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French v. Benton County

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

December 12, 2014

DARRELL LYNN FRENCH, Plaintiff,
v.
BENTON COUNTY, ET AL., Defendants.

ORDER PARTIALLY DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITHOUT PREJUDICE AND DIRECTING THAT PROCESS BE ISSUED AND SERVED ON THE REMAINING DEFENDANTS

JAMES D. TODD, District Judge.

On August 25, 2014, Plaintiff, Darrell Lynn French, an inmate at the Benton County Jail in Camden, Tennessee, filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, accompanied by a motion seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis . (ECF Nos. 1 & 2.) In an order issued on August 26, 2014, the Court granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis and assessed the civil filing fee pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a)-(b). (ECF No. 4.) The Clerk shall record the Defendants as Benton County, [1] Sheriff Tony King, Jail Administrator Pat Chandler, Sergeant Dwayne Stonner, and Corrections Officer Kyle Conkright.

The factual allegations of the complaint are as follows:

On May 24, 2014 I fell down in the floor coming out of my cell going to have free time. I fell due to water being in the floor. When I fell, I thought that the hardware in my back had been damaged because I had severe pain the lower part of my back. I could not get up because I hurt so bad. After an inmate found me laying in the floor and notified the C/O's they came in and told me that I wasn't going to see a doctor and they weren't going to call an ambulance for me. They went out and told all the inmates that they didn't care if I layed in the floor all night. And that's where I laid for 2 or 2½ hours.
After the ambulance came and got me to go to E.R. I was X-rayed and told by doctor that all the hardware was OK. I have had a popping and a stabbing feeling in my back ever since that has happened. I filled out medical request forms at jail and told the sheriff and Jail Administrator, Lt. and C/O's on all shifts that I was in pain and something was wrong. I was ignored for 67 days about the problem I was having and still having.

(ECF No. 1 at 2-3.) Plaintiff seeks money damages. ( Id. at 4.)

The Court is required to screen prisoner complaints and to dismiss any complaint, or any portion thereof, if the complaint -

(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). In assessing whether the complaint in this case states a claim on which relief may be granted, the standards under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), as stated in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-79 (2009), and in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-57 (2007), are applied. Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). "Accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true, the Court consider[s] the factual allegations in [the] complaint to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.'" Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681). "[P]leadings that... are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 n.3 ("Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a showing, ' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief. Without some factual allegation in the complaint, it is hard to see how a claimant could satisfy the requirement of providing not only fair notice' of the nature of the claim, but also grounds' on which the claim rests.").

"A complaint can be frivolous either factually or legally." Hill, 630 F.3d at 470 (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989)). "Any complaint that is legally frivolous would ipso facto fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Id. (citing Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 328-29).

Whether a complaint is factually frivolous under §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) is a separate issue from whether it fails to state a claim for relief. Statutes allowing a complaint to be dismissed as frivolous give 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. Unlike a dismissal for failure to state a claim, where a judge must accept all factual allegations as true, a judge does not have to accept "fantastic or delusional" factual allegations as true in prisoner complaints that are reviewed for frivolousness.

Id. at 471 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

" Pro se complaints are to be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ' and should therefore be liberally construed." Williams, 631 F.3d at 383 (quoting Martin v. Overton, 391 F.3d 710, 712 (6th Cir. 2004)). Pro se litigants, however, are not exempt from the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989); see also Brown v. Matauszak, 415 F.Appx. 608, 612, 613 (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'" (quoting Clark v. Nat'l Travelers Life Ins. Co., 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir. 1975))); Payne v. Sec'y of Treas., 73 F.Appx. 836, 837 (6th Cir. 2003) (affirming sua sponte dismissal of complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) and stating, "[n]either this court nor the district court is required to create Payne's claim for her"); cf. Pliler v. Ford, 542 U.S. 225, 231 (2004) ("District judges have no obligation to act as counsel or paralegal to pro se litigants."); Young Bok Song v. Gipson, 423 F.Appx. 506, 510 (6th Cir. 2011) ("[W]e decline to affirmatively require courts to ferret out the strongest cause of action on behalf of pro se litigants. Not only would that duty be overly burdensome, it would transform the courts from neutral arbiters of disputes into advocates for a particular party. While courts are properly charged with protecting the rights of all who come before it, that responsibility does not encompass advising litigants as to what legal theories they should pursue.").

