Thomas v. Hininger, et al
Opinion and Order. Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted under §1983 and the Complaint is dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§1915(e)(2) and 1915A. This Court declines to exercise suppl emental jurisdiction over any state-law claim the Plaintiff purports to allege in the absence of a viable federal claim. The Court certifies, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3), that an appeal from this decision could not be taken in good faith. Judge Christopher A. Boyko on 4/8/2015. (H,CM)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
SHAWN M. THOMAS,
DAMON T. HININGER, et al.,
CASE NO. 1:14 CV 2127
JUDGE CHRISTOPHER A. BOYKO
OPINION AND ORDER
CHRISTOPHER A. BOYKO, J.:
Pro se Plaintiff Shawn Thomas, a state prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis, filed this civil
rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 against Corrections Corporation of America (“CCA”);
CCA’s Chief Executive Officer, Damon T. Hininger; and thirteen correctional officers and employees
of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution (“LECI”), where the Plaintiff was incarcerated from June
21, 2012 until July 9, 2014.1 The LECI employees named as Defendants are: Warden Barry
Goodrich; Deputy Warden Christopher Chestnut; Chief of Security Mr. Rogers; “Nurse” Foster;
The Plaintiff is not a stranger to civil rights litigation, having pursued two other lawsuits in this
District alleging violations of his constitutional rights while incarcerated. See Thomas v. Denno, Case
No. 4: 10 CV 2723 (N.D. Ohio 2010) and Thomas v. Denno, Case No. 4: 13 CV 1469 (N.D. Ohio
Health Care Administrator Linda Gillespie; Segregation Officers Mr. Allen, Mr. Pontario, Mr. Meli,
Mr. Dibble, Mr. Loudermilk, Mr. Gregory Brown, and Mr. Tobias; and Segregation Unit Sergeant Mr.
Scimenes. The Plaintiff seeks damages and injunctive and declaratory relief for alleged violations of
his constitutional rights. For the reasons stated below, his Complaint is dismissed.
The Plaintiff complains of three “incidents” that occurred during his incarceration at LECI:
an “Incident from September 30, 2012 - October 7, 2012”; an “Incident from July 15, 2013”; and an
“Incident from March 20, 2014.”
1. “Incident from September 30, 2012 - October 7, 2012.”
The Plaintiff alleges he was assaulted by other inmates on September 30, 2012, from which
he sustained two black eyes, severe bruising, and a laceration on the bridge of his nose, and after
which he was the only inmate to be placed in the segregation unit. (Doc. No. 1 at p. 10.) He alleges
this assault was due to “the uncontrollable environment” at LECI and that Defendants Hininger,
Rogers, Goodrich, and Chestnut had responsibility for, but negligently failed to maintain, a safe
He alleges he was denied proper medical care after the assault, alleging that he “was given
an ice bag for his injury,” but “Nurse Ms. Foster . . . failed to properly subject the plaintiff to the proper
medical treatment as no x-rays were taken or scheduled . . . and the plaintiff was taken to the
segregation unit instead of being held in the medical unit temporary.” (Id. at p. 11.) He filed
complaints with Defendant Gillespie regarding the medical staff’s negligence in treating him, but
“nothing was ever done to ensure his medical needs could or would be looked into properly in a timely
fashion.” (Id. at 11-12.)
He alleges “Mr. William Potter,” the “Captain” of LECI (who is not named as a Defendant
in the case), assaulted him after he requested to speak to a “higher up”staff member when he was
placed in the pre-segregation unit. Potter allegedly refused to hear anything the Plaintiff had to say
and sprayed the Plaintiff with an excessive amount of pepper spray after the Plaintiff became “verbally
belligerent” and refused to change out of his clothing. The Plaintiff contends Potter should not have
used pepper spray to subdue him but should have left him “alone until the situation calmed down.” (Id.
Finally, he alleges the segregation cell into which he was placed for seven days was filthy,
unsanitary and unhygienic and that he was denied writing and legal materials while housed there. He
alleges he was forced to cell with two other prisoners and subjected to sleeping on the floor without
a plastic boat (with only a blanket, sheet, and mattress) two to three feet from where the toilet and
shower continually splashed on the floor and his bedding. He “advised” the Officers listed “in
paragraph (L) (5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, and 14)” of his Complaint2 that he “needed his writing materials and
legal work, hygiene and some clothing out of his down range pack because it was so cold in the cell
[but] none of these officers would retrieve these items” for him. (Id. at13-14.)
