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King v. Swing

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

June 3, 2019

CODY A. KING, Plaintiff,
v.
AUSTIN SWING, TIM LOKEY, MARY WEST, TONYA EDWARDS, and BECKY (NURSE), Defendants.

          Susan K. Lee, Magistrate Judge

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TRAVIS R. MCDONOUGH, JUDGE

         Before the Court is a pro se prisoner's complaint for violation of civil rights filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 2). The Court previously granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis and will now screen Plaintiff's complaint in accordance with the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”).

         I. FACTS

         Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at the Bedford County Correctional Facility (“BCCX”). (Doc. 2.) In his complaint, he alleges that the prison conditions at BCCX are “cruel and unusual.” (Id. at 4.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges the following: (1) he slept on the floor from October 8, 2017 to December 5, 2017; (2) prisoners have been denied medical attention and medication on the weekends when no nurse is on duty; (3) mail is sometimes withheld for days or weeks; (4) prisoners are “denied” hygiene and only get one pair of clothing; (5) inmates are often housed with other inmates that have “deadly diseases like TB, Hep C, [or] AIDS”; (6) there are 185 inmates in a 65-man facility; (7) inmates are denied cleaning supplies and laundry goes out and may not come back for three or four days; (8) there is inadequate food on inmate trays; (9) “guards are beating inmates to death” with no consequences; (10) there are rodents and rats in the BCCX food preparation area; (11) the sewers are backing up into the sinks and showers; (12) state inspectors never leave the tower during their inspections; and (13) there are “rats and deadly spiders” in the pods where inmates sleep. (Id. at 2-3.) Finally, Plaintiff alleges that he has written grievances to Tim Lokey, Mary West, Jennifer Little, and Austin Swing but “most go unanswered” or he receives “off the wall” responses. (Id. at 2.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under the PLRA, district courts must screen prisoner complaints and sua sponte dismiss any claims that are frivolous or malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or are against a defendant who is immune. See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A(b); Benson v. O'Brian, 179 F.3d 1014, 1016 (6th Cir. 1999). The dismissal standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (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). Courts liberally construe pro se pleadings filed in civil rights cases and hold them to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). However, allegations that give rise to a mere possibility that a plaintiff might later establish undisclosed facts supporting recovery are not well-pled and do not state a plausible claim for relief. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570. Formulaic and conclusory recitations of the elements of a claim which are not supported by specific facts are also insufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681.

         III. ANALYSIS

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must establish that he was deprived of a federal right by a person acting under color of state law. Braley v. City of Pontiac, 906 F.2d 220, 223 (6th Cir. 1990) (stating that “Section 1983 does not itself create any constitutional rights; it creates a right of action for the vindication of constitutional guarantees found elsewhere”).

         As a threshold matter, Plaintiff has failed to identify how any of the named Defendants were involved in the alleged deprivation of his constitutional rights. See Frazier v. Michigan, 41 Fed.Appx. 762, 764 (6th Cir. 2002) (describing that a § 1983 complaint “must allege that the defendants were personally involved in the alleged deprivation of federal rights”). The only reference to Defendants Lokey, West, and Swing in Plaintiff's complaint is an assertion that Defendant has submitted grievances to them at some point. (Doc. 2, at 2.) Plaintiff's complaint does not mention Defendants Tonya Edwards and Becky. (See generally id.)

         To the extent Plaintiff seeks to hold Swing responsible in his official capacity as Sheriff, § 1983 liability “must be based on more than respondeat superior, or the right to control employees.” Shehee v. Luttrell, 199 F.3d 295, 300 (6th Cir. 1999). “Thus, liability under § 1983 must be based on active unconstitutional behavior and cannot be based upon ‘a mere failure to act.'” Id. (citing Salehpour v. Univ. of Tenn., 159 F.3d 199, 206 (6th Cir. 1998)). However, liability may attach to a supervisory official if the plaintiff can “show that a supervisory official at least implicitly authorized, approved or knowingly acquiesced in the unconstitutional conduct of the offending subordinate.” Taylor v. Mich. Dep't of Corr., 69 F.3d 76, 81 (6th Cir. 1995). But Defendant has alleged no facts that would support supervisory liability for Swing. On this basis alone, Plaintiff's complaint must be dismissed.

         Moreover, Plaintiff's complaint also fails to state a claim for any constitutional violation. “It is undisputed that the treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment.” Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993). Although prison conditions may be restrictive and harsh, prison officials must provide prisoners with the “minimal civilized measure of life's necessities, ” such as food, sanitation, medical care, and personal safety. See Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347-48 (1981); Flanory v. Bonn, 604 F.3d 249, 253 (6th Cir. 2010).

         Thus, to establish an Eighth Amendment violation, a plaintiff must make a two-prong showing. First, the deprivation alleged must be, objectively, “sufficiently serious, ” (the “objective prong”) and second, the prison official must have been deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's health or safety (the “subjective prong”). Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). Plaintiff's allegations fail to satisfy the objective prong.

         First, Plaintiff alleges that there are 185 inmates in a 65-man facility and that he slept on the floor from October 8, 2017 to December 5, 2017. However, “overcrowding is not, in itself, a constitutional violation.” Agramonte v. Shartle, 491 Fed.Appx. 557, 560 (6th Cir. 2012). “[I]f the overcrowding results in the denial of a basic human need, such as food, shelter, or warmth, that would be a constitutional wrong.” Starnes v. Green Cty. Sheriff's Dep't, No. 2:08-CV-244, 2010 WL 2165368, at *5 (E.D. Tenn. May 26, 2010). Plaintiff does not allege that the crowded facility has led to denial of his basic human needs. Moreover, Plaintiff's allegation that he slept on the floor for approximately two months, without alleging any additional harm, does not amount to an extreme deprivation required to state an Eighth Amendment claim. See Jones v. Toombs, 77 F.3d 482 (6th Cir. 1996) (table) (“The defendants did not violate Jones's Eighth Amendment rights by depriving him of a mattress for a two week period.”); see also Grissom v. Davis, 55 Fed.Appx. 756, 758 (6th Cir. 2003) (finding no Eighth Amendment violation where ...


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