Walters v. Sedgwick County, Kansas, Board of Commissioners et al

Filing 5

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE ENTERED: Plaintiff's Motion for Appointment of Counsel (Doc. 3 ) is denied without prejudice. Plaintiff is granted until February 17, 2023, in which to show good cause, in writing to the undersigned, why Plaintiff's Complaint should not be dismissed for the reasons stated herein. Signed by District Judge John W. Lungstrum on 1/18/2023. Mailed to pro se party Steven Thomas Walters by regular mail. (jal)

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Case 5:22-cv-03301-JWL-JPO Document 5 Filed 01/18/23 Page 1 of 11 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF KANSAS STEVEN THOMAS WALTERS, Plaintiff, v. CASE NO. 22-3301-JWL-JPO SEDGWICK COUNTY, KANSAS, BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, et al., Defendants. MEMORANDUM AND ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE Plaintiff Steven Thomas Walters is hereby required to show good cause, in writing to the undersigned, why this action should not be dismissed due to the deficiencies in Plaintiff’s Complaint that are discussed herein. I. Nature of the Matter before the Court Plaintiff brings this pro se action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is detained at the Sedgwick County Jail in Wichita, Kansas (“SCJ”). The Court granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Plaintiff alleges as Count I that the living conditions at the SCJ are inhumane and that on October 21, 2021, he fell coming out of the bathroom due to a leaking sink. (Doc. 1, at 4.) Plaintiff alleges that there are “live larva” coming from the floor drain and “bugs flying all over the bathrooms and many other issues.” Id. at 5. As Count II, Plaintiff claims discrimination. He claims that he was yelled at by Deputy Simpson for only having his white t-shirt on in the dayroom, but he looked into Pod 15 and saw other inmates dressed the same way, but nothing was said to them. Id. Plaintiff alleges that he filed grievances due to policy violations, unprofessional behavior, discrimination and unequal 1 Case 5:22-cv-03301-JWL-JPO Document 5 Filed 01/18/23 Page 2 of 11 treatment, and Captain Scott responded that the information provided by Plaintiff was not really a grievance. Id. As Count III, Plaintiff claims “assault and battery.” Id. at 6. Plaintiff alleges that on October 12, 2022, he was in the dayroom with just his white t-shirt on and Deputy Lyon hit Plaintiff on the back of the head with some shoes right after getting onto Plaintiff about not being properly dressed. Id. at 7. Plaintiff alleges that he grieved the “assault” but was told that the detectives investigated Plaintiff’s allegations and found that the assault never took place. Id. II. Statutory Screening of Prisoner Complaints The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or an employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if a plaintiff has raised claims that are legally frivolous or malicious, that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)–(2). “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988) (citations omitted); Northington v. Jackson, 973 F.2d 1518, 1523 (10th Cir. 1992). A court liberally construes a pro se complaint and applies “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In addition, the court accepts all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true. Anderson v. Blake, 469 F.3d 910, 913 (10th Cir. 2006). On the other hand, “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief,” dismissal is appropriate. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 2 Case 5:22-cv-03301-JWL-JPO Document 5 Filed 01/18/23 Page 3 of 11 550 U.S. 544, 558 (2007). A pro se litigant’s “conclusory allegations without supporting factual averments are insufficient to state a claim upon which relief can be based.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). “[A] plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitlement to relief’ requires “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). The complaint’s “factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 555, 570. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained “that, to state a claim in federal court, a complaint must explain what each defendant did to [the pro se plaintiff]; when the defendant did it; how the defendant’s action harmed [the plaintiff]; and, what specific legal right the plaintiff believes the defendant violated.” Nasious v. Two Unknown B.I.C.E. Agents, 492 F.3d 1158, 1163 (10th Cir. 2007). The court “will not supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiff’s complaint or construct a legal theory on a plaintiff’s behalf.” Whitney v. New Mexico, 113 F.3d 1170, 1173-74 (10th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted). The Tenth Circuit has pointed out that the Supreme Court’s decisions in Twombly and Erickson gave rise to a new standard of review for § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) dismissals. See Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1218 (10th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted); see also Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1098 (10th Cir. 2009). As a result, courts “look to the