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Dennis v. Heyns

United States District Court, Western District of Michigan, Southern Division

March 17, 2015

KEITH VIRGIL DENNIS, Plaintiff,
v.
DANIEL HEYNS et al., Defendants.

OPINION

ROBERT J. JONKER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court has granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), the Court is required to dismiss any prisoner action brought under federal law if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The Court must read Plaintiff’s pro se complaint indulgently, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and accept Plaintiff’s allegations as true, unless they are clearly irrational or wholly incredible. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992). Applying these standards, Plaintiff’s action will be dismissed for failure to state a claim.

Factual Allegations

Plaintiff currently is incarcerated in the Muskegon Correctional Facility, but the events giving rise to his complaint occurred while he was incarcerated at the E.C. Brooks Correctional Facility (ECF). In his pro se complaint, Plaintiff sues Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) Director Daniel Heyns, Health Services Administrator Joanne Sheldon, Southern Region Dental Director Steven Fletcher, Northern Region Dental Director Jeffrey Taylor, RDH (Unknown) Henderson and Corizon Correctional Healthcare.

Plaintiff submitted a request for dental care on August 13, 2014. Plaintiff received a response from Defendant Henderson the following day stating that, under MDOC policy, Plaintiff was not eligible for routine dental care until he was incarcerated for 24 months. According to MDOC policy, all prisoners receive a comprehensive dental screening and examination by a licensed dentist within seven days after arrival at a reception facility. MDOC Policy Directive 04.06.150, ¶I (eff. 9/30/13); 03.04.100, ¶T(2)(e)(eff. 2/1/15). Thereafter, “urgent” and “emergency” dental services are available to all prisoners, but “routine” dental services are only available to prisoners who have been incarcerated for at least 24 months. Policy Directive 04.06.150, ¶¶K-L. Plaintiff seeks an order from the Court requiring routine dental services to be provided to all prisoners every 6-8 months. He also requests compensatory damages of $100, 000 “for any damage to [his] dental health for being denied dental care 24 months, ” as well as punitive damages of $500, 000. (Compl., docket #1, Page ID#5.)

Discussion

I. Failure to state a claim

A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it fails “‘to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s allegations must include more than labels and conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). The court must determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although the plausibility standard is not equivalent to a “‘probability requirement, ’ . . . it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged – but it has not ‘show[n]’ – that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)); see also Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (holding that the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard applies to dismissals of prisoner cases on initial review under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)).

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the federal Constitution or laws and must show that the deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Dominguez v. Corr. Med. Servs., 555 F.3d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 2009). Because § 1983 is a method for vindicating federal rights, not a source of substantive rights itself, the first step in an action under § 1983 is to identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994).

The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment against those convicted of crimes. U.S. Const. amend. VIII. The Eighth Amendment obligates prison authorities to provide medical care to incarcerated individuals, as a failure to provide such care would be inconsistent with contemporary standards of decency. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 102, 103-04 (1976). The Eighth Amendment is violated when a prison official is deliberately indifferent to the serious medical needs of a prisoner. Id. at 104-05; Comstock v. McCrary, 273 F.3d 693, 702 (6th Cir. 2001).

A claim for the deprivation of adequate medical care has an objective and a subjective component. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). To satisfy the objective component, the plaintiff must allege that the medical need at issue is sufficiently serious. Id. In other words, the inmate must show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm. Id. The objective component of the adequate medical care test is satisfied “[w]here the seriousness of a prisoner’s need[ ] for medical care is obvious even to a lay person.” Blackmore v. Kalamazoo Cnty., 390 F.3d 890, 899 (6th Cir. 2004). If, however the need involves “minor maladies or non-obvious complaints of a serious need for medical care, ” Blackmore, 390 F.3d at 898, the inmate must “place verifying medical evidence in the record to establish the detrimental effect of the delay in medical treatment.” Napier v. Madison Cnty., 238 F.3d 739, 742 (6th Cir. 2001).

The subjective component requires an inmate to show that prison officials have “a sufficiently culpable state of mind in denying medical care.” Brown v. Bargery, 207 F.3d 863, 867 (6th Cir. 2000) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). Deliberate indifference “entails something more than mere negligence, ” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835, but can be “satisfied by something less than acts or omissions for the very purpose of causing harm or with knowledge that harm will result.” Id. Under Farmer, “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 inference.” Id. at 837.

Plaintiff’s allegations fail to satisfy the objective and subjective requirements for an Eighth Amendment claim. With regard to the objective component, Plaintiff does not allege that he is experiencing any dental problem or injury as a result of the lack of routine dental care. Likewise, Plaintiff does not allege that he has been denied a toothbrush, toothpaste, or other necessary supplies for maintaining his dental health. Under MDOC policy, all prisoners receive a comprehensive dental evaluation and examination within one week of their initial incarceration. In addition, the policy provides for urgent and emergency dental care for all prisoners, regardless of the length of their incarceration. The denial of routine medical care for 24 months, in and of itself, does not create a condition posing a substantial risk of serious harm. See Bumpus v. Watts, 448 F. App’x 3, 5 (11th Cir. 2011) (federal prisoner’s allegations that prison officials failed to provide him routine preventive dental care to prevent future dental problems did not rise to level of objectively serious medical need, as required for violation of Eighth Amendment); Hallett v. Morgan, 296 F.3d 732, 746 (9th Cir. 2002) (lack of routine teeth cleaning did not constitute deliberate indifference to serious medical needs). Moreover, because Plaintiff does not allege that he is suffering from any type of dental problem or injury, the Court cannot find that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need. Plaintiff, therefore, fails to state a claim.

Conclusion

Having conducted the review required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the Court determines that Plaintiff’s action will be dismissed for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b), and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c).

The Court must next decide whether an appeal of this action would be in good faith within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3). See McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 611 (6th Cir. 1997). For the same reasons that the Court dismisses the action, the Court discerns no good-faith basis for an appeal. Should Plaintiff appeal this decision, the Court will assess the $505.00 appellate filing fee pursuant to § 1915(b)(1), see McGore, 114 F.3d at 610-11, unless Plaintiff is barred from proceeding in forma pauperis, e.g., by the “three-strikes” rule of § 1915(g). If he is barred, he will be required to pay the $505.00 appellate filing fee in one lump sum.

This is a dismissal as described by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

A Judgment consistent with this Opinion will be entered.


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