United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division
November 17, 2014
NAVADNEY RONDELL GILDER, Plaintiff
ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants
Navadney Rondell Gilder, Plaintiff, Pro se, Brent, AL.
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
HARWELL G. DAVIS, III, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Navadney Rondell Gilder, 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 have been abridged during his incarceration. (Doc. 1). The plaintiff names as defendants the Alabama Department of Corrections, Warden Willie Thomas, Warden Deborah Toney, Captain John Hutton, and Sergeant Ronald Rutledge. The plaintiff seeks monetary damages and equitable relief. (Doc. 1 at 4). 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 is currently an inmate in the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections in the Bibb County Correctional Facility. (Doc. 1 at 2). He has been in disciplinary segregation since August 10, 2012. (Id. at 7). He complains that he has a " conflict of interest" with the administration and seeks a transfer to a different facility, as well as money damages and the filing of criminal and civil charges against the named defendants. (Id. at 4). In support of his claim, the plaintiff asserts that the he was subjected to false disciplinaries, suffered cruel and unusual punishment due to the conditions of confinement in disciplinary segregation, was denied adequate medical care, and has false information contained in his classification review. Each allegation will be discussed, in turn.
The plaintiff complains that on January 2, 2013, he was charged with two disciplinaries: disorderly conduct and failure to obey a direct order. (Doc. 1 at 3). Officer Alexander Bates was listed as the arresting officer, but Captain John Hutton had ordered Sergeant Ronald Rutledge to forge Officer Bates' signature. (Id.).
A disciplinary hearing was held in January of 2013. (Doc. 1 at 3). Sergeant Rutledge presided as the hearing officer. (Id.). During the hearing, Officer Bates stated that he had not written the disciplinaries and that the plaintiff had been sleeping. (Id.). In spite of Officer Bates' testimony, Sergeant Rutledge found the plaintiff guilty. (Id.).
The disciplinaries were sent to Assistant Warden Deborah Toney. (Doc. 1 at 3). Defendant Toney failed to review the findings and facts and approved them both. (Doc. 1 at 4). The head warden, Mr. Thomas, stated that he was not aware of either incident, but would believe his officers over the inmates. (Doc. 1 at 4-5).
The plaintiff's mother called the Commissioner's office and spoke with Commissioner Culliver about the incident. (Doc. 1 at 5). The Commissioner called Bibb County Correctional Facility, and Bates told the Commissioner that he did not write the two disciplinaries. (Id.). Commissioner Culliver ordered Warden Thomas to expunge the disciplinaries from the plaintiff's file, but they never were. (Id.).
The plaintiff was placed in a single cell on April 10, 2013. (Doc. 1 at 5). On April 15, 2013, the plaintiff received another disciplinary for destroying a camera. (Id.) The disciplinary stated that COI Dexter Nixon was the arresting officer. (Id.) Although Nixon testified during the hearing that he did not write the incident report, the plaintiff was still found guilty. (Id.) On May 1, 2013, Assistant Warden Toney approved the sanctions against the plaintiff. (Id.)
The plaintiff has failed to state a claim of constitutional proportions. Prison inmates have no constitutionally guaranteed immunity from being falsely or wrongly accused of conduct which may result in the deprivation of a protected liberty interest. Freeman v. Rideout, 808 F.2d 949, 951 (2d Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 485 U.S. 982, 108 S.Ct. 1273, 99 L.Ed.2d 484 (1988). As long as the inmate had the benefit of minimum procedural due process protections set forth in Wolff v. McDonnell 418 U.S. 539, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974), his action for damages resulting from the alleged false charges must fail. Even the filing of unfounded charges against an inmate does not per se give rise to a constitutional violation under § 1983. The procedures in Wolff allow a prisoner to defend against improper or false disciplinary charges by affording the inmate the opportunity to explain his version of the facts to the disciplinary officer. Hanrahan v. Lane, 747 F.2d 1137 (7th Cir. 1984).
