Phelps v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Corrections et al
Memorandum Opinion and Order: this action is dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). Furthermore, an appeal cannot be taken in good faith. Judge Jeffrey J. Helmick on 4/14/2016. (S,AL)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
Olisseo J. Phelps,
Case No. 3:14-cv-01538
Ohio Department of
Rehabilitation and Corrections, et al.,
BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
Pro se Plaintiff Olisseo J. Phelps filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Ohio
Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (“ODRC”), Chillicothe Correctional Institution Nurse
Conley, and Chillicothe Correction Institution Corrections Officer Williams. In the Complaint,
Plaintiff alleges the Defendants did not recognize the seriousness of his medical condition, and did
not take precautions to prevent him from falling. He seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
Plaintiff alleges that on January 9, 2013, he was in the segregation unit of the Chillicothe
Correctional Institution. He states he began to experience severe stomach pains and dizziness and
requested to see a physician. He was escorted to the medical department in handcuffs and shackles
by Officer Harrold. When he arrived in the medical department, his condition was assessed by
Nurse Conley who collected his vital signs. Although Plaintiff had been previously diagnosed with
diabetes and high blood pressure, Nurse Conley indicated to Plaintiff that she believed he was faking
symptoms. Conley instructed Officer Williams to remove Plaintiff’s handcuffs, but not his shackles,
and escort him to a restroom so that Plaintiff could provide a urine sample. In the restroom,
Plaintiff began to feel very dizzy. He tripped over his shackles and fell onto a steam heater. The
valve stem from the heater impaled Plaintiff’s arm and became lodged. While the Officer was trying
to remove Plaintiff’s arm from the heater, Plaintiff sustained burns from the steam heat. Plaintiff
contends the ODRC’s policy requires corrections officers to hold onto any prisoner in shackles, and
given his medical complaints of dizziness, Williams should have known to support Plaintiff at all
Plaintiff was taken to the Ohio State Medical Center for treatment of his arm. While he was
there, a doctor noticed Plaintiff’s vital signs were not normal. Plaintiff indicated his symptoms had
not abated. The doctors ordered additional tests and discovered Plaintiff was bleeding internally
into his abdomen. He received a blood transfusion. Plaintiff contends that if he had not fallen
during his urine test and sustained injuries requiring outside treatment, Nurse Conley would have
sent him back to his cell in segregation where his serious medical condition would not have been
diagnosed or treated. He contends the ODRC and the Chillicothe Correctional Institution have a
long history of providing inadequate and negligent medical treatment to inmates. He asserts his
constitutional and human rights have been violated.
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 district 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-defendant-unlawfully-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).
As an initial matter, this Court is not the proper venue for this case. A civil action may,
except as otherwise provided by law, be brought only in (1) a judicial district where any
Defendant resides, if all of the Defendants reside in the State in which the district is located,
(2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the
claim occurred, or (3) if there is no district in which the action may otherwise be brought as
provided above, any judicial district in which any Defendant is subject to the Court’s personal
jurisdiction with respect to such action. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). A review of the Complaint
indicates that the events in question took place in the Chillicothe Correctional Institution in
Ross County, Ohio. All of the Defendants except the ODRC work at the Chillicothe
Correctional Institution. Ross County is located in the Southern District of Ohio. The ODRC
is located in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus is also in the Southern District of Ohio.
Accordingly, the Northern District of Ohio is not the proper venue to assert these claims.
Title 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) provides that an improperly venued action shall be dismissed
unless it is “in the interest of justice” that it be transferred to a district or division in which it
could have been brought. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that it would not be in
the interest of justice to transfer this matter, and this action is therefore dismissed.
First, the ODRC and Conley and Williams when sued in their official capacities are
immune from claims for monetary damages. The Eleventh Amendment provides the states
with immunity from suits in law or equity in federal court unless the state has consented to
such a suit or its immunity has been properly abrogated by Congress. See, e.g., Seminole Tribe of
Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44 (1996). In addition to the states themselves, Eleventh Amendment
immunity also extends to departments and agencies of states, and to state officials sued in their
official capacities. Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984). The
Eleventh Amendment is an absolute bar to the imposition of liability upon states, state
agencies, and state officials sued in their official capacities. Latham v. Office of Atty. Gen. of State
of Ohio, 395 F.3d 261, 270 (6th Cir. 2005).
In addition, Plaintiff does not specify a particular legal cause of action he intends to
assert against the Defendants. He states only that they violated his constitutional and human
rights. Based on the allegations in the Complaint, it is possible Plaintiff may be attempting to
assert claims against Conley and Williams for violation of his Eighth Amendment rights.