specific allegations in the complaint to determine whether they plausibly support a legal claim for relief.” Kay, 500 F.3d at 1218 (citation omitted). Under this new standard, “a plaintiff must ‘nudge his claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.’” Smith, 561 F.3d at 1098 (citation omitted). “Plausible” in this context does not mean “likely to be true,” but rather refers “to the scope of the allegations in 3 Case 5:22-cv-03301-JWL-JPO Document 5 Filed 01/18/23 Page 4 of 11 a complaint: if they are so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct, much of it innocent,” then the plaintiff has not “nudged [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly, 127 S. Ct. at 1974). III. DISCUSSION 1. Conditions Posing Risk/Humane Conditions Plaintiff alleges that the conditions at the SCJ are inhumane, he slipped due to a leaking sink, there are live larva coming out of the floor drain, and bugs are flying around the bathroom. The Tenth Circuit has held that a pretrial detainee’s claims regarding conditions of confinement are governed by the Due Process Clause, and that “the Eighth Amendment standard provides the benchmark for such claims.” Routt v. Howard, 764 F. App’x 762, 770 (10th Cir. 2019) (unpublished) (quoting Craig v. Eberly, 164 F.3d 490, 495 (10th Cir. 1998)); see also Hooks v. Atoki, 983 F.3d 1193, 1203–04 10th Cir. 2020) (declining to extend Kingsley’s exclusively objective standard for pretrial detainees’ excessive force claims to Fourteenth Amendment deliberate indifference claims). A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment when two requirements are met. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). “First, the deprivation alleged must be, objectively, ‘sufficiently serious.’” Id. To satisfy the objective component, a prisoner must allege facts showing he or she is “incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm.” Id.; Martinez v. Garden, 430 F.3d 1302, 1304 (10th Cir. 2005). The Eighth Amendment requires prison and jail officials to provide humane conditions of confinement guided by “contemporary standards of decency.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976). The Supreme Court has acknowledged that the Constitution “‘does not mandate 4 Case 5:22-cv-03301-JWL-JPO Document 5 Filed 01/18/23 Page 5 of 11 comfortable prisons,’ and only those deprivations denying ‘the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities’ are sufficiently grave to form the basis of an Eighth Amendment violation.” Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991) (internal citations omitted). Indeed, prison conditions may be “restrictive and even harsh.” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). “Under the Eighth Amendment, (prison) officials must provide humane conditions of confinement by ensuring inmates receive the basic necessities of adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care and by taking reasonable measures to guarantee the inmates’ safety.” McBride v. Deer, 240 F.3d 1287, 1291 (10th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). The second requirement for an Eighth Amendment violation “follows from the principle that ‘only the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain implicates the Eighth Amendment.’” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. Prison officials must have a “sufficiently culpable state of mind,” and in prison-conditions cases that state of mind is “deliberate indifference” to inmate health or safety. Id. “[T]he official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Id. at 837. “The Eighth Amendment does not outlaw cruel and unusual ‘conditions’; it outlaws cruel and unusual ‘punishments.’” Id. It is not enough to establish that the official should have known of the risk of harm. Id. Because the sufficiency of a conditions-of-confinement claim depends upon “the particular facts of each situation; the ‘circumstances, nature, and duration’ of the challenged conditions must be carefully considered.” Despain v. Uphoff, 264 F.3d 965, 974 (10th Cir. 2001) (quoting Johnson v. Lewis, 217 F.3d 726, 731 (9th Cir. 2000)). “While no single factor controls . . . the length of exposure to the conditions is often of prime importance.” Id. As the severity of the conditions to which an inmate is exposed increases, the length of exposure required to make 5 Case 5:22-cv-03301-JWL-JPO Document 5 Filed 01/18/23 Page 6 of 11 out a constitutional violation decreases. Accordingly, “minor deprivations suffered for short periods would not rise to an Eighth Amendment violation, while ‘substantial deprivations. . .’ may meet the standard despite a shorter duration.” Id. (citations omitted). Plaintiffs’ allegations fail to allege a “sufficiently serious” deprivation or facts showing he is “incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm.” Plaintiff has also failed to allege “deliberate indifference” by any defendant. Plaintiff should show good cause why his claims regarding his conditions of confinement should not be dismissed. 