Hudson et al v. CoreCivic et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION OF THE COURT. Signed by District Judge Aleta A. Trauger on 7/14/2021. (xc:Pro se party by regular mail.) (DOCKET TEXT SUMMARY ONLY-ATTORNEYS MUST OPEN THE PDF AND READ THE ORDER.)(mg)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
MATEEM HUDSON #00505868,
CORECIVIC, et al.,
Mateem Hudson, an inmate at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Hartsville,
Tennessee, filed a pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. No. 1), an application
to proceed as a pauper (Doc. Nos. 5, 6), and a motion to appoint counsel (Doc. No. 2). This action
is before the court for an initial review of the complaint under the Prison Litigation Reform Act.
Removal of Nathaniel Brinson as a Plaintiff and Warning to Plaintiff Hudson
As an initial matter, the court notes that there are two plaintiffs listed in the caption of the
complaint: Mateem Hudson and Nathaniel Brinson. Brinson, however, did not sign the complaint
(Doc. No. 1 at 27), and there is nothing in the record reflecting that Brinson authorized Hudson to
include him as a plaintiff in this case. Accordingly, the Clerk will be directed to update the docket
to reflect that Hudson is the only plaintiff in this case. No filing fee or “strike” will be assessed
against Nathaniel Brinson under the Prison Litigation Reform Act in connection with this case.
Plaintiff Hudson is warned that he cannot represent other inmates in federal court. See
Olagues v. Timken, 908 F.3d 200, 203 (6th Cir. 2018) (quoting Shepherd v. Wellman, 313 F.3d
963, 970 (6th Cir. 2002)) (“[U]nder 28 U.S.C. § 1654,  plaintiffs in federal court may not ‘appear
pro se where interests other than their own are at stake.’”). If Hudson continues to list other inmates
as plaintiffs without their apparent authorization in this or any other case, Hudson may be subject
to sanctions. See Hyland v. Stevens, 37 F. App’x 770, 771 (6th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted)
(“While [the court] will not absolutely foreclose an individual from initiating an action or pursuing
an appeal in federal court, [the court] may impose prefiling restrictions on an individual with a
history of repetitive or vexatious litigation.”).
Application to Proceed as a Pauper
The court may authorize a prisoner to file a civil suit without prepaying the filing fee. 28
U.S.C. § 1915(a). The plaintiff filed a copy of his inmate trust account statement (Doc. No. 5) and
a declaration (Doc. No. 6) that the court collectively construes as an application to proceed as a
pauper. These documents reflect that the plaintiff cannot pay the full filing fee in advance.
Accordingly, the plaintiff will be granted pauper status, and the $350.00 filing fee will be assessed
as directed in the accompanying order. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1).
The court must dismiss the complaint if it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim,
or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§
1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A(b); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The court also must liberally construe pro se
pleadings and hold them to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.”
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).
The plaintiff alleges that, beginning in March 2020, CoreCivic and CoreCivic staff at
Trousdale Turner were deliberately indifferent to the risk COVID-19 posed to inmates’ health and
safety. (Doc. No. 1 at 3, 13–14, 16.) On April 5, 2020, the Fox-Charlie housing pod was changed
into “a quarantine pod.” (Id. at 4.) On April 8, Unit Manager Dana Thomas moved inmates from
the Fox-Charlie pod to the plaintiff’s Bravo-Alpha pod. (Id.) Some of the relocated inmates were
untested (id.), and others had already tested positive for COVID-19. (Id. at 7.)
One of the relocated inmates was Nathaniel Brinson, who was placed in the plaintiff’s cell.
(Id. at 4.) The plaintiff had a pre-existing hernia that had gone untreated despite “CoreCivic
medical staff [being] objectively aware of” the plaintiff’s condition. (Id. at 8.) The plaintiff alleges
that he was denied hernia treatment “before, during, and post-COVID-19” (id. at 16) because
CoreCivic made “health care decisions based on costs.” (Id. at 8–9.) The plaintiff and Brinson
were not provided sanitation materials or protective equipment, and they shared four showers and
six phones with 118 other inmates. (Id. at 4–5, 7.)
On April 11, 2020, CoreCivic staff revealed that some Bravo-Alpha pod residents were
“sick with the virus,” and that these inmates would be “moved into quarantine cells” in BravoAlpha pod. (Id. at 5.) About 20 residents were moved to quarantine cells, including Brinson after
he tested positive for COVID-19. (Id.) The plaintiff alleges that he tested negative at that time, but
that he “experienced symptoms of the coronavirus,” including “jitters, vertigo or dizziness,
moistness around the eyes and face[,] and loss of hair.” (Id. at 6.) He also suffered “emotional and
psychological injuries” (id. at 7), and he would later test positive for COVID-19. (Id.) The
exposure to COVID-19 “exacerbated” the plaintiff’s pre-existing hernia. (Id. at 9.)
