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Gates v. CoreCivic

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

June 21, 2019

JAMES GATES, Plaintiff,
CORECIVIC, ET AL., Defendants.



         On June 7, 2018, Plaintiff James Gates, who currently is incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Terre Haute, Indiana, filed a pro se complaint addressing events that allegedly occurred while Gates was a pretrial detainee at the West Tennessee Detention Facility (WTDF) in Mason, Tennessee, and at the FCI in Memphis, Tennessee. (ECF No. 1.) After Gates filed the financial documentation required under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a)-(b), the Court issued an order granting leave to proceed in forma pauperis and assessing the civil filing fee pursuant to the PLRA. (ECF No. 7.) On August 28, 2018, Gates filed an amended complaint on the form for filing actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 8.) The amended complaint appears to supplement, rather than supersede, Gates's original complaint.[1] Gates also filed a motion to supplement his complaint (ECF No. 5), which the Court granted. (ECF No. 11.) The Clerk shall record the Defendants as CoreCivic; the WTDF; First Name Unknown (FNU) Preston, WTDF Medical Administrator; WTDF Nurse Practitioner FNU Blue; WTDF Unit Manager FNU Waldell; FCI Memphis; Sheena Bailey, FNU Booker, D. Lacey-Barzar, Tori Holmes, S. Walton, and D. Dozier, RNs at FCI Memphis; FNU Macklin, FNU Jones, FNU Lawrence, and B. Delph, Corrections Officers (C/O) at FCI Memphis; FCI Memphis Lieutenant FNU Rodgers; FCI Memphis Nurse Practitioner Cynthia Gaia; and FCI Memphis Doctors Edna Prince and Vibeke Dankwa.[2] Gates sues the Defendants in their individual and official capacities. (ECF No. 1 at PageID 2-6.)

         Gates alleges that he was a pretrial detainee at the WTDF until sometime in July 2017, when he was transferred to FCI Memphis, still as a detainee. (Id. at PageID 7-8.) At FCI Memphis, he was held in the Special Housing Unit (SHU), which he alleges imposed “a significant hardship on myself that inevitably effected [sic] my health.” (Id. at PageID 7.)

         Gates alleges his sciatic nerve “flared up” while he was at the WTDF and continued after his transfer to FCI Memphis. (Id. at PageID 8.) Gates alleges that he developed a blood clot in his left leg, which began to swell and cause severe pain, and nerve damage in his left arm. (Id. at PageID 8-9.) Gates alleges he filled out requests to see a doctor and told nurses and guards within the SHU about his condition, but “nothing was done.” (Id. at PageID 9.) Gates alleges that the FCI Memphis “Medical Staff” told him he was “CCA's property” until he was sentenced in his criminal case and that nothing could be done in the meantime. (Id.) Gates alleges that he received no medical treatment for the next two and half months, during which time he developed the blood clot “and could have died.” (Id.) He eventually received a shot at FCI Memphis that he alleges caused the nerve damage in his arm. (Id.)[3]

         In the amended complaint, Gates names only CoreCivic and FCI Memphis as Defendants. (ECF No. 8 at PageID 222.) He alleges that, when he arrived at WTDF, he was given ibuprofen and x-rays to treat his sciatic nerve pain before he was transferred to FCI Memphis. (Id.) He alleges that at WTDF, he was “denied medical care on the scale that was really needed.” (Id.) Once at FCI Memphis, Gates alleges, he told staff members about his condition but “was denied proper medical care” because he was still a pre-trial detainee. (Id.) He alleges that for the three-month period he was at FCI Memphis as a pretrial detainee, he was denied “proper medical attention, which resulted in his blood clotting, etc.” (Id.)

         In his initial complaint, Gates requests punitive damages of $100, 000 from CoreCivic, the WTDF, and FCI Memphis; $20, 000 from each FCI Memphis Nurse Practitioner and RN; $10, 000 from each C/O; $50, 000 from Lieutenant Rodgers; and $100, 000 from the two doctors. (ECF No. 1 at PageID 10-13.) In his amended complaint, Gates increases his demand to $1 million in damages and requests that the Court impose an additional $250, 000 fine on CoreCivic and FCI Memphis. (ECF No. 8 at PageID 224.)

         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))).

         Because Gates's claims arose while he was incarcerated in federal prison facilities as a federal detainee, his claims cannot be brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which applies only to deprivations of constitutional rights committed by a person acting under color of state law. Therefore, his claims arise, if at all, under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Bivens provides a right of action against federal employees who violate an individual's rights under the United States Constitution. “Under the Bivens line of cases, the Supreme Court has recognized a cause of action against federal officials for certain constitutional violations when there are no alternative processes to protect the interests of the plaintiff and no special factors counseling against recognizing the cause of action.” Koubriti v. Convertino, 593 F.3d 459, 466 (6th Cir. 2010).

         Although Gates was a federal detainee when the events at the WTDF occurred, the WTDF is operated not by federal officials but by CoreCivic, a private prison corporation, and the WTDF Defendants in this case are alleged to be CoreCivic employees. The Supreme Court has held that a Bivens action may not be brought against private corporations that operate prison facilities housing federal detainees and convicted prisoners. Corr. Servs. Corp. v. Malesko, 534 U.S. 61 (2001). Therefore, Gates's claims against the WTDF and his official-capacity against the WTDF employees, all of which must be treated as having been brought against CoreCivic, fail to state a valid claim.

         The Supreme Court also has declined to extend the Bivens remedy to actions brought against “privately employed personnel working at a privately operated federal prison” where the allegedly unconstitutional conduct “is of a kind that typically falls within the scope of traditional state tort law.” Minneci v. Pollard, 565 U.S. 118, 131 (2012). The conduct Gates alleges falls squarely within ...

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