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Carpenter v. Bell

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

November 10, 2014

RUBEN CARPENTER, Plaintiff,
v.
MAYOR WILLIAM BELL, et al., Defendants

Ruben Carpenter, Plaintiff, Pro se, Birmingham, AL.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

JOHN E. OTT, Chief United States Magistrate Judge.

Ruben Carpenter, hereinafter referred to as " the plaintiff, " has filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that rights, privileges, or immunities afforded him under the Constitution or laws of the United States were abridged during his incarceration at the Birmingham City Jail. The plaintiff has since been released from custody. The plaintiff names as defendants Birmingham Mayor William Bell, Birmingham Police Chief Roper, Jailer Cathy Davis, Captain Wilson, Lieutenant Trebble, and Sergeant English. The plaintiff seeks monetary and injunctive relief. In accordance with the usual practices of this court and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the complaint was referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for a preliminary report and recommendation. See McCarthy v. Bronson, 500 U.S. 136, 111 S.Ct. 1737, 114 L.Ed.2d 194 (1991).

I. Standard of Review

The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, Pub. L. No. 104-134, § 804, 110 Stat. 1321, and 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, requires this court to screen complaints filed by prisoners against officers or employees of governmental entities and to dismiss the complaint or any portion of the complaint that it finds frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Where practicable, the court may sua sponte dismiss a prisoner's complaint prior to service. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).

A dismissal pursuant to § 1915A (b)(1) for failure to state a claim is governed by the same standards as dismissals for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215, 127 S.Ct. 910, 166 L.Ed.2d 798 (2007). To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, " a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (internal quotation omitted). A plaintiff must assert " more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not" suffice. Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Because " [p]ro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys[, ]" they are liberally construed. Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006).

II. Factual Allegations

The plaintiff claims he found rubber and glass in his food while incarcerated at the Birmingham City Jail, putting him " in danger of food poisoning." (Doc. 1 at 3). He states jail staff failed to provide him with clean bed linen for a month and did not give him a weekly change of uniforms. (Id. at 3, 4). The plaintiff complains that the heat in the jail was " [unbearable]" and the heating and cooling system was a " health hazard." (Id. at 3). He further complains inmates were not allowed to exercise on a consistent basis. (Id. at 3). He alleges that there was no steward assigned to the kitchen on weekends, only unqualified officers. (Id.) The plaintiff claims the jail was overcrowded and did not have enough bathrooms. (Doc. 1 at 3). He states there was no mirror in his cell and rust, mildew, and fungus were present in the showers. (Id. at 4). Additionally, sinks were out of order for 4-5 months. (Id.)

The plaintiff alleges Birmingham Mayor William Bell is responsible for hiring Chief of Police Roper, who oversees the Birmingham City Jail. (Doc. 1 at 6). He further alleges Roper is responsible for hiring Jailer Cathy Davis and Captain Wilson. (Id.) The plaintiff contends Davis is responsible for the officers at the Birmingham City Jail and must approve all matters. (Id.) He states that Wilson is the head administrator of the jail and controls functions relative to the kitchen, dorms, staff, and stewards. (Id.) The plaintiff alleges Wilson also supervises Lieutenant Trebble, whose duties include obtaining laundry supplies and food and overseeing the condition of the jail. (Id.) The plaintiff contends Sergeant English is responsible for morning meals, uniforms, bedding, and security for the jail. (Doc. 1 at 6). He claims Sergeant English is also in charge of ensuring that all inmates receive skin tests and blood work but English failed to do so. (Id.)

III. Discussion

A. Supervisory Liability

The plaintiff does not allege that defendants Bell, Roper, Davis, or Wilson personally violated his constitutional rights and the complaint is void of any specific allegations against these defendants. Rather, the plaintiff attempts to implicate Bell, Roper, Davis, and Wilson based on the actions of their subordinates. The law is well settled, however, that a defendant cannot be held liable in an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on the doctrine of respondeat superior or on the basis of vicarious liability. Gray v. Bostic, 458 F.3d 1295, 1308 (11th Cir. 2006); Belcher v. City of Foley, 30 F.3d 1390, 1396 (11th Cir. 1994).