2. Incident from July 15, 2013.
The Plaintiff alleges he “caught” Defendant Meli looking up prisoners on a computer with other
prisoners standing behind him observing the information. The Plaintiff filed a complaint about Meli’s
conduct because other prisoners later “approached” him about the offense for which he was
Defendants Rogers, Allen, Pontario, Dibble, Loudermilk, and Brown are identified in this portion
of the Plaintiff’s Complaint.
convicted. (Id. at 15.) He alleges that, due to the “negligent disregard” of Officer Meli for his safety,
he was assaulted by other prisoners and sustained injuries. Although he acknowledges the grievance
he filed regarding Defendant Meli’s conduct was granted and that he was moved to another unit to
ensure his safety, he asserts that he is “moving against Mr. Meli for personal injury liability as he
violated policies to protect prisoners and violated the plaintiff’s right to equal protection.” (Id. at 1617.) In addition, he alleges that when he was being moved to a safer unit, Officers “Baites” and
“Severino” (who are not named as Defendants) failed to pack his property in a timely manner and his
property was stolen.
3. “Incident from March 20, 2014”
The Plaintiff alleges Defendants Scimenes and Tobias violated his constitutional rights by
refusing to give him “his requested legal papers and his writing materials to write his family and friends
and attorney’s” when he was placed in segregation for the third time, in March 2014. (Id. at 18.)
Standard of Review
Although pro se pleadings are liberally construed, Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364, 365
(1982) (per curiam); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), 28 U.S.C. §§1915(e) and 1915A
require district courts to dismiss in forma pauperis actions and actions by prisoners against
government employees that fail to state a claim on which relief can be granted. Hill v. Lappin, 630
F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010).
A plaintiff’s complaint fails to state claim on which relief may be granted when the alleged
claims lack “plausibility in th[e] complaint.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 564 (2007).
Factual allegations in a complaint must be sufficient to raise the right to relief above the speculative
level, assuming all the allegations in the complaint are true. Id. at 555. While a plaintiff is not required
to include detailed factual allegations, he must provide more than “an unadorned,
the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The
complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled
to relief. Id. at 677-78.
“[D]amage claims against governmental officials alleged to arise from violations of
constitutional rights cannot be founded upon conclusory, vague or general allegations, but
must . . . allege facts that show the existence of the asserted constitutional rights violation recited in
the complaint and what each defendant did to violate the asserted right.” Terrance v. Northville
Reg.Psych. Hosp., 286 F.3d 834, 842 (6th Cir. 2002) (emphasis in original). Additionally, liability may
not be imposed under §1983 on the basis of respondeat superior. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676. To state
a claim against a government official, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the official “through the
individual’s own actions, has violated the Constitution.” Id. A corporation operating a prison may be
liable only if the corporation had a policy or custom that violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights. See
Street v. Corrections Corporation of America, 102 F.3d 810, 818 (6th Cir. 1996).
The Plaintiff’s Complaint fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted against any
Defendant under §1983.3
The Plaintiff has not alleged a viable constitutional claim against Defendants Hininger, Rogers,
Goodrich, and Chestnut.
Prison officials have a duty under the Eighth Amendment to “take
To state a claim under §1983, a plaintiff must allege he suffered a violation of a right secured by
the Constitution or laws of the United States committed by a person acting under color of state law.
Redding v. St. Edward, 241 F.3d 530, 532 (6th Cir. 2001).
reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of inmates,” including taking reasonable measures “to
protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825,
832-33 (1994) (internal quotations omitted). However, prison officials do not violate a prisoner’s rights
under the Eighth Amendment every time a prisoner inflicts injury on another. Id. at 834. A prison
official may be liable only if the plaintiff proves both an objective and a subjective component. Id. “An
official is deliberately indifferent if he or she ‘knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate
health and safety; the official must both be aware of the facts from which the inference could be
drawn that a substantial risk of harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.’ ” Bishop v.
Hackel, 636 F.3d 757, 766 (6th Cir.2011) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837). The Plaintiff has not
alleged facts indicating Defendants Hininger, Rogers, Goodrich and Chestnut acted with “deliberate
indifference” to a substantial risk of harm to him. A negligent failure to prevent an attack by other
inmates, as the Plaintiff alleges against these Defendants, is insufficient to state a claim. See
Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344, 345–48 (1986) (finding that prison officials’ negligent failure to
heed prisoner’s notification of threats from another inmate, followed by an assault, is not a deprivation
of constitutional rights).
The Plaintiff also has not alleged any basis to impose liability on CCA. He alleges CCA owns
LECI and that Hininger is CCA’s CEO, but he does not allege CCA itself had a policy or custom that
violated his rights.
Nor has the Plaintiff alleged a viable constitutional claim against Defendants Foster and
Gillespie. To make out a constitutional claim under the Eighth Amendment for inadequate medical
care, a prisoner must allege facts “establish[ing] the existence of a sufficiently serious medical need.
Seriousness is measured objectively, in response to contemporary standards of decency.” Reilly v.
Vadlamaudi, 680 F.3d 617, 624 (6th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). See
also Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). The prisoner must also “show that prison
officials have a sufficiently culpable state of mind in denying medical care.” Jones v. Muskegon
County, 625 F.3d 935, 941 (6th Cir. 2010) (quotation marks omitted). The “plaintiff must [allege] that
the official: (1) subjectively knew of a risk to the inmate’s health, (2) drew the inference that a
substantial risk of harm to the inmate existed, and (3) consciously disregarded that risk.” Id.
