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Ralston v. Ford

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

June 4, 2019

TAMARA FORD, ET AL., Defendants.



         On June 27, 2018, Plaintiff Steven Ralston and two other inmates, all of whom are incarcerated at the Whiteville Correctional Facility (WCF) in Whiteville, Tennessee, filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1.) Ralston separately filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF No. 2.) The Court issued an order on September 26, 2018, that, inter alia, modified the docket and severed each Plaintiff's case into a separate matter. (ECF No. 4.) The Court then granted Ralston 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. 5.) The Clerk shall record the Defendants as the former WCF Warden, Tamara Ford;[1] Rosheda White, Unit Manager; and First Name Unknown (FNU) Cleaves, Unit Counselor.

         Ralston alleges that the WCF no longer has a “protective custody pod” and instead has instituted a new policy, under which inmates seeking protective custody must refuse their cell assignment, receive a disciplinary write up, and transfer to the “refuse cell assignment pod.” (ECF No. 1 at PageID 2.) The designated “refuse cell assignment pod, ” according to Ralston, is in I-Unit. (Id.) On April 1, 2018, WCF officials allegedly announced that I-Unit would be an open, general population pod. (Id.) Ralston alleges that the Defendants told the inmates that “all of ‘you scared motherfuckers will just need to learn how to fight, because CCA is apparently tired of protecting y'alls asses.'”[2] (Id. at PageID 2, 4.) Ralston alleges that he is housed in segregation because he previously was assaulted by gangs. (Id. at PageID 4.) When he grieved the assault, he was told to “check in to P.C., ” which is the protective custody unit that no longer exists at the WCF. (Id.) Ralston claims that in I-Unit, the televisions have been stolen, inmates are assaulted daily, violent prisoners sneak in to attack I-Unit inmates, and black mold grows on the walls. (Id.) Ralston alleges he showed Counselor Cleaves the mold and grieved the issue to White and Ford but was told simply to “wash it off or something.” (Id. at PageID 5.)

         Ralston seeks a permanent injunction “to ensure that the Whiteville Correctional Facility has an active, running, operational, and secure protective custody segregations housing unit.” (Id. at PageID 6.) He wants full access to media, disciplinary action taken against the Defendants, removal of all black mold from the cells, and $10, 000 in compensatory damages. (Id.)

         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). The Court accepts the complaint's “well-pleaded” factual allegations as true and then determines whether the allegations “plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.'” Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681). Conclusory allegations “are not entitled to the assumption of truth, ” and legal conclusions “must be supported by factual allegations.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although a complaint need only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), Rule 8 nevertheless requires factual allegations to make a “‘showing,' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 n.3.

         “Pro se complaints are to be held ‘to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers,' and should therefore be liberally construed.” Williams, 631 F.3d at 383 (quoting Martin v. Overton, 391 F.3d 710, 712 (6th Cir. 2004)). Pro se litigants, however, are not exempt from the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989); see also Brown v. Matauszak, 415 Fed.Appx. 608, 612, 613 (6th Cir. Jan. 31, 2011) (affirming dismissal of pro se complaint for failure to comply with “unique pleading requirements” and stating “a court cannot ‘create a claim which [a plaintiff] has not spelled out in his pleading'” (quoting Clark v. Nat'l Travelers Life Ins. Co., 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir. 1975))).

         Ralston filed his complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

         To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) a deprivation of rights secured by the “Constitution and laws” of the United States (2) committed by a defendant acting under color of state law. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150 (1970).

         To the extent Ralston sues the Defendants in their official capacities, his claims are against CoreCivic, which manages the WCF. “A private corporation that performs the traditional state function of operating a prison acts under color of state law for purposes of § 1983.” Thomas v. Coble, 55 Fed.Appx. 748, 748 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Street v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810, 814 (6th Cir. 1996)). The Sixth Circuit has applied the standards for assessing municipal liability to claims against private corporations that operate prisons or provide medical care or food services to prisoners. Id. at 748-49; Street, 102 F.3d at 817-18; Johnson v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 26 Fed.Appx. 386, 388 (6th Cir. 2001); see also Eads v. State of Tenn., No. 1:18-cv-00042, 2018 WL 4283030, at *9 (M.D. Tenn. Sept. 7, 2018). To prevail on a ยง 1983 claim against CoreCivic, ...

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