Bravo-Alpha residents complained that the quarantine cells were overcrowded. (Id. at 5.)
The plaintiff also alleges that CoreCivic failed to quarantine new and symptomatic prisoners, failed
to test symptomatic prisoners, lied that there was no COVID-19 at the prison, and refused to give
inmates masks. (Id. at 4.) Assistant Warden Vincent Vanteel said “the decision to use Bravo-Alpha
pod for a quarantine pod was medical and that [he] and his staff [were] following the orders of
medical and the CDC.” (Id. at 5.)
The plaintiff alleges that inmates tampered with locks on quarantine cells, allowing inmates
to “roam around the pod and mingle with other prisoners.” (Id. at 6.) Prior to the pandemic,
CoreCivic had been “put on notice” that the unsecure locks allowed inmates “to breach security
and attack other inmates . . . or just roam the pod or go into other inmate[s’] cells.” (Id.) Warden
Raymond Byrd “adopted or promulgated [the] decision to design” Trousdale Turner with
unsecured cell locks (id.), and he personally “failed to properly train and/or supervise” Trousdale
Turner staff regarding “tampering [with] security devices on cell doors.” (Id. at 11–13.) The
plaintiff alleges that inmates were also allowed to leave their cells when CoreCivic staff “failed to
secure [cell] doors” after pill call and tray service. (Id. at 6.)
The plaintiff alleges that Trousdale Turner had “the highest per capita coronavirus infection
rate [among state prisons] in the country by mid-May” 2020. (Id. at 10.) He brings this action
against Unit Manager Thomas, Assistant Warden Vanteel, Warden Byrd, and Health Services
Administrator Josh Lyons. (Id. at 1, 3, 26–27.) He also brings this action against CoreCivic (id. at
1, 3, 26), alleging that CoreCivic was understaffed (id. at 6, 11) and had a policy or custom of
having “quarantine cells in close quarters with non-exposed prisoners.” (Id. at 13.) The plaintiff
also alleges that CoreCivic failed to train its employees “on how to safely house inmates during
the COVID-19 pandemic” (id. at 7), and on the “structural integrity of the prison cell security
locks.” (Id. at 9, 12–13.) The plaintiff requests monetary damages. (Id. at 21, 25.)
To determine whether the complaint “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted”
under the applicable statutes, the court applies the same standard as under Rule 12(b)(6) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470–71 (6th Cir. 2010). The court
therefore accepts “all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true, [and] ‘consider[s] the
factual allegations in [the] complaint to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to
relief.’” Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 681 (2009)). An assumption of truth does not extend to allegations that consist of legal
conclusions or “‘naked assertion[s]’ devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)).
“There are two elements to a [Section] 1983 claim. First, a plaintiff must allege that a
defendant acted under color of state law. Second, a plaintiff must allege that the defendant’s
conduct deprived the plaintiff of rights secured under federal law.” Handy-Clay v. City of
Memphis, Tenn., 695 F.3d 531, 539 (6th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted).
Dismissal of Redundant Official-Capacity Claims
The plaintiff brings this action against the defendants in their individual and official
capacities. (Doc. No. 1 at 26–27.) Because the defendants are CoreCivic employees (id. at 3, 26–
27), the official-capacity claims are essentially against CoreCivic. See Alkire v. Irving, 330 F.3d
802, 810 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985)) (“[I]ndividuals
sued in their official capacities stand in the shoes of the entity they represent.”). And because
CoreCivic is also named as a defendant, the official-capacity claims will be dismissed as
redundant. See Jackson v. Shelby Cnty. Gov’t, No. 07-6356, 2008 WL 4915434, at *2 (6th Cir.
Nov. 10, 2008) (affirming dismissal of redundant official-capacity claims).
