Safford v. Knox County Sheriff's Office et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by District Judge Thomas A Varlan on 4/26/21. (copy mailed to Henry L Safford 945406 KNOX COUNTY DETENTION FACILITY 5001 MALONEYVILLE ROAD KNOXVILLE, TN 37918, copy mailed to custodian of inmate accounts at KCDF, copy forwarded to Court's Financial Deputy) (JBR)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
HENRY L. SAFFORD,
KNOX COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE,
J. HORN, and
Plaintiff, a prisoner incarcerated in the Knox County Detention Center, has filed a
pro se complaint for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [Doc. 1] and a motion for leave to
proceed in forma pauperis [Doc. 4]. 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 to any Defendant.
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 a Knox County prisoner, 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, 800 Main Street, Knoxville, Tennessee 37902
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)
as authorized under 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a) has been paid to the Clerk.
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 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
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 plausibly claim.
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 or about January 21-24, 2020, Defendant Williams broke Plaintiff’s right hand
in Pod 6A, and unspecified jail officials waited until February 7-9 to provide Plaintiff with
medical attention for this injury [Doc. 1 p. 2]. Also, on unspecified dates, Defendants
Smith and Oldham “slammed” Plaintiff onto the ground on the chest and right side of his
face, and Defendant Smith wrote Plaintiff up for threats that Plaintiff never made after
making racist comments [Id.]. Unnamed officers have also “punched” Plaintiff and treated
him worse than an animal, which has caused him to suffer [Id.].
Plaintiff is “exposed to [COVID-19] and some  officers don’t wear the[ir] masks”
[Id. at 3].
Defendants Kidd and Harvey told Plaintiff that he was “just” in the jail for rape and
selling drugs [Id.].
Unnamed persons are violating Plaintiff’s rights under the First, Sixth, and Eighth
Amendments and breaking laws [Id.]. Plaintiff fears speaking to a supervisor, and some
say the food at the jail is “not fit for human consumption” [Id.].
Unnamed individuals have denied Plaintiff his lawyer calls and twisted Plaintiff’s
shoulder to the point that it felt like it was going to break [Id.]. Plaintiff’s left wrist bled
from handcuffs that were too tight, and his right leg and ankle twisted to the point of feeling
like they would break [Id.]. Plaintiff also has had problems with his chest and heart since
he was tazed [Id.].
The jail “showers hardly get cleaned in ID and the [jail] food  is cold and it’s not
en[ough]” [Id. at 4]. Also, some of the showers have mold, and Plaintiff’s mats have mold
[Id.]. Jail officials never let prisoners speak to a supervisor, and the jail’s disciplinary and
grievance boards are rigged [Id.]. Plaintiff has been beaten and called names, and unnamed
jail officials move prisoners back and forth to cover up their injustices [Id.].
Plaintiff has sued a number of jail officials and seeks damages, for his charges to be
dropped, a clean record, protection from revenge from Knox County, and to have officers
fired and serve jail time [Id. at 1–2, 5].
The Court will address Plaintiff’s allegations against named Defendants before
addressing Plaintiff’s general allegations and named Defendants that Plaintiff does not
reference in the substantive portion of his complaint.
Defendants Williams, Smith, and Oldham
As noted above, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Williams broke his wrist, and that
Defendants Smith and Oldham “slammed” him onto the ground on his chest and the right
side of his face [Id. at 2]. For purposes of screening of Plaintiff’s complaint, the Court
assumes that Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee at the time of these incidents. Accordingly,
these allegations of excessive force fall under the due process clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment, and the relevant inquiry is whether “the force purposely or knowingly used
 was objectively unreasonable Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S. Ct. 2466, 2473, 2475
(2015). A court should consider the following non-exclusive list of considerations that
“may bear on the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the force used” against pretrial
the relationship between the need for the use of force and the amount of force
used; the extent of the plaintiff’s injury; any effort made by the officer to
temper or to limit the amount of force; the severity of the security problem
at issue; the threat reasonably perceived by the officer; and whether the
plaintiff was actively resisting.
Id. However, “the use of excessive force that amounts to punishment” against pretrial
detainees is unconstitutional. Id. (quoting Graham, 490 U.S. at 395 n.10).
In his complaint, Plaintiff has not provided any facts about the circumstances
surrounding Defendant Williams’s act of breaking his wrist or Defendants Smith and
Oldham’s act of “slamming” him. Rather, Plaintiff states only that these acts occurred. As
such, the Court cannot plausibly infer that these Defendants used more force than that
which was necessary to address any threat, security problem, and/or resistance from
Plaintiff (or other inmates near Plaintiff), such that their acts may amount to punishment
under the Kingsley standard. Instead, Plaintiff’s allegations regarding these Defendants’
uses of force amount to “unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation[s],”
which are insufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681; Scheid
v. Fanny Farmer Candy, 859 F.2d 434, 437 (6th Cir. 1988) (noting that “when a complaint
omits facts that, if they existed, would clearly dominate the case, it seems fair to assume
that those facts do not exist”) (quoting OBrien v. DiGrazia, 544 F.2d 543, 546 n.3 (1st Cir.
1976)). As such, Plaintiff has failed to “nudge [his excessive force claims] across the
line from conceivable to plausible” as to Defendants Williams, Smith, and Oldham,
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, and the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may
be granted under § 1983 as to them.
Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Smith made racist comments toward him and
wrote him up for threats that he never made. However, Defendant Smith’s alleged racist
comments, while deplorable, do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Jones
Bey v. Johnson, 248 F. App’x 675, 677 (6th Cir. 2007) (finding that the occasional use
of racial slurs, “although unprofessional and reprehensible, does not rise to the level of
constitutional magnitude”) (quoting Corsetti v. Tessmer, 41 F. App’x 753, 755–56 (6th Cir.
2002)). Further, as to Plaintiff’s allegation that this Defendant wrote him up for threats
that he did not make, “erroneous or even fabricated allegations of misconduct by an inmate,
standing alone, do not constitute the deprivation of a constitutional right.” McDougald v.
Eaches, No. 1:16-CV-900, 2016 WL 7015834, at *3 (S.D. Ohio Sept. 16, 2016) (citations
omitted). Plaintiff provides no facts about his false write up by Defendant Smith from
which the Court can plausibly infer that it caused any violation of Plaintiff’s constitutional
rights. Thus, the complaint also fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted
under § 1983 as to Defendant Smith.
Defendants Kidd and Harvey
Plaintiff alleges only that Defendants Kidd and Harvey told him that he was “just”
in the jail for rape and selling drugs [Id.]. However, even if the Court liberally construes
this to allege that these Defendants have harassed Plaintiff about his current or past charges,
this allegation fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under § 1983.
Johnson v. Dellatifa, 357 F.3d 539, 546 (6th Cir. 2004) (providing that harassment and
verbal abuse do not constitute the type of infliction of pain that the Eighth Amendment
Defendant Knox County Sheriff’s Office
Plaintiff has also sued the Knox County Sheriff’s Office [Doc. 1 p. 2]. However,
this is not an entity subject to suit under § 1983. Mathes v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville &
Davidson Cty., No. 3:10-CV-0496, 2010 WL 3341889, at *1–2 (collecting cases holding
that police and sheriff's departments are not entities subject to suit under § 1983) (M.D.
Tenn. Aug. 25, 2010); Matthews v. Jones, 35 F.3d 1046, 1049 (6th Cir. 1994) (a police
department is not an entity which can be sued under § 1983). Further, even if the Court
could liberally construe Plaintiff’s complaint as against Knox County rather than the
Sheriff’s Office, Plaintiff has failed to set forth any facts from which the Court can liberally
construe that this municipality may be liable for a violation of his constitutional rights
under § 1983. Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978) (holding that a
municipality may be liable under § 1983 for an alleged constitutional deprivation only if
there is a direct causal link between a policy or custom of the entity and the alleged
Plaintiff makes no reference to any custom or policy of Knox County causing any
of the incidents in his complaint. Moreover, even if the Court could liberally construe
some of the general allegations in Plaintiff’s complaint regarding the jail’s food and
disciplinary and grievance boards to implicate Knox County custom or policy, those
allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under § 1983.
Specifically, Plaintiff’s allegations that some people say the jail food is not fit for
consumption is conclusory and does not allow the Court to plausibly infer a violation of
Plaintiff’s constitutional rights. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 681 (2009) (holding that
formulaic and conclusory recitations of the elements of a claim are insufficient to state a
plausible claim for relief). Plaintiff’s statements that the jail food is cold and he does not
receive enough jail food likewise fail to allege a violation of his constitutional rights, as he
does not set forth any facts from which the Court can plausibly infer that the jail food is
not sufficient to sustain his health. See Richmond v. Settles, 450 F. App’x 448, 456 (6th
Cir. 2011) (providing that where a prisoner’s diet is sufficient to sustain the prisoner’s good
health, no constitutional right has been violated); Hill v. Maglinger, No. 4:18-CV-P171JHM, 2019 WL 208888, at *4 (W.D. Ky. Jan. 15, 2019) (holding that “a prisoner’s claim
that he was served cold meals does not rise to the level of a constitutional deprivation” and
collecting cases supporting this premise).
Further, Plaintiff’s allegations that the jail disciplinary board and grievance board
are “rigged” are conclusory and fail to allow the Court to plausibly infer any violation of
his constitutional rights. Iqbal, 556 at 681; Argue v. Hofmeyer, 80 F. App’x 427, 430 (6th
Cir. 2003) (holding that a prisoner has “no inherent constitutional right to an effective
prison grievance procedure”).
The Court cannot liberally construe any other allegations of the complaint as
implicating any Knox County custom or policy. Thus, the complaint fails to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted under § 1983 against Knox County Sheriff’s Office and
Remaining Allegations and Defendants
As noted above, Plaintiff has named a number of other jail officials as Defendants
and sets forth general allegations against unnamed individuals in his complaint. However,
as none of these allegations allow the Court to plausibly infer that any named Defendant
was personally involved in any alleged violation of Plaintiff’s constitutional rights, they
fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under § 1983. 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); Everson v. Leis, 556 F.3d 484,
495 (6th Cir. 2009) (providing that § 1983 liability cannot be premised upon a theory of
For the reasons set forth above:
Plaintiff’s motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis [Doc. 4] 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 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.
s/ Thomas A. Varlan
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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