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Oatsvall v. Core Civic

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

November 7, 2019

STEVEN OATSVALL #4952, Plaintiff,
v.
CORE CIVIC, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WILLIAM L. CAMPBELL, Jr. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Steven Oatsvall, 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 he asked Sergeant Davis to place him in protective custody on August 7, 2019, because he “was tired from being robbed every time commissary came.” (Doc. No. 1 at 4.) Sergeant Davis responded “we don't do that at this here camp, ” and said that Plaintiff could refuse his cell assignment by sitting by the door. (Id.) Later that day, four or five unknown gang members entered Plaintiff's cell, pushed him down and held him at knife-point, took all his commissary, his TV and remote, and threatened to kill him if he said anything. (Id. at 5.)

         On August 9, Lieutenant Robinson sought out Plaintiff and asked if he had loaned someone his TV. (Id.) Plaintiff said he had not, and Robinson told him she had taken his TV “off two knuckleheads on the sidewalk” and that he could get it back in a few days. (Id.) Two days later, on August 11, four or five unknown gang members again entered Plaintiff's cell, saying Plaintiff “told on their homie, ” and held a home-made knife to his throat. When Plaintiff's cell-mate, Marty Thomas, spoke up and said Plaintiff had not told on anyone, the intruders physically attacked, threatened, and robbed Thomas. (Id. at 5-6.) One of the gang members told Plaintiff and Thomas that they would start paying the intruders $25 every week. (Id. at 6.) When Thomas responded that he and Plaintiff did not have any more money to give, one of the gang members suggested they make the money by prostituting themselves “or you can die.” (Id.)

         Later on August 11, Plaintiff and Thomas both asked a second shift officer for protective custody, but their request was ignored. (Id.) On August 12, Plaintiff and Thomas told Officer Lewis “what was going on, ” and Lewis said he would inform the Sergeant. (Id.) Nobody came to talk to Plaintiff and Thomas about the situation, despite their repeatedly pushing the emergency button in their cell. (Id. at 6-7.) Around 4 p.m. on August 12, Thomas told Sergeant McCarty that he and Plaintiff needed protective custody, and McCarty said he would talk to someone and let them know. (Id. at 7.) At 9 p.m. Officer Lewis told Plaintiff and Thomas that the Sergeant and Lieutenant said that protective custody was full and that the Sergeant would come talk to them. (Id.) At around 9:15 Sergeant McCarty told Plaintiff and Thomas that segregation was full, but staff would “try to empty up some beds and get [them] moved tomorrow.” (Id.) The inmates told McCarty that they had not eaten for 24 hours, and she said she would return with something to eat and some forms for them to fill out. (Id. at 8.) 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.) McCarty never returned with the food or the forms. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that he and Thomas were still not safe, as a female officer on duty repeatedly opened their cell door and walked away, even after being told of the pending request for protective custody. (Id.)

         On August 13, 2019, while they were still in the same cell together, Plaintiff and Thomas received a threatening and sexually suggestive note slipped under their cell door. (Doc. No. 1 at 9-10.) They showed the note to Officer Lewis that evening and asked to speak to the captain. (Id. at 10.) Officer Lewis said he would report the matter. When a lieutenant and a female officer came by to conduct count and check doors later that night, Thomas told them he had been requesting protective custody since August 11 and showed them the note. (Id.) 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.). Plaintiff 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 Thomas 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 10-11.) Plaintiff alleges that even after TTCC's Facilities Investigator Ms. Nelson interviewed Thomas on August 19, no action was taken on his complaints until Plaintiff's son contacted TTCC and “an outside agency.” (Id. at 11.) After that, Unit Manager Perkins took Plaintiff and Thomas 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 8-7-2019 to 8-23-2019.” (Id.)

         At approximately 4:25 p.m. on August 23, Perkins took Plaintiff and Thomas to medical “to have a anatomicall [sic] exam.” (Id. at 11.) They were left in a waiting room that was “extremely dirty, ” with “human feces on everything in the toilet area.” (Id.) They were served supper in that room, but Plaintiff “just couldn't eat for the smell.” (Id.) Then around 6 or 6:15 p.m., Perkins took Plaintiff and Thomas 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 all over the walls, the toilet smelled, and there was no air from 8-23-2019 to 9-5-2019. The overhead light stayed on twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. There is no electrical outlet, no table, no chair, we were not allowed to order any commissary items other than writing materials, and hygiene items. Thus, for exercising my constitutional protected right to personal safety, I . . . [was] subjected to conditions for all purposes for a inmate doing punitive time. . . . In addition, Plaintiff's food trays for the whole week of September 1st and the week of August on the days of 8-27-2019, 8-29-2019, and 8-31-2019 were ice cold. In addition, Plaintiff has been denied any cleaning supplies to clean his cell since 8-23-2019 to 9-17-2019.

(Id. at 12.) He also alleges that he was denied food from August 11 to August 13 and denied a shower from August ...


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