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Hood v. Garza

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division

May 1, 2019

A.W. GARZA, et al., Defendants.


          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Corey De'Andre Hood is a federal inmate who is currently confined at the United States Penitentiary (USP) - Big Sandy located in Inez, Kentucky. Proceeding without counsel, Hood has filed a civil rights action against prison officials pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). [R. 1.] By separate order, the Court has granted Hood's motion to proceed without prepayment of the filing fee. [R. 6.] Thus, the Court must conduct a preliminary review of Hood's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A. A district court must dismiss any claim that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 607-08 (6th Cir. 1997).


         The Court evaluates Hood's complaint under a more lenient standard because he is not represented by an attorney. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Burton v. Jones, 321 F.3d 569, 573 (6th Cir. 2003). At this stage, the Court accepts the plaintiff's factual allegations as true, and his legal claims are liberally construed in his favor. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). However, the principles requiring generous construction of pro se pleadings are not without limits. Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989); Wilson v. Lexington Fayette Urban County Government, No. 07-cv-95-KSF, 2007 WL 1136743 (E.D. Ky. April 16, 2007). A complaint must set forth claims in a clear and concise manner, and 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 (2009); Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470 (6th Cir. 2010). See also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8. In addition, “a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Moreover, although the Court has an obligation to liberally construe a complaint filed by a person proceeding without counsel, that obligation does not extend so far as to require or permit it to create arguments or claims that the plaintiff has not made. Coleman v. Shoney's, Inc., 79 Fed.Appx. 155, 157 (6th Cir. 2003) (“Pro se parties must still brief the issues advanced with some effort at developed argumentation.”). Thus, vague allegations that one or more of the defendants acted wrongfully or violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights are not sufficient. Laster v. Pramstaller, No. 08-CV-10898, 2008 WL 1901250, at *2 (E.D. Mich. April 25, 2008) (“Neither the Court nor Defendants are obligated to search through the Complaint and its voluminous exhibits in order to glean a clear and succinct statement of each claim for relief. It is Plaintiffs' responsibility to edit and organize their claims and supporting allegations into a manageable format.”). The Court is not required to create a claim for the plaintiff, nor to “conjure up unpled allegations.” Moorman v. Herrington, No. 4:08-CV-P127-M, 2009 WL 2020669, at *1 (W.D. Ky. July 9, 2009)(citations omitted).

         The substantive allegations of Hood's complaint are set forth in numbered paragraphs in Section III of the complaint. [R. 1 at 4-7.] Hood first alleges that defendant Lieutenant Moore retaliated against Hood after Hood stated he would be filing a grievance, resulting in Hood's placement in restraints for sixteen hours and otherwise subjecting Hood to allegedly harsh prison conditions. Id. at 4. Hood also alleges that defendants Correctional Officer (“C.O.”) Howard and C.O. Harshbarger assaulted Hood in his cell, causing physical injury, and that defendant Lieutenant Compton failed to preserve video evidence of the assault on Hood by C.O. Howard and C.O. Harshbarger. Id. Hood alleges that, after the assault, Hood was transferred to the “Psychology Department, ” where Hood was confined to a room and allegedly subjected to harsh prison conditions for four consecutive days. Id. at 4-5. Hood claims that, when he told the psychologist (whom he does not identify) that he needed his psychotropic medicine and asked why he was being subjected to such harsh treatment, he was told that it is BOP policy. Id. Next, Hood alleges that defendant Nurse Plumley lied about Hood's housing conditions and denied him medical care. Id. at 5-6. Hood also alleges that, after Hood refused to sign some papers, defendant Case Manager Webb made derogatory comments about Hood in the presence of other inmates in an effort to “create a hostile environment” for Hood and that Webb threatened to sabotage Hood's disciplinary hearing. He also claims that “A.W.'s” (presumably referring to defendant Acting Warden Garza) have made misleading statements about cold temperatures. Id. at 6-7. Finally, Hood alleges that, although he does not believe that he should not have been placed in a maximum security prison and his custody points have been miscalculated, his attempts to show proof of this to Case Manager Webb have been ignored and Webb has refused to transfer him for what Hood believes are personal reasons. Id. at 7.

