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Taylor v. Collins

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

October 18, 2019

JOHN W. TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
SERGEANT COLLINS, ET AL., Defendants.

          ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND

          JAMES D. TODD, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On February 11, 2019, Plaintiff John W. Taylor, who is incarcerated at the Morgan County Correctional Complex in Wartburg, Tennessee, filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and a motion to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF Nos. 1 & 2.) Taylor's complaint addresses events that allegedly occurred while he was incarcerated at the Whiteville Correctional Facility (WCF) in Whiteville, Tennessee. (ECF No. 1 at PageID 2.) The Court issued an order on February 12, 2019, 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. 4.) The Clerk shall record the Defendants as Sergeant First Name Unknown (FNU) Collins; and Corrections Officers (C/O) R. Saunders, E. Gonzales and J. Long.

         Taylor alleges that in August 2018, he was housed in protective custody at WCF because of an on-going investigation. (ECF No. 1 at PageID 4.) Sergeant Collins moved another inmate named Danny Martindale into the cell with Taylor, prompting Taylor to ask whether he should have a cellmate while in protective custody. (Id.) Collins allegedly replied, “I need the bed space.” (Id.) Taylor alleges that Martindale “was very aggressive and confrontational, ” and the two began to argue almost immediately. (Id. at PageID 5.) Later that day, as C/Os Saunders and Gonzalez were escorting Taylor to the shower, Taylor allegedly told Saunders that he was already arguing with Martindale. (Id.) Saunders allegedly “snickered at me like it was a joke.” (Id.) Taylor alleges he later told C/O Long that he “was not going to get along with” Martindale because they were already arguing. (Id.) Long responded, “Yea he's a jerk.” (Id.)

         Taylor alleges that later that day, after he returned to the cell, Martindale attacked him and stabbed him with a “wide steel knife.” (Id.) Taylor alleges he tried to fight Martindale and screamed for help until he fainted from loss of breath. (Id.) He awoke as officers were transporting him to the infirmary. (Id.) Taylor asked an unspecified officer how Martindale could have gotten the weapon and if he understood “why I was so cautious about moving another inmate in the cell with me.” (Id. at PageID 5-6.) The unspecified officer “shrugged his shoulders and held out his hands.” (Id. at PageID 6.) Taylor alleges he filed grievances about the incident, but the grievance was denied without a hearing. (Id.)

         Taylor seeks a change in housing procedures in the protective custody unit, an injunction ordering that he be provided with an “honest grievance hearing, ” and punitive and compensatory damages. (Id. at PageID 7.)

         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))).

         Taylor 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 Taylor intends to assert official capacity claims against the Defendants, his claim is against CoreCivic, a private corporation that operates the WCF.[1] “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, Taylor “must show that a policy or well-settled custom of the company was the ...


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