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Dowling v. U.S. Corrections, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville

November 19, 2019

CRAIG DOWLING, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. CORRECTIONS, LLC, JOHN DOE NO. 1, and JOHN DOE NO. 2, Defendants.

          Debra C. Poplin Magistrate Judge

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TRAVIS R. MCDONOUGH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant U.S. Corrections, LLC's motion for initial review of Plaintiff's complaint (Doc. 22). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion will be GRANTED and this action will be DISMISSED because the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under § 1983.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, a prisoner of the Tennessee Department of Correction, filed a pro se complaint for violation of his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Defendant U.S. Corrections-the prisoner transportation service that took him from Watertown, New York, to Ware County, Georgia, and then to Charleston, Missouri, before depositing him in Knoxville, Tennessee, in January, 2019-employs the John Doe Defendants. (Doc. 21, at 3-4.) Plaintiff specifically alleges that a John Doe Defendant pointed a taser at him and placed him in a “special cage” without a seatbelt after he had an argument with the driver of the transport van, [1] that he later injured a tooth when the driver of the van suddenly applied the brakes twice, and that the John Doe Defendants did not assist him in obtaining medical care or in filing a grievance upon his arrival at the Ware County Jail. (Id.)

         II. SCREENING STANDARD

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), district courts must screen prisoner complaints and, at any time, 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 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A. The dismissal standard the Supreme Court articulated in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (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 Rule 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). Thus, to survive an initial PLRA 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). As such, formulaic and conclusory recitations of the elements of a claim are insufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 681. Nevertheless, courts liberally construe pro se pleadings and hold them to a less stringent standard than lawyer-drafted pleadings. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A claim for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 requires a plaintiff to establish that (1) a person acting under color of state law (2) deprived him of a federal right. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 315 (1981).

         As set forth above, Plaintiff bases his claims against Defendant U.S. Corrections and two John Doe Defendants on allegations that one of the John Doe Defendants, at the request of the driver of the van, pointed a taser at him and placed him in a “special cage” without a seatbelt during a trip between jail facilities after Plaintiff got into a verbal altercation with the driver, resulting in Plaintiff injuring his tooth when he “slam[med] his face” into a wall after the driver suddenly applied the brakes. (Doc. 21, at 3-4.) Plaintiff also alleges that after they arrived at the jail facility in Ware County, Georgia and Plaintiff was placed in a holding cell, the John Doe Defendants fled without helping Plaintiff obtain medical care or allowing him to file a complaint or grievance, despite Plaintiff showing them his injuries and one of the Doe Defendants telling him that “we will take care of everything when we get inside.” (Id. at 4.)

         A. Defendant U.S. Corrections

         Plaintiff has not set forth any facts from which the Court can plausibly infer that Defendant U.S. Corrections may be liable under § 1983 for the incidents in the complaint. A private corporation acting under color of state law may not be liable under § 1983 for constitutional violations based upon a theory of respondeat superior, but rather may be liable only where its custom or policy caused a constitutional violation. See Street v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810, 818 (6th Cir. 1996) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978)). To the extent that Plaintiff alleges that he injured his tooth because he was not buckled into a seatbelt during his transportation in the van pursuant to a custom or policy of Defendant U.S. Corrections, this allegation does not allow the Court to plausibly infer any violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Groce v. Smith, No. 3:15-CV-0823, 2015 WL 4743818, at *2 (M.D. Tenn. Aug. 10, 2015) (collecting cases standing for the proposition that transporting inmates without seatbelts does not amount to deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth Amendment).

         As nothing else in the complaint suggests that any custom or policy of Defendant U.S. Corrections caused a violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights, the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under § 1983 as to Defendant U.S. Corrections. Thus, Defendant U.S. Corrections will be DISMISSED.

         B. John ...


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