Hull Jr. v. Davidson County Sheriff's Office et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION OF THE COURT. Signed by District Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr on 4/3/2017. (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
CLARENCE R. HULL, JR.
DAVIDSON COUNTY SHERIFF’S
OFFICE, et al.,
Plaintiff, an inmate of the Hardeman County Correctional Facility in Whiteville, Tennessee,
brings this pro se, in forma pauperis action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Davidson County
Sheriff’s Office and “A.B.L. Kitchen Staff,” alleging violations of the Plaintiff’s federal civil rights.
(Doc. No. 1). As relief, the Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages and damages for his pain and
suffering. (Id. at p. 6).
The 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.
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
Plaintiff brings his federal claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983
creates a cause of action against any person who, acting under color of state law, abridges “rights,
privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws . . . .” To state a claim under § 1983,
a 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.
The complaint alleges that, while the Plaintiff was an inmate of the Davidson County
Sheriff’s Office in Nashville, Tennessee, he worked in the Criminal Justice Center kitchen where
he was required to wear boots for safety reasons. On December 17, 2015,1 an unnamed corrections
officer told the Plaintiff that he had to report to work duty in the kitchen. The Plaintiff told the
corrections officer that he did not have the required work boots to wear for kitchen duty. The
unidentified corrections officer told the Plaintiff that “if [he] didn’t go [to work] he would write [the
Plaintiff] up for refusal to work then [the Plaintiff] would be moved to another pod.” (Doc. No. 1
at p. 5).
The Plaintiff complied and reported for kitchen duty while wearing Crocs. Upon reporting
for duty, A.B.L. manager Randy l/n/u told the Plaintiff that he was short-staffed and needed the
Plaintiff to work and “they would take care of [his shoe issue].” (Id. at p. 7). Randy l/n/u directed
the Plaintiff to bag cookies for lunch, which the Plaintiff did.
Later that day, Randy l/n/u directed the Plaintiff to help the cooks because they were running
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). The Plaintiff timely filed his complaint on November 13, 2016. Delays in screening the complaint were due to
procedural issues with the Plaintiff’s application to proceed in forma pauperis, which subsequently were resolved in the
behind. The Plaintiff protested, stating again that he did not have appropriate footwear. Randy l/n/u
told the Plaintiff that he would be “written up for ‘Refusing a direct order’” if he did not do as
directed. (Id. at pp. 7-8). The Plaintiff complied and assisted Randy and another cook with a hot
pan. The contents of the pan spilled, and scalding green bean juice fell onto the Plaintiff’s left foot,
which was largely exposed due to the holes in his Crocs. Randy l/n/u then directed the Plaintiff to
see a nurse, but A.B.L. employee Ms. f/n/u Dickson told the Plaintiff “to put some butter on it” and
go back to work. (Id. at p. 9). Confusion and disagreement ensued over when and who should
complete an incident report form. However, after observing the Plaintiff’s injuries, A.B.L. employee
Jasmine l/n/u then escorted the Plaintiff to an office with a medical room attached to it, called for
a nurse, and nurse f/n/u Roundtree gave the Plaintiff Tramadol (medication), placed an ice pack on
the Plaintiff’s foot, rubbed Silvadine on the Plaintiff’s foot, and bandaged it.
The following day, the Plaintiff was brought by a corrections officer to see a different nurse,
who, after examining the Plaintiff’s foot, told him that he had third-degree burns and needed
additional treatment. She called Dr. f/n/u Simmons into work early and Dr. Simmons examined the
Plaintiff’s foot. Dr. Simmons then began a course of treatment for the Plaintiff’s burns.
Subsequently, the Plaintiff was taken to see a burns specialist at Vanderbilt. After speaking
with the specialist, the Plaintiff learned that the nerves in his foot were permanently damaged and
he would likely be in pain for the rest of his life. (Id. at pp. 18-19).
