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Smith v. Woods

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

September 11, 2019

TOBIAS SMITH, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action while incarcerated at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, Georgia, in order to challenge certain conditions of his confinement. Doc. 1 at 1. For the reasons below, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's request for damages due to lack of medical treatment and DISMISS Plaintiff's failure to intervene claim against Defendant Woods. Additionally, I RECOMMEND the Court DENY Plaintiff in forma pauperis status on appeal as to those two issues. However, I FIND Plaintiff's excessive force claim against Defendant Talmage shall proceed. A copy of Plaintiff's Complaint, doc. 1, and a copy of this Order shall be served upon Defendant Talmage by the United States Marshal without prepayment of cost.


         Between 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. on April 25, 2018, Plaintiff sat in the holding cells in the G-1 dormitory along with his cellmate Malik Hill while prison officials conducted a shakedown of their cell unit. Doc. 1 at 5. At some point, Defendant Woods, the senior officer, and Defendant Talmage came to transport Plaintiff and Hill back to their unit. Id. Defendant Talmage placed Plaintiff in restraints, and Defendant Woods did the same to Hill. Id. Plaintiff and Hill then told Defendant Woods that they had not yet received their lunch trays. Id. Defendant Woods asked Defendant Talmage whether Plaintiff and Hill received their lunch trays, and Officer Talmage said they did. Id. However, Defendant Woods did not believe Defendant Talmage and said, “Damn, Talmage, what's wrong with you? You must [not] like working for GDC no more.”[2] Defendant Talmage then aggressively “grabbed [Plaintiff's] cuffs down.” Id. Plaintiff tried to pull his hands back up, but Defendant Talmage pushed his head. Id. Defendant Woods told Defendant Talmage to let Plaintiff go at least seven times. Id. While the orientation of Plaintiff's body is unclear, Plaintiff writes that, “when [he] was halfway around where [he] could see [Defendant Talmage] out [of] the right side of [his] eye, ” he could tell Sergeant Woods was “in the middle” between Plaintiff and Defendant Talmage. Id. Defendant Talmage then deployed his spray and sprayed Plaintiff in the face “while [Plaintiff] was cuffed” without approval from Defendant Woods.

         Plaintiff brings this action against Sergeant Woods and Officer Talmage. Id. at 4. He alleges Defendants used excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment.[3] Id. at 1, 6. As relief, Plaintiff requests: (1) $75, 000 in damages for the violation of his Eighth Amendment rights by Defendant's use of excessive force; (2) $50, 000 in damages for the lack of medical treatment after being sprayed; and (3) an injunction removing Defendants Woods and Talmage from their jobs. Id. at 6.


         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 . . . .” (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. Plaintiff's Request for Damages for Denial of Medical Treatment

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff requests $50, 000 in damages for “not being granted the right medical treatment after being sprayed, and [slammed].” Doc. 1 at 6. Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires plaintiffs allege in their complaint “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8. Plaintiff does not allege any facts relating to the medical treatment he may or may not have received after the incident with Defendants Woods and Talmage. Thus, Plaintiff fails to state a claim for relief for the denial or delay of medical treatment. Accordingly, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's request for $50, 000 in damages related to the medical treatment he received.

         II. Claims Against Defendants in Their Official Capacities

         Plaintiff does not indicate whether he brings his claims against Defendants in their individual or official capacities. Doc. 1. The Court construes Plaintiff's allegations as claims against Defendants in both their individual and official capacities. See Smitherman v. Decatur Plastics Prod. Inc, 735 Fed.Appx. 692 (11th Cir. 2018); Torres v. Miami-Dade County, 734 Fed.Appx. 688, 691 (11th Cir. 2018).

         Plaintiff, however, cannot sustain a § 1983 claim for money damages against Defendants in their official capacities. 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 agency or a state officer in his official capacity is “no different from a suit against the [s]tate itself, ” such defendants are immune from suit under § 1983. Id. at 71.

         Here, the State of Georgia would be the real party in interest in a suit against Defendants in their official capacities as employees of the Georgia Department of Corrections. Accordingly, the Eleventh Amendment immunizes Defendants from suits for money damages in their official capacities. See Free v. Granger, 887 F.2d 1552, 1557 (11th Cir. 1989). Absent a waiver of that immunity, Plaintiff cannot sustain any constitutional claims against Defendants in their official capacities for ...

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