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Catt v. M. Brown

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 14, 2017

DANIEL CATT, Plaintiff,
v.
M. BROWN, Defendants.

          OPINION

          ROBERT J. JONKER CHIEF 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 is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Oaks Correctional Facility(ECF) in Manistee, Michigan. The incident about which he complains occurred at that facility on February 4, 2017. On that date, at about 5:00 p.m., Plaintiff took his food slot hostage.[1] In response Defendant Corrections Officer Ward“assaulted” Plaintiff by pepper spraying Plaintiff in the face. Plaintiff then alleges: “After I was sprayed I called to [Defendant] Officer Forward, [Defendant] Officer Tayor, [Defendant] Sgt., Officer Brown and all the officers did help me get medi[c]al care after the assault happen[ed].” (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.3.) Plaintiff continues: “I was left in my cell from 5:00 pm-7:00am.”

         Plaintiff contends that Defendant Forward “should have known” about the incident because he was the control booth officer. (Id.) Plaintiff similarly states that Defendant Tayor “should have known” about the incident because Plaintiff covered his cell door window with paper apparently indicating to Defendant Tayor that Plaintiff wanted to talk Tayor about getting maced. (Id.) Plaintiff also contends that Defendant ECF Warden Thomas Mackie should have known about the assault because he should have been told. (Id.) Defendant Brown actually knew about the assault because he witnessed it. (Id.)

         Plaintiff's complaint is admirably brief; however, in this instance, its brevity renders it somewhat cryptic. It seems likely that Plaintiff meant to allege that the Defendants did not get him medical care, but that is not what he alleged.

         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). In this instance, although Plaintiff does not expressly identify which of his constitutional rights was infringed, the Court will consider Plaintiff's allegations as an attempt to state an Eighth Amendment claim for excessive use of force by Defendant Brown and an Eighth Amendment claim for deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical needs against all of the Defendants.

         II. Excessive use of force

         The Eighth Amendment embodies a constitutional limitation on the power of the states to punish those convicted of a crime. Punishment may not be “barbarous” nor may it contravene society's “evolving standards of decency.” See Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 345-46 (1981); Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101 (1958). The Eighth Amendment also prohibits conditions of confinement which, although not physically barbarous, “involve the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 346. Among unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain are those that are “totally without penological justification.” Id.

         Plaintiff's claim involving the use of pepper spray must be analyzed under the Supreme Court authority limiting the use of force against prisoners. This analysis must be made in the context of the constant admonitions by the Supreme Court regarding the deference that courts must accord to prison or jail officials as they attempt to maintain order and discipline within dangerous institutional settings. See, e.g., Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 321-22 (1986).

         Generally, restrictions and even harsh conditions of confinement are not necessarily cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. Rhodes, 452 U.S. 347. The Supreme Court has held that “whenever guards use force to keep order, ” the standards enunciated in Whitley, 475 U.S. 312, should be applied. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992); see also Wilkins v. Gaddy, 130 S.Ct. 1175, 1178-79 (2010). Under Whitley, the core judicial inquiry is “whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.” Hudson, 503 U.S. at 6-7; Wilkins, 130 S.Ct. at 1178. In determining whether the use of force is wanton and unnecessary, the court should evaluate the need for application of force, the relationship between that need and the amount of force used, the threat “reasonably perceived by the responsible officials, ” and any efforts made to temper the severity of the forceful response. Hudson, 503 U.S. at 6-7 (citing Whitley, 475 U.S. at 321); accord Griffin v. Hardrick, 604 F.3d 949, 953-54 (6th Cir. 2010); McHenry v. Chadwick, 896 F.2d 184 (6th Cir. 1990). Physical restraints are constitutionally ...


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