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, [2] a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) a deprivation of rights secured by the "Constitution and laws" of the United States (2) committed by a defendant acting under color of state law. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150 (1970).

The complaint does not assert a valid claim against Benton County. When a § 1983 claim is made against a municipality or county, the court must analyze two distinct issues: (1) whether the plaintiff's harm was caused by a constitutional violation; and (2) if so, whether the municipality is responsible for that violation. Collins v. City of Harker Heights, Tex., 503 U.S. 115');"> 503 U.S. 115, 120 (1992). The second issue is dispositive of Plaintiff's claim against Benton County.

A local government "cannot be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor - or, in other words, a municipality cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory." Monell v. Dep't. of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978) (emphasis in original); see also Searcy v. City of Dayton, 38 F.3d 282, 286 (6th Cir. 1994); Berry v. City of Detroit, 25 F.3d 1342, 1345 (6th Cir. 1994). A municipality cannot be held responsible for a constitutional deprivation unless there is a direct causal link between a municipal policy or custom and the alleged constitutional deprivation. Monell, 436 U.S. at 691-92; Deaton v. Montgomery Co., Ohio, 989 F.2d 885, 889 (6th Cir. 1993). To demonstrate municipal liability, a plaintiff "must (1) identify the municipal policy or custom, (2) connect the policy to the municipality, and (3) show that his particular injury was incurred due to execution of that policy." Alkire v. Irving, 330 F.3d 802, 815 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Garner v. Memphis Police Dep't, 8 F.3d 358, 364 (6th Cir. 1993)). "Where a government custom has not received formal approval through the body's official decisionmaking channels, ' such a custom may still be the subject of a § 1983 suit." Alkire, 330 F.3d at 815 (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 690-91). The policy or custom "must be the moving force of the constitutional violation' in order to establish the liability of a government body under § 1983." Searcy, 38 F.3d at 286 (quoting Polk Co. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 326 (1981) (citation omitted)). "[T]he touchstone of official policy' is designed to distinguish acts of the municipality from acts of employees of the municipality, and thereby make clear that municipal liability is limited to action for which the municipality is actually responsible.'" City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 138 (1988) (quoting Pembaur v. Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 479-80 (1986)). Although civil rights plaintiffs are not required to plead the facts demonstrating municipal liability with particularity, see Leatherman v. Tarrant Cnty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168-69 (1993), the complaint must be sufficient to put the municipality on notice of the plaintiff's theory of liability, see, e.g., Fowler v. Campbell, No. 3:06CV-P610-H, 2007 WL 1035007, at *2 (W.D. Ky. Mar. 30, 2007); Oliver v. City of Memphis, No. 04-2074-B, 2004 WL 3316242, at *4 (W.D. Tenn. Dec. 2, 2004); cf. Raub v. Corr. Med. Servs., Inc., No. 06-13942, 2008 WL 160611, at *2 (E.D. Mich. Jan. 15, 2008) (denying motion to dismiss where complaint contained conclusory allegations of a custom or practice); Chidester v. City of Memphis, No. 02-2556 MA/A, 2006 WL 1421099, at *3 (W.D. Tenn. June 15, 2005). The complaint does not allege that Plaintiff suffered any injury arising from an unconstitutional policy or custom of Benton County.

The complaint contains no factual allegations against Defendants Stonner and Conkright. When a complaint fails to allege any action by a defendant, it necessarily fails to "state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. The Court will not assume that Defendant Conkright is the corrections officer who left Plaintiff lying on the floor.

Defendants King, Chandler, and Stonner cannot be held liable as a supervisor. Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, "[g]overnment officials may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior ." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676; see also Bellamy v. Bradley, 729 F.2d 416, 421 (6th Cir. 1984). Thus, "a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own official actions, violated the Constitution." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676.

