Flatt v. Stout et al
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION: Plaintiffs motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis 1 will be GRANTED. Plaintiff will be ASSESSED the civil filing fee of $350.00. The Clerk will be DIRECTED to provide a copy of this memorandum a nd order to the custodian of inmate accounts at the institution where Plaintiff is now confined, the Attorney General for the State of Tennessee, and the Courts financial deputy. Even liberally construing the complaint in favor of Plaintiff, it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under § 1983. Accordingly, this action will be DISMISSED pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915(A). Signed by District Judge Thomas A Varlan on 4/26/21. (c/m to Aaron T. Flatt ##536022, WEST TENNESSEE STATE PENITENTIARY, P.O. Box 1150, Henning, TN 38041)(ABF)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
AARON T. FLATT,
ETHAN STACEY, and
The Court is in receipt of prisoner’s pro se complaint for violation of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 in which Plaintiff asserts that Defendants used excessive force against him [Doc. 3]
and a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis [Doc. 1]. For the reasons set forth
below, Plaintiff’s motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis [Id.] will be GRANTED
and this action will be DISMISSED because the complaint fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted under § 1983.
As it appears from Plaintiff’s motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis [Id.]
that he is unable to pay the filing fee, this motion will be GRANTED.
Because Plaintiff is an inmate of the Tennessee Department of Correction, he will
be ASSESSED the civil filing fee of $350.00. The custodian of Plaintiff’s inmate trust
account will be DIRECTED to submit to the Clerk, U.S. District Court, 900 Georgia
Avenue, Chattanooga, Tennessee 37402, as an initial partial payment, the greater of:
(a) twenty percent (20%) of the average monthly deposits to Plaintiff’s inmate trust
account; or (b) twenty percent (20%) of the average monthly balance in his inmate trust
account for the six-month period preceding the filing of the complaint. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)
(1) (A) and (B). Thereafter, the custodian of Plaintiff’s inmate trust account shall submit
twenty percent (20%) of Plaintiff’s preceding monthly income (or income credited to
Plaintiff’s trust account for the preceding month), but only when such monthly income
exceeds ten dollars ($10.00), until the full filing fee of three hundred fifty dollars ($350.00)
has been paid to the Clerk. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(b)(2) and 1914(a). To ensure compliance
with this procedure, the Clerk will be DIRECTED to provide a copy of this memorandum
and order to the custodian of inmate accounts at the institution where Plaintiff is now
confined, the Attorney General of the State of Tennessee, and the Court’s financial deputy.
This order shall be placed in Plaintiff’s prison file and follow him if he is transferred to
another correctional institution.
Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), district courts must screen
prisoner complaints and shall, at any time, sua sponte dismiss any claims that are frivolous
or malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or are against a defendant who is immune. See,
e.g., 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915(A); Benson v. O’Brian, 179 F.3d 1014 (6th Cir.
1999). The dismissal standard that the Supreme Court set forth in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662 (2009) and in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) “governs
dismissals for failure state a claim under [28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A] because
the relevant statutory language tracks the language in Rule 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630
F.3d 468, 470–71 (6th Cir. 2010). Thus, to survive an initial review under the PLRA, a
complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
Formulaic and conclusory recitations of the elements of a claim are insufficient to
state a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 681. Likewise, an allegation that does not raise a
plaintiff’s right to relief “above a speculative level” fails to state a claim upon which relief
may be granted. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. However, courts liberally construe pro se
pleadings and hold them to a less stringent standard than lawyer-drafted pleadings. Haines
v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).
A claim for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 requires a plaintiff to establish that a
person acting under color of state law deprived him a federal right. 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
On September 16, 2020, Plaintiff was in his cell in the Northeast Correctional
Complex with his windows covered [Doc. 3 p. 2]. Officers knocked on the cell door and
attempted to make verbal contact with Plaintiff, but he did not respond [Id.]. Accordingly,
Defendants Stout, Hood, Shetley, Clark, Stacey, and Greever opened his cell door, at which
point Plaintiff “attempted to charge out of the cell” [Id.]. But before Plaintiff made it out,
he was shot in the face with a taser, and the prongs of the taser hit him in left eye socket
[Id.]. Officers took Plaintiff to the medical department, but the nurses were not comfortable
removing the taser “prongs due to the[ir] close proximity to [Plaintiff’s] eyeball,” and
therefore sent him to a hospital in Johnson City, where the doctor told Plaintiff he needed
surgery because the taser prongs “went through [his] left bottom eye socket into the bone
and sensitive tissue” [Id.]. Plaintiff had surgery on September 17, 2020, and eventually a
doctor told him that he may not ever regain full function in his left eye [Id. at 3].
