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Evans v. Heimgartner

United States District Court, D. Kansas

June 20, 2018

ZABRIEL L. EVANS, Plaintiff,
JAMES HEIMGARTNER, in his official capacity as Warden of El Dorado Correctional Facility, et al., Defendants.


          Daniel D. Crabtree United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the court on defendants' Amended Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 46). The issue is briefed fully and the court is ready to rule. For reasons explained below, the court grants the motion in part and denies it in part.

         I. Facts

         Because the current dismissal motion relies on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and the court ordered the Kansas Department of Corrections (“KDOC”) to file a Martinez report, see Doc. 8 at 2, the court takes the following facts from the Complaint, the Martinez report-to the extent plaintiff does not controvert the facts in it-and plaintiff's response, Stewart v. Norwood, No. 16-3189-JAR-DJW, 2017 WL 4284971, at *2 (D. Kan. Sept. 27, 2017).

         Plaintiff Zabriel L. Evans was an inmate at El Dorado Correctional Facility in March 2016. On March 1, 2016, plaintiff was in his cell while prison officials were passing out meals. When they passed plaintiff's cell, the small opening in plaintiff's cell door-also known as a food pass-was covered. So, the officials did not give plaintiff a meal. Realizing that the officials had skipped him, plaintiff uncovered his food pass and requested a meal. When no one provided it, plaintiff called for medical assistance. Defendant Robert Wallace-a CSI[1] at El Dorado-responded. Because CSI Wallace needed to enter plaintiff's cell to respond to the call for medical assistance, he needed plaintiff to submit to handcuffs. So, CSI Wallace opened the food pass to plaintiff's cell from the outside and plaintiff-still in his cell at this time-stood in front of the food pass, facing away from the door with his hands behind his back. CSI Wallace then placed a handcuff on plaintiff's left wrist. After CSI Wallace secured the left wrist, plaintiff turned around and asked to be fed. The two spoke for about five minutes and then CSI Wallace radioed for assistance to help secure plaintiff. Defendant Cody Austin-also a CSI-responded.

         Once CSI Austin arrived, CSI Wallace told him to spray plaintiff with pepper spray. So, CSI Austin sprayed plaintiff in the face while CSI Wallace gripped the handcuff attached to plaintiff. When the spray hit plaintiff, he jerked away but CSI Wallace pulled him back using the handcuff attached to plaintiff's left wrist. This force caused plaintiff's left wrist to swell. It then started to bleed. CSI Wallace eventually uncuffed plaintiff and shut the food pass. Medical staff assessed plaintiff's injuries at plaintiff's cell door. But CSIs Wallace and Austin did not allow plaintiff to go to the medical clinic to be evaluated. During the next five hours, the CSIs refused to allow plaintiff to use the decontamination shower to rinse his body and clothes of the pepper spray.

         On March 5, 2016-four days later-plaintiff was preparing to go to the prison medical clinic to have his injured left wrist evaluated. Before he left his cell, defendants Johnnie Cawthorn and Heather Griffith-both CSIs at El Dorado-came to restrain plaintiff. CSI Cawthorn opened plaintiff's food pass and cuffed the previously injured left wrist. As CSI Cawthorn prepared to secure plaintiff's right wrist, CSI Griffith started tugging and pulling on the tether that attached the two cuffs. This caused CSI Cawthorn to pull plaintiff's already injured wrist through the food pass, causing plaintiff pain. Plaintiff turned to ask the CSIs to stop pulling the cuffs when CSI Cawthorn suddenly yanked the cuff, causing plaintiff's wrist to become jammed in the food pass and the cuff to tighten around the wrist. As a result, plaintiff's wrist began bleeding and started to swell again. To alleviate the pressure on his wrist, plaintiff reached down with his free hand and tugged back on the cuff. CSI Cawthorn then pulled out his pepper spray and sprayed plaintiff's face. Trying to cooperate with the CSIs, plaintiff put his arms outside of his food pass. In response, CSI Cawthorn bent plaintiff's arm in an awkward direction and screamed, “I'll break it.” CSI Cawthorn eventually uncuffed plaintiff and left him in his cell, even though plaintiff's wrist was swollen and bloody. But CSIs Cawthorn and Griffith did allow medical personnel to assess plaintiff at his cell door. Again, they refused to allow plaintiff to use the decontamination shower even though plaintiff's skin was burning from the pepper spray.

         In response to both incidents, plaintiff filed a grievance with defendant James Heimgartner-El Dorado's warden. Mr. Heimgartner concluded that KDOC's Use of Force Policy for Prisoners-IMPP 12-111-authorized the CSIs' actions on both occasions. Plaintiff then filed this suit. At some unspecified date before June 28, 2017, plaintiff was transferred to the Hutchinson Correctional Facility.[2] Doc. 17 at 1.