There must be a showing that the supervisor encouraged the specific instance of misconduct or in some other way directly participated in it. At a minimum, a § 1983 plaintiff must show that a supervisory official at least implicitly authorized, approved or knowingly acquiesced in the unconstitutional conduct of the offending subordinates.

Bellamy, 729 F.2d at 421 (citation omitted). A supervisory official who is aware of the unconstitutional conduct of her subordinates, but fails to act, generally cannot be held liable in her individual capacity. Grinter v. Knight, 532 F.3d 567, 575-76 (6th Cir. 2008); Gregory v. City of Louisville, 444 F.3d 725, 751 (6th Cir. 2006); Shehee v. Luttrell, 199 F.3d 295, 300 (6th Cir. 1999); Lillard v. Shelby Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 76 F.3d 716, 727-28 (6th Cir. 1996).

It is unclear whether Plaintiff intends to sue because there was a puddle of water on the floor outside his cell. Any such claim would arise under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments. See generally Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294 (1991).[3] An Eighth Amendment claim consists of both objective and subjective components. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994); Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8 (1992); Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298; Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d at 383; Mingus v. Butler, 591 F.3d 474, 479-80 (6th Cir. 2010). The objective component requires that the deprivation be "sufficiently serious." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; Hudson, 503 U.S. at 8; Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298.

To satisfy the objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim, a prisoner must show that he "is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm, " Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; see also Miller v. Calhoun Cnty., 408 F.3d 803, 812 (6th Cir. 2005), or that he has been deprived of the "minimal civilized measure of life's necessities, '" Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298 (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)); see also Hadix v. Johnson, 367 F.3d 513, 525 (6th Cir. 2004). The Constitution "does not mandate comfortable prisons.'" Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298 (quoting Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 349). "[R]outine discomfort is part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.'" Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9 (quoting Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347). Thus, "extreme deprivations are required to make out a conditions-of-confinement claim." Id.

That a floor in the prison was wet and slippery does not satisfy the objective component of an Eighth Amendment violation. As another district court in this district has explained:

Federal courts have routinely held that wet and slippery prison floors, while potentially hazardous, do not amount to the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities. See, e.g., Reynolds v. Powell, 370 F.3d 1028, 1031 (10th Cir. 2004) (holding that "slippery floors constitute a daily risk faced by members of the public at large" and do not amount to cruel and unusual punishment); LeMaire v. Maass, 12 F.3d 1444, 1457 (9th Cir. 1993) (finding that wet prison floors did not create a sufficiently serious condition to violate the Eighth Amendment, and noting that "slippery prison floors... do not state even an arguable claim for cruel and unusual punishment"); Denz v. Clearfield County, 712 F.Supp. 65, 66 (W.D. Pa. 1989) (finding no Eighth Amendment violation based on slippery floor in prison cell); Mitchell v. West Virginia, 554 F.Supp. 1215, 1216-17 (N.D. W.Va. 1983) (finding no Eighth Amendment violation based on slippery floor in prison dining hall).

Stubl v. Baraga Maximum Corr. Facility, No. 2:08-CV-10, 2008 WL 4813403, at *6 (W.D. Mich. Oct. 30, 2008) (report and recommendation adopted by the district court); see also Ward v. Ky. State Reformatory, No. 3:09-CV-315-H, 2011 WL 2378172, at *5 (W.D. Ky. June 15, 2011) ("Federal courts have routinely held that slippery prison floors do not pose a substantial risk of serious harm to give rise to an Eighth Amendment violation." (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)); Mills v. C.C.A., No. 1:10-0015, 2010 WL 5155478, at *4 (M.D. Tenn. Dec. 14, 2010) ("Courts have regularly held that slip and fall accidents do not give rise to federal causes of action.") (report and recommendation), adopted, 2011 WL 13552 (M.D. Tenn. Jan. 4, 2011); Amos v. Parker, No. 10-1160-JDT-egb, slip op. at 6-7 (W.D. Tenn. Aug. 30, 2010); Jackson v. Shelby Cnty., No. 09-2728-JDT-dkv, slip op. at 8 (W.D. Tenn. Nov. 25, 2009), aff'd, No. 10-5008 (6th Cir. July 9, 2010); Dennis v. Shelby Cnty., No. 09-2516-JDT-tmp, slip op. at 8-9 (W.D. Tenn. Nov. 25, 2009), aff'd, No. 09-6515 (6th Cir. July 28, 2010); Coffelt v. Mich. Dep't of Corr., No. 1:08-CV-333, 2008 WL 2559252, at *5 (W.D. Mich. June 20, 2008) (report and recommendation adopted by district court).