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). In Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), the Supreme Court remarked that “having
stripped [inmates] of virtually every means of self-protection and foreclosed their access to
outside aid, the government and its officials are not free to let the state of nature take its
course.” Id. at 833. 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.’” Id. at 832 (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) (per curiam) (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 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. A 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. A 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, 511 U.S. at 834.
In this case, there are three possible claims Plaintiff may be attempting to assert. First,
he may be claiming that Nurse Conley was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs
by questioning the sincerity of his symptoms and indicating a desire to send him back to his
cell after concluding her testing. Second, he may be claiming that Nurse Conley was negligent
in instructing Williams to remove his handcuffs but not his shackles. Third, he may be
claiming Officer Williams was negligent for failing to hold onto him while he was shackled and
complaining of dizziness.
In the context of a claim regarding medical treatment, an inmate must show two
elements to demonstrate a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights: 1) that he was suffering
from a “serious” medical need; and 2) that the prison officials were “deliberately indifferent” to
the serious medical need. Id. It is clear from the foregoing that the duty to provide a certain
level of health care to incarcerated offenders under the Eighth Amendment is a limited one.
“Not ‘every ache and pain or medically recognized condition involving some discomfort can
support an Eighth Amendment claim.’” Sarah v. Thompson, No. 03–2633, 2004 WL 2203585 (6th
Cir. Sept. 15, 2004) (quoting Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1372 (7th Cir. 1997)). In this
case, Plaintiff contends he was suffering from severe abdominal pain and dizziness which were
symptoms of internal bleeding. This medical condition was sufficiently serious to invoke
Eighth Amendment protection. Because the condition was sufficiently serious, I must now
determine whether Plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to plausibly suggest Nurse Conley exhibited
deliberate indifference to Plaintiff’s medical condition.
An official acts with deliberate indifference when “he acts with criminal recklessness,” a
state of mind that requires that the official act with conscious disregard of a substantial risk of
serious harm. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. Mere negligence will not suffice. Id. at 835-36.
Consequently, allegations of medical malpractice, negligent diagnosis, or negligent treatment
fail to state an Eighth Amendment claim. An inmate must show that prison officials had “a
sufficiently culpable state of mind” in denying medical care. Brown v. Bargery, 207 F.3d 863, 867
(6th Cir. 2000) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). This standard is met if “the official knows of
and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the 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. (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837); Flanory v. Bonn, 604
F.3d 249, 253-55 (6th Cir. 2010).
Plaintiff did not allege facts to suggest Nurse Conley acted with deliberate indifference
to his serious medical needs. While it is possible she would have sent Plaintiff back to his cell
when she was finished with the medical tests, she did not have a chance to do so because
Plaintiff tripped and sustained injuries requiring emergency treatment outside of the prison. It
is also possible that after receiving the results of his urine test, Nurse Conley may have been
persuaded that his symptoms were real and indicative of a serious medical condition. The
subjective component of the Eighth Amendment requires that the Defendant act with
deliberate indifference, not intend to act with deliberate indifference if given the opportunity.
Plaintiff has not stated a claim for relief against Nurse Conley pertaining to her failure to
recognize the severity of his medical condition.
Plaintiff may also be asserting claims against Conley and Williams for failing to
recognize the danger of leaving Plaintiff shackled while he was providing a urine sample.
Plaintiff does not indicate why he was in segregation, so it is difficult to determine whether
there were valid security concerns inherent in Plaintiff being out of the segregation unit.
Nevertheless, regardless of security concerns, Plaintiff fails to allege facts to suggest that
Conley or Williams acted with deliberate indifference, rather than negligence. He does not give
any indication that these Defendants actually realized that Plaintiff was unsteady on his feet,
knew there was a substantial likelihood that he would fall with the shackles on, and deliberately
disregarded the risk to Plaintiff. At best, the allegations in the Complaint suggest that these
Defendants failed to perceive the risk of falling and were negligent when they failed to take
steps to abate the risk. Negligent conduct does not rise to the level of a constitutional
To the extent Plaintiff intended to assert a claim other than one arising under the Eighth
Amendment, he has not done so. Although the standard of review for pro se pleadings is liberal, the
Complaint must give the Defendants “fair notice of what the Plaintiff’s claims are and the grounds
upon which they rest.” Id. at 726; Bassett v. National Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 528 F.3d 426, 437 (6th
Cir. 2008). There is no other indication on the face of the Complaint of a possible claim Plaintiff
may be asserting against these Defendants, aside from any claims arising under the Eighth
Having considered and examined the pro se Plaintiff’s pleading to determine its legal viability,
I conclude it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and this action is dismissed
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). Furthermore, an appeal cannot be taken in good faith.
s/Jeffrey J. Helmick
United States District Judge
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