2. Excessive Force Plaintiff alleges that Deputy Lyon hit him in the back of the head with some shoes, which allegedly constituted “assault and battery.” Plaintiff has not shown a private cause of action for violations of a state criminal statute. See Speer v. Beardsley, 2020 WL 4785426, at *4 (D. Kan. Aug. 18, 2020) (finding no private cause of action for a violation of criminal statutes, including criminal statutes for assault and battery) (citing see Droge v. Rempel, 180 P.3d 1094, 1097 (Kan. App. 2008) (“‘Kansas appellate courts generally will not infer a private right of action where a statute provides criminal penalties but does not mention civil liability.’”) (quoting Pullen v. West, 92 P.3d 584, 597 (Kan. 2004)); see also LeTourneau v. Venture Corp., 2017 WL 2378331 *6 (D. Kan. June 1, 2017) (“the Court is unwilling to infer a private cause of action for a statute with solely criminal penalties”). “[S]tate statutes do not provide a basis for liability under § 1983 which only protects rights secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” Id. (citations omitted). Plaintiff also fails to state a claim for excessive force. “Excessive force claims are cognizable under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment, depending on where in the criminal justice system the plaintiff is at the time of the challenged use of force.” Vette v. K- 6 Case 5:22-cv-03301-JWL-JPO Document 5 Filed 01/18/23 Page 7 of 11 9 Unit Deputy Sanders, 989 F.3d 1154, 1169 (10th Cir. 2021) (citation omitted). Claims of mistreatment while in state pretrial confinement are not covered by the Fourth Amendment or the Eighth Amendment. Colbruno v. Kessler, 928 F.3d 1155, 1162 (10th Cir. 2019). They are assessed under the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. The Court in Kingsley held that “the appropriate standard for a pretrial detainee’s excessive[-]force claim is solely an objective one” and that therefore “a pretrial detainee can prevail by providing only objective evidence that the challenged governmental action is not rationally related to a legitimate governmental objective or that it is excessive in relation to that purpose.” Brown v. Flowers, 974 F.3d 1178, 1182 (10th Cir. 2020) (quoting Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 576 U.S. 389, 135 S. Ct. 2466, 2473–74, 192 L. Ed. 2d 416 (2015); see also Colbruno, 928 F.3d at 1163 (“[T]here is no subjective element of an excessive-force claim brought by a pretrial detainee.”). Not every isolated battery or injury to an inmate amounts to a federal constitutional violation. See Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992) (stating that not “every malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise to a federal cause of action.”) (citing Johnson v. Glick, 481 F.2d 1028, 1033 (2nd Cir. 1973) (“Not every push or shove, even if it may later seem unnecessary in the peace of a judge’s chambers, violates a prisoner’s constitutional rights”)). Plaintiff has not alleged wrongdoing that is objectively harmful enough to establish a constitutional violation. In Snyder v. Spilde, the court found that: Merely grabbing and twisting Mr. Snyder’s arms does not allege a constitutional violation. See e.g., Norton v. The City of Marietta, 432 F.3d 1145, 1156 (10th Cir. 2005) (dismissing claim in which prison guards were alleged to have injured prisoner by grabbing him around his neck and twisting it because the guards’ actions were not objectively harmful enough to establish a constitutional violation); Reed v. Smith, No. 97-6341, 1999 WL 345492, at *4 (10th Cir. 1999) (dismissing excessive force claim based on 7 Case 5:22-cv-03301-JWL-JPO Document 5 Filed 01/18/23 Page 8 of 11 allegations that prison officials grabbed inmate, tried to ram him into a wall, and dragged him while walking him through the prison); Marshall, 415 Fed. App’x at 853–54 (dismissing excessive force claim based on allegations that corrections officer dug his fingernails into prisoner’s arm without cause to do so resulting in redness and bruising). Accord De Walt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607, 610–11 (7th Cir. 2000) (holding that shoving a prisoner into a doorframe, which resulted in bruising on his back, did not state a constitutional violation); Boddie v. Schnieder, 105 F.3d 857, 862 (2d Cir. 1997) (holding that bumping, grabbing, elbowing, and pushing a prisoner was “not sufficiently serious or harmful to reach constitutional dimensions.”); Black Spotted Horse v. Else, 767 F.2d 516, 517 (8th Cir. 1985) (pushing cubicle-cell wall onto prisoner’s leg, causing bruises, was insufficient use of force to state a constitutional violation); Olson v. Coleman, 804 F. Supp. 148, 149–50 (D. Kan. 1982) (single blow to prisoner’s head while escorting him into prison, causing contusion, was de minimis use of force not repugnant to conscience of mankind). Snyder v. Spilde, No. 15-cv-2169-GPG, 2016 WL 1059612, at *3–4 (D. Colo. March 17, 2016). Plaintiff should show good cause why his claims regarding the alleged “assault” should not be dismissed. 