The Plaintiff alleges he suffers from “slight” breathing problems and scars as a result of the
attack on him by other prisoners and that he received some care after the attack. (Doc. No. 1 at pp.
11-12.). Although the Plaintiff contends he should have been given more medical attention, his
allegations are insufficient to demonstrate either that he had a “serious medical need,” or that
Defendants Foster or Gillespie were subjectively, “deliberately indifferent” to that need. A prisoner’s
disagreement with the treatment and diagnosis he receives does not support a constitutional claim.
Rather, where, as here, “a prisoner has received some medical attention and the dispute is over the
adequacy of the treatment, federal courts are generally reluctant to second guess medical judgments
and to constitutionalize claims which sound in state tort law.” Westlake v. Lucas, 537 F.2d 857, 860
n. 5 (6th Cir.1976).
The Plaintiff has not alleged any plausible claim in the case based on the alleged conduct of
“Mr. Potter” or Officers “Baites” and “Severino.” None of these individuals is named as Defendant,
and their alleged conduct is insufficient to impose liability on any named Defendant under §1983.
The Plaintiff has not alleged a viable constitutional claim against Defendants Rogers, Allen,
Pontario, Dibble, Loudermilk, Brown, Scimenes and Tobias. His allegations that these Defendants
refused his requests for writing and legal materials while he was confined in segregation do not rise
to the level of a constitutional deprivation. Although prisoners have a constitutional right of access to
the courts, including access to legal and writing materials, see Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821
(1977), the right of access to legal resources and materials is not unlimited. See Lewis v. Casey, 518
U.S. 343, 349 (1996). To state a constitutional claim, a plaintiff must plead and demonstrate that his
lack of access to such materials hindered his efforts to pursue a nonfrivolous legal claim. Id. at 35153; accord Hadix v. Johnson, 182 F.3d 400, 405 (6th Cir. 1999). The Plaintiff does not allege he was
hindered in his ability to pursue a nonfrivolous legal claim on direct appeal or in a habeas corpus or
civil rights action.
The Plaintiff’s allegations that he was subjected to an overcrowded, cold and unsanitary cell
while in segregation are also insufficient to state a constitutional claim against the named Defendants.
“Not every unpleasant experience a prisoner might endure while incarcerated constitutes cruel and
unusual punishment within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment.” Ivey v. Wilson, 832 F.2d 950, 954
(6th Cir. 1987). The Eighth Amendment is violated only when a prisoner is deprived of the “minimal
civilized measure of life’s necessities.” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). A prisoner
is not denied such necessities when he is exposed to unsanitary conditions that do not result in physical
injury to him for a limited period of time. See, e.g., White v. Nix, 7 F.3d 120 (8th Cir. 1993) (eleven
day stay in unsanitary cell not unconstitutional); Harris v. Fleming, 839 F.2d 1232 (7th Cir. 1988 (five
day stay in filthy cell not unconstitutional); Crump v. Janz, No. 1: 10 CV 583, 2010 WL 2854266, at
*4 (W.D. Mich. July 19, 2010) (Eighth Amendment not violated where inmate alleged he was denied
hygiene items, postage, typing and carbon paper and envelopes for 35 days). The conditions the
Plaintiff alleges he was forced to endure in segregation do not rise to the level of cruel and unusual
punishment given that the conditions were temporary and the Plaintiff does not allege they resulted in
physical harm to him.
Finally, the Plaintiff has not stated a plausible §1983 claim against Defendant Meli in
connection with the “incident from March 20, 2014.” While prison officials have a duty under the
Eighth Amendment to protect prisoners from substantial risks to their safety, a prison official may only
be liable under §1983 for acting with “deliberate indifference” to an inmate’s health or safety.
Farmer, 411 U.S. at 834. A “negligent disregard” of a risk to an inmate, as the Plaintiff alleges against
Meli, is insufficient to state a constitutional, “deliberate indifference” claim. In order to state a
constitutional claim for a denial of equal protection, a §1983 plaintiff must allege a state actor
intentionally discriminated against him because of his membership in a protected class. Carnes v.
Engler, 76 Fed. App’x 79, 81 (6th Cir. 2003). “[P]risoners are not considered a suspect class for
purposes of equal protection litigation.” Jackson v. Jamrog, 411 F.3d 615, 619 (6th Cir. 2005). The
Plaintiff does not allege that he is a member of a protected class, or that Meli discriminated against him
on such basis; accordingly, he has failed to state a claim that Meli violated his right to “equal
For all of the reasons stated above, the Plaintiff’s Complaint fails to state a claim on which
relief may be granted under §1983 and the Complaint is dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§1915(e)(2)
and 1915A. This Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any state-law claim the
Plaintiff purports to allege in the absence of a viable federal claim. The Court certifies, pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3), that an appeal from this decision could not be taken in good faith.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/ Christopher A. Boyko
CHRISTOPHER A. BOYKO
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
DATED: April 8, 2015
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