Although supervisory officials cannot be held liable under § 1983 for the unconstitutional actions of their subordinates based on respondeat superior, supervisors can be held liable for their subordinates' constitutional violations on the basis of supervisory liability. Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1360 (11th Cir. 2003). " Supervisory liability under section 1983 may be shown by either the supervisor's personal participation in the acts that comprise the constitutional violation or the existence of a causal connection linking the supervisor's actions with the violation." Lewis v. Smith, 855 F.2d 736, 738 (11th Cir. 1988).

A causal connection may be established when: 1) a " history of widespread abuse" puts the responsible supervisor on notice of the need to correct the alleged deprivation, and he or she fails to do so; 2) a supervisor's custom or policy results in deliberate indifference to constitutional rights; or 3) facts support an inference that the supervisor directed subordinates to act unlawfully or knew that subordinates would act unlawfully and failed to stop them from doing so.

Valdes v. Crosby, 450 F.3d 1231, 1237 (11th Cir. 2006)(citing Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1360 (11th Cir. 2003)). " A single incident, or isolated incidents, do not ordinarily satisfy this burden." Williams v. Willits, 853 F.2d 586, 588 (8th Cir. 1988).

The plaintiff has failed to allege any facts indicating a history of widespread abuse such that defendants Bell, Roper, Davis, or Wilson were on notice of the need to stop an alleged deprivation, and they failed to do so. Neither does the plaintiff allege that these defendants maintained customs or policies that resulted in deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's constitutional rights nor that they directed their subordinates to act unlawfully or knew they would act unlawfully and failed to stop them from doing so.

Accordingly, the plaintiff's supervisory liability claims against defendants Bell, Roper, Davis, and Wilson are due to be dismissed.

B. Lieutenant Trebble & Sergeant English

The plaintiff states that Lieutenant Trebble is responsible for obtaining laundry supplies, ordering food for the kitchen, and overseeing the condition of the jail, including the heating and cooling system. He further states that Sergeant English is responsible for morning meals, uniforms, bedding, security, and infectious disease control.

The plaintiff complains that he found rubber and glass in his food; did not have clean bed linen for a month or a weekly change of uniforms; suffered from unbearable heat in the jail; and did not exercise on a consistent basis. The plaintiff further complains that a steward was not assigned to the kitchen on the weekends, only unqualified officers. He claims the jail was overcrowded, there were not enough bathrooms, and there was no mirror in his cell. The plaintiff alleges there was rust, mildew, and fungus in the showers and sinks were out of order for 4-5 months. He further alleges that Sergeant English failed to ensure all inmates were provided a skin test and blood work.

" It is undisputed that the treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment." [1] Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31, 113 S.Ct. 2475, 125 L.Ed.2d 22 (1993). In order to establish an Eighth Amendment violation, a plaintiff " must prove three elements: (1) a condition of confinement that inflicted unnecessary pain or suffering [constituting cruel and unusual punishment], . . . (2) the defendants['s] 'deliberate indifference' to that condition . . . and (3) causation . . . ." LaMarca v. Turner, 995 F.2d 1526, 1535 (11th Cir. 1993) (footnotes and internal citation omitted). Whether a particular condition of confinement constitutes cruel and unusual punishment is an objective inquiry; whether prison officials were deliberately indifferent to that condition is a subjective inquiry. See Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298-99, 111 S.Ct. 2321, 115 L.Ed.2d 271 (1991).

Prison conditions amount to cruel and unusual punishment only when they result in " unquestioned and serious deprivation of basic human needs." Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 69 L.Ed.2d 59 (1981). While prison officials must furnish prisoners with " adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and must 'take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of inmates, '" Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994) (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27, 104 S.Ct. 3194, 82 L.Ed.2d 393 (1984)), the Constitution " does not mandate comfortable prisons, " Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 349, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 69 L.Ed.2d 59 (1981). As the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals observed, " The Constitution does not require that prisoners, as individuals or as a group, be provided with any and every amenity which some person may think is needed to avoid mental, physical, and emotional deterioration." Harris v. Thigpen, 941 F.2d 1495, 1511 (11th Cir. 1991). " [C]onditions that cannot be said to be cruel and unusual under contemporary standards are not unconstitutional. To the extent that such conditions are restrictive and even harsh, they are part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society." Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. at 347.