3. Discrimination Plaintiff alleges discrimination because he was called out for not being dressed properly while other inmates in Pod 15 were not called out for the same thing. To allege an equal protection violation, a plaintiff must state facts indicating that defendants treated him differently than other similarly situated individuals. See City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985). Plaintiff does not allege that he was treated differently on the basis of class membership. To proceed upon an equal protection claim as a “class-of-one plaintiff,” there must be allegations that others similarly situated in every material respect were intentionally treated differently and that the government’s action was irrational and abusive. Haik v. Salt Lake City Corp., 567 F. App’x 621, 631–32 (10th Cir. 2014); Kan. Penn Gaming, LLC v. Collins, 656 F.3d 1210, 1216 (10th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff has failed to allege that the other inmates were similarly 8 Case 5:22-cv-03301-JWL-JPO Document 5 Filed 01/18/23 Page 9 of 11 situation in every material respect. See Barney v. Pulsipher, 143 F.3d 1299, 1312 (10th Cir. 1998) (“In order to assert a viable equal protection claim, plaintiffs must first make a threshold showing that they were treated differently from others who were similarly situated to them.”) (citation omitted). Plaintiff should show good cause why his discrimination claim should not be dismissed. 4. Grievance Procedures/Responses Plaintiff’s claims that Captain Scott responded to Plaintiff’s grievances by stating that the information provided by Plaintiff was not really a grievance. Plaintiff’s claim relates to his dissatisfaction with responses to his grievances. The Tenth Circuit has held several times that there is no constitutional right to an administrative grievance system. Gray v. GEO Group, Inc., No. 17–6135, 2018 WL 1181098, at *6 (10th Cir. March 6, 2018) (citations omitted); Von Hallcy v. Clements, 519 F. App’x 521, 523–24 (10th Cir. 2013); Boyd v. Werholtz, 443 F. App’x 331, 332 (10th Cir. 2011); see also Watson v. Evans, Case No. 13–cv–3035–EFM, 2014 WL 7246800, at *7 (D. Kan. Dec. 17, 2014) (failure to answer grievances does not violate constitutional rights or prove injury necessary to claim denial of access to courts); Strope v. Pettis, No. 03–3383–JAR, 2004 WL 2713084, at *7 (D. Kan. Nov. 23, 2004) (alleged failure to investigate grievances does not amount to a constitutional violation); Baltoski v. Pretorius, 291 F. Supp. 2d 807, 811 (N.D. Ind. 2003) (finding that “[t]he right to petition the government for redress of grievances . . . does not guarantee a favorable response, or indeed any response, from state officials”). Plaintiff’s claim regarding the grievance process and the failure to properly respond to grievances is subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim. IV. Motion for Appointment of Counsel Plaintiff has filed a Motion for Appointment of Counsel (Doc. 3). Plaintiff alleges that he 9 Case 5:22-cv-03301-JWL-JPO Document 5 Filed 01/18/23 Page 10 of 11 is indigent and unable to obtain counsel. (Doc. 3, at 4.) The Court has considered Plaintiff’s motion for appointment of counsel. There is no constitutional right to appointment of counsel in a civil case. Durre v. Dempsey, 869 F.2d 543, 547 (10th Cir. 1989); Carper v. DeLand, 54 F.3d 613, 616 (10th Cir. 1995). The decision whether to appoint counsel in a civil matter lies in the discretion of the district court. Williams v. Meese, 926 F.2d 994, 996 (10th Cir. 1991). “The burden is on the applicant to convince the court that there is sufficient merit to his claim to warrant the appointment of counsel.” Steffey v. Orman, 461 F.3d 1218, 1223 (10th Cir. 2006) (quoting Hill v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 393 F.3d 1111, 1115 (10th Cir. 2004)). It is not enough “that having counsel appointed would have assisted [the prisoner] in presenting his strongest possible case, [as] the same could be said in any case.” Steffey, 461 F.3d at 1223 (quoting Rucks v. Boergermann, 57 F.3d 978, 979 (10th Cir. 1995)). In deciding whether to appoint counsel, courts must evaluate “the merits of a prisoner’s claims, the nature and complexity of the factual and legal issues, and the prisoner’s ability to investigate the facts and present his claims.” Hill, 393 F.3d at 1115 (citing Rucks, 57 F.3d at 979). The Court concludes in this case that (1) it is not clear at this juncture that Plaintiff has asserted a colorable claim against a named defendant; (2) the issues are not complex; and (3) Plaintiff appears capable of adequately presenting facts and arguments. The Court denies the motion without prejudice to refiling the motion if Plaintiff’s Complaint survives screening. V. Response Required Plaintiff is required to show good cause why his Complaint should not be dismissed for the reasons stated herein. Failure to respond by the deadline may result in dismissal of this matter without further notice. 10 Case 5:22-cv-03301-JWL-JPO Document 5 Filed 01/18/23 Page 11 of 11 IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED BY THE COURT that Plaintiff’s Motion for Appointment of Counsel (Doc. 3) is denied without prejudice. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff is granted until February 17, 2023, in which to show good cause, in writing to the undersigned, why Plaintiff’s Complaint should not be dismissed for the reasons stated herein. IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated January 18, 2023, in Kansas City, Kansas. S/ John W. Lungstrum JOHN W. LUNGSTRUM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 11

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