Johnson v. Metropolitan Sheriff Department et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION OF THE COURT. Signed by District Judge Todd J. Campbell on 4/27/2015. (xc:Pro se party by regular and certified mail.)(DOCKET TEXT SUMMARY ONLY-ATTORNEYS MUST OPEN THE PDF AND READ THE ORDER.)(eh)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
THADDEUS J. JOHNSON,
DEPARTMENT, et al.,
Plaintiff Thaddeus J. Johnson (#400948), an inmate at the Davidson County Criminal Justice
Center in Nashville, Tennessee, brings this pro se, in forma pauperis civil rights action pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the “Metropolitan Sheriff Department,” Sheriff Daron Hall, Patricia
Young, Dr. Roberta Burns, and David Miller, alleging that the defendants denied him appropriate
medical treatment. (Docket No. 1).
He seeks damages in the amount of one million dollars
($1,000,000.00) and treatment for his leg pain. (Id. at p. 6).
The plaintiff’s complaint is before the court for an initial review pursuant to the Prison
Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A, and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e.
PLRA Screening Standard
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the court must dismiss any portion of a civil complaint
filed in forma pauperis that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, is frivolous, or
seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Section 1915A similarly
requires initial review of any “complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a
governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity,” id. § 1915A(a), and summary
dismissal of the complaint on the same grounds as those articulated in § 1915(e)(2)(B). Id. §
The Sixth Circuit has confirmed that the dismissal standard articulated by the Supreme Court
in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007),
“governs dismissals for failure to state a claim under those statutes 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 scrutiny on initial review, “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). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads
factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for
the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[A] district court must (1) view the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and (2) take all well-pleaded factual allegations
as true.” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing
Gunasekera v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)).
Although pro se pleadings are to be held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520–21 (1972); Jourdan v. Jabe, 951 F.2d 108,
110 (6th Cir. 1991), the courts’ “duty to be ‘less stringent’ with pro se complaints does not require
us to conjure up [unpleaded] allegations.” McDonald v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 1979)
Section 1983 Standard
The plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to § 1983. To state a claim under § 1983, the plaintiff
must allege and show two elements: (1) that he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution
or laws of the United States; and (2) that the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color
of state law. Tahfs v. Proctor, 316 F.3d 584, 590 (6th Cir. 2003); 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
According to the complaint, the plaintiff, who uses a wheelchair, arrived at the Criminal
Justice Center on October 27, 2013. (Docket No. 1 at p. 3). The plaintiff has “metal and screws in
both legs” and suffers from swelling, popping, and pain in his legs. (Id. at p. 4). The complaint
alleges that the defendants have refused to provide the plaintiff with pain medication and physical
therapy, both of which had been prescribed for the plaintiff by a private physician prior to the
plaintiff’s incarceration. The complaint further alleges that the plaintiff has “constantly filled out
sick calls, and grievances, but I can’t get no help. I’ve been scheduled to see Dr. Burns and NP
David Miller over (6) six times and they always cancel the appointment.” (Id.) According to the
complaint, an unidentified nurse at the Criminal Justice Center told the plaintiff that he needed an
x-ray and an M.R.I., but the tests were too expensive for inmates. (Id.) The plaintiff states that he
can barely walk. (Id.)
First, the plaintiff names the “Metropolitan Sheriff Department,” which the court understands
to be the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, as a defendant to this action. The Davidson County
Sheriff’s Office is an agency or unit of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson
County and is not a suable entity itself. See Mathes v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cnty.,
No. 3:10–cv–0496, 2010 WL 3341889, at *2 (M.D. Tenn. Aug. 25, 2010) (“[F]ederal district courts
in Tennessee have frequently and uniformly held that police departments and sheriff's departments
are not proper parties to a § 1983 suit.”)(collecting cases)). Thus, the plaintiff’s claims against the
Davidson County Sheriff’s Office must be dismissed.
With respect to the plaintiff’s § 1983 claims for monetary damages against the individual
defendants in their official capacities, those claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See Will
v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 64, 71 (1989). Thus, those claims must be dismissed.