In this case, because the plaintiff has failed to allege that he was denied the procedural due process protections mandated by Wolff, his allegations concerning the allegedly falsified disciplinaries are not sufficient to state a claim under § 1983. Moreover, even if the plaintiff had asserted adequate factual allegations to show a denial of due process,  his claims would be subject to dismissal on the authority of Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 115 S.Ct. 2293, 132 L.Ed.2d 418 (1995)(holding that, unlike the loss of good-time credit, segregation as a form of punishment was not a " dramatic departure" from the ordinary conditions on incarceration). Here, the plaintiff does not allege or demonstrate that any punishment he received for these two incidents was a " dramatic departure" from the ordinary conditions on incarceration. This claim is due to be dismissed.
B. Conditions of Confinement
The plaintiff asserts that the single segregation cells at Bibb County Correctional Facility, into which he was placed on April 10, 2013, constitute cruel and unusual living conditions. (Doc. 1 at 5). According to the complaint, Warden Thomas orders the mattresses to be taken out of the cells on weekdays between 6:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., neither the hot nor the cold water in the plaintiff's cell was functional, steel plates are welded over the windows in violation of an order from a federal inspector in 2012, there are no water sprinklers, and the inmates there are not afforded a full 45 minutes of walk time per day. (Id. at 5-6).
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 it is the duty of prison officials to furnish prisoners with " reasonably adequate" food, clothing, shelter and sanitation, Newman v. Alabama, 559 F.2d 283, 286 (5th Cir. 1977), rev'd in part on other grounds, 438 U.S. 781, 98 S.Ct. 3057, 57 L.Ed.2d 1114 (1978), the Constitution " does not mandate comfortable prisons, " Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 349. Accordingly, extreme deprivations are required to make out a conditions-of-confinement claim under the Eighth Amendment. Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278, 1298 (11th Cir. 2004). The plaintiff must " at the very least show that a condition of his confinement poses an unreasonable risk of serious damage to his future health or safety." Id. at 1289.
When viewed in light of these parameters, it is clear that the claims asserted by the plaintiff with respect to the living conditions in disciplinary segregation do not adequately state an Eighth Amendment claim. Although the plaintiff complains that conditions are uncomfortable, he does not present facts which show that he is being subjected to an " unquestioned and serious deprivation of his basic human needs, " Rhodes, supra, or that he is " faced with an unreasonable risk of serious damage to his future health or safety." Chandler, supra . To the extent that the conditions in the housing unit are restrictive or even harsh, " they are part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society." Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347. It is therefore recommended that these claims be dismissed.
C. Health Care
The plaintiff asserts that he filled out two sick call forms on April 12, 2013, complaining of extreme pain in his left knee and that he was also spitting up and urinating blood. (Doc. 1 at 6). The plaintiff stated that he needed to be seen as soon as possible, but he was never seen by any nurse practitioner or doctor. (Id.). He submitted a second sick call form on or about May 6, 2013, complaining that he had not been seen in April and was still in need of medical care. (Id.) On May 9, 2013, the plaintiff was seen by nurse practitioner Woods. (Id.) Ms. Woods explained that the head nurse, Ms. Miller, had received the plaintiff's previous sick call request, but erroneously believed he was in general population and could come to the infirmary on his own,  so had logged him in the medical paperwork as a " no-show" when he did not arrive. (Id.) As of May 20, 2013, the plaintiff had still not received the treatment he desired. (Id. at 7).
The plaintiff did not name Nurse Woods, Nurse Miller, or any other medical personnel as defendants, but instead appears to seek to implicate Warden Thomas and Assistant Warden Toney through the concept of respondeat superior . However, there is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983. Harris v. Ostrout, 65 F.3d 912, 917 (11th Cir. 1995) ( citing Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690-92, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978) and LaMarca v. Turner, 995 F.2d 1526, 1538 (11th Cir. 1993), cert. denied , 510 U.S. 1164, 114 S.Ct. 1189, 127 L.Ed.2d 539 (1994)). " The standard by which a supervisor is held liable in her individual capacity for the actions of a subordinate is extremely rigorous." Braddy v. Florida Dep't of Labor and Employment Sec., 133 F.3d 797, 802 (11th Cir. 1998). Supervisory personnel may be held accountable for the constitutional violations of their subordinates upon proof that they (1) were directly involved in the wrongdoing; (2) failed to remedy a wrong after learning of it through report or appeal; (3) created or allowed a policy under which the violation occurred; or (4) were grossly negligent in managing the subordinates who caused the wrongdoing. Williams v. Smith, 781 F.2d 319, 323 (2d Cir. 1986). The plaintiff has alleged none of the above criteria. Moreover, it should be noted that even if the plaintiff had named a medical professional as a defendant, he still would have failed to state a viable claim under the Eighth Amendment.
