McClairn v. Aramark Company et al
Memorandum of Opinion dismissing this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(e). 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 Donald C. Nugent 3/7/17(C,KA)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
CASE NO. 1:16 CV 3008
JUDGE DONALD C. NUGENT
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
Pro se Plaintiff Steven McClairn filed the above-captioned action against Aramark
Company. In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges Aramark was negligent in discovering and remedying
the actions of an employee who harassed Plaintiff with racially demeaning language. He seeks $
50,000.00 in damages, and an order requiring Aramark to promote anti-discrimination policies and
provide training to their employees.
Factual and Procedural Background
Plaintiff is an inmate in the Grafton Correctional Institution (“GCI”), assigned to work in the
food service area of the prison. Aramark is a corporation that provides contract food services to
various organizations, including GCI. Plaintiff identifies the Food Service Coordinator at GCI as
an individual named Steppenbacker. Plaintiff does not indicate whether Steppenbacker is an
employee of Aramark, or an employee of GCI.
Plaintiff alleges that on December 16, 2016, Steppenbacker called him “boy.” Plaintiff found
that comment to be racially demeaning, and asked Steppenbacker to stop referring to him in that
manner. Steppenbacker did not stop and, in fact, increased his efforts by following Plaintiff around
the food service area and repeatedly calling him “boy.” This action was witnessed by other food
service workers. Plaintiff claims he complained to an Aramark supervisor but the supervisor did not
resolve the situation to Plaintiff’s satisfaction. He indicates he was so emotionally distressed by the
incident that he took time off from his work assignment. He also states he could not sleep or eat due
to anxiety and fear. Plaintiff filed a grievance against Steppenbacker. The Institutional Inspector
found it to have merit. Shortly thereafter, Steppenbacker was fired. Plaintiff claims Aramark is
liable for Steppenbacker’s conduct because the company was negligent in discovering and
remedying Steppenbacker’s actions.
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), the Court is required to dismiss
an in forma pauperis action under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) if it fails to state a claim upon which relief
can be granted, or if it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319
(1989); Lawler v. Marshall, 898 F.2d 1196 (6th Cir. 1990); Sistrunk v. City of Strongsville, 99 F.3d
194, 197 (6th Cir. 1996). A claim lacks an arguable basis in law or fact when it is premised on an
indisputably meritless legal theory or when the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490
U.S. at 327.
A cause of action fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted when it lacks
“plausibility in the Complaint.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 564 (2007). A pleading
must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009). The factual allegations in the pleading must be
sufficient to raise the right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the
allegations in the Complaint are true. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The Plaintiff is not required to
include detailed factual allegations, but must provide more than “an unadorned, the-Defendantunlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A pleading that offers legal conclusions
or a simple recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not meet this pleading standard. Id.
In reviewing a Complaint, the Court must construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the
Plaintiff. Bibbo v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 151 F.3d 559, 561 (6th Cir. 1998).
Plaintiff seeks to hold Aramark responsible for Steppenbacker’s actions on one occasion.
Supervisory liability cannot be imposed on a theory of respondeat superior. See Monell v.
Department of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). Aramark can only be held liable under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 for its own wrongdoing. Id. An entity violates § 1983 where its official policy or
custom actually serves to deprive the Plaintiff of his or her constitutional rights. Id. To state a claim
against Aramark, Plaintiff first must establish that he was deprived of a constitutional right and
second that this occurred as a result of Aramark’s policy. See Radvansky v. City of Olmsted Falls,
395 F.3d 291, 302 (6th Cir. 2005); Alkire v. Irving, 330 F.3d 802, 810 (6th Cir. 2003).
As an initial matter, Plaintiff does not allege facts to suggest that his constitutional rights
were violated by Steppenbacker’s actions. The Eighth Amendment imposes a constitutional
limitation on the power of the states to punish those convicted of crimes. Punishment may not be
“barbarous” nor may it contravene society’s “evolving standards of decency.” Rhodes v. Chapman,
452 U.S. 337, 346 (1981). The Eighth Amendment protects inmates by requiring that “prison
officials ... ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and ...
