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Thomas v. Core Civic

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

October 28, 2019

MARTY THOMAS #331672, Plaintiff,
v.
CORE CIVIC, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WILLIAM L. CAMPBELL, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Marty Thomas, an inmate of the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC) in Hartsville, Tennessee, has filed a pro se complaint for alleged violation of his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. No. 1.) The complaint is before the Court for an initial review pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A, and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under the PLRA, the Court must conduct an initial review of any civil complaint filed in forma pauperis, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), or brought by a prisoner-plaintiff against government entities or officials, 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, or challenging the conditions of confinement, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). Upon conducting this review, the Court must dismiss the complaint, or any portion thereof, that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, is frivolous, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The Sixth Circuit has confirmed that 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. 544 (2007), “governs dismissals for failure to state a claim under those statutes because the relevant statutory language tracks the language in Rule 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). Thus, to survive scrutiny on initial review, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         In reviewing the complaint to determine whether it states a plausible claim, “a district court must (1) view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and (2) take all well-pleaded factual allegations as true.” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561 F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gunasekera v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)). A pro se pleading must be liberally construed and “held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). Pro se status, however, does not exempt a plaintiff from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law. See Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989) (“Neither [the Supreme] Court nor other courts . . . have been willing to abrogate basic pleading essentials in pro se suits.”); see also Brown v. Matauszak, 415 Fed.Appx. 608, 612-13 (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”) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         Plaintiff alleges that on August 11, 2019, four or five gang members came to his cell at TTCC and held a knife to the throat of Steven Oatsvall, Plaintiff's cellmate, accusing Oatsvall of reporting some misdeed by their “homie.” (Doc. No. 1 at 4.) Plaintiff verbally defended Oatsvall. (Id.) Two of the gang members then turned and physically attacked Plaintiff and held two knives to his throat. (Id. at 4-5.) The assault left Plaintiff with a swollen left eye, a knot on his lower back, and pain in his lower back that is a ten out of ten most days. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff alleges that he requested medical attention on August 13, August 15, August 19, and September 4, but was never seen, despite personally handing a sick call request to the pod nurse on September 4. (Id. at 9.)

         During the August 11 incident, the gang members accused Plaintiff of having killed a gang member “on the streets, ” and asked “what do you think his brother hood would do if we told them who you are and where you're at?” (Id. at 5.) They also referred to physical assaults Plaintiff allegedly suffered at other prisons in the past and said “you were told not [to] come here in the 1st place.” (Id.) The gang members then stole several items of Plaintiff's property and demanded money from him and Oatsvall “to keep quiet” about Plaintiff. (Id.) When Plaintiff and Oatsvall responded that they did not have any money, the gang members suggested that Plaintiff earn the money through prostitution, “or you can die.” (Id.)

         Later that day, when the correctional officers working the unit came around for count, Plaintiff and Oatsvall told the officers and “female officer Rodriguez” that they needed to be placed in protective custody. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff alleges that this request was ignored and that “no Lt., captain, warden, [or] unit manager” came to speak with the inmates. He alleges that he and Oatsvall spoke with an Officer Lewis on second shift on August 11 and 12 about “what was going on, ” and Officer Lewis said he would inform the sergeant. (Id.) Plaintiff also pushed the emergency button in his cell multiple times on August 11 and 12, “informing whoever answered what was happening” and asking to speak to someone about protective custody. (Id. at 6.) He says those requests were ignored. (Id.) Plaintiff told Sergeant McCarty during the 4 p.m. count on August 12 that he and Oatsvall needed protective custody and why. (Id.) She responded that was the first she had heard about it and that she would talk to somebody and get back to him. (Id.) At the 9 p.m. count on August 12, Plaintiff and Oatsvall asked Officer Lewis for protective custody. (Id.) Lewis responded that “the sergeant and Lt. said” that “protective custody was filled to the brim, ” but he would ask the sergeant to come talk to them. (Id.) At approximately 9:15 p.m., Sergeant McCarty told Plaintiff and Oatsvall that the captain said “segregation is full [but] that they would try & clean some people out of segregation” and move Plaintiff and Oatsvall there the next day. (Id.) In the meantime, she told them that the safest thing for them was to stay locked down in their cell and to tell correctional officers not to open their door. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that he and Oatsvall were still not safe under those conditions, as their “cell door was continuously opened” by the officer on duty, and he and Oatsvall would have to jump up and shut it. (Id.)

         On August 13, 2019, while they were still in the same cell together, Plaintiff and Oatsvall received a threatening and sexually suggestive note slipped under their cell door. (Doc. No. 1 at 7.) Plaintiff showed the note to Officer Lewis that evening and asked to speak to the captain. (Id.) Officer Lewis said he would report the matter to the captain. When a lieutenant and a female officer came by to conduct count and check doors later that night, Plaintiff told them he had been requesting protective custody since August 11 and showed them the note. (Id. at 7-8.) They responded “Get with Unit Manager Perkins in the morning, there's another one scared to be here, that's why we're checking doors.” (Id. at 8). Oatsvall then pushed the emergency button in their cell and told the person who answered that they had “a PREA issue, ”[1] but there was no further response. (Id.) On August 15, Plaintiff showed the note to Sergeant Ross, who finally took the note and gave it to Unit Manager Perkins. (Id.)

         Plaintiff and Oatsvall received or found two more sexually threatening notes in their cell on August 17 and August 23, but his “complaints fell on deaf ears from 8/11/2019 until 8/23/2019.” (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff alleges that even after TTCC's Facilities Investigator Ms. Nelson interviewed Plaintiff on August 19, no action was taken on his complaints until Oatsvall's son contacted TTCC and “an outside agency.” (Id.) After that, Unit Manager Perkins took Plaintiff and Oatsvall at around 10 a.m. on August 23, one at a time, to an office to talk by speaker phone to a “very professional” Unit Manager Smith, and Plaintiff “described the events from 8/11/2019 to 8/23/2019.” (Id. at 8-9.)

         At approximately 4:25 p.m. on August 23, Perkins took Plaintiff and Oatsvall to medical “to have an anatominicall.” (Id. at 9.) They were left in a waiting room that was “extremely dirty, ” with a restroom that was “extremely nasty” with human feces on the floor, wall, sink, and toilet and odor “so bad you had to hold your breath.” (Id.) Plaintiff and Oatsvall had to eat supper in the dirty waiting room. (Id.) Then around 6 or 6:15 p.m., Perkins took Plaintiff and Oatsvall to cell in a different building “pending protective custody investigation.” (Id.) Plaintiff describes the conditions in that cell as follows:

For exercising Plaintiff's constitutional rights to be protected and requesting protective custody, Plaintiff was . . . placed in a cell that was extremely nasty, smelled like hot human urine with urine on the walls, the toilet still smells, and there was no air in the cell from 8/23/2019 until 9/5/2019. And the cell for all purposes is a punitive cell meant for punishment purposes. There's no table, no chairs or stools, the overhead light burns 24/7. Plaintiff Thomas isn't allowed to order food items from commissary. Thus, for exercising his constitutionally protected right to personal safety. In addition, Plaintiff's food trays for the whole week of September 1st and the week of ...

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