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Webb v. Harlan County

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

October 23, 2019




         Gregory Ryan Webb was recently a prisoner at several different detention centers in Kentucky, including but not limited to the Harlan County Detention Center (HCDC). Proceeding without a lawyer, Webb filed a civil rights complaint with the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. [R. 1]. That court conducted an initial review of Webb's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, permitted some of his claims to proceed, dismissed some of his other claims, and severed his remaining claims-regarding his incarceration at the HCDC-from the initial action. [R. 3]. The Western District then opened a new civil action to house those remaining HCDC-related claims and transferred that action to this Court because Harlan County, Kentucky is in this judicial district. [Id. at 15-16].

         Webb's claims regarding the conditions of his confinement at the HCDC are now before this Court on initial screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will dismiss most of Webb's claims, but it will allow two of his Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claims to proceed.


         Webb's factual allegations are very hard to follow. That is because his 11-page complaint [R. 1] is accompanied by a 37-page submission that contains numerous overlapping factual allegations and many superfluous details. [See R. 1-1]. Webb also often fails to clearly explain what each named defendant did or failed to do to cause him harm. [See id.]. That said, Webb is afforded latitude as a pro se litigant, and, as a result, the Court has tried to identify those factual allegations that relate to the conditions of his confinement at the HCDC.

         Webb alleges that he was first transferred to the HCDC in early December 2017 and, shortly thereafter, “started on the HCDC inmate work program.” [R. 1-1 at 15]. Webb alleges that, as part of this program, he and his fellow inmates were required to use weed eaters without the manufacturer's safety guards because those guards “were all purposely removed by HCDC.” [Id.]. As a result, Webb alleges that “every day I weedeated, it caused little whelps and/or sores on my face and/or neck.” [Id.].

         Webb then alleges that he “was told that if I complained I'd go to ‘the hole,' or isolation.” [Id.]. Still, Webb says he complained to his immediate supervisor, “Deputy Ken, ” who told him that he could either “keep working or quit.” [Id.]. Webb claims that when he asked what would happen if he quit, Deputy Ken told him that he would “go to the hole.” [Id.]. Webb then alleges that he wrote grievances to the Department of Corrections and verbally complained “to a D.O.C. representative that visited me in iceolation [sic], ” suggesting that Webb was, in fact, placed in isolation at some point. [Id.]. Webb also says, “I believe I was kept in cell P-3 for longer due to my verbal grievance to the D.O.C. rep who did nothing” [Id.], and he later suggests that cell P-3 is part of the detention center's isolation unit. [R. 1-1 at 19].

         Webb also separately complains that prison officials improperly placed him in medical isolation for a 22-day period. [See R. 1-1 at 19-20]. Webb acknowledges that he “wrote an electronic grievance that included a request to see someone for mental health.” [R. 1-1 at 19]. Webb, however, suggests that prison officials erroneously claimed that he had written that he was “unstable” and then cited that statement as the reason why he was placed in medical isolation. [See Id. at 19-20]. Webb implies that this was a pretext, saying, “I 100% believe the HCDC Officials used this to lock me down over grievances I wrote.” [Id. at 19]. Ultimately, Webb appears to be referencing his grievances regarding the inmate work program and his “not receiving legal copies.” [See id.].

         In addition to Webb's allegations regarding his time in isolation, he claims more generally that the detention center was not “legal friendly.” [R. 1-1 at 17]. Webb suggests he was working on his “McCracken Criminal Case and Complaint to the Kentucky Bar Association” and complains that the HCDC did not have a law library. [Id.]. Webb also alleges that prison officials would not let him retrieve unspecified legal documents from his “stored jail property” and refused to provide him with copies, a notary service, stamps, and large manila envelopes. [Id.]. Webb claims that he tried to file a document with the Kentucky Court of Appeals but that it was returned to him because the envelope did not have enough postage. [Id.]. Webb also says, “I was denied a Criminal Attorney and with no law library and information, my [Kentucky Court of Appeals] Motion was returned where I mailed it to the wrong place.” [Id.].

