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Judd v. Langford

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

October 1, 2019

WILLIS LANGFORD, et al., Defendants.


         THIS MATTER is before the Court on initial review of the Complaint, (Doc. No. 1), and on pro se Plaintiff's Letter, (Doc. No. 7), that was docketed as a Motion to Correct Errors in the Complaint.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff filed this civil rights suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 addressing incidents that allegedly occurred at the Buncombe County Detention Facility. He names as Defendants: Correctional Officer Willis Langford, Correctional Officer Chauncey Thicklin, and Intake Nurse Jane Doe.

         Construing the Complaint liberally and accepting the allegations as true, Plaintiff informed Intake Nurse Jane Doe on December 23, 2018 that he would be withdrawing from heroin and Xanax and informed her of “several mental health issues.” (Doc. No. 1 at 3). The nurse asked Plaintiff to sign multiple forms, including one consenting to be held liable for costs incurred as a result of any self-injurious behavior, and Plaintiff refused. Plaintiff was told that he would not be able to start any detox medications unless he signed the form. Plaintiff told the nurse she could not do that and that Plaintiff was going to sue. The nurse immediately summoned officers to escort him back to his cell, at which point Plaintiff agreed to sign the form. As soon as Plaintiff signed, he was “jerked” out of his seat by Defendants Langford and Thicklin who began “forcibly escorting” Plaintiff back to his cell. (Doc. No. 1 at 3-4). During the escort, Plaintiff attempted to pull away from the officers and was slammed on his back, causing him to hit his head very hard on the cement floor and lose consciousness briefly. Plaintiff believes that he was hit in the face by the officers during this time, causing injury to the left side of his lip and his left cheekbone. The officers never attempted to give Plaintiff a verbal command before grabbing his arms and grabbing him. This exacerbated a diagnosed mental health issue, PTSD. Plaintiff claims that all of the foregoing violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.


         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.


         (1) Medical Deliberate Indifference

         Claims under § 1983 based on an alleged lack of, or inappropriate medical treatment fall within the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.[1] Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). To state a claim under the Eighth Amendment, a plaintiff must show a “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs” of the inmate and that the defendant acted with deliberate indifference to those needs. Id.; Heyer v. United States Bureau of Prisons, 849 F.3d 202, 210 (4th Cir. 2017) (citing Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 241 (4th Cir. 2008)). A “serious medical need” is “one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.” Iko, 535 F.3d at 241 (internal quotation marks omitted). “Deliberate indifference requires a showing that the defendants actually knew of and disregarded a substantial risk of serious injury to the detainee or that they actually knew of and ignored a detainee's serious need for medical care.” Young v. City of Mt. Ranier, 238 F.3d 567, 575-76 (4th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). “To establish that a health care provider's actions constitute deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, the treatment must be so grossly incompetent, inadequate, or excessive as to shock the conscience or to be intolerable to fundamental fairness.” Miltier v. Beorn, 896 F.2d 848, 851 (4th Cir. 1990), overruled on other grounds by Farmer, 511 U.S. at 825. However, mere negligence or malpractice does not violate the Eighth Amendment. Miltier, 896 F.2d at 852.

         Plaintiff alleges that he told Intake Nurse Jane Doe that he would be withdrawing from heroin and Xanax, and that he has “several mental health issues, ” (Doc. No. 1 at 3), and that the nurse told him that he would be required to sign release forms before he could begin detox protocol medications. Plaintiff ultimately signed the forms and he does not allege that any care or medications were withheld.

         These allegations fail to demonstrate that Plaintiff had a sufficiently serious medical need to which Intake Nurse Jane Doe was deliberately indifferent and, therefore, Plaintiff's claim of deliberate indifference to a serious medical need will be dismissed.

         (2) Excessive Force

         The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment “protects a pretrial detainee from the use of excessive force that amounts to punishment, ” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 n.10 (1989), and is not “an incident of some other legitimate governmental purpose, ” Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 538 (1989). While prisoners cannot be punished cruelly and unusually, pretrial detainees cannot be punished at all. Kingsley, 135 S.Ct. at 2475. Therefore, for pretrial detainee excessive force cases two issues are examined: (1) was the act purposeful (not negligent or accidental), and (2) was the force objectively unreasonable. Subjective questions like ill will and malice are not appropriate. Id. at 2473; see Duff v. Potter, 665 Fed.Appx. 242 (4th Cir. 2016). In determining whether the force was objectively unreasonable, a court considers the evidence from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Kingsley, 135 S.Ct. at 2473. Considerations that bear on the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the force include: the relationship between the need for the use of force and the amount of force used; the extent of the plaintiff's injury; any effort ...

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