Bankston v. Blaine

Filing 9

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS of the Magistrate Judge that the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages against Defendant in his official capacity re: 1 Complaint filed by Jonathan Bankston. Any party seeking to object to this Repo rt and Recommendation is ordered to file specific written objections within fourteen (14) days of the date on which this Report and Recommendation is entered. (Objections to R&R due by 11/3/2017). ORDER directing service of the REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS of the Magistrate Judge. Signed by Magistrate Judge R. Stan Baker on 10/20/2017. (csr)

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA WAYCROSS DIVISION JONATHAN BANKSTON, Plaintiff, CIVIL ACTION NO.: 5:17-cv-61 v. CAPTAIN BLAINE, Defendant. ORDER and MAGISTRATE JUDGE’S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION Plaintiff, an inmate at Coffee Correctional Facility in Nicholls, Georgia, submitted a Complaint in the above captioned action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 contesting certain conditions of his confinement. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff also filed and was granted a Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. (Docs. 2, 4.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff’s allegations arguably state colorable claims for relief against Defendant for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. The Court DIRECTS the United States Marshal to serve Defendant with a copy of Plaintiff’s Complaint, (doc. 1), and this Order. However, I RECOMMEND that the Court DISMISS Plaintiff’s claims for monetary damages against Defendant in his official capacity. BACKGROUND 1 On the night of January 9, 2017, between the hours of 11:15 p.m. and 12:00 a.m., Plaintiff was assaulted in the dayroom of dorm 7FF at Coffee Correctional Facility. (Doc. 1, p. 6.) As a result of the attack, Plaintiff suffered various wounds on his face and severe bleeding. 1 The below recited facts are taken from Plaintiff’s Complaint, (doc. 1), and are accepted as true, as they must be at this stage. (Id.) At approximately 12:15 a.m., Plaintiff sought aid from the officers on duty who then took him to the medical unit where he was examined by Nurse Howard. (Id.) After evaluating Plaintiff’s injuries, Howard determined that they were “too severe and extensive” to be treated at Coffee Correctional and indicated to Defendant that Plaintiff needed immediate care at an outside medical facility. (Id. at pp. 6–7.) Plaintiff contends Defendant, the ranking duty officer, was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff’s medical needs when Defendant refused him transport to an outside facility despite Nurse Howard’s directive. Defendant denied Plaintiff transportation because the transport officer was not presently on duty and no one else was available to immediately transport him. (Id. at p 7–8.) Further, Defendant refused to call Plaintiff an ambulance or have a doctor review Nurse Howard’s prognosis. (Id.) Plaintiff was eventually taken to an outside facility, but he avers that he was forced to wait three-and-a-half hours before receiving the necessary care. As a result of this delay, Plaintiff contends he suffered, among other things, increased risk of blood loss, anxiety, lower blood pressure, shock, and infection in the open wounds. (Id.) Moreover, Plaintiff alleges that he currently suffers blurred vision, headaches, anxiety, and paranoia stemming from the attack and delay. (Id. at p. 9.) Plaintiff contends that Defendant maintains a custom or policy of short staffing and delaying transport to outside medical care at night and on the weekends. 2 (Id. at pp. 7, 11.) As relief for the alleged Eighth Amendment violations, Plaintiff requests compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive review of the medical transport custom or policy and Defendant’s employment status at Coffee Correctional Facility. (Id. at p. 11.) 2 In addition, Plaintiff contends that Defendant maintains a custom or policy of refusing grievance forms to inmates housed in administrative segregation and that he was repeatedly denied such forms when attempting to grieve the present action. (Id. at p. 9.) 2 STANDARD OF REVIEW Plaintiff seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1), the Court may authorize the filing of a civil lawsuit without the prepayment of fees if the plaintiff submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all of his assets and shows an inability to pay the filing fee and also includes a statement of the nature of the action which shows that he is entitled to redress. Even if the plaintiff proves indigence, the Court must dismiss the action if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)–(ii). Additionally, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review a complaint in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity. Upon such screening, the Court must dismiss a complaint, or any portion thereof, that is frivolous or 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. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). When reviewing a Complaint on an application to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court is guided by the instructions for pleading contained in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See 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.”); Fed. R. Civ. P. 10 (requiring that claims be set forth in numbered paragraphs, each limited to a single set of circumstances). Further, a claim is frivolous under Section 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)). Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Thompson v. Rundle, 393 F. App’x 675, 678 (11th Cir. 2010). Under that 3 standard, this Court must determine whether the complaint contains “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)). A plaintiff must assert “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. Section 1915 also “accords judges not only the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint’s factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless.” Bilal, 251 F.3d at 1349 (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)). In its analysis, the Court will abide by the long-standing principle that the pleadings of unrepresented parties are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys and, therefore, must be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006) (“Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys[.]”) (quoting Hughes v. Lott, 350 F.3d 1157, 1160 (11th Cir. 2003)). However, Plaintiff’s unrepresented status will not excuse mistakes regarding procedural rules. McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) (“We have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel.”). The requisite review of Plaintiff’s Complaint raises several doctrines of law, which the Court discusses as follows. DISCUSSION I. Dismissal of Official Capacity Claims for Monetary Damages Plaintiff’s Complaint is not clear on whether Plaintiff intends to sue Defendant in his individual or official capacity, or both. In any event, however, Plaintiff cannot sustain a Section 1983 claim for monetary damages against Defendant in his official capacity. States are immune 4 from private suits pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment and traditional principles of state sovereignty. Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 712–13 (1999). Section 1983 does not abrogate the well-established immunities of a state from suit without its consent. Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 67 (1989). Because a lawsuit against a state officer in his official capacity is “no different from a suit against the [s]tate itself,” such a defendant is immune from suit under Section 1983. Id. at 71. Here, the State of Georgia would be the real party in interest in a suit against Defendant in his official capacity as an officer at a state penal institution. Accordingly, the Eleventh Amendment immunizes Defendant from suit for monetary damages in his official capacity. See Free v. Granger, 887 F.2d 1552, 1557 (11th Cir. 1989). Absent a waiver of that immunity, Plaintiff cannot sustain any constitutional claims for monetary damages against Defendant in his official capacity. Therefore, the Court should DISMISS Plaintiff’s Section 1983 monetary damages claims against Defendant in his official capacity. II. Deliberate Indifference to Serious Medical Needs Claims The cruel and unusual punishment standard of the Eighth Amendment requires prison officials to “ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). Generally speaking, however, “prison conditions rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation only when they involve the wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain.” Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004) (quotations omitted). Thus, not all deficiencies and inadequacies in prison conditions amount to a violation of a prisoner’s constitutional rights. Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 349 (1981). The Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons. Id. Prison conditions violate the Eighth Amendment only when the prisoner is deprived of “the minimal civilized measure of life’s 5 necessities.” Id. at 347. However, “[c]ontemporary standards of decency must be brought to bear in determining whether a punishment is cruel and unusual.” Bass v. Perrin, 170 F.3d 1312, 1316 (11th Cir. 1999). In the medical care context, the standard for cruel and unusual punishment, embodied in the principles expressed in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976), is whether a prison official exhibits a deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of an inmate. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 828. However, “not every claim by a prisoner that he has not received adequate medical treatment states a violation of the Eighth Amendment.” Harris v. Thigpen, 941 F.2d 1495, 1505 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105). Rather, “an inmate must allege acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.” Hill v. DeKalb Reg’l Youth Det. Ctr., 40 F.3d 1176, 1186 (11th Cir. 1994). In order to prove a deliberate indifference to medical care claim, a prisoner must overcome three obstacles. The prisoner must: 1) “satisfy the objective component by showing that [he] had a serious medical need”; 2) “satisfy the subjective component by showing that the prison official acted with deliberate indifference to [his] serious medical need”; and 3) “show that the injury was caused by the defendant’s wrongful conduct.” Goebert v. Lee Cty., 510 F.3d 1312, 1326 (11th Cir. 2007). A medical need is serious if it “‘has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or [is] one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor’s attention.’” Id. (quoting Hill, 40 F.3d at 1187). As for the subjective component, the Eleventh Circuit has consistently required that “a defendant know of and disregard an excessive risk to an inmate’s health and safety.” Haney v. City of Cumming, 69 F.3d 1098, 1102 (11th Cir. 1995). Under the subjective prong, an inmate “must prove three 6 things: (1) subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm; (2) disregard of that risk; (3) by conduct that is more than [gross] negligence.” Goebert, 510 F.3d at 1327. “The meaning of ‘more than gross negligence’ is not self-evident[.]” Id. In instances where a deliberate indifference claim turns on a delay in treatment rather than the type of medical care received, the factors considered are: “(1) the seriousness of the medical need; (2) whether the delay worsened the medical condition; and (3) the reason for the delay.” Id. “When the claim turns on the quality of the treatment provided, there is no constitutional violation as long as the medical care provided to the inmate is ‘minimally adequate.’” Blanchard v. White Cty. Det. Ctr. Staff, 262 F. App’x 959, 964 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Harris, 941 F.2d at 1504). “Deliberate indifference is not established where an inmate received care but desired different modes of treatment.” Id. “A medical treatment claim [will] not lie against non-medical personnel unless they were personally involved in the denial of treatment or deliberately interfered with prison doctors’ treatment. Prison officials are entitled to rely on the opinions, judgment, and expertise of a prison medical staff to determine a medically necessary and appropriate cause of treatment for an inmate.” Baker v. Pavlakovic, No. 4:12-CV-03958-RDP, 2015 WL 4756295, at *7 (N.D. Ala. Aug. 11, 2015) (citing Williams v. Limestone Cty., 198 F. App’x 893, 897 (11th Cir. 2006)). “[It] is widely held that non-medical prison personnel are generally entitled to rely on the expertise of the medical staff and are not required to second-guess the medical staff’s judgment regarding an inmate’s care.” Stallworth v. Graham, No. 4:14-CV-00134-RDP, 2015 WL 4756348, at *5 (N.D. Ala. Aug. 11, 2015) (citing Johnson v. Doughty, 433 F.3d 1001, 1011 (7th Cir. 2006) (“Except in the unusual case where it would be evident to a layperson that a prisoner is receiving inadequate or inappropriate treatment, prison officials may reasonably rely on the 7 judgment of medical professionals[.]”), and Kelly v. Ambroski, 97 F. Supp. 3d 1320, 1343 (N.D. Ala. 2015) (“[I]n the absence of a reason to believe, or actual knowledge, that medical staff is administering inadequate medical care, non-medical prison personnel are not chargeable with the Eighth Amendment scienter requirement of deliberate indifference[.]”)). Plaintiff claims that Defendant improperly denied him adequate, timely medical care after the attack. Instead of taking him to an outside medical facility for treatment as instructed by Nurse Howard, Plaintiff avers that Defendant made him wait more than two-and-a-half hours until the facility transport officer arrived. (Doc. 1, p. 7.) This delay ultimately caused Plaintiff to wait three-and-a-half hours for adequate medical treatment at an outside facility and worsened his injuries. Further, Plaintiff alleges that, in the face of his open, bleeding wounds, Defendant neither called an ambulance nor otherwise called in any other staff to transport him to an adequate medical facility. Although Plaintiff concedes that he was eventually treated in an outside facility, Plaintiff contends Defendant maintains a custom or policy of short staffing on nights and weekends, and of not calling ambulances, which causes delayed medical treatment. Based on these allegations, accepted as true and construed in his favor, Plaintiff has stated a plausible claim for relief because Defendant, who knew of Plaintiff’s condition, personally delayed the implementation of Nurse Howard’s medical directive. See Farrow v. West, 320 F.3d 1235, 1246 (11th Cir. 2003) (“Even where medical care is ultimately provided, a prison official may nonetheless act with deliberate indifference by delaying the treatment of serious medical needs, even for a period of hours, though the reason for the delay and the nature of the medical need [are relevant in determining constitutional violations].”) (quoting McElligott v. Foley, 182 F.3d 1248, 1255 (11th Cir. 1999)); Hill v. Dekalb Regional Youth Detention Center, 40 F.3d 1176, 1190 n. 26 (11th Cir. 1994) (noting that delaying “necessary” medical 8 treatments for non-medical reasons can show deliberate indifference) (emphasis in original). Consequently, Plaintiff’s claims for deliberate indifference to medical needs survive frivolity review and shall proceed against Defendant in his individual capacity. CONCLUSION For the