‘take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.’ ” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S.
825, 832 (1994) (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)). This, however, does not
mandate that a prisoner be free from discomfort or inconvenience during his or her incarceration.
Ivey v. Wilson, 832 F.2d 950, 954 (6th Cir. 1987) (quoting Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 346). Prisoners are
not entitled to unfettered access to the medical treatment of their choice, see Hudson v. McMillian,
503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992), nor can they “expect the amenities, conveniences and services of a good
hotel.” Harris v. Fleming, 839 F.2d 1232, 1235 (7th Cir. 1988); see Thaddeus-X v. Blatter,175 F.3d
378, 405 (6th Cir. 1999). In sum, the Eighth Amendment affords the constitutional minimum
protection against conditions of confinement which constitute health threats, but does not address
those conditions which cause the prisoner to feel merely uncomfortable or which cause aggravation
or annoyance. Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9-10 (requiring extreme or grave deprivation).
The Supreme Court in Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991), set forth a framework for
courts to use when deciding whether certain conditions of confinement constitute cruel and unusual
punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff must first plead facts which, if true,
establish that a sufficiently serious deprivation has occurred. Id. Seriousness is measured in
response to “contemporary standards of decency.” Hudson, 503 U.S. at 8. Routine discomforts of
prison life do not suffice. Id. Only deliberate indifference to serious medical needs or extreme
deprivations regarding the conditions of confinement will implicate the protections of the Eighth
Amendment. Id. at 9. Plaintiff must also establish a subjective element showing the prison officials
acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Id. Deliberate indifference is characterized by
obduracy or wantonness, not inadvertence or good faith error. Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319
(1986). Liability cannot be predicated solely on negligence. Id. A prison official violates the
Eighth Amendment only when both the objective and subjective requirements are met. Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994).
Here, Plaintiff contends that an Aramark employee called him “boy” and persisted in doing
so after Plaintiff asked him to stop. Although this behavior was highly unprofessional, verbal
harassment and offensive comments do not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation. See
Ivey, 832 F.2d at 955; Oltarzewski v. Ruggiero, 830 F.2d 136, 139 (9th Cir. 1987). Plaintiff cannot
claim Aramark’s policy caused Steppenbacker to violate his constitutional rights.
Furthermore, Plaintiff must identify a policy or custom of Aramark which Steppenbacker
followed when committing the acts in question. Plaintiff can meet this criteria by demonstrating one
of the following: (1) the existence of an illegal official policy or legislative enactment; (2) an official
with final decision making authority ratified the illegal actions; (3) the existence of a policy of
inadequate training or supervision; or (4) the existence of a custom or tolerance or acquiescence of
federal rights violations. Burgess v. Fisher, 735 F.3d 462, 478 (6th Cir. 2013). To establish liability
based on inadequate training or tolerance of federal rights violations, Plaintiff must allege a clear
and consistent pattern of constitutional violations placing the Defendant on notice that their
continued inaction would amount to deliberate indifference to the rights of others. Slusher v.
Carson, 540 F.3d 449, 456-57 (6th Cir. 2008); Doe v. Claiborne County, 103 F.3d 495, 507 (6th Cir.
1996). Plaintiff does not allege Aramark had a policy or custom of allowing its employees to refer
to inmates in racially derogatory terms or to harass inmates, nor does he allege an official with final
decision-making authority ratified Steppenbacker’s action. Instead, Plaintiff alleges Aramark was
negligent in promptly discovering and remedying Steppenbacker’s actions. He, however, does not
allege a consistent pattern of similar incidents. Rather, this appears to have been an isolated
occurrence which resulted in the termination of Steppenbacker’s employment. Plaintiff fails to
allege facts suggesting Aramark’s own conduct caused his injuries.
Accordingly, this action is dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(e). The Court certifies,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3), that an appeal from this decision could not be taken in good
IT IS SO ORDERED.
/s/Donald C. Nugent
DONALD C. NUGENT
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated: __March 7, 2017_____
28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) provides:
An appeal may not be taken in forma pauperis if the trial court certifies that it is not
taken in good faith.
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