Laquerre v. McCormick et al
ORDER; the Court finds that Plaintiffs case should be and hereby DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Signed by Honorable Susan O. Hickey on August 30, 2017. (lw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
HOT SPRINGS DIVISION
RICHARD JAMES LAQUERRE
Case No. 6:17-cv-6039-SOH
SHERIFF MIKE MCCORMICK, DR.
PRACTITIONER DUKES, SOUTHWEST
CORRECTIONAL MEDICAL GROUP
This is a civil rights action filed by Plaintiff Richard James Laquerre pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. Plaintiff proceeds pro se and in forma pauperis (“IFP”). This matter is before the Court
for preservice screening under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). Pursuant to the PLRA,
the Court must dismiss an IFP plaintiff’s complaint, or any portion of the complaint, that is
frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary
relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
On April 28, 2017, Plaintiff filed this section 1983 lawsuit, alleging that his constitutional
rights were violated while he was incarcerated in the Garland County Detention Center (“GCDC”).
Plaintiff alleges that he was denied medical care, denied access to a law library, and denied access
to an adequate grievance procedure. (ECF No. 1, pp. 4-7). Plaintiff seeks compensatory and
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Waggenhauser, Dukes, and Correctional Medical Group
denied him an MRI and x-ray “to see how much more damage has been cause[d] to my shoulder,
back, and spine for slips and falls that happened in Garland County Detention Center.” (ECF No.
1, p. 4). Plaintiff alleges the slips and falls are causing him pain, and that he has trouble cleaning
and dressing himself as a result. In a later filing, Plaintiff states he does not want to take addictive
pain medication for the rest of his life. (ECF No. 10, p. 1). Plaintiff asserts denial-of-medicalcare claims against Defendants Waggenhauser, Dukes, and Correctional Medical Group in both
their official and individual capacities.
Plaintiff also alleges that unknown Defendants told him that he could have caselaw or other
legal information printed out for him, “which is hard because [he] does not know what to ask for.”
(ECF No. 1, p. 5). He further alleges that in March 2017, a law library was set up on a kiosk in
the GCDC’s multi-use room, but he does not have sufficient time to use it and he does not know
how to use it. Plaintiff asserts this claim against the unknown, unnamed Defendants in their official
Plaintiff alleges further that the GCDC has an inadequate grievance procedure because he
cannot “follow thru [sic] with the complete procedure do [sic] to the length of time it takes to have
them answered,” he did not get many of the grievances back, and that “the form itself is not
completely printed out.” (ECF No. 1, p. 6). Plaintiff asserts this claim against unknown, unnamed
Defendants in their official capacity only.
Pursuant to the screening provisions of the PLRA, the Court must determine whether the
causes of action stated in Plaintiff’s complaint: (1) are frivolous or malicious, (2) fail to state
claims upon which relief may be granted, or (3) seek monetary relief against a defendant who is
immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). A complaint is frivolous if it “lacks an
arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). To state a
claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that a defendant, acting under color of state
law, deprived him of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the United States Constitution or
by federal law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
The Court will first address Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant McCormick. The Court
will then address Plaintiff’s individual-capacity claims. Finally, the Court will address Plaintiff’s
A. Defendant McCormick
Plaintiff lists Defendant McCormick in the case caption of his complaint, but does not
assert any claims against him or allege any facts against him. Merely listing a defendant in a case
caption is insufficient to support a claim of a constitutional violation by that defendant. Krych v.
Hass, 83 Fed. App’x. 854, 855 (8th Cir. 2003) (citing Potter v. Clark, 497 F.2d 1206, 1207 (7th
Cir. 1974)) (per curiam). Even for an official-capacity claim under section 1983, “a plaintiff must
show either that the official named in the suit took an action pursuant to an unconstitutional
governmental policy or custom . . . or that he or she possessed final authority over the subject
matter at issue and used that authority in an unconstitutional manner.” Nix v. Norman, 879 F.2d
429, 433 (8th Cir. 1989).
In this case, Plaintiff merely listed Defendant McCormick as a defendant in the complaint’s
case caption. Plaintiff made no claims or allegations against Defendant McCormick. Thus, he
failed to state a plausible claim against Defendant McCormick. Therefore, the Court finds that
Plaintiff’s complaint should be dismissed as to Defendant McCormick.
B. Individual-Capacity Claim
Plaintiff assets a denial-of-medical-care claim against Defendants Waggenhauser, Dukes,
and Correctional Medical Group in their individual capacities. For the reasons discussed below,
the Court finds that these individual-capacity claims fail to state a claim upon which relief can be
The Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment prohibits deliberate
indifference to prisoners’ serious medical needs. Luckert v. Dodge Cnty., 684 F.3d 808, 817 (8th
Cir. 2012). To prevail on his Eighth Amendment claim, Plaintiff must prove that Defendants
Waggenhauser, Dukes, and Correctional Medical Group acted with deliberate indifference to his
serious medical needs. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976).
