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Dotson v. State

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

November 25, 2014

GREGORY DOTSON, No. 00339695, Plaintiff,
STATE OF TENNESSEE, et al., Defendants.


ALETA A. TRAUGER, District Judge.

Plaintiff Gregory Dotson, an inmate incarcerated in the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, Tennessee, filed this pro se action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the state of Tennessee, Governor Bill Haslam, Tennessee Department of Correction ("TDOC") Commissioner Derrick Schofield, Warden Wayne Carpenter and several other employees of TDOC. The complaint (Docket Entry No. 1) is before the court for an initial review pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A, and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e.

I. Standard of Review

Under the PLRA, the court must conduct an initial review of any civil complaint filed in forma pauperis, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), or brought by a prisoner-plaintiff against government entities or officials, 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, or challenging the conditions of confinement, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). Upon conducting this review, the court must dismiss the complaint, or any portion thereof, that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, is frivolous, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The Sixth Circuit has confirmed that the dismissal standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), "governs dismissals for failure to state a claim under those statutes because the relevant statutory language tracks the language in Rule 12(b)(6)." Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). Thus, to survive scrutiny on initial review, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

In reviewing the complaint to determine whether it states a plausible claim, "a district court must (1) view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and (2) take all well-pleaded factual allegations as true." Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561 F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gunasekera v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)). A pro se pleading must be liberally construed and "held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). Pro se status, however, does not exempt a plaintiff from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law. See Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989) ("Neither [the Supreme] Court nor other courts... have been willing to abrogate basic pleading essentials in pro se suits."); see also Brown v. Matauszak, 415 F.Appx. 608, at *5 (6th Cir. Jan. 31, 2011) (affirming dismissal of pro se complaint for failure to comply with "unique pleading requirements" and stating, "a court cannot create a claim which [a plaintiff] has not spelled out in his pleading") (citation and internal quotation marks omitted; alteration in original).

II. Factual Allegations

The plaintiff's primary complaint is that he is wrongfully incarcerated pursuant to an invalid conviction and/or sentence arising from his pleading guilty to vandalism in connection with his damaging a sprinkler in the Justice Center in Nashville, where he was being detained on a homicide charge.

The plaintiff also complains about his conditions of confinement since he has been incarcerated in TDOC, including his placement in administrative segregation and a "dry cell" in retaliation for his many grievances, the lack of mental health therapy and the discovery of mice in his food trays.

Finally, the plaintiff complains that he was harassed, deprived of property and deprived of "legal inmates assistance a lot" in his effort to seek relief through post-conviction and state habeas corpus proceedings. He alleges that those efforts have "become tolled for time limitation" and that his remedies for pain and distress are "marked as moot.'"

III. Discussion

The plaintiff brings suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to vindicate alleged violations of his federal constitutional rights. Section 1983 confers a private federal right of action against any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives an individual of any right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or federal laws. Wurzelbacher v. Jones-Kelley, 675 F.3d 580, 583 (6th Cir. 2012). Thus, to state a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) a deprivation of rights secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and (2) that "the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color of state law." Tahfs v. Proctor, 316 F.3d 584, 590 (6th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted); 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Before turning to the merits of the plaintiff's claims, the court notes that the plaintiff has named the state of Tennessee as a defendant, and that his identification of several of the individual defendants he names suggests that they are being sued solely because of their position of authority rather than because they were personally involved in any violations of his rights.[1] The plaintiff has failed to state a claim against those individual defendants, Wingo v. Tennessee Dept. of Correction, 499 F.Appx. 453, 454-55 (6th Cir. 2012) ( respondeant superior does not give rise to supervisor liability under § 1983, and a plaintiff must allege that supervisors were personally involved or at least acquiesced in alleged violation) and the state of Tennessee is immune from suit. Adams v. Tennessee Dept. of Correction, 205 F.3d 1339 (6th Cir. 2000).

Including his petition for the writ of habeas corpus, this is at least the fifth action the plaintiff has brought in this Court since January 2013, alleging either the unlawfulness of his incarceration or unconstitutional conditions of confinement or a combination of both. See Case Nos. 3:13-cv-00119, 3:13-cv-01135, 3:14-cv-00523, 3:14-cv-00590. As the court already informed the plaintiff in dismissing one of those cases, an inmate may not bring suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on the alleged invalidity of his confinement unless and until the judgment or sentence under which he is confined has been reversed, expunged, declared invalid or been the subject of a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). ( See Case No. 3:14-00590, Docket Entry No. 9, at 2.) Because the plaintiff's efforts to obtain that relief have failed ( see Case No. 3:14-00523), his § 1983 claim concerning the validity of his incarceration (including the dependent claims that TDOC employees have ignored or negligently handled his complaints about his allegedly invalid incarceration) is barred by Heck and must be DISMISSED.

The plaintiff also fails to state a claim for deliberate indifference to his medical needs. The plaintiff alleges that he is denied mental health therapy. But mere claims of negligent treatment or medical malpractice do not amount to deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). "Where a prisoner has received some medical attention and the dispute is over the adequacy of the treatment, federal courts are generally reluctant to second guess medical judgments and to constitutionalize claims which sound in state tort law." Westlake v. Lucas, 537 F.2d 857, 860 n.5 (6th Cir. 1976). To prevail under those circumstances, an inmate must establish that the treatment he received was "so woefully inadequate as to amount to no treatment at all." Ruiz, 72 F.Appx. at 276 (quoting Westlake, 537 F.2d at 860 n.5). The plaintiff's own filings, however, acknowledge that he is on psychotropic and other medications, that he has been repeatedly examined by mental health care providers, and that he is regularly assessed under a TDOC mental health treatment plan. ( See Docket Entry No. 1, at 7, 128-32.) One of his examination reports notes that he was being treated with Depakote, Lithium and Benadryl ...

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