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Clayton v. Bedford County sheriff's Dep't Austin Swing

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

August 26, 2019




         On March 10, 2016, Maurice J. Clayton filed a Complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [Doc. 2] against various defendants associated with the Bedford County Correctional Complex, where he was then incarcerated. He subsequently filed his motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis [Doc. 4], which was granted by the Court on January 11, 2019 [Doc. 6]. However, by that date Plaintiff had been transferred to the Turney Center Industrial Complex, where he remains incarcerated at present, and the Complaint has not yet been screened pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”).[1] See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915(A). For the reasons set forth herein, the Court will DISMISS this action in its entirety pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915(A) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.


         Plaintiff's Complaint, though brief, is difficult to discern because of the rambling and variable nature of the grievances contained therein. Plaintiff alleges that his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments rights under the U.S. Constitution have been violated by the Bedford County Sheriff's Department and three individual defendants: Sheriff Austin Swing, Captain Tim Ioky, and Doctor Kenneth Matthews [Doc. 1 at 1]. The stream of consciousness narrative discusses: (1) Plaintiff's diagnosis of scoliosis, his opinion that his “one inch thick” prison mattress exacerbates his back pain from that medical condition, and his unanswered requests to unnamed “nurses” to provide him with a better mattress; (2) various complaints about Dr. Matthews, including his denial of “proper treatment and advise, ” his statements that Plaintiff and/or his family are responsible for payment of Plaintiff's medical expenses during his period of incarceration, and his lack of worry or concern regarding the inmates' medical needs or ability to pay their bills; and (3) various complaints about conditions of confinement at BCCX, including unsanitary conditions that arise from Plaintiff having to sleep on a “thin mat[]” close to a toilet, overcrowding in his cell, “dirt, mold, fun[g]i, rust, and bacteria throughout the jail, ” failure of officials to provide him with cleaning supplies, “very small” food portions, and lack of space for physical exercise [Id. at 1-3]. Plaintiff's Complaint does not contain any specific allegations as to Defendant Swing, and mentions Defendant Ioky only once, stating “I have filed several inmate request forms forwarding them to Captain Tim Ioky, pertaining to my medical condition, the doctor denying me medical treatment, and the unconstitutional living conditions in this jail” [Id. at 2].


         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“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) and 1915(A); Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 213 (2007); Benson v. O'Brian, 179 F.3d 1014 (6th Cir. 1999). Courts must liberally construe pro se pleadings filed in civil rights cases and hold them to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. See, e.g., Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); but see Leeds v. City of Muldraugh, 174 Fed.Appx. 251, 255 (6th Cir. 2006) (noting that, despite the leniency afforded to pro se plaintiffs, the Court is “not require[d] to either guess the nature of or create a litigant's claim.”).

         The dismissal standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554 (2007), “governs dismissals for failure to state a claim under [28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A] because the relevant statutory language tracks the language in [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). When reviewing a complaint for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; see Flanory v. Bonn, 604 F.3d 249, 252 (6th Cir. 2010) (“A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim [under Rule 12(b)(6)] is a test of the plaintiff's cause of action as stated in the complaint, not a challenge to the plaintiff's factual allegations.”). While “detailed factual allegations” are not required, a complaint must contain “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Therefore, to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, plaintiff's “factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true.” Ass'n of Cleveland Fire Fighters v. City of Cleveland, Ohio, 502 F.3d 545, 548 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         In order to succeed on 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. Dominguez v. Corr. Med. Svcs., 555 F.3d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 2009); Haywood v. Drown, 556 U.S. 729, 731 (2009); see also 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”). Plaintiff's Complaint appears to assert claims for deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs and unconstitutional conditions of confinement, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, as well as violations of his rights to procedural due process pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment.

