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Johnson v. Henson

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 18, 2015

BONITA JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
HENSON, Judge; COLORADO SPRINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT; CRIMINAL JUSTICE CENTER; TORRES, Deputy; and EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE, Defendants.

ORDER DIRECTING PLAINTIFF TO FILE AMENDED COMPLAINT

GORDON P. GALLAGHER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

Plaintiff Bonita Johnson initiated this action on December 2, 2015, by filing a Complaint (ECF No. 1) and an Application to Proceed in District Court Without Prepayment of Fees or Costs (ECF No. 3), which was granted by the Court on December 8, 2015 (ECF No. 4).

The Court must construe Mr. Perrin’s Complaint liberally because he is representing himself. 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 should not be the pro se litigant’s advocate. Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff will be directed to file an Amended Complaint.

In the Prisoner Complaint, Ms. Johnson makes rambling assertions without citing any specific Constitutional right that she asserts has been violated. She merely repeats that her civil rights have been violated.

The Complaint is deficient to the extent Plaintiff sues the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, the Colorado Springs Police Department and Criminal Justice Center. These Defendants are not entities separate from El Paso County, and, therefore are not persons subject to suit under § 1983. See Stump v. Gates, 777 F.Supp. 808, 814-16 (D. Colo. 1991) (citing Monell v. Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978)), aff'd, 986 F.2d 1429 (10th Cir. 1993).

Moreover, a local government entity such as El Paso County is not liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 solely because its employees inflict injury on a plaintiff. Monell v. New York City Dep’t of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978); Hinton v. City of Elwood, Kan., 997 F.2d 774, 782 (10th Cir. 1993). A plaintiff seeking to hold a county liable for his injuries under § 1983 must show that a policy or custom exists and that there is a direct causal link between the policy or custom and the injury alleged. City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989); Myers v. Oklahoma County Bd. of County Comm'rs, 151 F.3d 1313, 1316-20 (10th Cir. 1998). Plaintiff cannot state a claim for relief under § 1983 merely by pointing to isolated incidents. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 694.

Ms. Johnson’s Eighth Amendment claim against Deputy Torres also is insufficient to state a claim. In this regard, 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.

As to the objective component, Ms. Johnson’s allegations do not state a claim for deprivation “of the minimal measure of life's necessities, ” as required to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to the Eighth Amendment. She merely states that she was temporarily denied lower bunk status (less than six hours passed before the situation was remedied) and that the guard intimidated her. These allegations are not sufficient to show exposure “to a risk that is so grave that it violates contemporary standards of decency.” See Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 36 (1993).

As to the subjective component, Ms. Johnson has not alleged that Defendant Torres denied her lower bunk status with deliberate indifference to a risk of harm. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837 (“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”). Ms. Johnson’s allegations do not state a claim of “subjective recklessness” of Defendant. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 839-40. Further, Ms. Johnson's allegations are too vague and conclusory to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Moreover, Plaintiff also seeks to impose liability against Judge Henson. A state judge is absolutely immune from § 1983 liability except when the judge acts "in the clear absence of all jurisdiction." Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1978) (articulating broad immunity rule that a "judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority...."). Because Plaintiff alleges that Judge Henson engaged in unconstitutional conduct while presiding over her criminal actions, the judge was performing judicial acts and is therefore clothed with absolute judicial immunity.

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 she is entitled to relief because she fails to provide specific factual ...


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