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Powell v. Woodard

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

September 20, 2017

JASON WOODARD, ET AL., Defendants.



         On January 13, 2016, Plaintiff Joseph Powell, who is currently an inmate at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC) in Hartsville, Tennessee, filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, accompanied by a motion to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF Nos. 1 & 2.) The Court subsequently granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis and assessed the civil filing fee pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a)-(b). (ECF No. 4.) Powell's allegations stem from his previous incarceration in the Hardeman County Correctional Facility (HCCF) in Whiteville, Tennessee. The Clerk shall record the Defendants as Jason Woodard, Deputy Commissioner of Operations for the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC); former HCCF Warden Michael Donahue; current HCCF Warden Grady Perry; former HCCF Chief Unit Manager First Name Unknown (FNU) Mills; HCCF Unit Manager FNU Robertson;[1] Sergeant (Sgt.) FNU Golden; Case Manager FNU Marshall; Acting Unit Manager FNU Taylor; and Maintenance Supervisor David McDonald. The Defendants are sued in both their individual and official capacities.

         I. The Complaint

         Powell alleges that in October 16, 2014, he filed an emergency grievance stating that due to his overpowering body odor, he feared for his safety from other inmates who did not want to share a cell with him. (ECF No. 1 at 4; see also Ex. A, ECF No. 1-1.) Powell explained his situation to Defendant Robertson in January 2014 and again on October 12, 2014. (Id.) Powell contends that despite Defendant Robertson's knowledge that he would more than likely be harmed by her refusal to put Powell in a single cell, Defendant Robertson refused to assist him and used her authority to harass Powell with frequent cell changes where he was put with informants and other incompatible inmates. (Id., see also Ex. B, ECF No. 1-2.) Powell further contends that Defendant Mills, who was aware of Powell's problem because she responded to the grievances, did not correct the problem, but rather relied upon informal policies and customs of HCCF to routinely deny grievances. (Id. at 5.) Similarly, Powell alleges that, based on HCCF institutionalized policy of routinely denying inmate grievances, on November 10, 2014, Defendant Donahue refused to use his authority to correct the problem. (Id.) Plaintiff further states that on December 1, 2014, Defendant Woodard “rubber-stamped” the denial of his grievance. (Id.)

         On June 2, 2015, Powell and his cellmate had an altercation allegedly because of Powell's body odor, and Powell made a request to Defendant Golden that either he or his cellmate be moved. (Id.) Powell alleges that Defendant Golden advised him that if he or his cellmate requested another cell change, she would write them up on a disciplinary charge. (Id.) On June 17, 2015, after Powell and his cellmate had another argument, Powell alleges that he asked Defendants Marshall and Taylor to either move him to another cell or place him in protective custody. (Id.) Powell told Defendants Marshall and Taylor that other inmates did not want to share a cell with him due to his body odor. (Id. at 6.) However, Defendants Marshall and Taylor did not grant his request for a cell change and instead allegedly threatened Powell with a disciplinary write-up. (Id.) On August 19, 2015, Defendant Perry again denied a grievance filed by Plaintiff, refusing to discipline Defendants Marshall, Taylor, or Golden and refusing to grant Powell single-cell status. (Id., see also Ex. B, ECF No. 1-2) On August 27, 2015, Defendant Woodard also denied Plaintiff's grievance. (Id.)

         On July 8, 2015, Powell filed a grievance about the cold temperature in his housing unit, stating that inmates were wearing coats and that the temperature issue had existed for several years. (Id., see also Ex. C, ECF No. 1-3.) Powell alleges that since filing the grievance several of the pods he lived in have been extremely cold, both in his cell and in the common areas. (Id.) Powell further alleges that Defendant McDonald, the maintenance supervisor, is aware of the cold but allows his staff to operate the air conditioning unit when they should be heating the pods. (Id.)

         Powell seeks a declaratory judgment that the denial of his requests for single-cell status by Defendants Robertson, Mills, Donahue, Perry, and Woodard was a denial of due process and the right to live in a safe environment; that the failure of Defendants Golden, Marshall, and Taylor to separate Powell from his cellmate or place him in protective custody status deprived also was a denial of due process and the right to live in an unthreatening environment; and that the cold nature of the pods denied Powell a safe living environment. (Id. at 7.)

         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 ยงยง 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 ...

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