As an initial matter, many of the plaintiff's complaints such as the lack of clean bed linen for a month, a weekly change of uniforms, an assigned kitchen steward on the weekends, or his claim that he did not have a mirror in his cell, do not state claims of constitutional proportion. Indeed, Eighth Amendment violations typically require the presence of intolerable conditions, far worse than those alleged by the plaintiff. See McCord v. Maggio, 927 F.2d 844, 848 (5th Cir. 1991) (Eighth Amendment violation where prisoner was forced to live and sleep for two years in unlit cell with sewage back up and roach infestation); McBride v. Deer, 240 F.3d 1287, 1292 (10th Cir. 2001) (upholding Eighth Amendment claim where inmate was forced to remain in feces-covered cell for three days); DeSpain v. Uphoff, 264 F.3d 965 (10th Cir. 2001) (finding violation of Eighth Amendment where, for thirty-six hours, water overflow after riot flooded unit to standing depth of four inches, prisoners urinated into the water in which feces and uneaten food floated, water was nearly even with bottom of food carts, toilets would not flush, and inmate was afraid to eat); White v. Marshall, 2008 WL 4826283, at * 3-4, *9 (M.D. Ala. Nov. 5, 2008) (unpublished) (holding that plaintiff's confinement for thirty days in a paper gown in the jail's strip cell that did not have a mattress, blanket, commode, wash basin, personal hygiene items, a light bulb, or ventilation, but did have a drain or hole for disposal of human waste did not violate Eighth Amendment). While conditions in the Birmingham City Jail may have been harsh, these particular conditions do not rise to an " unquestioned and serious deprivation of basic human needs." Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 69 L.Ed.2d 59 (1981).

Some of the plaintiff's complaints are much more serious, such as foreign objects in his food, lack of consistent daily exercise, jail overcrowding, unclean showers, and inadequate cooling. However, the plaintiff does not allege that he was injured in any way as a result of these or any other conditions at the Birmingham City Jail. For instance, the plaintiff does not allege that he was injured or contracted a food borne illness due to substandard food preparation. Neither does the plaintiff allege that he suffered from any physical or medical condition due to unclean bed linen or uniforms, lack of consistent daily exercise, or an inadequate heating and cooling system in the jail. Additionally, the plaintiff does not allege that he has personal knowledge that Sergeant English failed to ensure all inmates had a skin test and blood work. Regardless, the plaintiff does not claim that he was subjected to a communicable disease due to overcrowding or infectious disease protocols.

Based on the foregoing, the plaintiff's conditions of confinement claims against defendants Trebble and English are due to be dismissed for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

RECOMMENDATION AND NOTICE OF RIGHT TO OBJECT

Accordingly, for the reasons stated above, the magistrate judge RECOMMENDS the complaint be dismissed for failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).

The plaintiff may file specific written objections to this report and recommendation within fourteen (14) days from the date it is filed in the office of the clerk. Failure to file written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations contained in this report and recommendation within fourteen (14) days from the date it is filed shall bar an aggrieved party from attacking the factual findings on appeal. Written objections shall specifically identify the portions of the proposed findings and recommendation to which objection is made and the specific basis for objection. Any objections to the failure of the magistrate judge to address any contention raised in the complaint also must be included. Objections not meeting the specificity requirement set out above will not be considered by a district judge. The filing of objections is not a proper vehicle to make new allegations or present additional evidence.

A party may not appeal a magistrate judge's recommendation directly to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Appeals may be made only from a final judgment entered by or at the direction of a district judge.

The clerk is DIRECTED to serve a copy of this report and recommendation upon the plaintiff.


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