The deliberate-indifference standard includes “both an objective and a subjective
component: ‘The [plaintiff] must demonstrate (1) that [he] suffered [from] objectively serious
medical needs and (2) that the prison officials actually knew of but deliberately disregarded those
needs.’” Jolly v. Knudsen, 205 F.3d 1094, 1096 (8th Cir. 2000) (alterations in original).
To show that he suffered from an objectively serious medical need, Plaintiff must show he
“has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment” or has an injury “that is so obvious
that even a layperson would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor’s attention.” Schaub v.
VonWald, 638 F.3d 905, 914 (8th Cir. 2011). To satisfy the subjective prong of deliberate
indifference, “the prisoner must show more than negligence, more even than gross negligence, and
mere disagreement with treatment decisions does not give rise to the level of a constitutional
violation. Deliberate indifference is akin to criminal recklessness, which demands more than
negligent misconduct.” Popoalii v. Correctional Med. Servs., 512 F.3d 488, 499 (8th Cir. 2008)
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
Further, it is well settled that a “prisoner’s mere difference of opinion over matters of expert
medical judgment or a course of medical treatment fail[s] to rise to the level of a constitutional
violation.” Nelson v. Shuffman, 603 F.3d 439, 449 (8th Cir. 2010) (alteration in original). An
“inmate must clear a substantial evidentiary threshold to show the prison’s medical staff
deliberately disregarded the inmate’s needs by administering inadequate treatment.” Id.
Deliberate indifference may also be manifested by “prison guards in intentionally denying
or delaying access to medical care or intentionally interfering with the treatment once prescribed.”
Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104-05 (1976) (footnotes omitted). However, the “Constitution
does not require jailers to handle every medical complaint as quickly as each inmate might wish.”
Jenkins v. Cnty. of Hennepin, Minn., 557 F.3d 628, 633 (8th Cir. 2009). The objective seriousness
of delay in treatment must be measured by reference to the effect of delay, which must be shown
by verifying medical evidence in the record. Laughlin v. Schriro, 430 F.3d 927, 929 (8th Cir.
2005). But see Schaub v. VonWald, 638 F.3d 905, 919 (8th Cir. 2011) (stating that submission of
verifying medical evidence is unnecessary where the need for medical attention would have been
obvious to a layperson).
Plaintiff fails to meet the subjective prong of the test. Plaintiff does not allege that he was
denied any medical care after he slipped and fell, or that he was denied pain or other medication.
Instead, he alleges only that he was denied an MRI and an x-ray. Thus, Plaintiff merely disagrees
with the medical care he has received, which does not state a plausible individual-capacity claim
for denial of medical care against Defendants Waggenhauser, Dukes, and Correctional Medical
Group. Therefore, the Court finds that these claims should be dismissed.
C. Official-Capacity Claims
Plaintiff asserts denial-of-medical-care claims against Defendants Waggenhauser, Dukes,
and Correctional Medical Group in their official capacity, as well as denial-of-access-to-courts and
inadequate-grievance-procedure claims against unknown, unnamed Defendants in their official
Under section 1983, a defendant may be sued in either his individual capacity, in his official
capacity, or in both. Gorman v. Bartch, 152 F.3d 907, 914 (8th Cir. 1998). With respect to officialcapacity claims, they are “functionally equivalent to a suit against the employing governmental
entity.” Veach v. Bartels Lutheran Home, 726 F.3d 1254, 1257 (8th Cir. 2010). In other words,
Plaintiff’s official-capacity claims against Defendants are treated as claims against Garland
County. See Murray v. Lene, 595 F.3d 868, 873 (8th Cir. 2010).
“[R]igorous standards of culpability and causation must be applied to ensure that the
[county] is not held liable solely for the actions of its employee” in cases where a plaintiff claims
that a county caused an employee to violate the plaintiff’s constitutional rights. Bd. of Cnty.
Comm’rs, Okla. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 405 (1997). To establish Garland County’s liability under
section 1983, Plaintiff “must show that a constitutional violation was committed pursuant to an
official custom, policy, or practice of the governmental entity.” Moyle v. Anderson, 571 F.3d 814,
817 (8th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). To establish the existence of an unconstitutional policy,
Plaintiff must point to “a deliberate choice of a guiding principle or procedure made by the
municipal official who has final authority regarding such matters.” Mettler v. Whiteledge, 165
F.3d 1197, 1204 (8th Cir. 1999). With this in mind, the Court will now address each of Plaintiff’s
1. Denial of Medical Care
As discussed above for the individual-capacity claim, Plaintiff failed to allege any facts
which could support a plausible claim for denial of medical care. In addition, he did not allege
that the failure to give him an MRI or an x-ray was pursuant to a Garland County custom or policy.