         Webb also complains about the general conditions at the HCDC. [See R. 1-1 at 20-24]. Among other things, Webb alleges that he was only permitted 50 minutes of outside exercise during his time in isolation, “was offered a shower at least 4 days per week where the water wasn't hot and . .. was allowed 10-25 minutes max, ” and was given “a cordless phone that wouldn't work.” [Id. at 20, 21, 24]. Webb also alleges that a specific prison official-Deputy Jailer Justin Howard-stole his “bottom thermals, then my top thermal, [and] my shampoo, all on different occasions while in D block.” [Id. at 34].

         Finally, Webb alleges that, in February 2018, he “verbally requested both a sick call and dental request, ” told a nurse that he had “an infection in my head that's possibly from my chipped/broken tooth, ” and requested antibiotics. [R. 1-1 at 35]. Webb, however, claims that Nurses Tammy Halcomb and Jeff Osborne both denied him treatment, telling him that he could “have [his] family make arrangements with the local dentist and that the jail would then take [him] once the appointment was made.” [Id. at 35-36].

         In addition to setting forth the foregoing factual allegations, Webb names multiple defendants in his complaint, including Harlan County, HCDC Jailer Burkhart, Chief Deputy Jailer Derrick Moore, Deputy Jailer Whitman, Deputy Jailer Justin Howard, Deputy Jailer Blake, Captain Dan Howard, Southern Health Partners (a medical contractor at the HCDC), Nurse Halcomb, and Nurse Osborne. Webb then suggests that these defendants ran afoul of numerous constitutional provisions, including but not limited to the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Ultimately, Webb asks the Court to grant him several different forms of relief, including declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and money damages.

         Webb's complaint is now before the Court on initial screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).


         As an initial matter, Webb's complaint is very difficult to follow and does not comply in any meaningful way with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Indeed, Webb's complaint runs afoul of Rule 8 because it does not contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief” and fails to include allegations that “are simple, concise, and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), (d)(1). Instead, Webb's submissions include numerous hard-to-follow pages that contain overlapping factual allegations and repetitive claims for relief. [See R. 1-1 at 1-37]. To be sure, Webb does number each of his claims, but many of those claims are either difficult to understand or simply repetitive. [See id.]. Plus, while Webb begins each claim by referring to one or more of the named defendants, he does not consistently tie his factual allegations to those defendants. [See id.]. In other words, Webb often does not clearly explain what each named defendant did or failed to do to cause him harm and, as a result, his legal claims are hard to track. Still, since Webb is a pro se litigant, he is afforded latitude and, therefore, the Court has attempted to identify and screen those legal claims that it can follow.

         A. Eighth Amendment Claims Related to the HCDC Work Program

         Webb first appears to be asserting an Eighth Amendment claim against Harlan County based on the detention center's alleged policy of removing the manufacturer's safety guards from the weed eaters used in the inmate work program. However, even assuming this could state an Eighth Amendment claim, Webb is not entitled to the relief he is seeking against Harlan County. That is because Webb is only pursuing injunctive relief against the county, not money damages. In fact, Webb specifically says, “I'm requesting an injunction requesting Harlan County to no longer allow Harlan CDC to force Inmates who are in danger to be forced to stay in the same housing or work area where the danger is present as HCDC believes it's ok to do so.” [R. 1 at 7]. Webb then indicates that he is not seeking money damages against Harlan County, saying, albeit in a somewhat muddled way, that he is pursuing “NO financial request for the actual counties.” [Id. at 9]. Since Webb is no longer confined at the HCDC, his claim for injunctive relief against Harlan County is moot. See, e.g., Colvin v. Caruso, 605 F.3d 282, 289 (6th Cir. 2010); Kensu v. Haigh, 87 F.3d 172, 175 (6th Cir. 1996). Thus, the Court will dismiss that claim.

         Webb also suggests that this Eighth Amendment claim “refers to . . . B.J. Burkhart, Dan Howard, and Derrick Moore of Harlan CDC.” [R. 1-1 at 15]. But Webb does not actually link his factual allegations regarding the weed eaters to any of these defendants and, thus, it is not clear what these specific defendants did or failed to do to cause him harm. Therefore, as currently pled, Webb's ...

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