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James v. Robb

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 17, 2015

RASHOD JAMES, Plaintiff,



Plaintiff, Rashod James, is a federal prisoner in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). He currently is confined at the Florence High Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. Mr. James has filed pro se a Prisoner Complaint pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) claiming his rights under the United States Constitution were violated. He seeks damages and injunctive relief.

The Court must construe the complaint liberally because Plaintiff is not represented by an attorney. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). However, the Court cannot act as an advocate for a pro se litigant. See Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110. As part of the court’s review pursuant to D.C.COLO.LCivR 8.1(b), the court has determined that the operative complaint is deficient. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff will be directed to file an amended complaint.

In his Complaint, Plaintiff claims that Defendants have denied him medical care, used excessive force and have retaliated against him.

Mr. James cites the First and Eighth Amendments as his bases for relief. To state a claim upon which relief can be granted for First Amendment retaliation, Plaintiff must plead facts indicating that he can plausibly prove three elements at trial: 1) that Plaintiff was engaged in constitutionally protected activity; 2) Defendants' actions caused Plaintiff to suffer an injury that would chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in that activity; and 3) that Defendants' adverse actions were substantially motivated by Plaintiff's exercise of constitutionally protected conduct. Shero v. City of Grove, 510 F.3d 1196, 1203 (10th Cir. 2007). To prevail on the causation element of a claim for retaliation, Plaintiff "must prove that ‘but for' the retaliatory motive, the incidents to which he refers ... would not have taken place." Peterson v. Shanks, 149 F.3d 1140, 1144 (10th Cir. 1998). That is, "it is imperative that [P]laintiff's pleading be factual and not conclusory. Mere allegations of constitutional retaliation will not suffice; [P]laintiff[ ] must, rather, allege specific facts showing retaliation because of the exercise of ... constitutional rights." Frazier v. Dubois, 922 F.2d 560, 562 n.1 (10th Cir. 1990); accord Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 325 (5th Cir. 1999) ("[T]he inmate must allege more than his personal belief that he is the victim of retaliation."). It is not the role of the federal judiciary to scrutinize and interfere with the daily operations of a state prison and the restriction on retaliation does not change this role. Smith v. Maschner, 899 F.2d 940, 947 (10th Cir. 1990). Simply by engaging in protected activity an inmate does not become inoculated from the normal conditions of confinement experienced by convicted felons serving time in prison. Id. Thus, a prisoner alleging retaliation must prove that but for the retaliatory motive, the incidents he claims were retaliatory, including disciplinary action, would not have taken place. Id. at 949-50. In addition an inmate must allege specific facts showing retaliation because of the exercise of the prisoner's constitutional rights. Peterson, 149 F.3d at 1145. Thus, to establish a retaliation claim Plaintiff must demonstrate: 1) he was engaged in constitutionally protected activity; 2) defendant's actions caused plaintiff to suffer an injury that would chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in that activity; and 3) defendant's adverse action was substantially motivated as a response to plaintiff's exercise of constitutionally protected conduct. Allen v. Corrections Corp. of America, 524 F. App’x 460, 463 (10th Cir. 2013).

The 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). The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments.” U.S. CONST. Amend. VIII. 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). “An inmate making a direct challenge to conditions of confinement under the 8th Amendment, must show that, judged by contemporary standards of decency, the conditions either involve the wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain, that they are grossly disproportionate to the severity of the crime, or that they entail serious deprivation of basic human needs.” Georgacarakos v. Wiley, 2010 WL 1291833 *11 (D. Colo. March 30, 2010) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Prison officials must provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care to inmates, and take reasonable measures to guarantee those inmates' safety.” Id. (citation omitted).

An Eighth Amendment claim includes both an objective component, whether the deprivation of a basic human need is sufficiently serious, and a subjective component, whether the officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991). As for the objective component, “extreme deprivations” are required to make out a conditions-of-confinement claim. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8-9 (1992). Thus, in a conditions-of-confinement case, a “sufficiently serious” deprivation is shown when “a prison official's act or omission ... result[s] in the denial of ‘the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.’ ” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). The subjective component follows from the principle that “ ‘only the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain implicates the Eighth Amendment.’ ” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (quoting Wilson, 501 U.S. at 297). The “deliberate indifference” subjective standard applies to claims of inhumane conditions of confinement. Wilson, 501 U.S. at 303-04. A finding of deliberate indifference requires a showing that the defendant “knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. Under this standard, “the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837.

