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Settlemyer v. Hampton

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

September 25, 2019

JOSHUA SETTLEMYER, Plaintiff,
v.
T. HAMPTON, Defendant.

          ORDER

          FRANK D. WHITNEY, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on initial review of Plaintiff’s Complaint, (Doc. No. 1). Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis. (Doc. No. 6).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff, who is incarcerated at the Marion Correctional Institution, has filed this civil rights action against Marion C.I. Correctional Officer T. Hampton. Construing the Complaint liberally and accepting the allegations as true, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Hampton used excessive force against him on April 26, 2019 by slamming him into the wall then pushing him into the entrance of his cell while Plaintiff’s hands were restrained behind his back and Plaintiff did not pose a threat to the officer. Plaintiff claims that Defendant Hampton took these actions because he wanted to scare or hurt Plaintiff. Plaintiff received a disciplinary write-up for this incident based on Defendant Hampton’s statement that Plaintiff advanced towards him in a threatening manner which was “clearly not true.” (Doc. No. 1 at 5). Plaintiff claims that the incident is on video and that another inmate’s statement indicates that the officer’s actions were “uncalled for.” (Doc. No. 1 at 5). Plaintiff seeks compensation for this use of excessive force and asks that Officer Hampton be “put somewhere he can’t harm or attempt to harm other inmates or relieved of his duties.” (Doc. No. 1 at 5).

         Plaintiff has also filed a “Full Statement Notice” (Doc. No. 9), Amended Request for Relief (Doc. No. 10), and Notice to the Court (Doc. No. 11), that seek to add allegations and amend the claims for relief.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Because Plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must review the Complaint to determine whether it is subject to dismissal on the grounds that it is “(i) frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). In its frivolity review, a court must determine whether the Complaint raises an indisputably meritless legal theory or is founded upon clearly baseless factual contentions, such as fantastic or delusional scenarios. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989). A complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim “unless ‘after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true and drawing all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor, it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief.’” Veney v. Wyche, 293 F.3d 726, 730 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999)).

         A pro se complaint must be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); see also Smith v. Smith, 589 F.3d 736, 738 (4th Cir. 2009) (“Liberal construction of the pleadings is particularly appropriate where … there is a pro se complaint raising civil rights issues.”). However, the liberal construction requirement will not permit a district court to ignore a clear failure to allege facts in his complaint which set forth a claim that is cognizable under federal law. Weller v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990). A pro se complaint must still contain sufficient facts “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007); see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (the Twombly plausibility standard applies to all federal civil complaints including those filed under § 1983). This “plausibility standard requires a plaintiff to demonstrate more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). He must articulate facts that, when accepted as true, demonstrate he has stated a claim entitling him to relief. Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         “[T]he treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment, ” Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993). In its prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments, ” the Eighth Amendment places restraints on prison officials, who may not, for example, use excessive physical force against prisoners. See Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 1 (1992).

         A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met. First, the deprivation alleged must be, objectively, “sufficiently serious, ” Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991); see also Hudson, 503 U.S. at 5, and must result in the denial of “the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities, ” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). The second requirement is that a prison official must have a “sufficiently culpable state of mind.” Wilson, 501 U.S. at 297, 302-03; Hudson, 503 U.S. at 5, 8. “[T]he use of excessive physical force against a prisoner may constitute cruel and unusual punishment [even] when the inmate does not suffer serious injury.” Hudson, 503 U.S. 1, 4 (1992); see Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 34 (2010). The “core judicial inquiry, ” is not whether a certain quantum of injury was sustained, but rather “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 7. “When prison officials maliciously and sadistically use force to cause harm, ” the Court recognized, “contemporary standards of decency always are violated ... whether or not significant injury is evident. Otherwise, the Eighth Amendment would permit any physical punishment, no matter how diabolic or inhuman, inflicting less than some arbitrary quantity of injury.” Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9, 13–14.

         Plaintiff’s allegations that Defendant Hampton purposefully slammed him into a wall while restrained states a plausible claim for the use of excessive force. Therefore, the excessive force claim will be permitted to proceed.

         Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Hampton lied in the prison disciplinary proceedings in which Plaintiff was found guilty. However, this claim is barred because its success would necessarily imply the invalidity of the prison disciplinary punishment and this claim will be dismissed. See Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641 (1997) (claim for declaratory relief and money damages based on allegations of deceit and bias on the part of state officials involved in disciplinary proceedings that necessarily imply the invalidity of the punishment imposed is not cognizable under § 1983).

         Further, Plaintiff attempts to amend his Complaint through a “Full Statement Notice” (Doc. No. 9), Amended Request for Relief (Doc. No. 10), and ...


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