Miller v. Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority-Duffield Facility
OPINION. Signed by Judge James P. Jones on 4/26/2021. (Opinion mailed to Pro Se Party via US Mail)(slt)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA
SCOTTY EUGENE MILLER,
SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA REGIONAL
JAIL AUTHORITY — DUFFIELD
Case No. 7:21CV00010
By: James P. Jones
United States District Judge
Scotty Eugene Miller, Pro Se Plaintiff.
The plaintiff, Scotty Eugene Miller, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed
a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Miller has complied with financial
requirements to proceed without prepayment of the filing costs, pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1915. After review of the Complaint, I conclude that this action must be
Miller’s allegations are sparse:
Exposed to COVID-19 by inmate & officer on or about 8-2020 in my
hous[i]ng unit — Refused to be tested — put in sick call nurse told me,
got my symptoms from news.
Officers, nurses, administration, contractors not properly wearing
mask, wearing over mouth not properly protecting and exposing to
Compl. 2, ECF 1. As relief in this § 1983 action, Miller seeks monetary damages.
Under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1), the court may dismiss any § 1983 action “with
respect to prison conditions . . . if the court is satisfied that the action is frivolous,
malicious, [or] fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Section 1983
permits an aggrieved party to file a civil action against a person for actions taken
under color of state law that violated his constitutional rights. Cooper v. Sheehan,
735 F.3d 153, 158 (4th Cir. 2013). A complaint must be dismissed if it does not
allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
Miller names only one defendant in this case: the Duffield jail facility of the
Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority (“SVRJA”). Compl. 1, ECF No. 1. A
local jail, however, cannot qualify as a person subject to being sued under § 1983.
See, e.g., Vinnedge v. Gibbs, 550 F.2d 926, 928 (4th Cir. 1977) (finding that under
§ 1983, “[l]iability will only lie where it is affirmatively shown that the official
charged acted personally in the deprivation of the plaintiff[’s] rights”) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted); McCoy v. Chesapeake Corr. Ctr., 788 F.
Supp. 890, 894 (E.D. Va. 1992) (“[T]he jail is not a person under § 1983” and thus
“lacks the capacity to be sued as a jail.”).
To the extent that Miller also sues the SWVRJA as a defendant, his § 1983
claim fails on the facts he has alleged. Regional jail authorities and other “[l]ocal
governing bodies . . . can be sued directly under §1983 for monetary, declaratory, or
injunctive relief where . . . the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional
implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision
officially adopted and promulgated by that body’s officers.” Monell v. Dep’t of Soc.
Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). The plaintiff must show that a policy promulgated
by the SWVRJA was ‘“the moving force’” behind the alleged violation of his rights.
Polk Cnty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 326 (1981) (citation omitted). That is, the
entity’s official policy or custom must have played a part in the alleged violation of
federal law. Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 817–18 (1985).
“[D]eliberate indifference to an inmate’s serious medical needs constitutes
cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.” Jackson v. Lightsey,
775 F.3d 170, 178 (4th Cir. 2014). Objectively, the inmate’s medical condition must
be ‘“serious’” in the sense that it ‘“has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating
treatment or . . . is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the
necessity for a doctor’s attention.”’ Id. (citation omitted). Subjectively, a prison
official is “deliberately indifferent” if he “knows of and disregards an excessive risk
to inmate health or safety.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). The
deliberate indifference standard “is not satisfied by . . . mere disagreement
concerning questions of medical judgment” or mere negligence in diagnosis or
treatment decisions. Germain v. Shearin, 531 F. App’x 392, 395 (4th Cir. 2013)
(unpublished) (internal quotation marks, citations, and alterations omitted); Estelle
v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105–06 (1976) (“Medical malpractice does not become a
constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner.”); Bowring v.
Godwin, 551 F.2d 44, 48 (4th Cir. 1977) (in addressing claim regarding prison
medical care, “the essential test is one of medical necessity and not simply that which
may be considered merely desirable”).
Miller has not alleged sufficient facts to state the required elements of a claim
that the SWVRJA had an official policy or custom that people entering or working
in the jail did not need to wear masks properly to protect each other and inmates
against COVID-19 exposure in August 2020. Nor does Miller describe particular
incidents or ranges of dates when he observed certain individuals not properly taking
precautions against the virus, so as to present a pattern of deliberate indifference to
safety significant enough to put SWVRJA officials on notice of health concerns in
SWVRJA facilities. Mere negligence by some individuals at the Duffield facility
alone is not sufficient to state a potential claim against the SWVRJA itself for
inadequate safety procedures against COVID-19. Moreover, Miller does not allege
that he has had symptoms of COVID at any time, that he contracted the virus while
at an SWVRJA facility, or that he was otherwise harmed by the allegedly inadequate
safety measures at the Duffield facility.
Because Miller’s § 1983 claims cannot proceed against the only defendants
he has named, the Duffield facility and the SWVRJA itself, I will summarily dismiss
the action without prejudice under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1) for failure to state a
claim. An appropriate order will enter this day. Such a dismissal leaves Miller free
to refile his claims in a new and separate civil action if he can correct the deficiencies
described in this opinion.1
DATED: April 26, 2021
/s/ JAMES P. JONES
United States District Judge
The possibility of amending and resubmitting the claims in a new and separate
civil action should not be taken as a finding that Miller’s allegations, if particularized,
might state a proper § 1983 claim against the SWVRJA or some persons employed at the
jail. As stated, an official’s merely negligent action or inaction that causes injury is not
sufficient to give rise to a constitutional claim and, accordingly, is not actionable under
§ 1983. Cnty. of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 849 (1998) (“[T]he Constitution does
not guarantee due care on the part of state officials; liability for negligently inflicted harm
is categorically beneath the threshold” of constitutional protections.) (citations omitted).
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