COUCH v. APPLING ITF et al
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS of the Magistrate Judge that the Court DISMISS all claims against Debra Clary, Stephanie Mercer, unnamed staff members, and Appling ITF re 1 Complaint filed by JEFFREY HOYT COUCH. Objections to R&R due by 12/2/2020. Signed by Magistrate Judge Benjamin W. Cheesbro on 11/18/2020. (ca)
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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
John E. Triplett, Acting Clerk
United States District Court
By CAsbell at 2:53 pm, Nov 18, 2020
JEFFREY HOYT COUCH,
CIVIL ACTION NO.: 2:19-cv-100
APPLING ITF, et al.,
MAGISTRATE JUDGE’S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Plaintiff, who is housed at the Oglethorpe County Jail in Crawford, Georgia, filed this
action, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 concerning events allegedly occurring in
Appling County, Georgia. Docs. 1, 11. This matter is before the Court for a frivolity screening
under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. For the reasons stated below, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS
all claims against Counselor Debra Clary, Nurse Stephanie Mercer, other unnamed staff
members, and Appling ITF. However, I FIND that some of Plaintiff’s claims may proceed.
Specifically, the Court will direct service, by separate Order, of Plaintiff’s claim for denial of
medical treatment against Defendants Doctor Cheney, Stan Shephard, Superintendent Rodney
Black, and Mr. Saws.
PLAINTIFF’S CLAIMS 1
Plaintiff alleges that beginning in April 2019, he experienced extreme swelling in his feet
and legs. Doc. 1 at 5. Plaintiff asserts he informed Appling staff of the issue on several
All allegations set forth here are taken from Plaintiff’s Complaint. Doc. 1. During frivolity
review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, “[t]he complaint’s factual allegations must be accepted as true.”
Waldman v. Conway, 871 F.3d 1283, 1289 (11th Cir. 2017).
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occasions and was denied treatment. Id. Specifically, Plaintiff filed Health Services Request
Forms with the Georgia Department of Corrections on: April 10, 2019; May 3, 2019; May 6,
2019; and May 20, 2019. Doc. 1-1 at 1–6. Nurse Stephanie Mercer appears to have signed two
of these request forms. Id. at 2, 5. After submitting the request forms, Plaintiff states he saw
Doctor Cheney for the medical issue. Doc. 1 at 5. Plaintiff asserts Doctor Cheney told him there
was nothing he could do about the problem. Id. Plaintiff states he then went to Assistant
Superintendent Rodney Black to tell him he had not received medical treatment. Id. Plaintiff
claims Mr. Black said there was nothing he could do. Id. Plaintiff then filed three grievance
forms on: April 26, 2019; May 1, 2019; and May 6, 2019. Doc. 1-2 at 1. Plaintiff states, after
not receiving any further medical treatment, he then alerted Stan Shepard and “Mr. Saws” to the
issue. Doc. 1 at 5. Plaintiff appears to claim Mr. Shepard then told Rodney Black to find
medical treatment as soon as possible. Id. However, Plaintiff had still not received further
treatment at the time of filing this Complaint. Id. Plaintiff also lists “my counselor Debra Clary”
and “staffs [sic]” as Defendants. Id. at 4. Plaintiff seeks $250,000 in compensatory damages.
Id. at 7.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A federal court is required to conduct an initial screening of all complaints filed by
prisoners and plaintiffs proceeding in forma pauperis. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(a), 1915(a). During
the initial screening, the court must identify any cognizable claims in the complaint. 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A(b). Additionally, the court must dismiss the complaint (or any portion of the
complaint) that is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or
which seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. The
pleadings of unrepresented parties are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by
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attorneys and, therefore, must be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520
(1972). However, Plaintiff’s unrepresented status will not excuse mistakes regarding procedural
rules. McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993).
A claim is frivolous under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) if it is “without arguable merit either in law
or fact.” Napier v. Preslicka, 314 F.3d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting Bilal v. Driver, 251
F.3d 1346, 1349 (11th Cir. 2001)). In order to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, a
complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that
is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). To state a claim, a complaint must contain “more than
labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not”
suffice. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
Claims Against Debra Clary, Stephanie Mercer and Unnamed Staff
Although Plaintiff lists “my counselor Debra Clary” as a Defendant, Plaintiff does not
address how she was involved with the events discussed in his Complaint. Doc. 1 at 4. Plaintiff
also generally mentions other staff as Defendants. Id. Plaintiff lists Nurse Stephanie Mercer but
does not mention her at all in his Complaint. Id. He has only submitted two medical request
forms that appear to be signed by her. Doc. 1-1 at 2, 5.
