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Hughes v. Tennessee Department of Correction

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

March 13, 2017

MARTIN E. HUGHES, Plaintiff,



         On December 14, 2015, Plaintiff Martin E. Hughes (“Hughes”), an inmate who is presently confined at the Turney Center Industrial Complex in Only, Tennessee, filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 accompanied by a motion asking leave to proceed in forma pauperis in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. (ECF Nos. 1 & 2.) The complaint concerns his former incarceration at both the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex (“BCCX”) in Pikeville, Tennessee and the Hardeman County Correctional Facility (“HCCF”), in Whiteville, Tennessee. In an order issued December 16, 2015, U.S. District Judge John T. Nixon granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis, assessed the civil filing fee pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a)-(b), and transferred the matter to this court, where venue is proper. (ECF No. 3.) The Clerk shall record the Defendants as the Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”); former TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield; Corrections Corporation of America (“CCA”); HCCF Warden Grady Perry; Southern Health Partners; Dr. Kenneth Mathews; BCCX Sergeant (“Sgt.”) Jesse Wyatt; BCCX Lieutenant (“Lt.”) Ray Payne; BCCX AWO Darren Settles; HCCF AWS Bryon Ponds; CC Ms. First Name Unknown (“FNU”) Henson; CM Tameka Walker; Health Administrator Jill Miller; Dr. FNU Dietz; Dr. FNU Pearson; TDOC Compliance Officer Darnell Peterson; Nurse Mrs. FNU Hughes; Nurse Mrs. FNU Pettigrew; Nurse Mrs. FNU Harris; and Nurse Mrs. FNU Gann.


         Hughes alleges that on April 28, 2015, upon his arrival at the BCCX, all of his personal property including clothing, personal and legal mail, hygiene products, stamps, legal envelopes as well as legal evidence, medicine and assorted commissary items were taken from him. (Compl. at 5, ECF No. 1.) The staff at intake was a sergeant-in-charge along with three other people. (Id.) While being searched, Hughes was told to strip completely and throw away his clothing. (Id.) Hughes verbally objected and told the Correctional Officers (“C/Os”) that he would like to keep his undergarments, but he was refused and threatened with punishment if he did not comply. (Id.) Most of Hughes's property was thrown in the trash, including his medicine. (Id.) Hughes got upset because he allegedly needed the medicine for a serious leg and knee injury and because the male C/Os tore up and threw away some of his legal property, some of which was discovery and evidence in his upcoming legal case. (Id.)

         Because the C/Os told Hughes they were following policy set by Defendant Schofield, Hughes filed a grievance against the officers and the process used. (Id. at 6.) Hughes further alleges that Defendant Payne came to Hughes to investigate and agreed that Hughes's rights were violated; however, there was nothing he could do because the property was gone. (Id.) After Hughes told Defendant Payne that some of the legal material was for his upcoming criminal case, Defendant Payne told Hughes that he would get back to him before his trial and that he would have something in writing for the courts because of the materials lost by the C/Os at intake and by Defendant Wyatt.[1] (Id.) Hughes waited and filed several requests and grievances to have a response before his attorney arrived for trial preparation, but Hughes was shipped to HCCF on June 15, 2015. (Id.)

         Hughes alleges that on June 15, 2015, during transport by TDOC from the BCCX to Nashville to meet a CCA bus, the bus drivers from both of the buses refused to let him eat or drink on the buses. (Id.) Hughes continues that when he was permitted to eat, he was walked between both buses and required to eat on his knees while chained around his ankles and his waist to his hands. (Id.) As a result, Hughes had to “choke down” his lunch off the ground while being told not to drop anything or he would have to clean the whole parking lot. (Id.) Hughes was not allowed to be uncuffed to use the bathroom resulting in Hughes going to the bathroom on himself once he was returned to the bus. (Id.)

         Hughes further alleges that since he has been transferred by TDOC to the HCCF he has been denied adequate medical care, proper bedding, properly prepared food, basic clothing, freedom of religion, and the right to challenge these conditions; he also alleges he has been subjected to discrimination due to his race or color. (Id. at 7.) In detailing the allegations about inadequate medical care, Hughes alleges that he has had a serious right leg/knee injury since he was attacked and assaulted in his home on March 2, 2014. (Id.) Hughes states that his family, FNP Margean Clements of Takoma Medical Associates, and Takoma Hospital have provided his medical records showing the injury to his leg. (Id.) Hughes alleges that the repeated denial of medical care has led to a permanent limp on his right leg. (Id.) Hughes contends that Defendants Pearson, Hughes, Gann, Pettigrew and Harris told him that TDOC policies will not allow him any help on his injury. (Id.) Further, Defendant Dietz saw him in early November and informed Hughes that medical staff would not be providing him with Naproxen any longer due to costs. (Id.) Hughes has not been allowed to see anyone in medical since November while his condition has gotten worse. (Id.)

         Hughes alleges that his living conditions are unconstitutional because he was given a very thin mat with holes in it to sleep on and because basic clothing and laundry bags have not been made available to him. ( 8.) Hughes contends that the items have been withheld from him due to his race and color. (Id.) Hughes submitted several requests and grievances and has had office visits and conversations with Defendant Walker, who, Hughes alleges, has authority over his needs and security and is the only person with whom he is supposed to address his needs. (Id.) Hughes contends that Defendant Walker has not only ignored his request, but she has repeatedly fulfilled other, similar requests made by inmates of opposite color. (Id.)

