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Delk v. Hardeman County Correctional Facility

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

October 11, 2019




         On October 21, 2016, Plaintiff Adrian Deshun Delk, who is incarcerated at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Hartsville, Tennessee, filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a motion to proceed in forma pauperis, and a motion for appointment of counsel. (ECF Nos. 1, 3 & 4.) Delk's complaint concerns his previous incarceration at Hardeman County Correctional Facility (HCCF) in Whiteville, Tennessee. The Court issued an order on October 24, 2016, granting leave to proceed in forma pauperis and assessing the civil filing fee pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a)-(b). (ECF No. 6.) In the year that followed, Delk filed numerous additional exhibits and “evidence.” (ECF Nos. 12, 14, 15, 17 to 22, 24 & 26.) The Court granted Delk's motions to file the exhibits but declined to consider any additional documents aside from the complaint during the screening process. (ECF No. 27 at PageID 512.) The Court also denied Delk's motion for appointment of counsel. (Id. at PageID 511.)

         On November 2, 2018, Delk filed an amended complaint that is 79 pages in length and also includes 301 pages of exhibits and attachments. (ECF No. 31.) The Clerk shall record the Defendants as the HCCF; HCCF Case Managers Columbus Molone, Inell Allen and Tomicka McKinnie; HCCF Corrections Officers (C/O) Danita Woods and Latoya Louden; HCCF Lieutenant Eric Austin; Laura Petty and Thelma Bumpus, nurses at the South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF); Jasper Brewster, a dentist at SCCF; Bernhard Dietz, a doctor at HCCF; Kent Joy, HCCF Mailroom Manager; Kelsey Gates, an Internal Affairs Officer at HCCF; former HCCF Warden Grady Perry;[1] Thomas Coreman, HCCF Program Manager; HCCF Grievance Sergeants Latoya Brown and Rebeca Willison; Dorthy Robertson, a Unit Manager at HCCF; Elsie Smith, a teacher at HCCF; Keinaenna Jackson, a Disciplinary Sergeant at HCCF; and Carlson Brent, a Segregation Sergeant at HCCF.

         Delk sues the Defendants in their individual capacities and seeks various damages in varying amounts from each. (ECF No. 31 at PageID 600-06.) Delk also requests various declaratory relief against Defendants Joy, Coreman, Brown, Willison, Robertson, and Smith. (Id. at PageID 602-04.)

         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))).

         Delk 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, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.

         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).

         Delk raises numerous claims against several Defendants at HCCF and SCCF that involve or stem from assaults that occurred on March 4, 2016, June 8, 2017, November 4, 2017, and January 18, 2018. The Court will separately discuss the facts pertaining to each Defendant, or group of Defendants where possible, and then analyze the relevant law for the related claim or claims.

         Claims Against SCCF Defendants

         Delk's primary claims relate to various incidents during his incarceration at HCCF. However, in his amended complaint he asserts additional claims against Defendants Laura Petty, Thelma Bumpus and Jasper Brewer, employees at SCCF. (ECF No. 31 at PageID 540-41, 552, 564-67.) The proper joinder of parties in a single lawsuit is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20.[2] Rule 20(a)(2) governs the joinder of Defendants and provides that multiple Defendants may be joined in one action if:

(A) any right to relief is asserted against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and
(B) any question of law or fact common to all Defendants will arise in the action.

         The Seventh Circuit has cogently explained how Rule 20(a)(2) applies to prisoner plaintiffs:

[M]ultiple claims against a single party are fine, but Claim A against Defendant 1 should not be joined with unrelated Claim B against Defendant 2. Unrelated claims against different Defendants belong in different suits, not only to prevent the sort of morass that this [multi]-claim, [multi]-Defendant suit produced but also to ensure that prisoners pay the required filing fees-for the Prison Litigation Reform Act limits to 3 the number of frivolous suits or appeal that any prisoner may file without prepayment of the required fees. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). . . .
. . . . A buckshot complaint that would be rejected if filed by a free person-say, a suit complaining that A defrauded the plaintiff, B defamed him, C punched him, D failed to pay a debt, and E infringed his copyright, all in different transactions-should be rejected if filed by a prisoner. . . .

