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Crowder v. Boyce

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

July 28, 2015

TIMOTHY CROWDER, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPUTY JAILER BOYCE, et. al., Defendants.

ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND

JAMES D. TODD, District Judge.

On December 10, 2014, Plaintiff Timothy Crowder ("Crowder"), an inmate at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Complex ("Jail") in Memphis, Tennessee, filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 accompanied by a motion asking leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF Nos. 1 & 2.) In an order issued December 11, 2014, the Court granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis and assessed the civil filing fee pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a)-(b). (ECF No. 4). The Clerk shall record the defendants as Deputy Jailer First Name Unknown ("FNU") Boyce, Johnnie Trenell, and Deputy Jailer FNU Frazier.

I. THE COMPLAINT

Crowder alleges that on August 11, 2014, he was attacked by a fellow inmate, Defendant Trenell. (ECF No. 1 at 2.) Crowder alleges that the attack occurred because Defendants Boyce and Frazier did not follow proper procedure when opening and closing housing unit doors. ( Id. ) Crowder also alleges that Deputy Frazier did not notice or acknowledge that inmate Trenell had6> tennis shoes on for 30 to 45 minutes prior to the attack. ( Id. ) Crowder requests the officers be re-trained and that he be compensated for trauma and injuries resulting from the attack. ( Id. at 3)

II. ANALYSIS

A. Screening and Standard

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 court applies the standards under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 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). 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) (alteration in original). "[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 could5> 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. Any complaint that is legally frivolous would ipso facto fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Hill, 630 F.3d at 470 (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325, 328-29 (1989)).

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." Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327, 109 S.Ct. 1827 (interpreting 28 U.S.C. § 1915). Unlike a dismissal for failure to state a claim, where a judge must accept all factual allegations as true, Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50, a judge does not have to accept "fantastic or delusional" factual allegations as true in prisoner complaints that are reviewed for frivolousness. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327-28, 109 S.Ct. 1827.

Id. at 471.

" 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 and prisoners 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, No. 09-2259, 2011 WL 285251, 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'") (quoting Clark v. Nat'l Travelers Life Ins. Co., 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir. 1975)) (alteration in original); 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 cause5> 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.").

B. § 1983 Claim

Crowder filed his complaint on the court-supplied form for actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.

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).

Crowder cannot sue Defendant Trenell, an inmate, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "A § 1983 plaintiff may not sue purely private parties." Brotherton v. Cleveland, 173 F.3d 552, 567 (6th Cir. 1999). Thus, "[i]n order to be subject to suit under § 1983 claim, defendant's actions must be fairly attributable to the state." Collyer v. Darling, 98 F.3d 211, 231-32 (6th Cir. 1997). As a fellow inmate, Defendant Trenell is not a state actor under § 1983.5>

1. Eighth Amendment Claim

A claim by a prisoner that Defendants failed to protect him from his fellow inmates arises under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments. See generally Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294 (1991). In the case of a person being held prior to trial, however, "the cruel and unusual punishment' proscription of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution does not apply, " because "as a pre-trial detainee [the plaintiff is] not being punished, '" Cuoco v. Moritsugu, 222 F.3d 99, 106 (2d Cir. 2000). Instead, a person detained prior to conviction receives protection against mistreatment at the hands of prison officials under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment if the pretrial detainee is held in federal custody, or the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment if held in state custody. Compare Cuoco, 222 F.3d at 103, 106 (applying Fifth Amendment to a federal detainee), with Liscio v. Warren, 901 F.2d 274, 275-76 (2d Cir.1990) (applying Fourteenth Amendment to a state detainee). Caiozzo v. Koreman, 581 F.3d 63, 69 (2d Cir. 2009). Even if Crowder was a pretrial detainee during the evnt at issue, the court will analyze his claims under Eighth Amendment principles because the rights of pretrial detainees are equivalent to those of convicted prisoners. Thompson v. Cnty. of Medina, 29 f.3d 238, 242 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing Roberts v. City of Troy, 773 F.2d 720, 723 (6th Cir. 1985).[1]

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, 633 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 Supreme Court has held that prison officials have a duty... to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.'" Bishop v. Hackel, 636 F.3d 757, 766 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). Here, Crowder has alleged he was assaulted by a fellow inmate.

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 had a "sufficiently culpable state of mind." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; see also Wilson, 501 U.S. at 297, 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. at 32; Woods v. Lecureux, 110 F.3d 1215, 1222 (6th Cir. 1997); Street, 102 F.3d at 814; 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, 636 F.3d at 767; see also id. at 768 ("[W]e must focus on whether each individual Deputy had the personal involvement necessary to permit a finding of subjective knowledge."). Although Crowder's claim that the Officers failed to protect him from the risk of violence from fellow inmate Trenell might satisfy the objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim, Crowder's complaint does not sufficiently allege that he faced a "substantial risk of serious harm." Greene v. Bowles, 361 F.3d 290, 294 (6th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Bishop, 636 F.3d at 766 ("To establish a constitutional violation based on failure to protect, a prison inmate must first show that the failure to protect from risk of harm is objectively sufficiently serious.") (internal quotation marks omitted).

The subjective component is not satisfied by the allegation that the Defendants did not follow procedure. There are no allegations explaining the basis for Crowder's fear of attack and, therefore, it is not possible to conclude that Defendants Boyce and Frazier should have perceived that the risk of harm to Crowder was substantial. That Defendants Boyce and Frazier might have5> been negligent or might have violated Jail policies does not establish they were aware of a significant risk to Crowder's safety and deliberately disregarded that risk.

III. LEAVE TO AMEND

The Sixth Circuit has held that a district court may allow a prisoner to amend his complaint to avoid a sua sponte dismissals under the PLRA. LaFountain v. Harry, 716 F.3d 944, 951 (6th Cir. 2013); see also Brown v. R.I., No. 12-1403, 2013 WL 646489, at *1 (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, 2013 WL 646489, at *1; 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.").

IV. CONCLUSION

The Court DISMISSES the complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b)(1). However, with the exception of Crowder's § 1983 claims against Defendant Trenell, the court cannot conclude that5> any amendment to Crowder's claims would be futile as a matter of law. Therefore, Crowder is GRANTED leave to amend his complaint as to Defendants Frazier and Boyce in their individual capacities. Any amendment must be filed within thirty (30) days of the date of entry of this order. Crowder is advised that an amended complaint supersedes the original complaint and must be complete in itself without reference to the prior pleadings. 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 or the first amended complaint. Crowder may add additional defendants provided that the claims against the new parties arise from the acts and omissions set forth in the original or first amended complaints. Each claim for relief must be stated in a separate count and must identify each defendant sued in that count. If Crowder 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.

Crowder 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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