Dismissal of Duplicative Substantive Due Process Claim
The complaint references substantive due process. (Doc. No. 1 at 12–13.) To the extent the
plaintiff is attempting to assert a stand-alone substantive due process claim, the court does not
analyze claims under “the more generalized notion of ‘substantive due process’” where another
specific “amendment ‘provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection’ against a
particular sort of government behavior.” Kiser v. Kamdar, 831 F.3d 784, 791 (6th Cir. 2016)
(quoting Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 273 (1994)). Here, as discussed below, the Eighth
Amendment provides the proper framework to analyze the plaintiff’s asserted claims. Because the
plaintiff does not “meaningfully distinguish [his] substantive due process claim from his” Eighth
Amendment claims, any substantive due process claim will be dismissed as duplicative. See
Grainger, Jr. v. Cnty. of Ottawa, No. 1:19-cv-501, 2021 WL 790771, at *13 (W.D. Mich. Mar. 2,
2021) (citing Kanuszewski v. Mich. Dep’t of Health and Hum. Servs., 927 F.3d 396, 404 n.9 (6th
Dismissal of Untimely Medical Care Claim
The plaintiff alleges that he had a “pre-pandemic” hernia that has gone untreated (Doc. No.
1 at 8, 16) and that this “injury was exacerbated” by exposure to COVID-19. (Id. at 9.) “[A]
prisoner’s Eighth Amendment right is violated when prison doctors or officials are deliberately
indifferent to the prisoner’s serious medical needs.” Richmond v. Huq, 885 F.3d 928, 937 (6th Cir.
2018) (quoting Comstock v. McCrary, 273 F.3d 693, 702 (6th Cir. 2001)). Here, however, any
hernia-based claim for inadequate medical care is untimely.
A prisoner’s claim “is subject to dismissal without any further proof” at the initial review
stage “if ‘the allegations . . . show that relief is barred by the applicable statute of limitations.’”
Surles v. Anderson, 678 F.3d 452, 458 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215
(2007)). The statute of limitations for Section 1983 claims in Tennessee is one year. Jordan v.
Blount Cnty., 885 F.3d 413, 415 (6th Cir. 2018) (citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(a)). The
limitation period “begins to run when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know that the act
providing the basis of his or her injury has occurred.” Harrison v. Michigan, 722 F.3d 768, 773
(6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Collyer v. Darling, 98 F.3d 211, 220 (6th Cir. 1996)).
Here, the court deems the complaint filed on the signature date of April 5, 2021. See Brand
v. Motley, 526 F.3d 921, 925 (6th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted) (explaining that, absent evidence
to the contrary, the court assumes that a prisoner filed a complaint by handing it over to prison
officials for mailing “on the date he or she signed” it). Thus, the plaintiff’s claims are untimely if
they are based on acts that he knew or had reason to know occurred prior to April 5, 2020.
In the context of a chronic medical issue, only “[a]ctual actions by [defendants] of refusing
medical care represent discrete unlawful acts (beyond passive inaction) that trigger the statute of
limitations.” Bruce v. Corr. Med. Servs., Inc., 389 F. App’x 462, 466–67 (6th Cir. 2010). The
plaintiff alleges that he suffered from a “pre-pandemic” hernia (Doc. No. 1 at 8), and he identifies
the pandemic as beginning on March 21, 2020. (Id. at 3.) The allegations therefore reflect that the
plaintiff has been aware of this medical need since before April 5, 2020. The plaintiff does not
identify any specific instances of a defendant refusing to provide medical care for his alleged
hernia, and the allegation that exposure to COVID-19 “exacerbated” his hernia is entirely
conclusory. Accordingly, the plaintiff’s hernia-based claim for deliberate indifference to serious
medical needs will be dismissed as untimely.
Conditions of Confinement Claim
The plaintiff’s primary contention is that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to the
risk COVID-19 posed to inmates’ health and safety. The Eighth Amendment protects prisoners
from the “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain,” Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 737 (2002)
(citation omitted), which imposes a duty on jail officials to “provide humane conditions of
confinement.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832–33 (1994) (citations omitted). “An Eighth
Amendment conditions of confinement claim  contains both an objective and a subjective
component.” Richmond v. Settles, 450 F. App’x 448, 455 (6th Cir. 2011) (citing Wilson v. Seiter,
501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991)). The objective component requires a plaintiff to “allege that he has been
deprived ‘of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.’” Harden-Bey v. Rutter, 524 F.3d
789, 795 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). “The subjective
component requires the plaintiff to demonstrate that the prison officials acted wantonly, with
deliberate indifference to the plaintiff’s serious needs.” Richmond, 450 F. App’x at 455 (citing
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834).