reasons set forth above, I RECOMMEND that the Court DISMISS Plaintiff’s claims for monetary damages against Defendant in his official capacity. However, Plaintiff states colorable Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference to serious medical needs claims against Defendant, and those claims should proceed. The Court ORDERS any party seeking to object to this Report and Recommendation to file specific written objections within fourteen (14) days of the date on which this Report and Recommendation is entered. Any objections asserting that the Magistrate Judge failed to address any contention raised in the Complaint must also be included. Failure to do so will bar any later challenge or review of the factual findings or legal conclusions of the Magistrate Judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140 (1985). A copy of the objections must be served upon all other parties to the action. The filing of objections is not a proper vehicle through which to make new allegations or present additional evidence. 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 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 9 judgment entered by or at the direction of a District Judge. The Court DIRECTS the Clerk of Court to serve a copy of this Report and Recommendation upon the Plaintiff. REMAINING CLAIMS As stated above, Plaintiff’s Complaint arguably states colorable claims against Defendant for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. Consequently, a copy of Plaintiff’s Complaint and a copy of this Order shall be served upon Defendant by the United States Marshal without prepayment of cost. The Court also provides the following instructions to the parties that will apply to the remainder of this action and which the Court urges the parties to read and follow. INSTRUCTIONS TO DEFENDANT Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the undersigned directs that service be effected by the United States Marshal. Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(c)(3). In most cases, the marshal will first mail a copy of the complaint to the defendant by first-class mail and request that the defendant waive formal service of summons. Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(d); Local Rule 4.7. Individual and corporate defendants have a duty to avoid unnecessary costs of serving the summons, and any such defendant who fails to comply with the request for waiver must bear the costs of personal service unless good cause can be shown for the failure to return the waiver. Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(d)(2). Generally, a defendant who timely returns the waiver is not required to answer the complaint until sixty (60) days after the date that the marshal sent the request for waiver. Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(d)(3). IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant is hereby granted leave of court to take the deposition of Plaintiff upon oral examination. Fed. R. Civ. P. 30(a). Defendant is further advised that the Court’s standard 140 day discovery period will commence upon the filing of the 10 last answer. Local Rule 26.1. Defendant shall ensure that all discovery, including Plaintiff’s deposition and any other depositions in the case, is completed within that discovery period. In the event that Defendant takes the deposition of any other person, Defendant is ordered to comply with the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 30. As Plaintiff will likely not be in attendance for such a deposition, Defendant shall notify Plaintiff of the deposition and advise him that he may serve on Defendant, in a sealed envelope, within ten (10) days of the notice of deposition, written questions Plaintiff wishes to propound to the witness, if any. Defendant shall present such questions to the witness seriatim during the deposition. Fed. R. Civ. P. 30(c). INSTRUCTIONS TO PLAINTIFF IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff shall serve upon Defendant or, if appearance has been entered by counsel, upon his attorney, a copy of every further pleading or other document submitted for consideration by the Court. Plaintiff shall include with the original paper to be filed with the Clerk of Court a certificate stating the date on which a true and correct copy of any document was mailed to Defendant or his counsel. Fed. R. Civ. P. 5. “Every pleading shall contain a caption setting forth the name of the court, the title of the action, [and] the file number.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(a). Plaintiff is charged with the responsibility of immediately informing this Court and defense counsel of any change of address during the pendency of this action. Local Rule 11.1. Plaintiff’s failure to notify the Court of a change in his address may result in dismissal of this case. Plaintiff has the responsibility for pursuing this case. For example, if Plaintiff wishes to obtain facts and information about the case from Defendant, Plaintiff must initiate discovery. 