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Bladel v. Houston County

United States District Court, Middle District of Alabama, Southern Division

April 28, 2014

EARNEST EDWARD BLADEL, Plaintiff,
v.
HOUSTON COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

TERRY F. MOORER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

Plaintiff, an inmate proceeding pro se, is confined at the Houston County Jail in Dothan, Alabama. He files this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint for damages against Houston County, Alabama, Sergeant Turner, Officer De LaPaul, Sergeant Jones, and Sergeant Brasier. He alleges various violations of his constitutional rights stemming from falling down the stairs at the Houston County Courthouse on January 27, 2013. Upon consideration of the pleadings, the court concludes that dismissal of Plaintiff's complaint prior to service of process is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).[1]

I. DISCUSSION

On January 27, 2013, Plaintiff fell down the stairs at the Houston County Courthouse. Plaintiff had on ankle chains when he fell from the fourth step to the landing. Although Defendant LePaul was behind Plaintiff when he fell, Plaintiff complains the officer “didn’t do nothing to help prevent [him] from falling.” Defendant Jones launched an investigation upon being notified of the incident. Defendants Jones and Brasier stated Plaintiff’s injuries were self-inflicted because he attempted to run when the incident occurred. Plaintiff was subsequently removed from population at the Houston County Jail and sent to lock up because he bent the ankle shackles when he fell. He complains he was charged for damaging the ankle chains. Finally, Plaintiff complains that, while attempting to stand up to help a cell mate unlock his leg brace, he fell and injured his shoulder because his ankle chain got caught on an I peg. Doc. No. 1 at 3.

A. Failure to Protect

Prison officials have a duty not to disregard a known risk to inmate safety. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994); Brown v. Hughes, 894 F.2d 1533 (11th Cir. 1990). A constitutional violation occurs only when a plaintiff establishes the existence of “a substantial risk of serious harm, of which the official is subjectively aware, . . . and [that] the official does not respond[] reasonably to the risk’....” Marsh v. Butler County, 268 F.3d 1014, 1028 (11th Cir. 2001) (en banc), quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 844.[2]

The complaint reflects Plaintiff fell down the stairs after stepping on his ankle chains. The facts alleged reflect that the incident in question was unintended and unexpected discharging the Eighth Amendment duty to protect Plaintiff as he has not demonstrated that any name defendant acted with deliberate indifference. Plaintiff, therefore, fails to state a claim against Defendants under the Eighth Amendment regarding the January 27, 2013, incident. Any claim that jail officials should have done more, under the circumstances, goes beyond the constitutional imperative against ignoring a potential threat and amounts only to a claim that jail staff were negligent. Negligence, however, is not actionable in a complaint filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This claim is due to be dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) & (ii). Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327 (1986); Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986) (holding that a violation of the Eighth Amendment must involve “more than an ordinary lack of due care for the prisoner's . . . .safety”); see also Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989).

B. Conditions

Plaintiff alleges he injured himself in a holding cell when, failing to recognize his shackle chain was caught on an I peg, he fell forward on his shoulder. This claim fails to state a claim of constitutional magnitude. Plaintiff doe not allege that any defendant was involved in or responsible for the incident about which he complains. The incident appears to have been only an unfortunate and inadvertent accident. There is no indication that conditions in the holding cell amounted to a violation of the Eighth Amendment. See Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981) (only “extreme deprivations” will make out a conditions-of-confinement claim); Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278, 1289-90 (11th Cir. 2004) (the challenged prison condition must be “extreme” and must pose “an unreasonable risk of serious damage to [plaintiff’s] future health.”). This claim provides no basis for relief in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action and is due to be dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i).

C. Due Process

Plaintiff had a disciplinary hearing where Defendant Turner testified she thought Plaintiff was trying to escape before his sentencing hearing when he fell down the stairs at the courthouse. Plaintiff also asserts Defendants Jones and Braiser stated he tried to run. Plaintiff was removed from general population to lock up and charged for damaging the ankle chains which bent when he fell down the stairs. Doc. No. 1 at 3.

If Plaintiff contends Defendants improperly confiscated funds from his inmate account to pay for the damage to jail property, the court recognizes that inmates have a protected property interest in any funds deposited into their prison account and cannot be deprived of those funds without due process of law. See Gillihan v. Shillinger, 872 F.2d 935, 938 (10thCir. 1989). In this situation, however, all the Due Process Clause requires is the availability of an adequate post-deprivation remedy. Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 542-44 (1981), overruled on other grounds by Daniels, 474 U.S. 327; Tinney v. Shores, 77 F.3d 378, 382 (11th Cir. 1996); Rodriguez-Mora v. Baker, 792 F.2d 1524, 1527 (11th Cir. 1986). The State of Alabama, through its Board of Adjustment, provides a meaningful post-deprivation remedy for Plaintiff to seek redress for the loss of his property. Ala. Code § 41-9-60, et seq.

Plaintiff’s contention that his constitutional rights were violated when he was charged for damaging jail property, whether such resulted from negligence or an intentional act, is “based on an indisputably meritless legal theory” and is, therefore, subject to dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i).

If Plaintiff contends that his assignment to lock up constituted “punishment” in violation of his rights as a pre-trial detainee under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, Bell v. Wolfish, 411 U.S. 520, 560-61 (1979), he has shown no entitlement to relief. In Bell, the Court determined that the Due Process Clause prohibits the punishment of a pretrial detainee “prior to an adjudication of guilt in accordance with due process of law.” Id. at 535. The ...


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