Here, for the purpose of initial review, the court concludes that the plaintiff satisfies the
objective component. The Sixth Circuit describes COVID-19 as a “highly infectious” virus that
“can be transmitted easily from person to person. COVID-19 fatality rates increase with age and
underlying health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, diabetes, and
immune compromise. If contracted, COVID-19 can cause severe complications or death.” Wilson
v. Williams, 961 F.3d 829, 833 (6th Cir. 2020). The plaintiff alleges that prison staff relocated a
mix of untested and COVID-19-positive inmates from “a quarantine pod” to his housing pod. One
of these relocated inmates was placed in the plaintiff’s cell and later tested positive. The plaintiff
tested negative but “experienced symptoms of the coronavirus” before eventually testing positive
and experiencing “emotional and physical injuries.” The plaintiff also alleges that he was not
provided sanitation materials or protective equipment, and that he shared four showers and six
phones with 118 other inmates, some of whom had tested positive. Finally, the plaintiff alleges
that inmates housed in quarantine cells freely mingled with other prisoners because cell locks were
not secure. That is sufficient to allege that the plaintiff was deprived of the minimal civilized
measure of life’s necessities. See Jefferson v. Lee, No. 3:20-cv-00469, 2020 WL 4586177, at *3–
4 (M.D. Tenn. Aug. 10, 2020) (finding that prisoner’s allegations of lax COVID-19 precautions
satisfied objective component of Eighth Amendment conditions-of-confinement claim); Mass v.
Core Civic Inc., No. 3:20-cv-00798, 2020 WL 5816232, at *2 (M.D. Tenn. Sept. 30, 2020) (same).
“[T]he subjective component of a deliberate indifference claim,” meanwhile, “must be
addressed for each [defendant] individually.” Winkler v. Madison Cnty., 893 F.3d 877, 891 (6th
Cir. 2018) (quoting Phillips v. Roane Cnty., Tenn., 534 F.3d 531, 542 (6th Cir. 2008)). The court
will therefore consider whether the plaintiff plausibly alleges that each of the five defendants knew
of and disregarded the risk to health and safety caused by the plaintiff’s conditions of confinement.
First, the plaintiff names Health Services Administrator Josh Lyons as a defendant, but he
does not make any specific factual allegations regarding Lyons in the body of the complaint. Even
under the lenient standards for reviewing pro se pleadings, that is insufficient to state a claim
against Defendant Lyons. Gilmore v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 92 F. App’x 188, 190 (6th Cir. 2004)
(citation omitted) (“Merely listing names in the caption of the complaint and alleging constitutional
violations in the body of the complaint is not enough to sustain recovery under § 1983.”).
Second, the plaintiff alleges that Unit Manager Thomas moved a mix of untested and
COVID-19-positive inmates from “a quarantine pod” to the plaintiff’s housing pod on April 8,
2020. For the purpose of initial review, this allegation is sufficient to satisfy the subjective
component of this claim against Defendant Thomas. See Jefferson, 2020 WL 4586177, at *4
(allowing Eighth Amendment conditions-of-confinement claim to proceed past initial review
against defendant alleged to have “move[d] inmates who had tested positive for COVID-19 into
Third, the plaintiff alleges that Assistant Warden Vanteel acknowledged “that the decision
to use [the plaintiff’s] pod for a quarantine pod was medical.” But the plaintiff does not actually
allege that Vanteel was aware of the conditions in the plaintiff’s pod, or that Vanteel specifically
acted or failed to act in a manner reflecting a disregard for these conditions. The plaintiff therefore
fails to state an Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Vanteel. See id. at *2 (dismissing
claim against defendant not alleged to have had “any involvement . . . in the decision to move
COVID-positive inmates into the same pod as COVID-negative inmates”).
Fourth, the plaintiff alleges that Warden Byrd “adopted or promulgated [the] decision to
design” Trousdale Turner with unsecure cell locks, and that Byrd personally “failed to properly
train and/or supervise” staff regarding “tampering [with] security devices on cell doors.” “For
individual liability on a failure-to-train or supervise theory, the defendant supervisor must be found
to have ‘encouraged the specific incident of misconduct or in some other way directly participated
in it.’” Essex v. Cnty. of Livingston, 518 F. App’x 351, 355 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Phillips, 534
F.3d at 543). “[A] supervisor may be liable under § 1983 if he ‘abandon[s] the specific duties of
his position . . . in the face of actual knowledge of a breakdown in the proper workings of the
department.’” Winkler, 893 F.3d at 898 (quoting Taylor v. Mich. Dep’t of Corr., 69 F.3d 76, 81
(6th Cir. 1995)). “This liability, however, exists only where some ‘execution of the supervisors’
job function result[s] in [the p]laintiff’s injury.’” Id. (quoting Gregory v. City of Louisville, 444
F.3d 725, 752 (6th Cir. 2006)).