George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007); see also Dykes v. Benson, No. 1:18-cv-664, 2018 WL 3708054, at *4 (W.D. Mich. Aug. 2, 2018) (“Permitting improper joinder in a prisoner civil rights action also undermines the purpose of the PLRA, which was to reduce the large number of frivolous prisoner lawsuits that were being filed in the federal courts.”).

         The claims relating to Delk's time at SCCF are misjoined in this action because they are completely unrelated to Delk's various claims about his incarceration at HCCF and seek relief against entirely unrelated Defendants.

         Moreover, the Western District of Tennessee is not the proper venue for Delk's claims against the SCCF Defendants. Twenty-eight U.S.C. § 1391(b) authorizes the commencement of a civil action only in a judicial district:

(1) where any Defendant resides, if all Defendants reside in the same State,
(2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred . . ., or (3) a judicial district in which any Defendant may be found, if there is no district in which the action may otherwise be brought.

         The claims against Defendants Petty, Bumpus and Brewer have no connection with this district. The SCCF is located in Clifton, Tennessee, in Wayne County. Wayne County is part of the Columbia Division of the Middle District of Tennessee. 28 U.S.C. § 123(b)(3).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21 provides that “[m]isjoinder of parties is not a ground for dismissing an action. On motion or on its own, the court may at any time, on just terms, add or drop a party. The court may also sever any claim against a party.” Additionally, 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) states “[t]he district court of a district in which is filed a case laying venue in the wrong division or district shall dismiss, or if it be in the interest of justice, transfer such case to any district or division in which it could have been brought.” The claims against the SCCF Defendants should not have been brought in this district. The Court finds that severing the claims raised against Defendants Petty, Bumpus and Brewer and transferring them to the Middle District of Tennessee is the appropriate remedy for the misjoinder. Accordingly, the claims in the amended complaint against Defendants Laura Petty, Thelma Bumpus and Jasper Brewer are hereby SEVERED from this case and TRANSFERRED, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), to the Columbia Division of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.[3]

         Claims Against HCCF

         The Court construes Delk's claims against HCCF as an attempt to assert claims against CoreCivic, a private corporation that operates the HCCF.[4] “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 that 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). CoreCivic “cannot be held liable under a theory of respondeat superior.” Braswell v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 419 Fed.Appx. 622, 627 (6th Cir. 2011). To prevail on a § 1983 claim against CoreCivic, Delk “must show that a policy or well-settled custom of the company was the ‘moving force' behind the alleged deprivation” of his rights. Id.

         Delk has not alleged that he suffered an injury because of conditions attributable to an unconstitutional policy or custom of CoreCivic. He instead attributes his injuries to the individual actions of other Defendants. He has therefore failed to state a claim against the HCCF/CoreCivic.

         Untimely Claims

         Some of Delk's claims in his amended complaint are untimely. The statute of limitations for a § 1983 action is the “state statute of limitations applicable to personal injury actions under the law of the state in which the § 1983 claim arises.” Eidson v. Tenn. Dep't of Children's Servs., 510 F.3d 631, 634 (6th Cir. 2007); see also Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 275-76 (1985). The limitations period for § 1983 actions arising in Tennessee is the one-year limitations provision found in Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(a)(1). Roberson v. Tennessee, 399 F.3d 792, 794 (6th Cir. 2005).

         Delk's original complaint is deemed filed on October 18, 2016, the date it was received in the HCCF mailroom. (ECF No. 1-8 at PageID 165.) He signed the amended complaint and gave it to prison officials for mailing on October 29, 2018. (ECF No. 31-26 at PageID 908.) See Brand v. Motley, 526 F.3d 921, 925 (6th Cir. 2008) (deeming a complaint filed “when it is handed over to prison officials for mailing to the court”). Claims in Delk's amended complaint may “relate back” to conduct or events first set forth in the original complaint. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(2). If the claims meet the requirements of Rule 15(c)(2) (or another subsection of Rule 15(c)), they will be ...

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