         Hood does not identify any particular constitutional right that he claims has been violated. Rather, he broadly alleges that “I feel everything that happened is a violation of my civil rights.” Id. at 9. He seeks punitive and compensatory damages, transfer to a low-security institution, and evaluation and treatment for his medical and psychological issues. Id. at 13.


         Hood seeks to pursue his claims pursuant to Bivens, which held that an individual may “recover money damages for any injuries...suffered as a result of [federal] agents' violation of” his constitutional rights.” Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 397 (1971). However, to the extent that Hood seeks to sue the defendants in their official capacities, his claims fail. A suit against a government employee in his or her “official capacity” is not a suit against the employee for his or her conduct while performing job duties for the government but is instead a suit against the government agency that employs the individual. Thus, an official capacity suit against an employee of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is a suit against the BOP, which is a federal agency. While Bivens authorizes suits against federal employees for violations of civil rights, it does not waive the sovereign immunity enjoyed by the United States and its agencies. Ctr. for Bio-Ethical Reform, Inc. v. Napolitano, 648 F.3d 365, 370 (6th Cir. 2011) (Bivens claims may be asserted against federal officials only in their individual capacities); Okoro v. Scibana, 63 Fed.Appx. 182, 184 (6th Cir. 2003).

         Moreover, while Bivens expressly validated the availability of a claim for damages against a federal official in his or her individual capacity, an officer is only responsible for his or her own conduct. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676-77 (2009); see also Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S.Ct. 1843, 1860 (2017). Thus, in order to recover against a given defendant in a Bivens action, the plaintiff “must allege that the defendant [was] personally involved in the alleged deprivation of federal rights.” Nwaebo v. Hawk-Sawyer, 83 Fed.Appx. 85, 86 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 373-77 (1976)). Indeed, “[e]ven a pro se prisoner must link his allegations to material facts…and indicate what each defendant did to violate his rights…” Sampson v. Garrett, 917 F.3d 880, 882 (6th Cir. 2019) (citing Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 471 (6th Cir. 2010); Lanman v. Hinson, 529 F.3d 673, 684 (6th Cir. 2008)). Thus, to proceed with each of his Bivens claims against each defendant, Hood must: 1) allege the violation of a constitutional right; 2) link his allegations to material facts; and 3) indicate what each individual defendant against whom he asserts a particular claim did to violate his constitutional rights.

         Although Hood does not identify any particular constitutional rights which he claims to have been violated, construed broadly, his complaint generally appears to suggest violations of the Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment prohibits any punishment which violates civilized standards of decency or “involve[s] the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102-03 (1976) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). To establish an Eighth Amendment violation, a prisoner must demonstrate that he was deprived of “the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981); Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294 (1991) (an Eighth Amendment claim is stated where a prisoner is denied some element of civilized human existence due to deliberate indifference or wantonness); Street v. Corrections Corp. of America, 102 F.3d 810, 814 (6th Cir. 1996).

         An Eighth Amendment claim has both an objective and subjective component: (1) a sufficiently grave deprivation of a basic human need; and (2) a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298. Thus, to state a viable Eighth Amendment claim, an inmate must allege that a prison official: 1) was actually aware of a substantial risk that the plaintiff would suffer serious harm; and 2) knowingly disregarded that risk. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994).

         Finally, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) provides, “[n]o Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury.” The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has repeatedly found Eighth Amendment claims for monetary relief precluded by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) absent a showing of physical injury. See Jennings v. Weberg, No. 2:06-CV-235, 2007 WL 80875, at *3 (W.D. Mich. Jan.8, 2007) (collecting cases). “[E]ven though the physical injury required by § 1997e(e) for a § 1983 claim need not be significant, it must be more than de minimis for an Eighth Amendment claim to go forward.” Flanory v. Bonn, 604 F.3d 249, 254 (6th Cir. 2010).

         With these standards in mind, the Court has reviewed Hood's claims against Lt. Moore [R. 1 at 4 (¶ 1)] and his claims against C.O.'s Howard and Harshbarger [R. 1 at 4 (¶ 2)]. A response is required from those defendants ...

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