United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division
January 15, 2015
ANDRE BERNARD EASLEY, Plaintiff,
BENTON COUNTY, ET AL., Defendants.
ORDER TO MODIFY THE DOCKET, DISMISSING COMPLAINT AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND
JAMES D. TODD, District Judge.
On October 7, 2014, Plaintiff, Andre Bernard Easley, Tennessee Department of Correction ("TDOC") prisoner number 132083, who is currently incarcerated at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in Pikeville, Tennessee, filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 addressing his previous confinement at the Benton County Jail ("Jail") in Camden, Tennessee, and a motion seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF Nos. 1 & 2.) The Court issued an order on October 8, 2014, granting leave to proceed in forma pauperis and assessing 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 and Michael Hill, the Jail Administrator.
The complaint alleges that Plaintiff is unwilling to eat turkey bologna sandwiches because the bologna contains red dye. Jail staff previously provided Plaintiff and other inmates with peanut butter sandwiches as a substitute. After Plaintiff wrote to Defendant Hill complaining about three of his officers, his peanut butter sandwiches were discontinued. Consequently, he has "been doing without." (ECF No. 1 at PageID 2.)
Plaintiff also contends that he is being denied proper medical attention. He went to the Jail nurse for a physical. Plaintiff advised the nurse that bumps and sores had been appearing on his body, and he asked to be tested for herpes or genital herpes. The nurse allegedly said that they did not draw blood or run tests. (ECF No. 1-1 at PageID 4.) He was advised to speak to an outside nurse who sometimes visits the Jail. ( Id. ) Plaintiff still has not had his blood drawn, although it is unclear whether the outside nurse was unwilling to order the test or whether Jail policy required inmates to pay for that test. ( See id. )
Jail staff allegedly have shown favoritism to certain inmates. Trustee jobs are supposed to be assigned to inmates who are on a list. Some inmates have been at the Jail for a year or more and have not been chosen to be a trustee, but other inmates have obtained trustee jobs after being at the Jail for less than a week. At the time he commenced this action, Plaintiff had been at the Jail for two months. He asked to be added to the list for a trustee job. ( Id. at PageID 5.) The complaint does not state whether Plaintiff was added to the list and whether he was given a trustee position. The complaint does not specify the relief that is sought. (ECF No. 1 at PageID 3.)
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.App'x 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.App'x 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.App'x 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,  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). Even if it were assumed that the complaint alleged a violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights, the second issue would be 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.
Defendant Hill cannot be held liable because of his position as Jail Administrator. 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). The complaint does not allege that Defendant Hill is responsible for the medical treatment received by Plaintiff or for the alleged favoritism in assigning trustee jobs. Although the complaint alleges that Plaintiff's substitute sandwiches were discontinued after he complained to Hill about three officers, there is no allegation that Hill personally ordered the discontinuation of the sandwiches. Hill cannot be liable if, after learning of Plaintiff's complaint, he reprimanded a subordinate who then retaliated against Plaintiff.
Plaintiff cannot bring a claim about alleged favoritism unless he was personally discriminated against. Plaintiff lacks standing to sue for deprivations of the rights of his fellow inmates. "To state a case or controversy under Article III [of the United States Constitution], a plaintiff must establish standing." Ariz. Christian Sch. Tuition Org. v. Winn, 131 S.Ct. 1436, 1442 (2011).
[T]he irreducible constitutional minimum of standing contains three elements: First, the plaintiff must have suffered an "injury in fact"-an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical. Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of.... Third, it must be likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.
Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992) (internal quotation marks, footnote and citations omitted); see also Lance v. Coffman, 549 U.S. 437, 439 (2007) (same). "In requiring a particular injury, the Court meant that the injury must affect the plaintiff in a personal and individual way.'" Winn, 131 S.Ct. at 1442 (quoting Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560 n.1). Unless Plaintiff suffered an actual injury, he "was not the aggrieved party, [and] he lacks standing" to sue. Percival v. McGinnis, 24 F.App'x 243, 246 (6th Cir. 2001); see also Corn v. Sparkman, No. 95-5494, 1996 WL 185753, at *1 (6th Cir. Apr. 17, 1996) ("A prisoner cannot bring claims on behalf of other prisoners. A prisoner must allege a personal loss and seek to vindicate a deprivation of his own constitutional rights." (citation omitted)). The complaint does not clearly allege that Plaintiff was discriminated against by Jail staff when he asked to be considered for a trustee position.
The complaint does not adequately state a claim under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments. See generally Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294 (1991). 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.
The Eighth Amendment requires prison officials to provide inmates with a diet that is nutritionally adequate for the maintenance of normal health. Clark-Murphy v. Foreback, 439 F.3d 280, 292 (6th Cir. 2006); Cunningham v. Jones, 567 F.2d 653, 656 (6th Cir. 1977). "Food served to inmates need not be appetizing. The Eighth Amendment merely requires that it be prepared and served in a sanitary environment and that it be adequate to meet an inmate's essential nutritional needs." Heinz v. Teschendorf, No. 05-CV-73470, 2006 WL 2700813, at *8 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 19, 2006). Isolated deprivations of food do not violate the Eighth Amendment; instead, the objective component is implicated only if a food deprivation endangers an inmate's health. Moore v. Curtis, 68 F.App'x 561, 562 (6th Cir. 2003) (isolated deprivations of food do not violate the Eighth Amendment); Sims v. Mich. Dep't of Corr., 23 F.App'x 214, 216 (6th Cir. 2001) ("The fact that Sims may have been served one cup of fruit as part of a six-meal-per-day diet does not establish a deprivation of nutrition necessary to sustain his physical well-being. Furthermore, Sims did not allege that he was denied sufficient food on a daily basis or that he could not maintain his health based on the diet provided him even though one of the six meals he received per day may have consisted of one cup of fruit."); Rhinehardt v. Semeroz, No. 98-1588, 1999 WL 1021585, at *1 (6th Cir. Nov. 2, 1999) ("Loss of commissary food privileges is routine discomfort' that is part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.'"); Cunningham v. Jones, 667 F.2d 565, 566 (6th Cir. 1982) (inmate's Eighth Amendment rights were not violated when he was served one meal a day for 15 consecutive days because that meal was sufficient to maintain normal health).