         Similarly, Hughes alleges that the policy regarding how to obtain a pass to go to the church of your choice is a “sham, ” and the named Defendants do not follow their own policies. (Id.) Hughes contends the staff members manipulate the requests and grievances due to their hidden agenda of being prejudiced towards white people and Christians. (Id.)

         Additionally, Hughes alleges that the classification system at BCCX, governed by TDOC policy, is unconstitutional. (Id. at 9.) Hughes contends that he was told during a hearing for classification status while at BCCX that he could appeal any decision arising out of that hearing within forty-five days regarding issues such as institutional placement, custody level, and other TDOC status outcomes. (Id.) However, Hughes asserts that classification is not final until you reach your institutional placement; therefore, he contends the forty-five day period for appeal should not begin until you know exactly where you are going. (Id.) Hughes further contends that he tried to appeal his decision of institutional placement from the hearing at BCCX, but because the facility did not answer his requests, he was denied the right to appeal. (Id.) Hughes argues that there was never a good reason by TDOC to send him far away from his attorney, to a place where he had to be transported to and from trial, and where all of his property, both legal and personal, was lost. (Id.)

         Hughes also alleges that Defendant Perry, who, Hughes contends, had a duty to oversee Hughes's safety and well-being at HCCF, was negligent by providing no way to challenge unconstitutional acts by staff and by refusing to correct conditions after personal conversations with Hughes. (Id. at 10.) Hughes alleges that Defendant Ponds “continuously has me locked down sometimes for 24 hrs a day 7 days a week for no reason other than other inmates breaking a rule” and without providing a disciplinary hearing. (Id.) Hughes contends he was locked down during a “very critical” time with regard to his post-trial appeal rights and missed “very serious timely motions causing [Hughes] irreparable harm.” (Id.) Additionally, Hughes alleges that Defendant Henson is refusing to change Hughes to minimum security, which could get him closer to the appellate court and his new attorney as well as allowing him to earn credits towards reducing his sentence. (Id.) Similarly, Defendants Miller and Peterson allegedly are mistreating Hughes by knowingly refusing his rights on medical and other “serious issues” through their failure to comply with TDOC policies. (Id.)

         Hughes contends that since he was sentenced to TDOC, if TDOC puts him in a CCA facility, then it is TDOC's responsibility to insure the CCA is not mistreating people. (Id. at 11.) Further, he alleges that Defendant Schofield enacted polices and allowed for the enforcement of unconstitutional polices and customs which require people like him, who have medical disabilities, to stand at attention, to make their beds like in the military, to be subjected to the hardships of military style treatments of tier management, and to receive punishments for not performing tasks which are harder for medically challenged inmates. (Id.) Hughes alleges that he is being mistreated by the named Defendants and that he is in fear of retaliation from filing this suit. (Id.) He contends that he has tried to “every single way possible” to resolve these issues and now he cannot walk on his right leg and is having legal troubles because he is housed so far away from his trial. (Id.)

         Hughes seeks preliminary and injunctive relief requiring him to be transferred to another facility and to be provided with medical care and mental health counseling; reimbursement for the loss of his property; compensatory and punitive damages; and an investigation into the mistreatment against him. (Id. at 12.)

         In an amendment to his complaint filed on January 21, 2016, Hughes alleges that his First Amendment right of access to the courts has been violated due to inadequate help and time and other restrictions which caused him to miss his deadline to submit a motion for a new trial in an ongoing case in Hawkins County Criminal Court, No. 14cr128. (ECF No. 8 at 1.) Hughes again reiterates allegations from the complaint, but adds that he is being denied medicines for his Hepatitis C. (Id.) Hughes further reiterates his request to be transferred to a “proper facility for [his] medical needs and safety too.” (Id. at 3.)

         In a second amendment to his complaint filed on February 12, 2016, Hughes provides additional detail to previously made allegations. (ECF No. 9.) Hughes alleges that his “criminal case has been prejudiced against him causing damages, and in three other cases as well” because during lockdowns, commenced by Defendant Ponds for no penological justification, Hughes was not allowed access to the law library and outgoing mail had to be stuck on the locked cell door at night. (Id. at 1.) On two occasions mail was not sent out, but was rather found in the trash by first shift officers. (Id.) Hughes asserts that he has suffered “serious harm in [his] cases” because his outgoing mail has been thrown away, he has had inadequate access to the library, and he has received inadequate assistance from the six legal aids assigned to the HCCF. (Id.)

         Hughes contends that his access to the grievance process has been denied and purposely manipulated by Defendants Henson, Miller, and Walker; however, every named Defendant is allegedly culpable because they knowingly allow the mistreatment. (Id. at 2.) Hughes further alleges that he continues to be denied church services; even though Defendant Burns stated she would investigate these issues, nothing was ever done. (Id.) Hughes contends he has suffered retaliation for filing his complaints such as threats, shakedowns, and punishments without disciplinary infractions. (Id.) Hughes further alleges that Defendant Peterson, who is the TDOC compliance officer, will not do his job in forcing HCCF to adhere to TDOC policies and does not reply to requests and grievances. (Id. at 3.) Hughes has tried to challenge trust fund deductions, which start with requests to Defendant Perry, but Perry refuses to comply. (Id.) Hughes alleges poor cell conditions including being forced to eat during lockdowns in nasty cells around fecal and urine matter, leaking toilets, and sinks without sanitary stands or tables to eat on, and being denied clothing exchanges, which allegedly are not denied to black inmates. (Id.)

         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 standards under Federal Rule 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), 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) (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 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. 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 ...

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