Hamlin v. Penland et al
ORDER Plaintiff's 1 Complaint is dismissed for failure to state a claim. Denying as moot 7 Motion to Appoint Counsel. Signed by Chief Judge Frank D. Whitney on 10/31/2014. (Pro se litigant served by US Mail.)(nv)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
MARENDA PENLAND, et al.,
THIS MATTER is before the Court on initial review of Plaintiff’s Complaint, filed
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (Doc. No. 1), and on Plaintiff’s Motion for Appointment of Counsel,
(Doc. No. 7).
Pro se Plaintiff Harley Hamlin, a North Carolina state court inmate currently incarcerated
at Lanesboro View Correctional Institution in Polkton, North Carolina, filed this action on
September 15, 2014, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff’s claims arise out of a sexual
assault that allegedly occurred while he was a pre-trial detainee at the Transylvania County Jail.
In his Complaint, Plaintiff names the following persons as Defendants, all alleged to be
employees of the Transylvania County Jail at all relevant times: (1) Miranda Penland, Officer;
(2) Eddie Lance, Captain; (3) Kris McCall, Lieutenant; and (4) Alesha Cantrell, Officer.
Plaintiff brings the following factual allegations in the Complaint:
Cpt. Eddie Lance is the Cpt. of the jail and it is his job and responsibility to see
that every inmate in his jail is kept safe. I was sexually assaulted and threatened
by one of his officers and when I reported this I was sent to another jail and put in
segregation. Lt. McCall the Lt. of the jail, I strongly believe he knew what was
happening and done nothing to stop the situation. There is video evidence
proving my claim and when I asked for this I was told I would have to subpoena it
in court, there are phone calls between me and Ms. Cantrell and again I was told I
would have to subpoena them. Officer Maranda Penland, I talked to her and told
her that this guard had been giving me sexual notes and we had been talking on
the phone together. Her words were [“]don’t get caught.[”] I believe if she would
have done her job and reported it the sexual assault would not have happened.
“Former Officer” Ms. Alesha Cantrell, I had been threatened by her and put in
two sexual situations while in jail, and scared if I reported it something could
happen to me. Once she was fired or quit I reported what happened and was sent
to another jail and put in segregation.
(Doc. No. 1 at 4). Plaintiff does not articulate what legal claims he is bringing. It appears that,
as to Defendants Lance, McCall, and Penland, Plaintiff is attempt to bring an Eighth Amendment
claim based on Defendants’ failure to protect Plaintiff from an alleged sexual assault by
Defendant Cantrell. As to Defendant Cantrell, Plaintiff appears to be alleging a state law claim
against her for assault. In his prayer for relief, Plaintiff states that he would like for the Court to
order “some type of mental health” for Plaintiff, that Defendants be “punished,” and monetary
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must review the Complaint
to determine whether it is subject to dismissal on the grounds that it is “frivolous or malicious
[or] fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Furthermore,
under § 1915A the Court must conduct an initial review and identify and dismiss the complaint,
or any portion of the complaint, if it 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 to such relief.
In its frivolity review, this Court must determine whether the Complaint raises an
indisputably meritless legal theory or is founded upon clearly baseless factual contentions, such
as fantastic or delusional scenarios. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989).
Furthermore, a pro se complaint must be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519,
520 (1972). However, the liberal construction requirement will not permit a district court to
ignore a clear failure to allege facts in his Complaint which set forth a claim that is cognizable
under federal law. Weller v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990).
A. Initial Review of Plaintiff’s Claims
The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments,” U.S.
CONST. amend. VIII, and protects prisoners from the “unnecessary and wanton infliction of
pain,” Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986). To establish an Eighth Amendment claim,
an inmate must satisfy both an objective component–that the harm inflicted was sufficiently
serious–and a subjective component–that the prison official acted with a sufficiently culpable
state of mind. Williams v. Benjamin, 77 F.3d 756, 761 (4th Cir. 1996). The Supreme Court has
held that prison officials’ negligent failure to protect an inmate from assaults by other prisoners
does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344, 348
(1986). To show deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must allege that the prison official had actual
knowledge of an excessive risk to the plaintiff’s safety. Danser v. Stansberry, No. 13-1828, 2014
WL 2978541, at *5 (4th Cir. Sept. 12, 2014). In other words, the prison 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.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994).
The Court first finds that Plaintiff has not stated a claim for failure to protect against
Defendants Lance, McCall, or Penland. First, as to Defendant Lance, the jail’s Captain, Plaintiff
does not allege any facts to show that Defendant Lance knew about a substantial risk of serious
harm to Plaintiff. Plaintiff’s sole basis for liability as to Defendant Lance is that Defendant
Lance is the jail captain “and it is his job and responsibility to see that every inmate in his jail is
kept safe.” (Doc. No. 1 at 5). Defendant Lance cannot be held liable for the alleged acts of the
other officers because liability under § 1983 cannot be based on respondeat superior. See Monell
v. Department of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978) (stating that under § 1983, liability is
personal in nature, and the doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply). Thus, Plaintiff fails
to allege an Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim against Defendant Lance.
Next, as to Defendant McCall, a lieutenant at the jail, Plaintiff alleges that he “strongly
believe[s]” that Defendant McCall “knew what was happening and [did] nothing to stop the
situation.” Plaintiff’s “strong belief” that Defendant McCall knew what was happening at the
jail is not enough to allege that Defendant McCall was aware of a substantial risk of serious harm
to Plaintiff. Thus, Plaintiff fails to allege an Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim against
As to Defendant Penland, an officer at the jail, Plaintiff alleges that he talked to Penland
and told her that Defendant Cantrell had been giving Plaintiff sexual notes and that he and
Cantrell had been talking on the phone together. Plaintiff’s alleged response was “don’t get
caught.” Here, by Plaintiff’s own allegations, there is no indication that Penland was aware or
should have been aware that Plaintiff was at substantial risk of serious harm. Rather, Plaintiff’s
allegations indicate that, although the conduct between Plaintiff and Cantrell was no doubt
against prison regulations, Defendant Penland understood Plaintiff’s statements to mean that the
relationship between himself and Cantrell was consensual. Thus, Plaintiff has alleged no facts
tending to show that Defendant Penland would have reason to believe that Plaintiff was at
substantial risk of serious harm—that is, a sexual assault by Cantrell. In sum, Plaintiff fails to
allege an Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim against Defendant Penland.
Finally, as to Defendant Cantrell, Plaintiff appears to be attempting to bring a claim
against Cantrell for common law assault. This is a state law claim. Because the Court is
dismissing the other three Defendants, the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction
over this claim, and the Court will dismiss this action without prejudice to Plaintiff to bring a
claim against Defendant Cantrell for assault in state court if he so wishes.
In sum, the Complaint is dismissed for failure to state a claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) and
28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that:
1. Plaintiff’s Complaint, (Doc. No. 1), is dismissed for failure to state a claim. See 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The action is dismissed without prejudice to
Plaintiff to bring a claim against Defendant Cantrell for common law assault in state
2. Plaintiff’s Motion to Appoint Counsel, (Doc. No. 7), is DENIED as moot.
3. The Clerk is instructed to terminate this action.
Signed: October 31, 2014
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