials later "snatched" the prongs of the stun gun from Hayward's leg, resulting in bleeding. Id. Following the incident, he was not provided with medical attention and was placed in the cell which he believed to be unsafe. Id. at 6-7. He seeks unspecified punitive damages, presumably against the involved prison officials, and unspecified compensatory damages against the manufacturer of the stun gun. Id. at 8.


         I. "John Doe 3" and the "Taser Company"

         Despite Hayward's assertion that his claim is against three anonymous defendants, the Court can identify only two individual defendants in the narrative of Hayward's Complaint: the official identified as "Cpl. Vaulhoutine" ("John Doe 1") and the official responsible for discharging the stun gun ("John Doe T)[2]In the absence of any factual allegations implicating any third anonymous defendant, any claims against said defendant should be DISMISSED.

         As to the "Taser Company," it is unclear whether Hayward refers to the manufacture of the TASER brand of electrical weapons or another company that might have produced the specific device used in the alleged incident. Regardless, Hayward has not articulated a cognizable claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against this Defendant. Section 1983 requires the deprivation of "rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws" by a person or entity acting under the color of law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To show that a private party meets the high standard for being considered a state-actor for purposes of § 1983, a plaintiff must show that the party (1) performed a public function; (2) was coerced or encouraged by the government; or (3) was interdependent with the government and participated in a joint action. Harvey v. Harvey, 949 F.2d 1127, 1130 (11th Cir. 1992). Nothing in the Complaint even suggests that the "Taser Company" performed a public function, was coerced or encouraged by the government, or participated in a joint action. As a result, no § 1983 claim is cognizable.

         Assuming then that Hayward seeks to bring state-law claims against the company, these claims too should be dismissed.[3] To the extent that the claim against the Company is intelligible, it seems most plausibly construed as a products liability claims under Georgia Code § 51-1-11(b)(1). To establish a products liability claim, a plaintiff must show that he "suffered injury to his person or property because the property when sold by the manufacturer was not merchantable and reasonably suited to the use intended, and its condition when sold is the proximate cause of the injury sustained." O.C.G.A. § 51-1-11(b)(1). Nothing in Hayward's Complaint even suggests that the stun gun used was not merchantable and reasonably suited for its intended use at the time of sale-the relevant point of consideration for a products liability claim. As Hayward has failed to plead facts sufficient for a products liability claim under Georgia law, and because the "Taser Company" is not a state actor, he has not stated a claim against it upon which relief can be granted. Any such claim should, therefore, be DISMISSED.

         II. John Does 1 and 2

         Regarding John Doe 1 and John Doe 2, the Court construes Hayward's complaint to allege the excessive use of force, failure to protect and denial of adequate medical care in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To establish a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate that an offence (1) was committed by a person acting under the color of law and (2) deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity under the Constitution or federal law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Each specific allegation will be addressed in turn.

         A. Use of Force

         Hayward has pleaded facts sufficient for a claim of excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The use of force in a custodial setting violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment when it is not applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline but, rather, is administered "maliciously and sadistically to cause harm." Hudson v. McMillan, 503 U.S. 1, 5-6 (1992); Sears v. Roberts, 922 F.3d 1199, 1205 (11th Cir. 2019). It is not necessary that the use of force resulted in a serious injury, as the focus is directed to the nature of the act, not its degree. Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 37-38 (2010).

         Hayward adequately alleges that John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 used excessive force against him. Though reasonable force may be deployed to promote and ensure compliance with instructions and rules, see Bailey v. Hughes,815 F.Supp.2d 1246 (M.D. Ala. 2011), Hayward alleges he did not resist the transfer, beyond voicing general concerns for his safety. Doc. 1 at 5. Despite this lack of resistance, John Doe 1 pushed Hayward against a wall and John Doe 2 shot him with a ...

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