Gabaldon v. The GEO Group Facility et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER by District Judge Martha Vazquez DISMISSING WITHOUT PREJUDICE 1 Complaint. IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff's Pro Se Prisoner Civil Rights Complaint (Doc. 1 ) is DISMISSED without prejudice for failure to state a cognizable claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. (gr) Modified text on 11/16/2020 (gr).
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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO
DANAN BERNARDO GABALDON,
Case No. 19-cv-0808 MV-LF
GEO GROUP FACILITY,
LT. RIVERA, and
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Danan Bernardo Gabaldon’s Pro Se Prisoner
Civil Rights Complaint (Doc. 1) (Complaint). Plaintiff primarily alleges that a guard jeopardized
his safety by making a false statement, both orally and in a prison disciplinary report. Because
Plaintiff does not specify what the statement was, the Complaint fails to state a cognizable
constitutional violation. The Court will dismiss the Complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A but grant
leave to amend.
Plaintiff was previously incarcerated at the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility
(GCCF). (Doc. 1 at 2-3). In November of 2017, Lieutenant Arguello issued a misconduct report
to Plaintiff. Id. at 4. The misconduct report reflects that Plaintiff made a certain remark, which
The background facts are taken from the allegations in the Complaint (Doc. 1), which the Court accepts
as true for the purpose of this ruling.
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Plaintiff in fact “never stated.” Id. Arguello also purportedly told other inmates that Plaintiff made
the remark. Id. at 5. The Complaint does not specify what the remark was; Plaintiff only alleges
that Arguello knew or should have known that he was endangering Plaintiff’s life by falsifying the
disciplinary report. Id. at 3. Plaintiff filed several grievances, but Lieutenant Rivera and Major
Aragon allegedly failed to respond. Id. at 4. It appears that Plaintiff may have been attacked as a
result of the falsified report. He states that he suffered broken bones in his face but does not
specifically state how he was injured, or why. Id. at 5. The Court construes the Complaint liberally
to assume that Plaintiff was attacked as a result of the falsified remark.
Based on these facts, the Complaint raises claims for deliberate indifference to a serious
risk of attack under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments for an equal protection violation, a
violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause, and negligence. (Doc. 1 at 3, 5). The Complaint names six
Defendants: Arguello; Rivera; Aragon; Wardens Horton and Gay; and the GEO Group, Inc
(“GEO”). Id. at 1. Plaintiff seeks at least $1 million in damages and a sentence reduction. He paid
the filing fee, and the Complaint is ready for initial review.
Standards Governing Initial Review
Section 1915A of Title 28 requires the Court to conduct a sua sponte review of all prisoner
complaints that raise claims against government actors. The Court must dismiss any inmate
complaint that is frivolous, malicious, or “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.”
28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The Court may also dismiss a complaint sua sponte under Rule 12(b)(6) if “it
is patently obvious that the plaintiff could not prevail on the facts alleged, and allowing [plaintiff]
an opportunity to amend [the] complaint would be futile.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110
(10th Cir. 1991) (quotations omitted).
The plaintiff must frame a complaint that contains
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“sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.’”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows
the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Because Plaintiff is pro se, his “pleadings are to be construed liberally and held to a less
stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110. While pro
se pleadings are judged by the same legal standards as others, the Court can overlook the “failure
to cite proper legal authority, … confusion of various legal theories, …, or … unfamiliarity with
pleading requirements.” Id. Moreover, if a pro se inmate complaint fails to state a claim on initial
screening, courts should generally grant leave to amend unless amendment would be futile. Id.
Plaintiff’s constitutional claims are analyzed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the “remedial vehicle
for raising claims based on the violation of constitutional rights.” Brown v. Buhman, 822 F.3d
1151, 1161 n.9 (10th Cir. 2016). “A cause of action under section 1983 requires the deprivation of
a civil right by a ‘person’ acting under color of state law.” McLaughlin v. Bd. of Trustees, 215
F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2000). The plaintiff must allege that each government official, through
the official’s own individual actions, has personally violated the Constitution. See Trask v. Franco,
446 F.3d 1036, 1046 (10th Cir. 1998). There must also be a connection between the official conduct
and the constitutional violation. See Fogarty v. Gallegos, 523 F.3d 1147, 1162 (10th Cir. 2008);
Trask, 446 F.3d at 1046.