Plaintiff has sued each of the jail officials who opened his cell door [Id. at 1]. As
relief, he seeks “proper extraction training,” an apology, and five million dollars for his
mental injuries, emotional distress, “prolonged physical damages, [and] invoked
disabilities” [Id. at 6].
The Court takes judicial notice from the Tennessee Department of Correction’s
Felony Offender Information database, https://apps.tn.gov/foil-app/search.jsp, that
Plaintiff was a convicted prisoner at the time of the incident underlying his complaint. As
such, the Court construes Plaintiff’s complaint to allege excessive force in violation of his
rights under the Eighth Amendment.
In determining whether a prison official has violated the Eighth Amendment’s
prohibition against excessive force as to a convicted prisoner, courts apply a two-part
inquiry: (1) “whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain and restore
discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm,” i.e. the
subjective component; and (2) whether the conduct, in context, is sufficiently serious to
offend “contemporary standards of decency,” i.e., the objective component. Hudson v.
McMillan, 503 U.S. 1, 6, 9 (1992). The subjective competent requires consideration of the
need for the use of force, the relationship between that need and the force used, the threat
reasonably perceived by the official, and the extent of the injury. Id. at 7. Moreover, the
Sixth Circuit has cautioned that a prison official’s decision to use force in response to a
prisoner causing a disturbance is entitled to wide-ranging deference because “‘prison
officials must make their decisions in haste, under pressure, and frequently without the
luxury of a second chance.’” Griffin v. Hardrick, 604 F.3d 949, 954 (6th Cir. 2010)
(quoting Combs v. Wilkinson, 315 F.3d 548, 557 (6th Cir. 2002)).
Plaintiff’s allegations do not state a valid claim for violation of the Eighth
Amendment. First, Plaintiff’s complaint does not indicate which Defendant shot the taser,
or that any other Defendant(s) were personally involved in the decision to use the taser,
and each Defendant can be liable under § 1983 only for his own actions. Binay v.
Bettendorf, 601 F.3d 640, 650 (6th Cir. 2010) (providing that “[e]ach defendant’s liability
must be assessed individually based on his own actions” (citation omitted)); Frazier v.
Michigan, 41 F. App’x 762, 764 (6th Cir. 2002) (providing that “a complaint must allege
that the defendants were personally involved in the alleged deprivation of federal rights”
to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under § 1983).
But even if Plaintiff had specified in his complaint which Defendant fired the taser
at him, nothing in Plaintiff’s complaint allows the Court to plausibly infer that this act was
malicious, sadistic, or intended to cause him harm. Specifically, as set forth above, Plaintiff
acknowledges that he was sitting in his cell with his windows covered, failed to respond to
officers’ attempts to engage him by knocking on his cell door and verbally calling to him,
and then “attempted to charge” Defendants when they opened his cell door. Also, as part
of his requests for relief, Plaintiff seeks “proper extraction training,” which indicates that
even Plaintiff does not believe that the act of shooting him with a taser was intended to
cause him harm, rather than a reaction to his attempt to charge Defendants. Thus, taken
together, Plaintiff’s factual allegations indicate that the taser shot underlying his complaint
was part of a good faith effort to subdue him when he charged Defendants after he had
failed to respond to their efforts to engage with him while his cell windows were covered.
“[T]he good faith use of physical force in pursuit of valid penological or institutional goals
will rarely, if ever, violate the Eighth Amendment.” Jones Bey v. Johnson, 248 F. App’x
675, 677 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Parrish v. Johnson, 800 F.2d 600, 604 (6th Cir. 1986)).
Accordingly, the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted
under § 1983 as to any named Defendant, and it will be DISMISSED.
For the reasons set forth above:
Plaintiff’s motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis [Doc. 1] will be
Plaintiff will be ASSESSED the civil filing fee of $350.00;
The custodian of Plaintiff’s inmate trust account will be DIRECTED to
submit the filing fee to the Clerk in the manner set forth above;
The Clerk will be DIRECTED to provide a copy of this memorandum and
order to the custodian of inmate accounts at the institution where Plaintiff is
now confined, the Attorney General for the State of Tennessee, and the
Court’s financial deputy;
Even liberally construing the complaint in favor of Plaintiff, it fails to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted under § 1983;
Accordingly, this action will be DISMISSED pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915(A); and
The Court CERTIFIES that any appeal from this action would not be taken
in good faith and would be totally frivolous. See Rule 24 of the Federal Rules
of Appellate Procedure.
AN APPROPRIATE ORDER WILL ENTER.
s/ Thomas A. Varlan
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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