         A prison authority may violate the Eighth Amendment by demonstrating deliberate indifference to an inmate's serious medical needs. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). “Deliberate indifference ‘is a stringent standard of fault, requiring proof that a municipal actor disregarded a known or obvious consequence of his action.'” Shadrick v. Hopkins Cty., Ky., 805 F.3d 724, 737 (6th Cir. 2015) (quoting Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cty., Okla. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 410 (1997)). The standard is comprised of both objective and subjective components: the objective component requires a plaintiff to show a “sufficiently serious” deprivation, while the subjective component requires a showing of a sufficiently culpable state of mind-one of deliberate indifference. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 842 (1994). Prison medical personnel or officials may be deliberately indifferent to a prisoner's serious medical needs “in their response to a prisoner's needs” (or lack thereof) or by “interfer[ing] with treatment once prescribed.” Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-5; Farmer, 511 U.S. at 836 (defining deliberate indifference as lying “between the poles of negligence at one end and purpose or knowledge at the other”).

         With respect to conditions of confinement, “the Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons.” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 349 (1981). As such, the Supreme Court has held that only those conditions that deny a prisoner “the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities are sufficiently grave to form the basis of an Eighth Amendment violation.” Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1 (1992); Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 33 (1993) (noting that prison officials may not “ignore a condition of confinement that is sure or very likely to cause serious illness and needless suffering”); Agramonte v. Shartle, 491 Fed.Appx. 557, 560 (6th Cir. 2012) (noting that overcrowding is not a per se violation of the Eighth Amendment, and that the prisoner must instead allege “extreme deprivations” resulting from the complained of conditions).

         A claim for violation of procedural due process rights pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment requires the plaintiff to demonstrate that (1) he has a liberty or property interest which has been interfered with by the state, and (2) the procedures attendant upon that deprivation were constitutionally deficient. Bazzatta v. McGinnis, 430 F.3d 795, 801 (6th Cir. 2005) (citing Ky. Dep't of Corr. v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454, 460 (1989)). A district court must consider the second question only if the inmate satisfies his burden as to the first; that is, it may “reach the question of what process is due only if the inmate[] establish[es] a constitutionally protected liberty interest.” Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221 (2005). If the second question may be reached, the “essence” of procedural due process is that deprivations of liberty interests must be accompanied by notice and an opportunity for an appropriate hearing. See, e.g., Brickner v. Voinovich, 977 F.2d 235, 237 (6th Cir. 1992); Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 558 (1974) (“The touchstone of due process is protection of the individual against arbitrary action of the government.”). However, “[a] claim of negligence will not support a procedural due process claim[.]” Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 143 (1990)grint; c.f. Grinter v. Knight, 532 F.3d 567, 576 (6th Cir. 2008) (noting that liability may not be imposed under § 1983 based on the denial of an administrative grievance or on failure to act on information contained in a grievance).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Bedford County Sheriff's Department

         Plaintiff has named the Bedford County Sheriff's Office as a Defendant to this action. However, the Bedford County Sheriff's Office is not a separate legal entity amenable to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. That is, the Sheriff's Department is not a municipality, but rather, is merely a department or agency within Bedford County, a political subdivision of the State of Tennessee. See, e.g., Hull v. Davidson Cty. Sheriff's Office, 2017 WL 1322104, at *2 (M.D. Tenn. Apr. 3, 2017) (“[P]olice departments and sheriff's departments are not proper parties to a § 1983 suit; they are not bodies politic and, as such, as not ‘persons' within the meaning of § 1983.”); Mathes v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cty., 2010 WL 3341889 (M.D. Tenn. Aug. 25, 2010)). (noting that Tennessee law “specifically provides that counties may be sued for the actions of sheriff's deputies [but] it does not mention sheriff's department”); Barrett v. Wallace, 107 F.Supp.2d 949, 954 (S.D. Ohio 2000) (“The question here is not whether the Sheriff's Office is a ‘person' for the purposes of liability under Monell and ยง 1983, but whether the Sheriff's Office is a proper legal entity subject to ...

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