Plaintiff has not stated sufficient factual information to state a plausible claim against
Debra Clary, Nurse Stephanie Mercer, or unnamed staff members. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 (“A
pleading that states a claim for relief must contain [among other things] . . . a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”); Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. For
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this reason, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS all claims against Debra Clary, Stephanie
Mercer, and the unnamed staff members.
Claims Against Appling Integrated Treatment Facility (“ITF”)
In order to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that “a person
acting under color of state law” committed the act or omission in dispute. Hale v. Tallapoosa
County, 50 F.3d 1579, 1582 (11th Cir. 1995). While local governments qualify as “persons”
under § 1983, state agencies, penal institutions, and private corporations which contract with
states to operate penal institutions are generally not considered legal entities subject to suit.
Thomas v. Illinois, 697 F.3d 612, 613 (7th Cir. 2012) (holding that the Eleventh Amendment
bars § 1983 suits against state agencies) (citing Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58,
66–70 (1989)); Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir. 1992) (“Sheriff’s departments
and police departments are not usually considered legal entities subject to suit . . . .”) (citations
omitted); Lawal v. Fowler, 196 F. App’x 765, 768 (11th Cir. 2006) (analyzing Georgia law and
concluding the same); Williams v. Chatham Cnty. Sherriff’s Complex, Case No. 4:07-cv-68,
2007 WL 2345243 (S.D. Ga. August 14, 2007) (“The county jail, however, has no independent
legal identity and therefore is not an entity that is subject to suit under Section 1983.”) (citations
omitted). A state’s Department of Corrections is considered an arm of the state that is protected
by Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978).
Appling Integrated Treatment Facility (“ITF”) is a prison facility that operates a
substance abuse treatment program. The facility is operated by the Georgia Department of
Corrections, which is a state agency. See Appling, Georgia Department of Corrections
http://www.dcor.state.ga.us/Facilities/appling-0 (last visited Nov. 18, 2020). Because Appling
ITF operates as an arm of the state through a state agency, Appling ITF is not a “person” subject
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to suit under § 1983. Hale, 50 F.3d at 1582. Thus, Plaintiff’s claims against the institution itself
are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Thomas, 697 F.3d at 613; Dean, 951 F.2d at 1214. For
this reason, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS all claims against Appling ITF.
For the reasons set forth above, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS all claims against
Debra Clary, Stephanie Mercer, unnamed staff members, and Appling ITF. However, I FIND
that some of Plaintiff’s claims may proceed. Specifically, the Court will direct service of
Plaintiff’s denial of medical treatment claim against Defendants Doctor Cheney, Stan Shephard,
Superintendent Rodney Black, and Mr. Saws.
Any objections to this Report and Recommendation shall be filed within 14 days of
today’s date. Objections shall be specific and in writing. Any objection that the Magistrate
Judge failed to address a contention raised in the Complaint must be included. Failure to file
timely, written objections will bar any later challenge or review of the Magistrate Judge’s factual
findings and legal conclusions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Harrigan v. Metro Dade Police Dep’t
Station #4, No. 17-11264, 2020 WL 6039905, at *4 (11th Cir. Oct. 13, 2020). To be clear, a
party waives all rights to challenge the Magistrate Judge’s factual findings and legal conclusions
on appeal by failing to file timely, written objections. Harrigan, 2020 WL 6039905, at *4; 11th
Cir. R. 3-1. A copy of the objections must be served upon all other parties to the action.
Upon receipt of Objections meeting the specificity requirement set out above, a United
States District Judge will make a de novo determination of those portions of the report, proposed
findings, or recommendation to which objection is made and may accept, reject, or modify in
whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the Magistrate Judge. Objections not
meeting the specificity requirement set out above will not be considered by a District Judge. A
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party may not appeal a Magistrate Judge’s report and recommendation directly to the United
States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Appeals may be made only from a final
judgment entered by or at the direction of a District Judge.
SO REPORTED and RECOMMENDED, this 18th day of November, 2020.
BENJAMIN W. CHEESBRO
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
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