It is not clear against which Defendant or Defendants Mr. James is asserting the medical treatment claims or what any particular Defendant did with respect to medical treatment that violated Mr. Herrera’s constitutional rights. The Eighth Amendment, through its prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, imposes a duty on prison officials to provide humane conditions of confinement, including adequate medical treatment. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). A violation occurs when: 1) a medical need is serious; and (2) the acts or omissions by prison officials demonstrate “deliberate indifference” to the inmate's health or safety. Id. at 106. Thus, first, a complaint must allege facts showing a sufficiently serious medical need. A “medical need is sufficiently serious if it 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.” Sealock v. Colorado, 218 F.3d 1205, 1209 (10th Cir. 2000). “Delay in medical care only constitutes an Eighth Amendment violation where the plaintiff can show the delay resulted in substantial harm.” Id. at 1210. The substantial harm requirement “may be satisfied by lifelong handicap, permanent loss, or considerable pain.” Garrett v. Stratman, 254 F.3d 946, 950 (10th Cir. 2001). Under Estelle, deliberate indifference is present when prison officials intentionally deny or delay access to necessary medical treatment for non-medical reasons, or when they interfere with a course of treatment once prescribed. Id. at 104-05. Under the subjective component, Plaintiff“must show that the defendants knew he faced a substantial risk of harm and disregarded that risk, by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it.” Martinez, 563 F.3d at 1089.

In the context of a medical treatment claim, he must state exactly what objectively serious medical need he was suffering from and what each specific Defendant did that amounted to deliberate indifference to that need. He must provide specific dates and provide a short statement as to each claim against each defendant. Plaintiff’s complaint provides a statement of facts that does not specify what constitutional claims he is asserting against each defendant. He merely identifies a defendant and makes rambling statements.

With respect to an excessive force claim, the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment protects inmates against the application of excessive force by correctional officers. Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 318-19 (1986). Every Eighth Amendment claim embodies both an objective and a subjective component. The objective component relates to the "seriousness of the injury" and focuses on whether there has been a deprivation or infliction of pain serious enough to implicate constitutional concerns. Hudson v. McMillan, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1993). An inmate must show some injury in order to make out a constitutional violation under the Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment "excludes from constitutional recognition de minimis uses of physical force, provided that the use of force is not of a sort repugnant to the conscience of mankind." Id. at 9-10 (quotations omitted).

Mr. James' allegations are too vague and conclusory to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Other than general conclusory allegations, Mr. James has not sufficiently alleged specific dates, circumstances, or conduct by the named Defendants. Nor has he identified an objective harm which he has suffered. In sum, Mr. James' allegations are not adequate to state an Eighth Amendment violation.

The complaint is deficient because it does not comply with the pleading requirements of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The twin purposes of a complaint are to give the opposing parties fair notice of the basis for the claims against them so that they may respond and to allow the Court to conclude that the allegations, if proven, show that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See Monument Builders of Greater Kansas City, Inc. v. American Cemetery Ass’n of Kansas, 891 F.2d 1473, 1480 (10th Cir. 1989). The requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8 are designed to meet these purposes. See TV Communications Network, Inc. v. ESPN, Inc., 767 F.Supp. 1062, 1069 (D. Colo. 1991), aff’d, 964 F.2d 1022 (10th Cir. 1992). Rule 8(a) provides that a complaint “must contain (1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction, . . . (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and (3) a demand for the relief sought.” The philosophy of Rule 8(a) is reinforced by Rule 8(d)(1), which provides that “[e]ach allegation must be simple, concise, and direct.” Taken together, Rules 8(a) and (d)(1) underscore the emphasis placed on clarity and brevity by the federal pleading rules. Prolix, vague, or unintelligible pleadings violate Rule 8.

Claims must be presented clearly and concisely in a manageable format that allows a court and a defendant to know what claims are being asserted and to be able to respond to those claims. New Home Appliance Ctr., Inc., v. Thompson, 250 F.2d 881, 883 (10th Cir. 1957). For the purposes of Rule 8(a), “[i]t is sufficient, and indeed all that is permissible, if the complaint concisely states facts upon which relief can be granted upon any legally sustainable basis.” Id.

The Court has reviewed the Complaint and finds that Plaintiff fails to provide a short and plain statement of his claims in compliance with the pleading requirements of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff fails to provide a short and plain statement of his claim showing he is entitled to relief because he fails to provide specific factual ...

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