To establish the subjective component of an Eighth Amendment violation, a prisoner must demonstrate that the official acted with the requisite intent, that is, that he or she had a "sufficiently culpable state of mind." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; Wilson, 501 U.S. at 302-03. The plaintiff must show that the prison officials acted with "deliberate indifference" to a substantial risk that the prisoner would suffer serious harm. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; Wilson, 501 U.S. at 303; Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 32 (1993); Woods v. Lecureux, 110 F.3d 1215, 1222 (6th Cir. 1997); Street v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810, 814(6th Cir. 1996); Taylor v. Mich. Dep't of Corr., 69 F.3d 76, 79 (6th Cir. 1995). "[D]eliberate indifference describes a state of mind more blameworthy than negligence." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835. Thus,

[a] prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference. This approach comports best with the text of the Eighth Amendment as our cases have interpreted it. The Eighth Amendment does not outlaw cruel and unusual "conditions"; it outlaws cruel and unusual "punishments." An act or omission unaccompanied by knowledge of a significant risk of harm might well be something society wishes to discourage, and if harm does result society might well wish to assure compensation. The common law reflects such concerns when it imposes tort liability on a purely objective basis.... But an official's failure to alleviate a significant risk that he should have perceived but did not, while no cause for commendation, cannot under our cases be condemned as the infliction of punishment. Id. at 837-38 (emphasis added; citations omitted); see also Garretson v. City of Madison Heights, 407 F.3d 789, 796 (6th Cir. 2005) ("If the officers failed to act in the face of an obvious risk of which they should have known but did not, then they did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment."). The subjective component must be evaluated for each defendant individually. Reilly v. Vadlamudi, 680 F.3d 617, 624-25 (6th Cir. 2012); Bishop v. Hackel, 636 F.3d 757, 767 (6th Cir. 2011); see also Bishop, 636 F.3d at 768 ("[W]e must focus on whether each individual Deputy had the personal involvement necessary to permit a finding of subjective knowledge."). The complaint does not allege that any Defendant realized that the standing water posed a risk to the health and safety of inmates and consciously disregarded that risk.

Therefore, the Court DISMISSES the complaint against Benton County and Defendants Stonner and Conkright for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b)(1). The Court also DISMISSES the complaint against all parties insofar as it seeks relief for the injuries sustained when Plaintiff slipped and fell, and against Defendants King, Chandler, and Stonner as supervisors, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b)(1). However, the dismissal of Plaintiff's claims against Benton County and Defendants Stonner and Conkright is without prejudice to Plaintiff's right to file an amended complaint that cures the deficiencies in the original complaint.

Process will be issued for Defendants King and Chandler on Plaintiff's claim for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. It is ORDERED that the Clerk shall issue process for Defendants King and Chandler and deliver that process to the U.S. Marshal for service. Service shall be made on Defendants King and Chandler pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(e) and Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure 4.04(1) and (10), either by mail or personally if mail service is not effective. All costs of service shall be advanced by the United States.

It is further ORDERED that Plaintiff shall serve a copy of every subsequent document he files in this cause on the attorneys for Defendants King and Chandler and on any unrepresented Defendant. Plaintiff shall make a certificate of service on every document filed. Plaintiff shall familiarize himself with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and this Court's Local Rules.[4]

Plaintiff shall promptly notify the Clerk of any change of address or extended absence. Failure to comply with these requirements, or any other order of the Court, may result in the dismissal of this case without further notice.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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