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Doucette v. Aroostook County Jail

United States District Court, D. Maine

December 17, 2019

COLBY L. DOUCETTE, Plaintiff
v.
AROOSTOOK COUNTY JAIL, et al., Defendants

          RECOMMENDED DECISION AFTER REVIEW OF PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

          John C. Nivison, U.S. Magistrate Judge

         In this action, Plaintiff, an inmate at the Aroostook County Jail, seeks to recover damages allegedly resulting from his treatment while detained in the jail. (Complaint, ECF No. 1.) Defendants consist of Aroostook County and evidently several corrections officers.[1]

         Plaintiff filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 2), which application the Court granted. (ECF No. 3.) 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.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).

         After a review of Plaintiff's complaint in accordance with 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A, I recommend the Court dismiss the matter.

         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 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”).

         Discussion

         Plaintiff alleges that he suffered harm as the result of certain conditions that he experienced while he was incarcerated at the Aroostook County Jail. “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 thus conceivably could assert an actionable claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on the conditions of his confinement.[2]

         To the extent Plaintiff asserts a § 1983 claim against an individual defendant, however, Plaintiff's allegations must support a finding that the individual, through his or her individual actions, violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676-77 (2009). In other words, each defendant is entitled to an individualized assessment as to whether Plaintiff has asserted an actionable claim against that defendant. Although Plaintiff has included the individual defendants in his complaint, he has not described the conduct of any of the individual defendants. Plaintiff, therefore, has not asserted an actionable claim against any of the individuals named as a defendant.

         As to Plaintiff's claim against Aroostook County, because a municipality or county is not automatically liable for a constitutional deprivation that arises from the conduct of entity's employees, Plaintiff must demonstrate that the municipality or county itself bears responsibility for the constitutional deprivation. Rodriguez-Garcia, 610 F.3d at 769 (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978)). “[L]iability attaches to a municipality under § 1983 ‘only if the violation occurs pursuant to an official policy or custom.'” Id. (quoting Welch v. Ciampa,542 F.3d 927, 941 (1st Cir. 2008)). Here, Plaintiff has not ...


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