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Binette v. York County Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Maine

February 10, 2017

JOSHUA BINETTE, Plaintiff
v.
YORK COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants

          RECOMMENDED DECISION AFTER SCREENING COMPLAINT PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e), 1915A

          JOHN C. NIVISON U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         In this action, Plaintiff Joshua Binette, an inmate in custody at the York County Jail, alleges that on October 10, 2016, certain conditions of his confinement were unreasonable. (Complaint, ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 4), which application the Court granted (ECF No. 6).

         In accordance with the in forma pauperis statute, a preliminary review of Plaintiff's complaint is appropriate. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Additionally, Plaintiff's complaint is subject to screening “before docketing, if feasible or … as soon as practicable after docketing, ” because he is “a prisoner seek[ing] redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.” 29 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).

         Following a review of Plaintiff's complaint, I recommend the Court dismiss the complaint.

         Standard of Review

         When a party is proceeding in forma pauperis, “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines, ” inter alia, that the action is “frivolous or malicious” or “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). “Dismissals [under § 1915] are often made sua sponte prior to the issuance of process, so as to spare prospective defendants the inconvenience and expense of answering such complaints.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989).

         In addition to the review contemplated by § 1915, Plaintiff's amended complaint is subject to screening under the Prison Litigation Reform Act because Plaintiff currently is incarcerated and seeks redress from governmental entities and officers. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), (c). The § 1915A screening requires courts to “identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint (1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim …; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         When considering whether a complaint states a claim for which relief may be granted, courts must assume the truth of all well-plead facts and give the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom. Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “The relevant question ... in assessing plausibility is not whether the complaint makes any particular factual allegations but, rather, whether ‘the complaint warrant[s] dismissal because it failed in toto to render plaintiffs' entitlement to relief plausible.'” Rodríguez-Reyes v. Molina- Rodríguez, 711 F.3d 49, 55 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 569 n. 14). Although a pro se plaintiff's complaint is subject to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), the complaint may not consist entirely of “conclusory allegations that merely parrot the relevant legal standard, ” Young v. Wells Fargo, N.A., 717 F.3d 224, 231 (1st Cir. 2013). See also Ferranti v. Moran, 618 F.2d 888, 890 (1st Cir. 1980) (explaining that the liberal standard applied to the pleadings of pro se plaintiffs “is not to say that pro se plaintiffs are not required to plead basic facts sufficient to state a claim”).

         Background Facts

         Plaintiff alleges that on October 10, 2016, Defendants required that he remain in his cell “for several hours with his cell mates” after the county jail septic system backed up and flooded his cell. (Complaint at 3, ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff asserts he was served a meal in his cell while the conditions existed, but the conditions made him sick and he did not eat his meal. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges other non-contaminated cells were available in the unit at the time. (Id.)

         Discussion

         “It is undisputed that the treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which [the prisoner] is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment.” Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993). “Undue suffering, unrelated to any legitimate penological purpose, is considered a form of punishment proscribed by the Eighth Amendment.” Kosilek v. Spencer, 774 F.3d 63, 82 (1st Cir. 2014) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976)). Under the Eighth Amendment, prison conditions cannot be inhumane, but they need not be comfortable. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1970). Cruel and unusual punishment consists of the denial of “the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities” assessed based on “the contemporary standard of decency.” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981).

         Plaintiff has not alleged any facts to suggest the existence of an inhumane condition that denied him the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities. While unsanitary conditions of confinement can constitute cruel and unusual punishment, actionable cases involve prolonged exposure to unsanitary conditions, which exposure at a minimum consisted of multiple days. Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678, 686 - 87 (1978) (“[T]he length of confinement cannot be ignored .... A filthy, overcrowded cell ... might be tolerable for a few days and intolerably cruel for weeks or months.”); See, e.g., McBride v. Deer, 240 F.3d 1287, 1292 (10th Cir. 2001) (three days in proximity to human waste without adequate cleaning supplies deemed sufficient to state a non-frivolous claim); Smith v. Copeland, 87 F.3d 265, 269 (8th Cir. 1996) (affirming entry of summary judgment where plaintiff was subjected to an overflowed toilet for four days).

         Plaintiff's allegation regarding the receipt of a meal under the alleged conditions does not alter the assessment. See, e.g., Islam v. Jackson,782 F.Supp. 1111, 1114 - 15 (E.D. Va.1992) (serving one meal contaminated with maggots and meals under unsanitary conditions for thirteen days was not cruel and unusual punishment, even though inmate suffered symptoms of food poisoning on one occasion); Bennett v. Misner, No. 3:02-cv-1662, 2004 WL 2091473, at *20, 2004 U.S. Dist. Lexis 19568, at *63 (D. Or. Sept. 17, 2004) (‚ÄúNeither isolated instances of food poisoning, ...


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