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Jones v. Wichita Detention Center

United States District Court, D. Kansas

October 20, 2017

THADDEUS JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
WICHITA DETENTION CENTER, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          SAM A. CROW U.S. Senior District Judge

         Plaintiff brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is a pretrial detainee at the Sedgwick County Detention Facility in Wichita, Kansas (“SCDF”). Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. 1), alleging the following. On March 6, 2017, Plaintiff returned to his cell after eating breakfast. Plaintiff's cell door was closed and secured. Five minutes later, another inmate walked up to Plaintiff's cell door and Defendant Officer Melendez, after just letting Plaintiff into the cell, let the other prisoner into Plaintiff's cell. Plaintiff alleges that Officer Melendez had just witnessed Plaintiff violently shoving the other prisoner because he had stepped in front of Plaintiff in the breakfast line. After entering Plaintiff's cell, the prisoner assaulted Plaintiff and Plaintiff received injuries, including a laceration requiring sutures, which were photographed and treated. Plaintiff alleges the incident was foreseeable and no reasonable person would let a second prisoner into a single-person cell. Plaintiff alleges that his cell is located in an “aggravated pod” which calls for heightened awareness and security. Plaintiff alleges that the SCDC and Officer Melendez had a duty of care to protect Plaintiff from foreseeable harm by another inmate. Plaintiff names as defendants: the Wichita Detention Center; Head Sheriff Jeff Easter; and Detention Officer (fnu) Melendez. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and punitive damages.

         II. Statutory Screening of Prisoner Complaints

         The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or an employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if a plaintiff has raised claims that are legally frivolous or malicious, that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)-(2).

         “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988) (citations omitted); Northington v. Jackson, 973 F.2d 1518, 1523 (10th Cir. 1992). A court liberally construes a pro se complaint and applies “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In addition, the court accepts all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true. Anderson v. Blake, 469 F.3d 910, 913 (10th Cir. 2006). On the other hand, “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief, ” dismissal is appropriate. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558 (2007).

         A pro se litigant's “conclusory allegations without supporting factual averments are insufficient to state a claim upon which relief can be based.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). “[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitlement to relief' requires “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). The complaint's “factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 555, 570.

         The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained “that, to state a claim in federal court, a complaint must explain what each defendant did to [the pro se plaintiff]; when the defendant did it; how the defendant's action harmed [the plaintiff]; and, what specific legal right the plaintiff believes the defendant violated.” Nasious v. Two Unknown B.I.C.E. Agents, 492 F.3d 1158, 1163 (10th Cir. 2007). The court “will not supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiff's complaint or construct a legal theory on a plaintiff's behalf.” Whitney v. New Mexico, 113 F.3d 1170, 1173-74 (10th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).

         The Tenth Circuit has pointed out that the Supreme Court's decisions in Twombly and Erickson gave rise to a new standard of review for § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) dismissals. See Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1218 (10th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted); see also Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1098 (10th Cir. 2009). As a result, courts “look to the specific allegations in the complaint to determine whether they plausibly support a legal claim for relief.” Kay, 500 F.3d at 1218 (citation omitted). Under this new standard, “a plaintiff must ‘nudge his claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'” Smith, 561 F.3d at 1098 (citation omitted). “Plausible” in this context does not mean “likely to be true, ” but rather refers “to the scope of the allegations in a complaint: if they are so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct, much of it innocent, ” then the plaintiff has not “nudged [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1974).

         III. DISCUSSION

         1. Detention Facility

         Plaintiff's Complaint names the Wichita Detention Center as a defendant. Prison and jail facilities are not proper defendants because none is a “person” subject to suit for money damages under § 1983. See Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66, 71 (1989) (neither state nor state agency is a “person” which can be sued under § 1983); Davis v. Bruce, 215 F.R.D. 612, 618 (D. Kan. 2003), aff'd in relevant part, 129 F. App'x 406, 408 (10th Cir. 2005). Plaintiff's request for money damages against the facility is subject to dismissal.

         2. Failure to Protect

         “Prison and jail officials, as well as municipal entities that employ them, cannot absolutely guarantee the safety of their prisoners. Nonetheless, they have a constitutional duty to take reasonable steps to protect the prisoners' safety and bodily integrity.” Wright v. Collison, 651 F. App'x 745, 748 (10th Cir. 2016) (unpublished) (quoting Cox v. Glanz, 800 F.3d 1231, 1247-48 (10th Cir. 2015)). Because Plaintiff is a pretrial detainee, his claims are governed by the Due Process Clause rather than the Eighth Amendment. Wright, 651 F. App'x at 748 (citing Lopez v. LeMaster, 172 F.3d 756 n.2 (10th Cir. 1999)). Even so, the Court applies an analysis identical to that applied in Eighth Amendment cases brought under § 1983. Id.

         “To establish a cognizable Eighth Amendment claim for failure to protect an inmate from harm by other inmates, the plaintiff must show that he [was] incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm, the objective component, and that the prison official was deliberately indifferent to his safety, the subjective component.” Id. (citing Smith v. Cummings, 445 F.3d 1254, 1258 (10th Cir. 2006) (brackets and internal quotation marks omitted)). For the subjective component, “the plaintiff bears the burden to show that the defendants responded in an ‘objectively unreasonable manner'-that is, they ‘knew of ways to reduce ...


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