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Gallegos v. Finney County, Kansas

United States District Court, D. Kansas

April 3, 2019

FINNEY COUNTY, KANSAS, et al., Defendants.


          Sam A. Crow, U.S. Senior District Judge

         Plaintiff, appearing pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his constitutional rights were violated while he was housed at the Finney County Jail in Garden City, Kansas (“FCJ”).

         I. Nature of the Matter before the Court

         Plaintiff alleges that on August 15, 2018, while incarcerated for a parole violation and as a pretrial detainee on a pending charge, he was moved to “F-Pod” in the FCJ along with an inmate named DaShawn Telfair, who had “obvious mental health problems, including paranoid schizophrenia and delusions.” (Doc. 1, at 2.) On August 20, 2018, between 7:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., Plaintiff was playing chess with Telfair when Telfair grew hostile over a disagreement about the rules of the game. Telfair stood up and grabbed Plaintiff in a hostile manner and Plaintiff punched Telfair in the face several times in an attempt to defend himself, but was thrown and dragged around the room in fear for his life. FCJ staff were not watching the camera and did not come to separate the two inmates. Four of the inmates who were in the pod broke up the fight and were punished by administration for trying to help Plaintiff.

         Plaintiff alleges that FCJ staff admitted knowledge of Telfair's mental problems. Plaintiff alleges that he suffered “undiagnosed whiplash and emotional distress” due to the incident. Plaintiff alleges that the security camera for F-Pod is situated so that the two corners of the pod are large blind spots, and FCJ has refused to install a button-activated audio/help signal in that part of the jail, although they have such equipment installed in A, B, and C-Pods as well as in Booking. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants were aware of an elevated risk of harm because several inmates have been seriously hurt during altercations in F-Pod over the last few years. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Lawson was responsible for housing Telfair with other inmates.

         Plaintiff names as Defendants: Finney County, Kansas; the Finney County Jail; Kevin Bascue, Finney County Sheriff; Mark Welch, Finney County Jail Administrator; and Kyle Lawson, Finney County Jail Lieutenant. Plaintiff seeks $1, 500, 000 in actual damages and $2, 000, 000 in 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).


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