         II. Legal Standard

         On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court accepts, as true, all facts pleaded by the non-moving party. Brokers' Choice of Am., Inc. v. NBC Universal, Inc., 757 F.3d 1125, 1136 (10th Cir. 2014). It also draws any reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Id. “To survive a motion to dismiss [under Rule 12(b)(6)], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “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.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “Under this standard, ‘the complaint must give the court reason to believe that this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims.'” Carter v. United States, 667 F.Supp.2d 1259, 1262 (D. Kan. 2009) (quoting Ridge at Red Hawk, L.L.C. v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007)).

         Although this Rule “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, '” it demands more than “[a] pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action'” which, as the Supreme Court has explained, simply “will not do.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). This is so because the court need not “accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (internal quotation omitted)).

         When construing a pro se plaintiff's pleadings, the court must hold them “to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). This means that “if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so despite the plaintiff's failure to cite proper legal authority, his confusion of various legal theories, his poor syntax and sentence construction, or his unfamiliarity with pleading requirements.” Id.

         When the plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding pro se, the court may order prison officials to investigate the plaintiff's allegations and file the results of that investigation with the court. Id. at 1109. This report of the prison officials' investigation is called a Martinez report. Id. When ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court can consider any part of the Martinez report that plaintiff does not dispute and any policies or justifications for those policies. Id. at 1112-13. But the court cannot adopt any fact in the Martinez report that conflicts with the Complaint even if the facts in the Complaint are less specific or “well-documented” than those in the report. Id. at 1109.

         Typically, when the court considers materials outside the pleadings, it must convert a Rule 12 motion into a summary judgment motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). This restriction, however, does not apply to uncontested facts in a Martinez report. Hall, 935 F.2d at 1112. A court also can “ʻtake judicial notice of its own files and records'” without converting a Rule 12(b)(6) motion into a summary judgment motion. Tal v. Hogan, 453 F.3d 1244, 1264 n.24 (10th Cir. 2006) (quoting Van Woudenberg ex rel. Foor v. Gibson, 211 F.3d 560, 568 (10th Cir. 2000), abrogated on other grounds by McGregor v. Gibson, 248 F.3d 946, 955 (10th Cir. 2001)).

         III. Discussion

         The Complaint asserts five claims. All five contend that defendants are liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because defendants have violated or are violating plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights. In the first two claims, plaintiff argues that CSIs Wallace and Austin violated plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights on March 1, 2016, by using excessive force against him and refusing to allow him to seek medical treatment at El Dorado's medical clinic. Next, his third and fourth claims assert that CSIs Cawthorn and Griffith deprived plaintiff of his Eighth Amendment rights on March 5, 2016, when they used force against him and refused to allow him to receive medical treatment at the medical clinic. And last, plaintiff argues that Mr. Heimgartner violated plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights by enforcing IMPP 12-111-KDOC's Use of Force Policy for Prisoners.

         Defendants have moved to dismiss all five claims. Specifically, CSIs Wallace, Austin, Cawthorn, and Griffith-collectively, “the CSIs”-argue that the Complaint fails to state a claim because qualified immunity protects them from liability for the actions in the Complaint. Mr. Heimgartner argues that the Complaint states no claim against him because IMPP 12-111 does not violate the constitution.[3] Naturally, plaintiff disagrees. He argues that the case must proceed to discovery, arguing that qualified immunity does not protect the CSIs from liability based on the Complaint's allegations and IMPP 12-111 violates the Eighth Amendment. He also contends that the court already has determined that the Complaint sufficiently states a claim because the Complaint survived the court's screening process for plaintiffs who file in forma pauperis.

         The court first addresses plaintiff's argument that the court already decided that his Complaint states a claim because it survived the screening process. Then, the court discusses whether qualified immunity protects the CSIs from this suit's allegations. And last, the court addresses whether the Complaint fails to state a claim for relief against Mr. Heimgartner.

         A. The Screening Process

         Plaintiff argues that the court determined that the Complaint states a claim for relief against all defendants when it concluded that the Complaint should survive the screening process. When a plaintiff proceeds in forma pauperis-meaning that the court allows plaintiff to proceed with his case before paying the full filing fee-the court must dismiss the case if it determines that the Complaint fails to state a claim for relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). The court applies the same standard when reviewing a case under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) as it does when deciding a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1217 (10th Cir. 2007). This process is commonly called the screening process and a court typically completes this examination before the summonses are served. Id. But § 1915 does not require a court to complete this task before the summonses are issued. Instead, it instructs courts to “dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action . . . fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted . . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) (emphasis added).

         Here, the court did not conduct a § 1915 screening examination. On May 4, 2016, the court granted plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis in a text entry that did not address the sufficiency of the Complaint. See Doc. 4. In its Order on March 31, 2017, the court briefly described plaintiff's allegations. Doc. 8 at 2. It then explained that “the proper processing of plaintiff's claims cannot be achieved without additional information . . . .” Id. So, the court ordered defendants to wait to file an answer or motion attacking the Complaint until after KDOC filed a Martinez report. Id. at 4. To say it as simply as possible, the court never addressed the Complaint's sufficiency. The court thus never has screened the Complaint and this nullifies the need to address this argument.

         B. Plaintiff's ...

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