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Bonds v. Tennessee Department of Corrections

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

December 6, 2016



          William J. Haynes, Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, Antonio Bonds, an inmate at South Central Correctional Center ("SCCC") in Clifton, Tennessee, filed this pro se action against the Tennessee Department of Corrections, "Corporations Corrections of America, " Derrick Scofield, [1] Damon Hininger, Cherry Lindamood, Eric Bryant, Doreen Trafton, Ronda Staggs, Brandon Bowers, Branda Pevahouse, Robert Turman, Jessie James, Hank Irrman, Christopher Martinez, David Moore, Robert Wesson, Sean Brantley, John Doe, and Jane Doe for alleged violations of the Plaintiffs civil rights. (Docket No. 1). As relief for the alleged wrongs, the Plaintiff seeks nominal and punitive damages. (Id. at 20).

         According to the complaint, Defendant Hank Inman placed the Plaintiff, while incarcerated at SCCC, in segregation for seven days "pending investigation for alleged security threat group activity, " and subsequently charged the Plaintiff on the seventh day with participating in security threat group activity, despite Defendant Inman having knowledge of the Plaintiffs innocence. (Docket No. 1 at 8). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Brenda Pevahouse failed to hold a disciplinary hearing on the false charge instituted by Defendant Inman (id.) and that Defendants Bowers, Brantley, Staggs, and Trafton prevented Plaintiff from filing grievances about his situation. (Id. at 15-16).

         Plaintiff alleges that, due to the actions of Defendant Eric Bryant, the Plaintiff "had to walk around with no shoes for forty-seven hours tracking dirt, dust and urine throughout [his] living quarters" (id. at 8); that Defendants Lindamood, Bryant, Trafton, Staggs, Bowers, Turman, James, Martinez, John Doe, Jane Doe, and Brantley failed to provide the Plaintiff with clean living quarters, access to showers, access to recreation, and access to cleaning supplies, resulting in the Plaintiff living in filthy, unsanitary, and unacceptable conditions of confinement (id. at 8-9); that Defendant Bowers threatened to withhold food from the Plaintiff if he kept asking about how to file grievances (id. at 9); that Defendants Trafton and Brantley interfered with the Plaintiffs right to practice his religion by withholding his Holy Qur'an (id.); that Defendant Trafton, Martinez, and Brantley withheld the Plaintiff s bed linens, shoes, shower shoes, reading materials, and legal papers from the Plaintiff for two days (id.); that Defendants Moore, Wesson, and Martinez did not allow Plaintiff to use the bathroom, resulting in Plaintiff urinating in a cup and on the floor (id.); that Defendant Trafton refused to turn off the lights in segregation from Mary 10, 2016, to May 17, 2016, preventing the Plaintiff from sleeping (id.); and the Defendants denied the Plaintiff access to his blood pressure medication for several days (id. at 14). Plaintiff alleges:

I spent seven days without a shower and recreation, five days I had to live, eat and sleep in close confines smelling my own human waste. I was denied basic sanitation to alleviate the debasing and degrading condition. I was subject to long delays in receiving toiletries. There was no penological purpose for me to receive such physical torture. I was placed in a cell for five days that was fetid and reeking from the stench of bodily waste of previous occupants which covered the floor, sink and the urinal.

(Id. at 18).

         Plaintiff s complaint 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. Under the PLRA, courts are required to screen complaints filed by prisoners and dismiss those complaints that are frivolous, malicious, or fail to state claims upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         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 statutoiy 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). "[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, 561F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gunasekera v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)). Although pro se pleadings are to be held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Jourdan v. Jabe, 95l F.2d 108, 110 (6th Cir. 1991), the courts' "duty to be 'less stringent' with pro se complaints does not require us to conjure up [unpleaded] allegations." McDonald v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 1979) (citation omitted).

         To state a claim under § 1983, the plaintiff must allege plausible facts of a deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States by a person acting under color of state law. Tahfs v. Proctor, 316 F.3d 584, 590 (6th Cir. 2003); 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         As to Defendant TDOC, TDOC is not a"person"subjecttosuitunder42U.S.C. § 1983. The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution bars § 1983 claims against a state or any arm of a state government. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 64, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989). TDOC is considered part of the state of Tennessee for purposes of federal civil rights claims and is therefore not a suable entity under § 1983, either for damages or injunctive relief. See Hix v. Term. Dep't of Corrs., 196 F.App'x 350, 355 (6th Cir. 2006) ("TDOC is not a 'person' within the meaning of § 1983, and is therefore not aproper defendant.") (citing Will, 491 U.S. at 64); Pennhurst State School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984) ("[I]n the absence of consent a suit in which the State or one of its agencies or departments is named as the defendant is proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment. This jurisdictional bar applies regardless of the nature of the relief sought.") (citations omitted). Because TDOC is not a proper party in a § 1983 action, Plaintiffs claims against TDOC should be dismissed with prejudice.

         Plaintiff also names Corrections Corporation of America ("CCA"), the private contractor operating the prison, as a defendant. Although a private corporation that performs a traditional state function acts under the color of state law for purposes of § 1983, CCA cannot be found liable solely on the basis of respondeat superior. Thomas v. Coble, 55 F.App'x 748, 748-49 (6th Cir. 2003). For CCA to be liable, an inmate must prove that his injury was caused by an action taken pursuant to some official corporate policy or custom. Id. at 749 (citing Monell v. Dep 't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978)); see also Street v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810, 817 (6th Cir.1996). Plaintiff does not assert that the allegedly unconstitutional conditions in which he was confined were the product of any policy or custom of CCA. Accordingly, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief against CCA, which will be dismissed from this action.

         As to Defendant Schofield, the Plaintiff does not allege any specific personal involvement by Schofield in the events described in the complaint, nor is Schofield mentioned in the narrative section of the complaint. Plaintiff must identify the right or privilege that Schofield violated and Schofield's role in the alleged violation, Dunnv. Tennessee, 697F .2d 121, 128(6thCir. 1982). Here, Plaintiff has failed to do so. Thus, the Plaintiffs claims against Schofield should be dismissed.

         Similarly, aside from listing him as a Defendant, Plaintiff does not allege any facts against Damon Hininger. A defendant's personal involvement in the deprivation of constitutional rights is required to establish his or her liability under § 1983. Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981); Miller v. Calhoun Cnty., 408 F.3d 803, 817 n. 3 (6th Cir. 2005). In the absence of any allegations of his personal involvement in violating Plaintiffs rights, Defendant Hininger should be dismissed.

         Plaintiffs claims against several Defendants are partially premised on the Defendants' response, or lack of response, to the Plaintiff s grievances and/or complaints. A plaintiff cannot base a § 1983 claim on allegations that an institution's grievance procedure was inadequate and/or unresponsive because there is not an inherent constitutional right to an effective jail grievance procedure in the first place. See Hewitt v. Helms,459 U.S. 460, 467 (1983)(overruled in part on other grounds by Sandin v. Conner,515 U.S. 472 (1995)); Antonelli v. Sheahan,81 F.3d 1422, 1430 (7th Cir. 1996); Adams v. Rice,40 F.3d 72, 75 (4th Cir. 1994); Flick v. Alba,932 F.2d 728, 729 (8thCir. 1991). Because a prisoner does not have a constitutional right to an effective or responsive ...

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