Here, liberally construing the complaint and drawing all reasonable inferences in the
plaintiff’s favor, he alleges that Byrd was responsible for the cell lock system at Trousdale Turner,
knew that the locks did not function properly prior to the pandemic (see Doc. No. 1 at 6
(“CoreCivic was put on notice concerning the nature of the security locks prior to the pandemic.”)),
and failed to train staff regarding inmates’ ability to tamper with the cell locks. The plaintiff also
alleges that this failure led to inmates tampering with quarantine cell locks, which contributed to
the allegedly inhumane conditions of confinement in the plaintiff’s housing pod by allowing
untested or COVID-19-positive inmates to “roam around the pod and mingle with other prisoners.”
At this early stage in the proceedings, that is sufficient to “plausibly allege that [Byrd] ‘did more
than play a passive role in the alleged violations or show mere tacit approval of the goings on.’”
Peatross v. City of Memphis, 818 F.3d 233, 243 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting Gregory, 444 F.3d at
751). Accordingly, Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Byrd will not be
dismissed at this time.
Fifth, the plaintiff brings this action against CoreCivic, the private entity contracted to
manage Trousdale Turner. (Doc. No. 1 at 3.) To state a claim against a private entity like
CoreCivic, the plaintiff must allege that it had a policy or custom that directly caused him to suffer
a constitutional violation. Savoie v. Martin, 673 F.3d 488, 494 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Miller v.
Sanilac Cnty., 606 F.3d 240, 255 (6th Cir. 2010)). The plaintiff attributes his allegedly inhumane
conditions of confinement to several policies or customs of CoreCivic, including failure to
quarantine new and symptomatic prisoners, failure to test symptomatic prisoners, refusing to give
prisoners masks or sanitation materials, understaffing, placing “quarantine cells in close quarters
with non-exposed prisoners,” and failure to train its employees “on how to safely house inmates
during the COVID-19 pandemic” and on the “structural integrity of the prison cell security locks.”
These allegations are sufficient to state an arguably non-frivolous Eighth Amendment claim
State Law Claim
The plaintiff also asserts a state law negligence claim against all five defendants. (Doc. No.
1 at 2, 15–16.) “In order to establish a prima facie claim of negligence, basically defined as the
failure to exercise reasonable care, a plaintiff must establish the following essential elements: ‘(1)
a duty of care owed by defendant to plaintiff; (2) conduct below the applicable standard of care
that amounts to a breach of that duty; (3) an injury or loss; (4) cause in fact; and (5) proximate, or
legal, cause.’” Giggers v. Memphis Hous. Auth., 277 S.W.3d 359, 364 (Tenn. 2009) (quoting
McCall v. Wilder, 913 S.W.2d 150, 153 (Tenn. 1995)).
For substantially the same reasons explained in the above discussion of the plaintiff’s
conditions-of-confinement claim, the court will allow the plaintiff’s negligence claim to proceed
against Defendants Thomas, Byrd, and CoreCivic. See Edwards v. Snyder, 478 F.3d 827, 832 (7th
Cir. 2007) (“Edwards’s state-law negligence claim relates to the same set of operative facts as his
Eighth Amendment claim for deliberate indifference, and therefore [may proceed].”). However,
the plaintiff fails to allege specific conduct by Defendants Lyons and Vanteel that was the factual
and legal cause of his asserted injuries, so this claim will not proceed against these two defendants.
Motion to Appoint Counsel
In the motion to appoint counsel and supporting documentation, the plaintiff requests the
appointment of counsel because he is indigent, the issues in this case are factually and legally
complex, he has limited access to legal materials, and he has limited legal knowledge. (Doc. No.
2; Doc. No. 3 at 2–4; Doc. No. 4.) Because this is a civil action, however, the plaintiff does not
have a constitutional right to the appointment of counsel, and it is “justified only in exceptional
circumstances.” Lanier v. Bryant, 332 F.3d 999, 1006 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Lavado v. Keohane,
992 F.2d 601, 605-06 (6th Cir. 1993)). At this early stage in the proceedings, the plaintiff has
demonstrated that he can communicate effectively with the court. Moreover, the plaintiff’s
asserted circumstances are common to many inmates, not exceptional. Accordingly, the plaintiff’s
motion will be denied, but without prejudice to renewing his request if circumstances warrant
doing so in the future.
For these reasons, the plaintiff will be granted pauper status and his motion to appoint
counsel will be denied. This case will proceed for further development against Defendants Thomas
and Byrd in their individual capacities, and against CoreCivic, on the plaintiff’s state-law
negligence claim and Eighth Amendment conditions-of-confinement claim. All other claims and
defendants will be dismissed.
An appropriate order is filed herewith.
ALETA A. TRAUGER
United States District Judge
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