Medical treatment of prisoners violates the Eighth Amendment only when it is so grossly incompetent, inadequate or excessive as to shock the conscience or to be intolerable to fundamental fairness. Harris v. Thigpen, 941 F.2d 1495, 1505 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting Rogers v. Evans, 792 F.2d 1052, 1058 (11th Cir. 1986)). In the context of prison medical care, it is only deliberate indifference to serious medical needs that violates the Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976). To state an Eighth Amendment claim, a plaintiff must show he suffers from an objectively serious medical need and that prison officials have been subjectively indifferent to that need. Mandel v. Doe, 888 F.2d 783, 788 (11th Cir. 1989).
A prison official is not deliberately indifferent unless he " knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994). Merely negligent diagnosis or treatment of a medical condition does not constitute a wrong under the Eighth Amendment. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106; see also McElligott v. Foley, 182 F.3d 1248 (11th Cir. 1999). Likewise, the Eighth Amendment does not concern itself with mere differences of opinion between an inmate and the prison medical staff with regard to treatment or diagnosis, Harris, 941 F.2d at 1505, nor does the disagreement between two doctors as to the course of treatment state a violation of the Eighth Amendment, since there may be several acceptable ways to treat a medical condition. White v. Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103, 110 (3rd Cir. 1990). It is clear that medical services provided a prisoner need not be perfect, and where a prisoner has in fact been provided medical care for an injury or condition, the court will be hesitant to find an Eighth Amendment violation. Waldrop v. Evans, 871 F.2d 1030 (11th Cir. 1989).
In this case, although plaintiff alleged facts showing an arguable medical need, he has not alleged facts which demonstrate that the prison officials were deliberately indifferent to that need. Even if the staff had been negligent for failing to realize that the plaintiff was not able to bring himself to the infirmary because he was in segregation, mere negligence does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. The plaintiff also failed to allege that he suffered any harm from the delay in seeing the nurse practitioner, and given that he was seen by the nurse practitioner on May 9, 2013, his general assertion that he was not taken to see " the doctor" about " [his] complaints and [his] health" (doc. 1 at 7) is insufficient to state a claim. This claim is due to be dismissed.
D. Incorrect Information in Classification Review
The plaintiff alleges that following his semi-annual review with his classification specialist in March of 2013, the review papers sent to the Central Review Board in Montgomery, Alabama, incorrectly stated that he was in general population and working in the kitchen. (Doc. 1 at 7). That information was incorrect because the plaintiff had been in disciplinary segregation since August 10, 2012. (Id.) The plaintiff argues that this shows the high conflict of interest between him and the named defendants. (Id.)
The plaintiff has failed to state a valid constitutional claim. Not only has he failed to allege that the incorrect information adversely affected his classification status, but even if he had, " [a]n inmate has no liberty interest in a particular classification, prison assignment, or transfer even if the inmate loses access to rehabilitative programs and experiences more burdensome conditions than before." West v. Higgins, 346 Fed.Appx. 423, 426 (11th Cir. 2009) (citing McKune v. Lile, 536 U.S. 24, 39-40, 122 S.Ct. 2017, 153 L.Ed.2d 47 (2002)). This claim is due to be dismissed.
Accordingly, for the reasons stated above, the magistrate judge RECOMMENDS that this action be DISMISSED, WITHOUT PREJUDICE, for failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) and/or (2).
V. Notice of Right to Object
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 petition also must be included. IT IS NOT NECESSARY FOR THE PLAINTIFF TO REPEAT HIS LEGAL ARGUMENTS. AS TO THE FACTS, IF THE PLAINTIFF DOES RESPOND, HE SHOULD LIMIT HIMSELF TO ADDRESSING THE STATEMENTS OF FACT CONTAINED IN THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO WHICH HE OBJECTS; THE FILING OF OBJECTIONS IS NOT A PROPER VEHICLE TO MAKE NEW ALLEGATIONS OR PRESENT ADDITIONAL EVIDENCE. Objections not meeting the specificity requirement set out above will not be considered by a district judge.
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.