11 See generally, Fed. R. Civ. P. 26, et seq. The discovery period in this case will expire 140 days after the filing of the last answer. Local Rule 26.1. Plaintiff does not need the permission of the Court to begin discovery, and Plaintiff should begin discovery promptly and complete it within this time period. Local Rule 26.1. Discovery materials should not be filed routinely with the Clerk of Court; exceptions include: when the Court directs filing; when a party needs such materials in connection with a motion or response, and then only to the extent necessary; and when needed for use at trial. Local Rule 26.4. Interrogatories are a practical method of discovery for incarcerated persons. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 33. Interrogatories may be served only on a party to the litigation, and, for the purposes of the instant case, this means that interrogatories should not be directed to persons or organizations who are not named as a defendant. Interrogatories are not to contain more than twenty-five (25) questions. Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(a). If Plaintiff wishes to propound more than twenty-five (25) interrogatories to a party, Plaintiff must have permission of the Court. If Plaintiff wishes to file a motion to compel, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37, he should first contact the attorney for Defendant and try to work out the problem; if Plaintiff proceeds with the motion to compel, he should also file a statement certifying that he has contacted opposing counsel in a good faith effort to resolve any dispute about discovery. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c); 37(a)(2)(A); Local Rule 26.7. Plaintiff has the responsibility for maintaining his own records of the case. If Plaintiff loses papers and needs new copies, he may obtain them from the Clerk of Court at the standard cost of fifty cents ($.50) per page. If Plaintiff seeks copies, he should request them directly from the Clerk of Court and is advised that the Court will authorize and require the 12 collection of fees from his prison trust fund account to pay the cost of the copies at the aforementioned rate of fifty cents ($.50) per page. If Plaintiff does not press his case forward, the court may dismiss it for want of prosecution. Fed. R. Civ. P. 41; Local Rule 41.1. It is Plaintiff’s duty to cooperate fully in any discovery which may be initiated by Defendant. Upon no less than five (5) days’ notice of the scheduled deposition date, Plaintiff shall appear and permit his deposition to be taken and shall answer, under oath or solemn affirmation, any question which seeks information relevant to the subject matter of the pending action. Failing to answer questions at the deposition or giving evasive or incomplete responses to questions will not be tolerated and may subject Plaintiff to severe sanctions, including dismissal of this case. As the case progresses, Plaintiff may receive a notice addressed to “counsel of record” directing the parties to prepare and submit a Joint Status Report and a Proposed Pretrial Order. A plaintiff proceeding without counsel may prepare and file a unilateral Status Report and is required to prepare and file his own version of the Proposed Pretrial Order. A plaintiff who is incarcerated shall not be required or entitled to attend any status or pretrial conference which may be scheduled by the Court. ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTIONS TO PLAINTIFF REGARDING MOTIONS TO DISMISS AND MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT Under this Court’s Local Rules, a party opposing a motion to dismiss shall file and serve his response to the motion within fourteen (14) days of its service. “Failure to respond shall indicate that there is no opposition to a motion.” Local Rule 7.5. Therefore, if Plaintiff fails to respond to a motion to dismiss, the Court will assume that he does not oppose the Defendant’s 13 motion. Plaintiff’s case may be dismissed for lack of prosecution if Plaintiff fails to respond to a motion to dismiss. Plaintiff’s response to a motion for summary judgment must be filed within twentyone (21) days after service of the motion. Local Rules 7.5, 56.1. The failure to respond to such a motion shall indicate that there is no opposition to the motion. Furthermore, each material fact set forth in Defendant’s statement of material facts will be deemed admitted unless specifically controverted by an opposition statement. Should Defendant file a motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff is advised that he will have the burden of establishing the existence of a genuine dispute as to any material fact in this case. That burden cannot be carried by reliance on the conclusory allegations contained within the complaint. Should Defendant’s motion for summary judgment be supported by affidavit, Plaintiff must file counter-affidavits if he desires to contest Defendant’s statement of the facts. Should Plaintiff fail to file opposing affidavits setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine dispute for trial, any factual assertions made in Defendant’s affidavits will be accepted as true and summary judgment may be entered against Plaintiff pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. SO ORDERED and REPORTED and RECOMMENDED, this 20th day of October, 2017. R. STAN BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA 14

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