The constitutional claims here implicate the Eighth Amendment prohibition on deliberate
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indifference to a serious risk of harm, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Ex Post Facto Clause.
Lieutenant Arguello falsely attributed a remark to Plaintiff, which may have caused Plaintiff to be
attacked by a fellow inmate. This alleged wrongdoing bears no relation to the Ex Post Facto clause,
which stiffens the punishment beyond what the law provided when a crime was committed. See
U.S. Const. art. I § 9, cl. 3; Peugh v. United States, 569 U.S. 530, 532–33 (2013). There is also no
indication that Plaintiff was “treated differently from others who were similarly situated to [him],”
or that Arguello acted with discriminatory intent. See Carney v. Oklahoma Dep’t of Pub. Safety,
875 F.3d 1347, 1353 (10th Cir. 2017); Watson v. City of Kansas City, Kan., 857 F.2d 690, 694
(10th Cir. 1988). The Complaint therefore fails to state an equal protection violation. The Court
thus will focus on the Eighth Amendment claim.
Prison officials can be held liable under the Eighth Amendment for “deliberate indifference
to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 828 (1994).
To state a deliberate indifference claim, the plaintiff must show: “(1) that the conditions of his
incarceration present an objective substantial risk of serious harm and (2) prison officials had
subjective knowledge of the risk of harm.” Requena v. Roberts, 893 F.3d 1195, 1214 (10th Cir.
2018) (quotations omitted). The objective component can be met based on the risk of assault by
fellow inmates. Id.; Wilson v. Falk, 877 F.3d 1204, 1210 (10th Cir. 2017) (where fellow inmate
stabbed plaintiff, only subjective component was in dispute); Gonzales v. Martinez, 403 F.3d 1179,
1186 (10th Cir. 2005) (noting a physical assault satisfies the objective component of the Eighth
Amendment test). As the Supreme Court explained: “Being violently assaulted in prison is simply
not part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.” Farmer, 511
U.S. at 834.
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To satisfy the subjective component of the deliberate indifference test, the complaint must
include “evidence of [each individual] prison official’s culpable state of mind.” Mata v. Saiz, 427
F.3d 745, 751 (10th Cir. 2005). Each defendant must “know of and disregard an excessive risk
to inmate … safety; the official must be both 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.” Farmer,
511 U.S. at 837. Notably, “[d]eliberate indifference does not require a finding of express intent to
harm.” Mitchell v. Maynard, 80 F.3d 1433, 1442 (10th Cir. 1996). A plaintiff “need not show that
a prison official acted or failed to act believing that harm actually would befall an inmate; it is
enough that the official acted or failed to act despite his knowledge of a substantial risk of serious
harm.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842. In other words, “[t]o show the requisite deliberate indifference,”
a plaintiff “must establish that defendant(s) knew he faced a substantial risk of harm and
disregarded that risk, by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it.” Kikumura v. Osagie, 461
F.3d 1269, 1293 (10th Cir. 2006) (quotations omitted). The subjective component can also be met
where the defendant created the risk of harm by feeding other inmates incendiary information about
the plaintiff. See, e.g., Northington v. Jackson, 973 F.2d 1518, 1525 (10th Cir. 1992) (holding that
guard who told other inmates that plaintiff was a “snitch” demonstrated a “wanton disregard for
the inmate’s safety”); Leary v. Livingston Cty. Jail, 528 F.3d 438, 442 (7th Cir. 2008) (hodling that
plaintiff potentially had a constitutional claim against guard who told other prisoners that plaintiff
was charged with raping a child).
