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Timmons v. Martin

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

November 1, 2019

TIMOTHY TIMMONS, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER MARTIN; UNIT MANAGER MCFARLIN; and MR. CLARK, [1] Defendants.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BENJAMIN W. CHEESBRO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, who is incarcerated at Ware State Prison in Waycross, Georgia, brought this action while he was incarcerated at Smith State Prison in Glennville, Georgia, to challenge certain conditions of his confinement under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Doc. 1. The Court granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Docs. 2, 5. The Court initially deferred conducting frivolity review of Plaintiff's Complaint and directed him to file an Amended Complaint, which Plaintiff did. Docs. 8, 9. The Court again deferred conducting frivolity review of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint and again directed him to file an Amended Complaint. Doc. 12. Plaintiff filed his Second Amended Complaint on July 31, 2019, which is the operative Complaint. Doc. 13.

         After conducting the requisite frivolity review of Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's monetary damages claims against Defendants in their official capacities and his Americans with Disabilities Act claims and DENY Plaintiff leave to appeal in forma pauperis as to these claims. However, I FIND that Plaintiff's deliberate indifference and negligence claims shall proceed. Consequently, a copy of Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, doc. 13, and a copy of this Order shall be served upon Defendants Martin, Clark, and McFarlin by the United States Marshal without prepayment of cost.

         BACKGROUND[2]

         On November 17, 2015, Plaintiff was placed on a medical profile that required him to be housed in a bottom tier cell and on a bottom bunk. Doc. 13 at 7. This profile appears to be attributed to a “back injury” and was to be in place “until further evaluated by provider.” Id. On December 22, 2015, upon re-arrival to Smith State Prison, Plaintiff presented the medical profile to Defendant Martin. Doc. 13 at 7. Defendant Martin, whose role it was to make housing decisions, assigned Plaintiff a top bunk on the second floor, despite having knowledge of the medical profile. Id. On December 29, 2015, while still at Smith State Prison, Plaintiff was given an additional medical profile that also required Plaintiff be given a bottom bunk and excused him from climbing or heights. Id.

         On January 12, 2016, Plaintiff informed his treating physician, Dr. Gardner, that his medical profiles were not being followed. Id. at 8. Dr. Gardner then called Defendant Martin to inform her that housing on the ground floor in a bottom bunk was imperative for Plaintiff's health and safety. Id. At some point after this phone call, Defendant Martin reassigned Plaintiff to a bottom bunk but not in a ground floor cell. Id.

         On June 8, 2016, Plaintiff was referred to an orthopedic specialist, allegedly because the conditions of his confinement had caused his health to deteriorate. Id. This specialist prescribed Plaintiff a walking cane and added an additional medical profile that prohibited Plaintiff from prolonged standing. Id. at 8-9. On June 27, 2016, after returning from the specialist appointment, Plaintiff was climbing the stairs up to his cell when he was struck with a sharp pain in his leg. Id. at 9. The sharp pain made his legs buckle, causing him to fall down the flight of stairs. Id. Plaintiff was sent to the emergency room for his injuries. Id. Plaintiff was in a wheelchair upon discharge from the ER; however, he was still assigned to a second-floor cell for approximately 13 days following his discharge. Id. Plaintiff alleges that for about six months in total, his conditions were not in compliance with his medical profile. Id. Plaintiff alleges this non-compliance, along with his fall, caused permanent and debilitating injuries. Id. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges the non-conforming housing and his fall caused spinal stenosis and caused his existing herniated disk to “bulge” out further, causing him “enormous amounts of excruciating pain.” Id. at 6. To treat these injuries, Plaintiff received an epidural, cortisone shot, chronic pain medication, and steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine. Id. Plaintiff also underwent surgery and had physical therapy. Id.

         Plaintiff alleges he repeatedly told Defendant Clark, a deputy warden, that his medical profile was not being followed. Id. at 12. Defendant Clark told Plaintiff to fill out an inmate request form, which Plaintiff then did, to no avail. Id. Plaintiff also alleges that on June 8, 2016, he informed Defendant McFarlin, a unit manager, that his medical profile was not being followed. Id. at 13-14. Defendant McFarlin took down Plaintiff's information and said he would speak to Defendant Martin, but no housing changes were made until Plaintiff's fall 18 days later. Id. at 14.

         As relief, Plaintiff requests: (1) compensatory damages measured in light of past, present, and future “physical pain, mental anguish, suffering, emotional distress, and disability”; and (2) punitive damages. Id. at 15.

         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).

         When reviewing a complaint on an application to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court is guided by the instructions for pleading contained in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 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.”).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Plaintiff's Requested Relief

         Plaintiff brings these claims against Defendants in both their individual and official capacities. Doc. 13 at 2-3. However, Plaintiff cannot sustain a § 1983 claim for monetary 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. See Free v. Granger, 887 F.2d 1552, 1557 (11th Cir. 1989). Accordingly, the Eleventh Amendment immunizes Defendants from suit for monetary damages in their official capacities. Absent a waiver of that immunity, Plaintiff cannot sustain any constitutional claims against Defendants in their official capacities for monetary relief. However, to the extent Plaintiff successfully states a constitutional claim, he may seek injunctive relief against any Defendant in their official capacity. Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 148-50 (1908). Therefore, the Court should DISMISS all claims for monetary damages against Defendants in their official capacities under § 1983. Plaintiff's requests for monetary damages shall continue against Defendants in their individual capacities.

         II. Plaintiff's Deliberate Indifference to Serious ...


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