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Bridgewater v. Easter

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 26, 2019

WILLIAM BRIDGEWATER, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFF EASTER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE

          SAM A. CROW U.S. SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff William Bridgewater brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff proceeds in forma pauperis. Mr. Bridgewater is an inmate at the Sedgwick County Detention Facility (SCDF) in Wichita, Kansas. He has been convicted of a state felony and is awaiting sentencing. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff is ordered to show cause why his complaint should not be dismissed.

         I. Nature of the Matter before the Court

         Plaintiff's complaint (ECF No. 1) alleges conditions at SCDF are overcrowded. Mr. Bridgewater describes an incident on February 10, 2019, where he got up from a table where he had been eating to return his empty meal tray and tripped over a chair, which caused him to fall into a chair occupied by another inmate and injure his back. He claims the sleeping area is also cramped and inmates have no room to eat, walk around, or talk on the phone privately. Plaintiff states he fears for his safety as a result of the crowded conditions in the old work release building at SCDF (“Annex”) where he is housed.

         Plaintiff names as defendant Jeff Easter, Sedgwick County Sheriff. He requests relief in the form of $5, 000, 000 in compensatory damages and an order to bring the SCDF Annex up to code.

         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). Additionally, with any litigant, such as Plaintiff, who is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court has a duty to screen the complaint to determine its sufficiency. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). 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

         A. Failure to state a claim of a constitutional violation

          Plaintiff brings one count in his complaint, alleging his constitutional rights have been violated by the overcrowded conditions in the SCDF Annex. He does not specify which right has been violated, but claims based on the conditions of confinement fall under the Eighth Amendment. An Eighth Amendment challenge to prison conditions must contain facts showing both (1) that the conditions resulted in a “sufficiently serious” deprivation “so as to constitute a substantial risk of serious harm” or, in the alternative, that the conditions deprived the inmate of “the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities”; and (2) that the responsible officials acted with deliberate indifference to the prisoner's conditions. Barney v. Pulsipher,143 F.3d 1299, 1310 (10th Cir. 1998); Shannon v. Graves, 257 F.3d 1164, 1168 (10th Cir. 2001). The Constitution does not require comfortable prisons, but it does require that inmates have “adequate food, clothing, shelter and medical care.” Barney, 143 F.3d at 1310-11. “[C]onditions that cannot be said to be ...


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