Plaintiff's complaint does not satisfy the objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim. There is no explanation of why Plaintiff is unable to eat foods containing red dye. Absent some compelling consideration, such as a food allergy or a religious dietary restriction, the Jail is not required to accommodate the food preferences of inmates. The complaint also does not state how often turkey bologna was served at the Jail and does not allege that being forced to go without a sandwich on those occasions has adversely affected Plaintiff's health.
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. Bishop v. Hackel, 636 F.3d 757, 767 (6th Cir. 2011); see also id., 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.").
Plaintiff's complaint does not adequately allege the subjective component of an Eighth Amendment violation. As previously noted, the complaint does not allege that Hill ordered that Plaintiff's substitute sandwiches be discontinued. Even if the order came from Hill, the complaint does not allege that he was aware that discontinuing the sandwiches presented an unacceptable risk to Plaintiff's health and recklessly disregarded that risk.
"Retaliation on the basis of a prisoner's exercise of his First Amendment rights violates the Constitution." Harbin-Bey v. Rutter, 420 F.3d 571, 579 (6th Cir. 2005).
A retaliation claim essentially entails three elements: (1) the plaintiff engaged in protected conduct; (2) an adverse action was taken against the plaintiff that would deter a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in that conduct; and (3) there is a causal connection between elements one and two-that is, the adverse action was motivated at least in part by the plaintiff's protected conduct.
Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 394 (6th Cir. 1999) (en banc); see also Scott v. Churchill, 377 F.3d 565, 569 (6th Cir. 2004) (same); Smith v. Campbell, 250 F.3d 1032, 1036 (6th Cir. 2001) (same). "If the plaintiff is able to make such a showing, the defendant then has the burden of showing that the same action would have been taken even absent the plaintiff's protected conduct." Smith, 250 F.3d at 1037.
Even if the deprivation of sandwiches does not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation, Plaintiff might be able to assert a First Amendment retaliation claim. See Hill, 630 F.3d at 473 ("Even though a prisoner has no inherent constitutional right to avoid segregated housing or prison transfers, the BOP may not place the prisoner in segregated housing or transfer him to another prison as a means of retaliating against him for exercising his First Amendment rights."). However, because the complaint does not allege that Defendant Hill was responsible for the discontinuation of Plaintiff's peanut butter sandwiches, any such claim is not adequately pled.
Therefore, Plaintiff's complaint is DISMISSED 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 Sixth Circuit has held that a district court may allow a prisoner to amend his complaint to avoid a sua sponte dismissal under the PLRA. LaFountain v. Harry, 716 F.3d 944, 951 (6th Cir. 2013); see also Brown v. Rhode Island, 511 F.App'x 4, 5 (1st Cir. Feb. 22, 2013) (per curiam) ("Ordinarily, before dismissal for failure to state a claim is ordered, some form of notice and an opportunity to cure the deficiencies in the complaint must be afforded."). Leave to amend is not required where a deficiency cannot be cured. Brown, 511 F.App'x at 5; Gonzalez-Gonzalez v. United States, 257 F.3d 31, 37 (1st Cir. 2001) ("This does not mean, of course, that every sua sponte dismissal entered without prior notice to the plaintiff automatically must be reversed. If it is crystal clear that the plaintiff cannot prevail and that amending the complaint would be futile, then a sua sponte dismissal may stand."); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002) (" in forma pauperis plaintiffs who file complaints subject to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) should receive leave to amend unless amendment would be inequitable or futile"); Curley v. Perry, 246 F.3d 1278, 1284 (10th Cir. 2001) ("We agree with the majority view that sua sponte dismissal of a meritless complaint that cannot be salvaged by amendment comports with due process and does not infringe the right of access to the courts.").
The Court cannot conclude that any amendment to Plaintiff's complaint would be futile as a matter of law. Therefore, leave to amend is GRANTED. Any amended complaint must be filed within twenty-eight days of the date of entry of this order.
Plaintiff is advised that an amended complaint will supersede the original complaint and must be complete in itself without reference to the prior pleading. The text of the complaint must allege sufficient facts to support each claim without reference to any extraneous document. Any exhibits must be identified by number in the text of the amended complaint and must be attached to the complaint. All claims alleged in an amended complaint must arise from the facts alleged in the original complaint. Plaintiff may add additional defendants provided that the claims against the new parties arise from the acts and omissions in the original complaint. Each claim for relief must be stated in a separate count and must identify each defendant sued in that count. If Plaintiff fails to file an amended complaint within the time specified, the Court will assess a strike pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) and enter judgment.
IT IS SO ORDERED.