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Daniel v. Kilpatrick

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

January 7, 2020

JOHN T. DANIEL, Plaintiff,
v.
TERENCE KILPATRICK; TAMARSHA SMITH; CLARK; RIVERA; and GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Defendants.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BENJAMIN W. CHEESBRO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, who is incarcerated at Hancock State Prison in Sparta, Georgia, brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action to challenge certain conditions of his confinement at Smith State Prison in Glennville, Georgia. Doc. 1. The Court granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Docs. 2, 5. For the reasons set forth below, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's monetary damages claims against all Defendants in their official capacities and all claims against Defendant Georgia Department of Corrections. Further, I RECOMMEND the Court DENY Plaintiff leave to appeal in forma pauperis as to these claims. However, I FIND Plaintiff's claims for excessive force, deliberate indifference, and retaliation are not due to be dismissed at this time. Consequently, a copy of Plaintiff's Complaint, doc. 1, and a copy of this Order shall be served upon Defendants Rivera, Clark, Smith, and Kilpatrick by the United States Marshals Service without prepayment of cost.

         BACKGROUND

         On June 4, 2018, while Plaintiff was incarcerated at Smith State Prison, Defendant Rivera went to Plaintiff's cell and repeatedly slammed Plaintiff's arm in the metal tray flap. Doc. 1 at 5. Defendant Rivera then attempted to pepper spray Plaintiff. Id. Plaintiff asked Defendant Rivera to visit the medical clinic for treatment of his arm but was denied. Id. Plaintiff alleges he filed a grievance to Defendants Kilpatrick, Smith, and Clark, who referred the excessive force claim for a criminal investigation, but did not respond or take action on his request for medical care. Id. at 6. Plaintiff states Defendant Rivera later threatened him for filing a grievance. Id. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, court costs, and a transfer away from Defendant Rivera. Id. at 8.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Plaintiff seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 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 his assets and 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 fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(ii).

         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. Official Capacity Claims

         It is unclear whether Plaintiff is suing the named Defendants in their individual or official capacities. 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. Accordingly, the Eleventh Amendment immunizes Defendants from suit for monetary 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 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, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS all claims for monetary damages against Defendants in their official capacities under § 1983.

         II. Plaintiff's Claims Against the Georgia Department of Corrections

         Plaintiff named the Georgia Department of Corrections as a Defendant but failed to provide any facts or theories to support these claims. Even if Plaintiff alleged a cognizable § 1983 claim against the Georgia Department of Corrections, such a claim would ultimately fail. The immunity provisions of the Eleventh Amendment serve as a bar to § 1983 actions against the Georgia Department of Corrections. Stevens v. Gay, 864 F.2d 113, 115 (11th Cir. 1989) (“The Eleventh Amendment bars [a plaintiff's § 1983] action against the Georgia Department of Corrections . . . .”). This bar applies regardless of whether Plaintiff seeks money damages or prospective injunctive relief. Id. Accordingly, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS the Georgia Department of Corrections from this action.

         III. Plaintiff's Excessive Force Claim ...


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