Next, the statute of limitations for a § 1983 action is the “state statute of limitations
applicable to personal injury actions under the law of the state in which the § 1983 claims arises.”
Eidson v. Tenn. Dep’t of Children’s Servs., 510 F.3d 631, 634 (6th Cir. 2007). The limitations period
for § 1983 actions arising in Tennessee is the one-year limitations provisions found in Tennessee
Code Annotated § 28-3-104(a). Porter v. Brown, 289 Fed. Appx. 114, 116 (6th Cir. 2008).
Here, the complaint advances § 1983 claims against the defendants based on the denial of
medical treatment as far back as October 27, 2013. As the plaintiff’s complaint was signed on April
15, 2015, all claims arising from events that occurred prior to April 16, 2014, are time barred. Those
claims must be dismissed, leaving for the court to consider the plaintiff’s denial of medical treatment
claims for the period of time from April 16, 2014 to the present.
To establish a violation of his constitutional rights resulting from a denial of adequate
medical care, a plaintiff must show that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious
medical needs. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Brooks v. Celeste, 39 F.3d 125, 127 (6th
Cir. 1994). “Deliberate indifference” is the reckless disregard of a substantial risk of serious harm;
mere negligence, or even gross negligence, will not suffice. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825,
835-36 (1994); Williams v. Mehra, 186 F.3d 685, 691 (6th Cir. 1999)(en banc); Westlake v. Lucas,
537 F.2d 857, 860-61 n. 5 (6th Cir. 1976); see also Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105-06.
A prisoner’s difference of opinion regarding diagnosis or treatment does not rise to the level
of a Constitutional violation. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 107. Further, where a prisoner has received some
medical attention, but disputes the adequacy of that treatment, the federal courts are reluctant to
second-guess the medical judgments of prison officials and constitutionalize claims that sound in
state tort law. Westlake, 537 F.2d at 860 n. 5 (6th Cir. 1976). Finally, to set forth a viable claim for
the denial of medical care, the plaintiff must argue that his health suffered as a consequence of such
alleged denial. See Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 401 (6th Cir. 1999).
Based on plaintiff’s allegations, the court finds that the complaint states colorable claims
against the defendants under § 1983 for the failure to provide medical treatment for his leg problems
and pain. Although the plaintiff cannot pursue a claim based on the defendants’ failure to comply
with the prescribed treatment and medication by an outside physician prior to the plaintiff’s
incarceration, the complaint alleges that defendants Hall, Young, Burns, and Miller refused to
provide any medical consultation or treatment whatsoever for the plaintiff–despite his continued
efforts to see a nurse or physician, his alleged worsening pain, and decreasing mobility–and that the
defendants’ denials may have been based on a policy to avoid incurring the cost of the needed tests
or treatment. The court finds that these claims are not frivolous under the PLRA. However, the
court cautions that this finding is preliminary, particularly with regard to the plaintiff’s official
capacity claims.1 The record should be developed for further consideration of the plaintiff’s
Construing the pro se plaintiff’s allegations liberally, the complaint arguably alleges that there is a custom,
policy, or practice in place pursuant to which the remaining defendants denied needed medical treatment and testing to
the plaintiff because of cost. These allegations, however, must be supported by fact in order for the plaintiff ultimately
to prevail on his official capacity claims.
As set forth above, the plaintiff has stated non-frivolous denial of medical treatment claims
against defendants Daron Hall, Patricia Young, Dr. Roberta Burns, and David Miller in their
individual and official capacities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. These claims will
be allowed to proceed for further development.
However, the plaintiff’s claim against the “Metropolitan Sheriff Department,” construed as
a claim against the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, fails to state a § 1983 claim upon
which relief can be granted, and that claim must be dismissed under the PLRA. Likewise, the
plaintiff’s claims for monetary damages against the defendants in their official capacities must be
dismissed. Further, any claims for the denial of medical treatment occurring prior to April 16, 2014,
must be dismissed as having been pursued beyond the applicable statute of limitations for such
An appropriate order will be entered.
Todd J. Campbell
United States District Judge
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