First, the complaint names the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office as a Defendant to this
action. However, police departments and sheriff’s departments are not proper parties to a § 1983
suit; they are not bodies politic and, as such, as not “persons” within the meaning of § 1983. See,
e.g., Smith v. Tenn. Dep’t of Corr., No. 3:09-cv-0485, 2009 WL 1505308, at *3 (M.D. Tenn. May.
27, 2009). Therefore, the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office is not a suable entity under § 1983.
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.
However, in the narrative portion of the complaint, the Plaintiff describes the alleged conduct
of a Davidson County Sheriff’s Office corrections officer who told the Plaintiff that he must report
for kitchen work duty even without the required boots under threat of being disciplined and moved
to a different pod. Although the Plaintiff does not identify this officer by name, construing the pro
se complaint liberally, the Court finds that the Plaintiff intended to name this officer as a Defendant.
Although designation of a “John Doe” defendant is not favored, it is permissible when a
defendant’s identity is not known at the time the complaint is filed, but may be determined through
discovery. See Berndt v. Tennessee, 796 F.2d 879, 882-84 (6th Cir. 1986). The Court concludes that
it would be inappropriate to dismiss the complaint against the “John Doe” Defendant (the unnamed
Davidson County Sheriff’s Office corrections officer) at this juncture because of the likelihood that
the identity of this Defendant will be determined during discovery.
Next, the complaint also names “A.B.L. Kitchen” staff as Defendants to this action. In the
narrative section of the complaint, the Plaintiff identifies by name two members of the A.B.L.
kitchen staff who allegedly played a role in the events of December 17, 2015: kitchen manager
Randy l/n/u and kitcher worker Ms. f/n/u Dickson. According to the complaint, the manager
required the Plaintiff to work in the kitchen even though the manager was aware of the Plaintiff’s
unsafe footwear and likelihood of harm to the Plaintiff, and Ms. Dickson refused to permit the
Plaintiff to leave his work station to see a nurse after sustaining third-degree burns while helping
Although the Plaintiff does not spell out this information, the Court takes judicial notice that
ABL Management, Inc. is the entity under contract with the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office to
provide food service to inmates housed at the Criminal Justice Center. See Cloyd v. Dulin, No.
3:12-cv-1088, 2012 WL 5995234, at *5 n.1 (M.D. Tenn. Nov. 30, 2012)(Trauger, J.). The first
question, then, is whether Defendant A.B.L., apparently a private entity, is a state actor for purposes
of § 1983. The Sixth Circuit uses three tests to determine if private conduct of the sort alleged is
attributable to the state. The tests are: (1) the public function test set forth in West v. Atkins, 487
U.S. 42, 49-50, 108 S. Ct. 2250, 101 L.Ed.2d 40 (1988); (2) the state compulsion test set forth in
Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 170 (1970), 90 S. Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142; and (3) the
symbiotic relationship or nexus test set forth in Burton v. Wilmington Parking Auth., 365 U.S. 715,
721-26, 81 S. Ct. 856, 6 L.Ed.2d 45 (1961). See e.g., Chapman v. Higbee Co., 319 F.3d 825, 833
n.8 (6th Cir. 2003)(citing Wolotsky v. Huhn, 960 F.2d 1331, 1335 (6th Cir.1992)).
The public function test “requires that the private entity exercise powers which are
traditionally exclusively reserved to the state . . . .” Wolotsky, 960 F.2d at 1335. The state
compulsion test requires the actor to exercise “such coercive power or provide such encouragement,
either overt or covert, that in law the choice of the private actor is deemed to be that of the state.”
Id. (quoting Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1004, 102 S. Ct. 2777, 73 L.Ed.2d 534 (1982)).
Finally, under the symbiotic or nexus test, “the action of the private party constitutes state action
when there is a sufficiently close nexus between the state and the challenged action of the regulated
entity so that the action of the latter may be fairly treated as that of the state itself.” Id. (citing
Jackson, 419 U.S. at 351 and Burton, 365 U.S. at 724-25).
Analyzed under the foregoing tests, Defendant A.B.L. is a state actor for purposes of § 1983.
