Warrix v. Western Regional Jail
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER directing the Plaintiff to pay the filing fee of $400 or submit to the Court an amended Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees and Costs; further directing Plaintiff to amend his complaint within forty-fiv e (45) days and cure the deficiencies in the pleading as indicated herein; failure to amend the complaint as ordered may result in a recommendation that the complaint be dismissed; Plaintiff's 1 Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees and Costs shall be held in abeyance pending initial review of Plaintiff's amended complaint or pending other further proceedings in this case. Signed by Magistrate Judge Cheryl A. Eifert on 2/8/2018. (cc: Plaintiff) (jsa)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA
SHANNON DAVID WARRIX,
Case No. 3:18-cv-00253
WESTERN REGIONAL JAIL,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Pending before the Court is Plaintiff’s Application to Proceed Without Prepayment
of Fees and Costs, (ECF No. 1), and Plaintiffs’ Complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983, (ECF No. 2). The undersigned notes that Plaintiff’s Application is incomplete.
Before the Application can be accepted for review, the institution of incarceration must
complete the certificate located at the bottom of page 2 of the Application, or Plaintiff
must submit a transaction record of his inmate account. For that reason, Plaintiff is
hereby ORDERED to pay the filing fee of $400, or submit to the Court an amended
Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees and Costs, which includes the
institutional certification, or an inmate account transaction record. Plaintiff is notified
that failure to pay the fee or submit the application as instructed within thirty (30) days
of the date of this Order shall result in a recommendation that the complaint be dismissed.
In keeping with 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the undersigned has conducted a
preliminary review of Plaintiff’s complaint to determine if the action is frivolous, fails to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant
who is immune from such relief. Although pro se complaints, such as the one filed in this
case, must be liberally construed to allow the development of potentially meritorious
claims, the court may not rewrite the pleading to include claims that were never
presented, Parker v. Champion, 148 F.3d 1219, 1222 (10th Cir. 1998), develop the
plaintiff’s legal theories for him, Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993),
or “conjure up questions never squarely presented” to the court. Beaudett v. City of
Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). At the same time, to achieve justice, the
court may allow a pro se plaintiff the opportunity to amend his complaint in order to
correct deficiencies in the pleading. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978).
Plaintiff alleges that the staff at the Western Regional Jail in Barboursville, West
Virginia intentionally provided him with a sleeping mat that had human excrement on it.
When Plaintiff confronted the shift sergeant and two correctional officers about the
condition of the mat, they implied that he was the source of the excrement. Plaintiff seeks
$10,000 for mental distress. (ECF No. 2). As currently written, Plaintiff’s complaint fails
to state a claim sufficient to withstand dismissal on initial screening, as explained below.
Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides a remedy to parties who are deprived of federally
protected civil rights by persons acting under color of any state “law, statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage.” To state a cause of action under § 1983, a plaintiff must
allege facts showing that: (1) an official deprived the plaintiff of a federally protected civil
right, privilege or immunity and (2) that the official did so under color of State law. 42
U.S.C. § 1983; see also Perrin v. Nicholson, C/A No. 9:10-1111-HFF-BM, 2010 WL
3893792 (D.S.C. Sept. 8, 2010). If either of these elements is missing, the complaint fails
to state a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Moreover, for an official to be liable
under § 1983, it must be “affirmatively shown that the official charged acted personally in
the deprivation of the plaintiff’s rights. The doctrine of respondeat superior has no
application under this section.” Vinnedge v. Gibbs, 550 F.2d 926, 928 (4th Cir. 1977)
(quoting Bennett v. Gravelle, 323 F. Supp. 203, 214 (D.Md. 1971)).
Plaintiff alleges that the Western Regional Jail subjected him to cruel and unusual
punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution by
providing him with a soiled sleeping mat. 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 (citing Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526–27 (1984)).
However, “[p]rison conditions may be ‘restrictive and even harsh.’” Farmer, 511 U.S at
833 (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981) (“To the extent that [prison]
conditions are restrictive or even harsh, they are part of the penalty that criminal
offenders pay for their offenses against society.”). “The Eighth Amendment does not
prohibit cruel and unusual prison conditions; it prohibits cruel and unusual
punishments.” Strickler v. Waters, 989 F.2d 1375, 1381 (4th Cir. 1993). Thus, not every
uncomfortable condition of confinement is actionable. Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347.
Ultimately, this prohibition “does not mandate comfortable prisons, and only those
deprivations denying the ‘minimal civilized measure of life's necessities’ are sufficiently
grave to form the basis of an Eighth Amendment violation.” Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S.
294, 298 (1991) (quoting Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347).
In order for Plaintiff to maintain a prima facie case that his conditions of
confinement violated the Eighth Amendment, he must show both (1) the deprivation of a
basic human need that was “sufficiently serious,” when measured by an objective
standard, and (2) that the responsible prison officials had a “sufficiently culpable state of
mind.” Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 238 (4th Cir. 2008) (citing Williams v. Benjamin, 77
F.3d 756, 761 (4th Cir. 1996)). “These requirements spring from the text of the
amendment itself; absent intentionality, a condition imposed upon an inmate cannot
properly be called ‘punishment,’ and absent severity, a punishment cannot be called ‘cruel
and unusual.’” Iko, 535 F.3d at 238. To satisfy the objective component, Plaintiff must
show that the challenged condition caused or constituted an extreme deprivation.
