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Elliott v. Norwood

United States District Court, D. Maine

February 11, 2019

JEREMY EVAN ELLIOTT, Plaintiff
v.
RALPH NORWOOD, et al., Defendants JEREMY EVAN ELLIOTT, Plaintiff
v.
PENOBSCOT COUNTY JAIL HEALTH AND MEDICAL DEPT., Defendants

          RECOMMENDED DECISION AFTER REVIEW OF COMPLAINTS PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(E), 1915A

         In these two related actions, Plaintiff alleges he was assaulted by corrections officers while he was incarcerated at the Penobscot County Jail. He also asserts that medical personnel were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs. On October 24, 2018, Plaintiff filed a complaint against the officers and the jail administration (18-cv-00449, ECF No. 1), and a separate complaint against the medical staff at the jail.[1] (18-cv-00450, ECF No. 1.)Plaintiff filed applications to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 2), which applications the Court granted. (ECF No. 4.) In accordance with the in forma pauperis statute, a preliminary review of Plaintiff's complaints is appropriate. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Additionally, Plaintiff's complaints are 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.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).

         Following a review of Plaintiff's complaints, I recommend that unless Plaintiff amends the complaints to assert facts that would support an actionable claim, the Court dismiss Plaintiff's complaints without prejudice.

         Standard of Review

         The federal in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, is designed to ensure meaningful access to the federal courts for those persons unable to pay the costs of bringing an action. When a party is proceeding in forma pauperis, however, “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” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 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 complaints are subject to a review 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 review 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.” 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).

         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), this is “not to say that pro se plaintiffs are not required to plead basic facts sufficient to state a claim, ” Ferranti v. Moran, 618 F.2d 888, 890 (1st Cir. 1980). To allege a civil action in federal court, it is not enough for a plaintiff merely to allege that a defendant acted unlawfully; a plaintiff must affirmatively allege facts that identify the manner by which the defendant subjected the plaintiff to a harm for which the law affords a remedy. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         Background[2]

         Plaintiff alleges he was assaulted on July 26, 2014, while he was incarcerated at the Penobscot County Jail. (18-cv-00449 ECF No. 1-1, 1-3.) Plaintiff claims the assault constitutes “excessive force” and “torture” by Corrections Officers Wintle and Norwood, defendants in 1:18-cv-449-JAW, in violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. (18-cv-00449 ECF No. 1-1, 1-3, 1-4.)

         Plaintiff also alleges that a number of other individuals acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's constitutional rights. According to Plaintiff, Sergeant John Nutall, a defendant in 1:18-cv-449-JAW, demonstrated deliberate indifference when he failed to provide relief from Plaintiff's assailants and in fact sent Defendants Wintle and Norwood with Plaintiff to the hospital. (18-cv-00449 ECF No. 1-2.) Plaintiff further alleges Defendant Nutall otherwise failed to report properly the events and follow jail protocols for incidents involving bodily injury. (Id.) Lieutenant Golden also allegedly failed to report properly the events and follow jail protocol for incidents resulting in bodily injury and failed to provide Plaintiff a safe environment in which to discuss the assault. (18-cv-00449 ECF No. 1-5.) Plaintiff further alleges that the jail's medical providers failed to report properly the events and follow protocol for incidents resulting in bodily injury. (18-cv-00450 ECF No. 1 at 4.) Plaintiff alleges that on January 2, 2018, after an attorney-client meeting at Penobscot County Jail, Defendant Norwood threatened Plaintiff. (Id. at 2.)

         Discussion

         The federal civil rights statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, permits a plaintiff to file an action in federal court against any person who has acted under color of state law to deprive the plaintiff of a federal right. Estades-Negroni v. CPC Hosp. San Juan Capestrano, 412 F.3d 1, 4 (1st Cir. 2005). The defendants identified in Plaintiff's complaints qualify as state actors subject to suit under section 1983. The issue is whether Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to state an actionable claim for the deprivation of a federal right.

         A. The Eighth Amendment Claims

         The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which applies to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits excessive bail, excessive fines, and the infliction of cruel and unusual punishments. U.S. Const. amend. VIII. A punishment is cruel and unusual if it involves the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain. Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173 (1976). The question whether a particular use of force “inflicted unnecessary and wanton pain and suffering ultimately turns on whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore ...


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