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Williams v. Daniels

United States District Court, D. Colorado

October 14, 2014



CRAIG B. SHAFFER, Magistrate Judge.

This civil action comes before the court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) (Doc. # 21), filed on August 7, 2014. Pursuant to the Order of Reference dated August 18, 2014, the Pilot Program to Implement the Direct Assignment of Civil Cases to Full Time Magistrate Judges, and Title 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(c), this civil action was referred to the Magistrate Judge "for disposition." ( See Doc. # 25). The court has reviewed the Motion, Mr. Williams's Response (filed August 22, 2014) (Doc. # 27), Defendants' Reply (filed September 8, 2014) (Doc. # 29), the hearing held on August 26, 2014 ( see Courtroom Minutes/Minute Order (Doc. # 28)), the pleadings, and the applicable law and is sufficiently advised in the premises.

I. Statement of the Case

Plaintiff Jamie Williams is currently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. Proceeding pro se, Mr. Williams alleges pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), that Defendants failed to protect him from an assault by his cellmate on January 27, 2013, in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. ( See Prisoner Complaint (Doc. # 1)). Mr. Williams seeks medical care and compensatory damages. ( See id. at 7 of 7). Defendants move pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim to which relief can be granted.

II. Standard of Review

To withstand a motion to dismiss made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain enough allegations of fact "to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007). The burden is on the plaintiff to frame "a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest" that he or she is entitled to relief. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. The court "must accept all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true and must construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Alvarado v. KOB-TV, L.L.C., 493 F.3d 1210, 1215 (10th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Because Mr. Williams appears pro se, the court "review[s] his pleadings and other papers liberally and hold[s] them to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys." Trackwell v. United States Government, 472 F.3d 1242, 1243 (10th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). See also Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972) (holding allegations of a pro se complaint "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers"). However, a court may not assume that a plaintiff can prove facts that have not been alleged, or that a defendant has violated laws in ways that a plaintiff has not alleged. See Gallagher v. Shelton, 587 F.3d 1063, 1067 (10th Cir. 2009) (court's role is not to act as pro se litigant's advocate); Whitney v. State of New Mexico, 113 F.3d 1170, 1173-74 (10th Cir. 1997) (court may not "supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiff's complaint"); Drake v. City of Fort Collins, 927 F.2d 1156, 1159 (10th Cir. 1991) (the court may not "construct arguments or theories for the plaintiff in the absence of any discussion of those issues").

III. Analysis

Defendants move to dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity. Whether a defendant is entitled to qualified immunity is a legal question. Wilder v. Turner, 490 F.3d 810, 813 (10th Cir. 2007). Resolution of a dispositive motion based on qualified immunity involves a two-pronged inquiry: (1) whether the facts that a plaintiff has alleged or shown make out a violation of a constitutional right, and (2) whether the right at issue was clearly established at the time of the defendant's alleged misconduct. Herrera v. City of Albuquerque, 589 F.3d 1064, 1070 (10th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). "A reviewing court may exercise [its] sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand." Id. "Qualified immunity is applicable unless" the plaintiff can satisfy both prongs of the inquiry. Id.

In Bivens, the United States Supreme Court created a cause of action for money damages and injunctive relief against federal officials acting under color of their authority for violations of an individual's constitutional rights. 403 U.S. at 395-97. Bivens only authorizes suit against federal officials in their individual capacities and not against the United States or federal agencies. Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1093 (10th Cir. 2009).

The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of "cruel and unusual punishments." U.S. CONST. amend. VIII. "[T]he treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (citation omitted). Certain conditions of confinement, if they inflict pain unnecessarily and wantonly, may constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986), abrogated on other grounds by Wilkins v. Gaddy, 130 S.Ct. 1175 (2010).

"Prison officials are required to provide humane conditions of confinement by ensuring inmates receive the basic necessities of adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care and by taking reasonable measures to guarantee the inmates' safety." Barney v. Pulsipher, 143 F.3d 1299, 1310 (10th Cir. 1998). "Prison officials have a duty... to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 833 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "It is not, however, every injury suffered by one prisoner at the hands of another that translates into constitutional liability for prison officials responsible for the victim's safety." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. Where an Eighth Amendment claim is based upon conditions of confinement, an inmate must satisfy a two-prong test that (1) the deprivation suffered was "objectively sufficiently serious, '" and (2) the defendant had a "sufficiently culpable state of mind" or was "deliberately indifferent" to the inmate's health or safety. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 302-303 (1991)). See also Gonzales v. Martinez, 403 F.3d 1179, 1186 (10th Cir. 2005) ("[I]n a claim that officials failed to prevent harm, an inmate must show, first, she is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm, and, second, that officials had a sufficiently culpable state of mind.") (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim addresses whether Mr. Williams is "incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. This includes "official conduct that is sure or very likely to cause serious injury at the hands of other inmates." Benefield v. McDowall, 241 F.3d 1267, 1272 (10th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The deliberate indifference component "in a prison-conditions case is a subjective and not an objective requirement." Gonzales, 403 F.3d at 1186.

Mr. Williams alleges that Defendants violated his constitutional rights when they failed to protect him against harm from his cellmate on January 27, 2013. (See Doc. # 1 at 3-4 of 7). He alleges that on an unspecified date Defendants made and enforced a decision to place a black metal shield over the window in his cell door to protect prison staff. ( See id. ). On January 25, 2013, Mr. Williams was assigned to cell # 122 in "BA Unit" in the SMU at USP Florence "with a[n] inmate that was crazy." ( See Doc. # 1 at 3-4 of 7). He alleges that the shield blocked the view into and out of his cell, thus exposing him to a substantial risk of serious harm from his cellmate. ( See id. ). Mr. Williams alleges that at 4:00 a.m. on January 27, 2013, his cellmate "choked, slam[m]ed and beat" him and "nearly killed" him in his sleep and that staff could not help him due to the shield over the window. ( See Doc. # 1 at 3-4 of 7). He alleges that he was rushed to a hospital outside the prison for treatment of his injuries. ( See id. ).

Defendants argue that Mr. Williams fails to allege sufficient facts to support his claims. The court agrees that Mr. Williams's allegations do not plausibly support his claims for violation of the Eighth Amendment. Mr. Williams does not allege any specific threat to his personal safety from the shield on his cell or from his cellmate. He makes no allegation that anyone else had been harmed by the placement of a shield in a cell. While he alleges that he told Defendants that the shield was "unprofessional" and "unsafe, " Mr. Williams does not specify when he told them, either before or after the assault. ( See Doc. # 1 at 4 of 7). He alleges that he was assigned to cell # 122 less than 48 hours before the incident. ( See Doc. # 1 at 3 of 7). Even if he told Defendants before the assault about his ...

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