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Duncan v. CCSO

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

January 6, 2020

CCSO, et al., Defendants.


          Christopher L. Ray United States Magistrate Judge.

         Leontae Duncan, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint alleging unlawful force and inadequate medical care. Doc. 1. The Court granted his Motion for Leave to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP), doc. 3, and he has provided all requested documentation, docs. 4 & 5. The Court now screens the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.[1]


         Plaintiff alleges that on January 9th, 2019, he was being transferred to a new unit when he was struck by Ofc. White with a closed fist while he was in restraints and unresisting. Doc. 1 at 4. He alleges that the assault was witnessed by Lt. Blanton, Sgt. Johnson, Ofc. Johnson, and Ofc. Gordon although he explicitly notes that none of those officers contributed to the assault. Id. at 5. He alleges that following the assault he was denied medical care or follow up care by RN Dambach. Id. As a result of the assault, he claims to suffer from frequent, sharp, excruciating pain the right side of his skull and that his vision on his right side has deteriorated. Id. at 4-5.


         As an initial matter, the Chatham County Sheriff's Office is not an entity subject to suit. Logue v. Chatham Cty. Det. Ctr., 2008 WL 895717 at * 2 (S.D. Ga. Apr. 2, 2008); see Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir. 1992) (noting that sheriff's departments are not usually subject to suit or liability under § 1983, but deferring to state law as determinative of capacity to sue and be sued); Shelby v. City of Atlanta, 578 F.Supp. 1368, 1370 (N.D.Ga. 1984) (city police department is not an entity subject to suit under § 1983 because it “is merely the vehicle through which the [c]ity government fulfills its policing instructions.”). Accordingly, any claims against it should be DISMISSED.

         Likewise, any claims against Sheriff Wilcher should be dismissed. Section 1983 claims require an allegation of a causal connection between a defendant's acts or omissions and an alleged constitutional deprivation. See Zalter v. Wainwright, 802 F.2 397, 401 (11th Cir. 1986) (defendant's position of Secretary of Florida Department of Corrections was not alone sufficient to establish a causal connection to plaintiff's sexual assault). Plaintiff has not alleged that Sheriff Wilcher was in any way connected to plaintiff's treatment, beyond his role as head of the Sheriff's Department. This alone is insufficient as theories of respondeat superior and vicarious liability cannot carry § 1983 claims. See Polk Cnty v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981) (“Section 1983 will not support a claim based on respondeat superior theory of liability.”); Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978) (“Congress did not intend municipalities to be held liable unless action pursuant to official municipal policy of some nature caused a constitutional tort.”); Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 671 (11th Cir. 1990) (“Supervisory liability occurs either when the supervisor personally participates in the alleged constitutional violation or when there is a causal connection between actions of the supervising official and the alleged constitutional deprivation.”).

         Charitably construing the remaining allegations in plaintiff's complaint, he brings claims for 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 offense (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.

         Plaintiff has pleaded facts sufficient for a claim of excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment against Ofc. White. 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).

         Plaintiff adequately alleges that Ofc. White punched him with a closed fist when he was in restraints and was not resisting. 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), plaintiff alleges he was defenseless and posed no risk. Doc. 1 at 4. Taking these allegations as true, there was no need for the application of force.

         Likewise, the officers who watched the assault but did not intervene may be liable for that failure. Skrtich v. Thornton, 280 F.3d 1295, 1302 (11th Cir. 2002) (“It is not necessary that a police officer actually participate in the use of excessive force in order to be held liable under § 1983. Rather, an officer who is present at the scene and who fails to take reasonable steps to protect the victim of another officer's use of excessive force, can be held liable for his nonfeasance.” (internal quotations and citations omitted)). As plaintiff has alleged facts sufficiently supporting his claim of excessive force, this claim survives the Court's screening.

         Plaintiff has also pleaded facts sufficient to establish a claim of denial of adequate medical care against RN Dambach. The denial of medical care offends the Eighth Amendment when a government official displays “deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of prisoners….” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). This involves an “objective component” demonstrating the existence of a serious medical condition and a “subjective component” showing that prison officials acted with deliberate indifference toward that condition. Id.

         To satisfy the objective component, a plaintiff must set forth evidence of a medical need that is sufficiently serious that, if left unattended, it would “pos[e] a substantial risk of serious harm.” Id. (quoting Taylor v. Adams, 221 F.3d 1254, 1258 (11th Cir. 2000)). Serious injuries are both those “diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment” and those that are “so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.” Hill v. Dekalb Reg'l Youth Det. Ctr., 40 F.3d 1176, 1187 (11th Cir. 1994) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted), overruled in part on other grounds by Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730 (2002). They also include those medical needs that would be worsened by a delay in treatment. Mann v. Taser Int'l., Inc., 588 F.3d 1291, 1307 (11th Cir. 2009). Plaintiff alleges that he has suffered from continuing severe pain and loss of vision after a strong blow to the head. A strong blow to the head-known by the treating individual-is just such a case and at the screening phase, at least, survives.

         Moreover, he has-at least at this point-adequately plead the subjective component. A plaintiff must demonstrate that prison officials were deliberately indifferent toward a serious medical condition. This requires a showing that the prison official (1) had a subjective knowledge of the risk of serious harm; (2) disregarded that risk; and (3) was more ...

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