Thus, he does not state a plausible official-capacity claim for denial of medical care. Therefore,
the Court finds that Plaintiff’s denial-of-medical-care claims against Defendants Waggenhauser,
Dukes, and Correctional Medical Group in their official capacities should be dismissed.
2. Denial of Meaningful Access to Courts
Plaintiff has also failed to state a cognizable claim for denial of access to the courts based
on his allegations concerning the law library. The Supreme Court has held “the fundamental
constitutional right of access to the courts requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the
preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law
libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law.” Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817,
828 (1977). Nevertheless, Bounds “did not create an abstract, freestanding right to a law library
or legal assistance.” Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351 (1996). Instead, prison officials must
provide inmates with “meaningful access to the courts.” Bounds, 430 U.S. at 824. Providing a
law library is merely one way to comply with this obligation. See Bear v. Fayram, 650 F.3d 1120,
1123 (8th Cir. 2011) (stating that the constitutional requirement of access to the courts may be
satisfied in a number of ways, including prison libraries, jailhouse lawyers, private lawyers on
contract with the prison, or some combination of these and other methods).
However, an inmate has no standing to pursue a denial-of-access claim unless he can
demonstrate he suffered prejudice or actual injury as a result of the prison officials’ conduct. See
Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351-52; see also Farver v. Vilches, 155 F.3d 978, 979-80 (8th Cir. 1998) (per
curiam); Klinger v. Dep’t of Corr., 107 F.3d 609, 617 (8th Cir. 1997) (stating that to prevail on
access-to-courts claim, inmate must show actual injury or prejudice even if denial of access to
library is complete and systematic); McMaster v. Pung, 984 F.2d 948, 953 (8th Cir. 1993). “To
prove a violation of the right of meaningful access to the courts, a prisoner must establish the state
has not provided an opportunity to litigate a claim challenging the prisoner’s sentence or conditions
of confinement in a court of law, which resulted in actual injury, that is, the hindrance of a
nonfrivolous and arguably meritorious underlying legal claim.’” Hartsfield v. Nichols, 511 F.3d
826, 831 (8th Cir. 2008).
Although Plaintiff’s allegations could be construed to state the existence of a policy or
custom concerning access to courts, Plaintiff did not allege that he suffered any prejudice or actual
injury as a result of an issue with law-library access. He does not claim that his efforts to pursue
his legal claims have been hindered by denial of access to the law library or by the library’s
inadequacies. He has therefore failed to state a plausible claim in any capacity for denial of
meaningful access to the courts. Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s claim of denial of access
to the courts should be dismissed.
3. Inadequate Grievance Procedure
Plaintiff failed to state a plausible claim as to the allegedly inadequate grievance procedures
at the GCDC. To establish a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must show a deprivation,
under color of law, of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or the laws of the
United States. Dunham v. Wadley, 195 F.3d 1007, 1009 (8th Cir. 1999). Inmates do not have a
constitutionally protected right to a grievance procedure. Lomholt v. Holder, 287 F.3d 683, 684
(8th Cir. 2002) (citing Buckley v. Barlow, 997 F.2d 494, 495 (8th Cir.1993)). “Therefore, a prison
official’s failure to respond to an inmate’s grievances or to return copies of those grievances to
that inmate, without more, is not actionable under § 1983.” Evans v. Jones, No. 1:07-cv-1036HFB, 2007 WL 2343843, at *1 (W.D. Ark. Aug. 14, 2007).
“Rather, prison inmates have a constitutional right to petition the government for redress
through a right of access to the courts.” Blagman, 112 F. Supp. 2d 534, 542 (E.D. Va. 2000) (citing
Flick v. Alba, 932 F.2d 728, 729 (8th Cir. 1991)). A jail’s “refusal to entertain such grievances
does not compromise the inmate’s constitutional rights, as access to the courts would still be
available.” Id. (citation omitted). “[A]ny alleged due process violation arising from the alleged
failure to investigate . . . grievances is indisputably meritless.” Geiger v. Jowers, 404 F.3d 371,
374 (5th Cir. 2005).
Although Plaintiff’s allegations could be construed to state the existence of a policy or
custom concerning the quality of the grievance procedure, Plaintiff was able to obtain a section
1983 form and submit it successfully to this Court. The alleged inadequacies of the GCDC’s
grievance procedure did not deprive Plaintiff of access to the courts. “[A] prison official’s failure
to respond to an inmate’s grievances or to return copies of those grievances to that inmate, without
more, is not actionable under § 1983.” Evans, 2007 WL 2343843, at *1. Thus, Plaintiff has failed
to state a plausible claim regarding the inadequacies of the grievance procedure at the GCDC.
Therefore, the Court finds that this claim should be dismissed.
For the reasons discussed above, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s case should be and hereby
are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
IT IS SO ORDERED, this 30th day of August, 2017.
/s/ Susan O. Hickey
Susan O. Hickey
United States District Judge
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