Providing food services to inmates is a traditional government function; A.B.L. is a corporation that
contracts with Davidson County to provide food to inmates; and Davidson County delegated its
duty to provide food service to inmates to A.B.L. See Wilson v. ABL Food Services, No. 3:11-cv0530, 2012 WL 3779472, at *5 (M.D. Tenn. Aug. 7, 2012)(“As an initial matter, Defendant ABL,
as a corporation that contracts with the State to provide food to inmates, is a considered a state actor
for purposes of § 1983.”)
See also West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 55-56, 108 S. Ct. 2250, 101
L.Ed.2d 40 (1988)(holding that private medical contractors such as those employed or contracted
by Correct Care Solutions to provide medical care to prisoners are state actors for purposes of §
The next question is whether the Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to support a claim that
Defendant A.B.L. or its employees violated the Plaintiff’s rights under the Eighth Amendment. The
Eighth Amendment “imposes duties on [prison] officials, who must provide humane conditions of
confinement; prison officials must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and
medical care, and must ‘take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.’” Farmer
v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994)(collecting cases)(emphasis added); Grubbs v. Bradley, 552
F. Supp. 1052, 1119-1124 (M.D. Tenn. 1982). The failure to provide such necessities is a violation
of an inmate’s right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Bellamy v. Bradley, 729 F.2d
416 (6th Cir. 1984).
In order to state an Eighth Amendment violation, a prisoner must “allege acts or omissions
sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.” Estelle v.
Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). The deliberate indifference requirement is satisfied when an
official “knows that inmates face a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing
to take reasonable measures to abate it.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 847 (1994). “A serious
medical need is ‘one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is
so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.’”
Harrison v. Ash, 539 F.3d 510, 518 (6th Cir. 2008)(citing Blackmore v. Kalamazoo County, 390
F.3d 890, 897 (6th Cir. 2004)). “The failure to address a serious medical need rises to the level of
a constitutional violation where both objective and subjective requirements are met.” McCarthy v.
Place, 313 Fed. Appx. 810, 814 (6th Cir. 2008). “The objective component requires an inmate to
show that the alleged deprivation is ‘sufficiently serious’” and ‘that he is incarcerated under
conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm.’” Brown v. Bargery, 207 F.3d 863, 867 (6th Cir.
2000)(quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). “To satisfy the subjective component, an inmate must
show that prison officials had ‘a sufficiently culpable state of mind.’” Id. Claims of negligence are
insufficient to entitle a plaintiff to relief. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835.
Delays in providing medical care may give rise to a violation of a prisoner’s rights under the
Eighth Amendment. Such delays do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation unless a
plaintiff complains that he suffered a detrimental effect to his health as a consequence of the alleged
delay. Garretson v. City of Madison Heights, 407 F.3d 789, 797 (6th Cir. 2005)(citing Napier v.
Madison County, Kentucky, 238 F.3d 739, 742 (6th Cir. 2001)).
The Plaintiff alleges that he has sustained serious, debilitating, and permanent damage to his
foot because of the actions of at least two A.B.L. employees. After reviewing the complaint, the
Court finds that the Plaintiff states a colorable Eighth Amendment claim based on the allegation that
Defendants Randy l/n/u acted with deliberate indifference to the Plaintiff’s safety by demanding that
the Plaintiff work in the kitchen without the appropriate safety footwear and that Defendant f/n/u
Dickson acted with deliberate indifference to the Plaintiff’s serious medical needs by refusing to
permit the Plaintiff to leave his work station to seek medical treatment for third-degree burns. 28
U.S.C. § 1915A. These claims shall proceed for further factual development.
As set forth above, the Court finds that the complaint fails to state claims upon which relief
can be granted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office. 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A. Those claims, therefore, will be dismissed. However, the Court finds that the complaint
states colorable claims under the Eighth Amendment against John Doe, the Davidson County
Sheriff’s Office corrections officer discussed in the narrative portion of the complaint, and A.B.L.
employees Randy l/n/u and Ms. f/n/u Dickson. Those claims shall proceed for further development
of the record.
An appropriate Order will be entered.
WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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