Here, Plaintiff alleges that he sustained broken cheek bones and teeth, which required
surgery. Although the Complaint does not describe the circumstances surrounding the injury, the
Court liberally construes it to mean that a fellow inmate hit Plaintiff after Arguello falsely attributed
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an inflammatory remark to Plaintiff. It therefore appears that the objective component is met. As
to the subjective component, Plaintiff alleges that Arguello “knew or should have known of th[e]
risk by stating this [remark] on [the] misconduct report.” (Doc. 1 at 4). Without knowing what the
remark was, the Court cannot evaluate whether Arguello knew that it could cause other inmates to
attack Plaintiff. The Complaint therefore fails to state a cognizable Eighth Amendment claim
To the extent that Plaintiff sues Rivera and Aragon for refusing to respond to his grievances,
these claims also fail. The Tenth Circuit has repeatedly held that “there is no independent
constitutional right to [effective] state administrative grievance procedures.” Boyd v. Werholtz,
443 F. App’x 331, 332 (10th Cir. 2011) (collecting cases). See also Von Hallcy v. Clements, 519
F. App’x. 521, 524 (10th Cir. 2013) (rejecting prisoner’s claim that prison director violated due
process by providing him with an inadequate prisoner grievance reporting system); Merryfield v.
Jordan, 431 F. App’x. 743, 749-50 (10th Cir. 2011) (same); Ciempa v. Ward, 150 F. App’x. 905,
906-07, 909 (10th Cir. 2005) (same). Plaintiff therefore cannot recover from Rivera or Aragon.
The Complaint also fails to state a cognizable claim against the remaining Defendants,
GEO, Warden Horton, and Warden Gay. Private corporations and prison supervisors cannot be
held vicariously liable for an employee’s alleged constitutional violations under § 1983. See Dubbs
v. Head Start, Inc., 336 F.3d 1194, 1216 (10th Cir. 2003) (“[A] private [entity] ‘cannot be held
liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor—or, in other words . . . cannot be held liable under §
1983 on a respondeat superior theory.’”); Mitchell v. Maynard, 80 F.3d 1433, 1441 (10th Cir. 1996)
(supervisory status does not support § 1983 liability). To establish liability under § 1983, a plaintiff
must show that the entity or supervisor “had an ‘official ... policy of some nature ... that was the
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direct cause or moving force behind the constitutional violations.” Dubbs, 336 F.3d at 1216
(applying the rule to entities); Moya v. Garcia, 895 F.3d 1229 (10th Cir. 2018) (applying the rule
to prison wardens). Plaintiff has not shown that any wrongdoing is traceable to a policy or custom
by GEO or the wardens. The Complaint therefore fails to state a federal constitutional claim against
any named Defendant.
For these reasons, the Court will dismiss the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
The Tenth Circuit counsels that pro se plaintiffs should ordinarily be given an opportunity to
“remedy defects potentially attributable to their ignorance of federal law.”
Shillinger, 907 F.2d 124, 126 (10th Cir. 1990). Accordingly, the Court will allow Plaintiff to amend
his complaint within seventy-five (75) days of entry of this Order. The amended complaint must
“make clear exactly who is alleged to have done what to whom, to provide each individual with
fair notice as to the basis of the claims against him or her.” Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242,
1251 (10th Cir. 2008). Plaintiff must describe the circumstances surrounding his attack and trace
that attack back to Arguello. The amended complaint must also describe the specific remark or
information that Arguello allegedly falsified, and how he communicated that information to other
inmates. Plaintiff should refer to the pleading standards above for guidance.
The amended complaint will be subject to screening under § 1915A, and the Court will
consider whether to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any state negligence claims at that
time. Plaintiff is further warned that this Court cannot reduce his state sentence based on any
constitutional violation that occurred in prison. See Heck v. Humphry, 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994).
If Plaintiff declines to timely file an amended complaint, or files an amendment that fails to state a
cognizable claim, the Court will dismiss this case with prejudice and without further notice.
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IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Pro Se Prisoner Civil Rights Complaint (Doc. 1) is
DISMISSED without prejudice for failure to state a cognizable claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED and Plaintiff may file an amended complaint within
seventy-five (75) days of entry of this Order.
HONORABLE MARTHA VÁZQUEZ
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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