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Davis v. Swing

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Winchester

December 4, 2017




         Before the Court is Plaintiff's pro se amended complaint for violation of civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [Doc. 4]. On October 18, 2017, the Court screened the original complaint and found that “Plaintiff's complaint does not name a proper defendant and as such does not appear to state any claims for relief that would survive the screening requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 1915” [Doc. 3 p. 5]. However, the Court granted Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint in accordance with LaFountain v. Harry, 716 F.3d 944, 951 (6th Cir. 2013) (holding that “a district court can allow a plaintiff to amend his complaint even when the complaint is subject to dismissal under the PLRA”) [Id.].

         Plaintiff's amended complaint must also be screened to determine whether it states a claim entitling Plaintiff to relief or is frivolous or malicious or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A. If the amended pleading does not state a claim, is frivolous or malicious, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who enjoys immunity, the entire suit must be dismissed. For the reasons discussed below, this action will proceed only as to Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims against Defendants Lohey and Edwards.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In his amended complaint, Plaintiff brings suit against Defendants Austin Swing, Tim Lohey and Tonya Edwards [Doc. 4 p. 1]. Plaintiff asserts that he has not received proper medical care, leading to severe pain and suffering in his knee [Id. at 4-6].

         Plaintiff alleges that on June 30, 2017, he injured his knee while climbing into the top bunk of the bed in his cell [Id. at 4]. On July 1, 2017, he was examined by a nurse at the Bedford County Jail, who scheduled Plaintiff a visit with Doctor Matthews, a doctor at the Bedford County Jail, for July 13, 2017 [Id.]. When he met with the doctor, Plaintiff claims that Doctor Matthews told him that he had a torn meniscus in his knee and would notify Defendant Lohey immediately of Plaintiff's need for surgery [Id.]. Additionally, Plaintiff claims that Doctor Matthews documented the need for surgery in Plaintiff's file, and told a nurse to ensure that Plaintiff would be placed in a bottom bunk [Id.].

         Plaintiff then claims that he contacted Defendant Lohey, head jail administrator at the Bedford County Jail, several times to try and arrange a doctor's visit and a move to a lower bunk [Id. at 5]. Plaintiff alleges that on August 17, 2017, Defendant Lohey wrote that nothing was written regarding Plaintiff being scheduled for surgery, that he did not qualify for a furlough, and directed Plaintiff to talk to his attorney [Id.]. Plaintiff's attorney later informed him that he had spoken with Defendant Andrews, head nurse at the Bedford County Jail, who stated that Plaintiff did not need emergency surgery [Id.].

         Defendant Andrews claimed that Defendant Lohey was responsible for releasing Plaintiff for surgery, while Defendant Lohey told Plaintiff that it was not his decision [Id. at 6]. When Plaintiff questioned Defendant Andrews, she stated Plaintiff's family would have to schedule a doctor's visit outside of the jail [Id.]. After Plaintiff's sister scheduled a doctor's visit and informed jail officials on September 27, 2017, Plaintiff claims that he spoke to “the nurse, ” who claimed that she knew nothing about the scheduled visit [Id.]. Plaintiff's sister then contacted Bedford County Jail officials again on October 18, 2017, and spoke to “the nurse” about Plaintiff's scheduled doctor's visit [Id.]. However, Plaintiff claims that he has yet to be taken to his scheduled doctor's visits [Id.]. Plaintiff also brings suit against Defendant Swing, Sheriff of Bedford County, in his role as “overseer” of the jail, claiming that Plaintiff's sister contacted Defendant Swing about the lack of medical care [Id.]. Ultimately, Plaintiff claims that he has not yet received surgery, and requests monetary damages for his pain and suffering [Id. at 6-7].

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Screening Standard

         Under the PLRA, district courts must screen prisoner complaints and sua sponte dismiss those that are frivolous or malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or are against a defendant who is immune. See Benson v. O'Brian, 179 F.3d 1014, 1015-16 (6th Cir. 1999) (“Congress directed the federal courts to review or ‘screen' certain complaints sua sponte and to dismiss those that failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted [or] . . . sought monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief.”). The dismissal standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554 (2007) “governs dismissals for failure state a claim under [28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A] because the relevant statutory language tracks the language in Rule 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). Thus, to survive an initial review under the PLRA, 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). However, pro se pleadings filed in civil rights cases must be liberally construed and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiff must establish that he was deprived of a federal right by a person acting under color of state law. Black v. Barberton Citizens Hosp., 134 F.3d 1265, 1267 (6th Cir. 1998); O'Brien v. City of Grand Rapids, 23 F.3d 990, 995 (6th Cir. 1994); Russo v. City of Cincinnati, 953 F.2d 1036, 1042 (6th Cir. 1992); see also Braley v. City of Pontiac, 906 F.2d 220, 223 (6th Cir. 1990) ("Section 1983 does not itself create any constitutional rights; it creates a right of action for the vindication of constitutional guarantees found elsewhere."). In other words, the plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to show: (1) the deprivation of a right, privilege, or immunity secured to him by the United States Constitution or other federal law; and (2) that the individual responsible for such deprivation was acting under color of state law. Gregory v. Shelby Cty., 220 F.3d 433, 441 (6th Cir. 2000).

         B. Official Capacity Claims

         Plaintiff has filed suit against Defendants Austin Swing, Bedford County Sheriff, Tim Lohey, Bedford County Jail administrator, and Tonya Edwards, head nurse at the Bedford County Jail. The Sixth Circuit has made clear that a suit brought against a public, government official will not be construed as seeking damages against a defendant in his individual capacity unless the claim for individual liability is clearly and definitively set forth in the pleading. Perlfrey v. Chambers, 43 F.3d 1034, 1038 (6th Cir. 1995); Thiokol Corp. v. Dep't of Treasury, 987 F.2d 376, 383 (6th Cir. 1993). Generally, absent any indication a defendant is being sued in his individual capacity, courts must assume the defendant is being sued only in his official capacity as an employee of the ...

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