De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 634 (4th Cir. 2003). “[T]o demonstrate such an
extreme deprivation, [Plaintiff] must allege a serious or significant physical or emotional
injury resulting from the challenged conditions or demonstrate a substantial risk of such
serious harm resulting from [his] exposure to the challenged conditions.” Odom v. South
Carolina Dept. of Corrections, 349 F.3d 765, 770 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting De’Lonta, 330
F.3d at 634). “Compelling a showing of significant physical or emotional harm, or a grave
risk of such harm, infuses an element of objectivity into the analysis, lest resolution of the
seriousness of the deprivation devolve into an application of the subjective views of the
judges deciding the question.” Shakka v. Smith, 71 F.3d 162, 166 (4th Cir. 1995) (citing
Strickler v. Waters, 989 F.2d 1375, 1370–80 (4th Cir. 1993)).
To fulfill the subjective component, Plaintiff must demonstrate a “deliberate
indifference” to his health or safety by the defendants. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. The
Supreme Court explained:
[A] prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for
denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official
knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the
official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn
that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. Deliberate indifference is more than mere negligence but less
than malice. Flores v. Stevenson, Civil Action No. 2:11–cv–01278–TMC–BHH, 2012 WL
2803721 (D.S.C. May 11, 2012). Put simply, the staff at the Western Regional Jail had a
sufficiently culpable state of mind if they were aware of an excessive risk of harm to
Plaintiff’s health or safety, but disregarded it. See Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298; Brown v. North
Carolina Dept. of Corrections, 612 F.3d 720, 723 (4th Cir. 2010) (quoting Case v. Ahitow,
301 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2002)) (“[T]he test is whether the guards know the plaintiff
inmate faces a serious danger to his safety and they could avert the danger easily yet they
fail to do so.”)
In addition to the legal principles set forth above, Plaintiff’s claim is governed by
the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e). The PLRA expressly
prohibits the filing of civil actions by prisoners “confined in a jail, prison, or other
correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a
prior showing of physical injury.” (emphasis added). Although the PLRA does not
define “physical injury” and the Fourth Circuit has not provided a definition, other courts
have held that the “physical injury” referenced by the Act need not be significant, but it
must be more than de minimis. See, e.g., Flanory v. Bonn, 604 F.3d 249, 254 (6th Cir.
2010); Mitchell v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 294 F.3d 1309, 1312–13 (11th Cir.
2002); Siglar v. Hightower, 112 F.3d 191 (5th Cir. 1997); Zehner v. Trigg, 952 F.Supp.
1318 (S.D. Ind. 1997). In addition, “[a] plaintiff seeking compensatory damages for
emotional distress cannot rely on conclusory statements that the plaintiff suffered
emotional distress [or] the mere fact that a constitutional violation occurred, but, rather,
the testimony must establish that the plaintiff suffered demonstrable emotional distress,
which must be sufficiently articulated.” Knussman v. Maryland, 272 F.3d 625, 640 (4th
Cir. 2001), quoting Price v. City of Charlotte, 93 F.3d 1241, 1254 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
In light of the governing standards and principles, Plaintiff must amend his
complaint in order for the undersigned to complete a preliminary review of the merits
and rule on the motion to proceed in forma pauperis. Without such an amendment,
Plaintiff’s complaint will be subject to dismissal. Therefore, Plaintiff is ORDERED to
amend his complaint within forty-five (45) days and cure the following deficiencies in
pleading as indicated below:
The Western Regional Jail is not a “person” subject to liability under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. Therefore, if Plaintiff claims that a person or persons acting under color of state
law violated his federal civil or constitutional rights, he must amend his complaint to
name the individual or individuals as defendant(s). If Plaintiff does not know the name of
a relevant person, Plaintiff shall list that person as a John Doe or Jane Doe (e.g.
Correctional Officer John Doe) and shall further identify the person in the body of the
complaint by description, date/time of contact, alleged act, or in some other manner that
assists the Court in determining the identity and number of individual defendants in the
action, as well as the specific reason that each person is included in the complaint. To the
extent Plaintiff knows partial names, he shall include those parts (e.g. Correctional Officer
Ronald LKU (‘last name unknown”)).
Plaintiff must set forth a factual basis upon which the Court can conclude that
the soiled mat constituted an extreme deprivation of the basic necessities of life, and that
the defendants acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff’s health and safety by
providing him with the mat.
Plaintiff must identify the nature of the physical and emotional injuries he
claims to have suffered as a result of the alleged wrongdoing.
Plaintiff is hereby given notice that a failure to amend the complaint as ordered
may result in a recommendation that the complaint be dismissed for failure to state a
claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and/or for failure to prosecute under Fed. R. Civ. P. 41 and
L. R. Civ. P. 41.1. Plaintiff is also reminded of his obligation to promptly notify the
Clerk of Court of any change in his contact information.
Plaintiff’s Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees and Costs, (ECF No.
1), shall be held in abeyance pending initial review of Plaintiff’s amended complaint or
pending other further proceedings in this case.
The Clerk is instructed to provide a copy of this order to Plaintiff.
ENTERED: February 8, 2018
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