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Washington v. Owen's

United States District Court, D. Colorado

February 2, 2018

STEVEN OWENS, in his individual capacity, ADAM GINGRICH, in his individual capacity, ANGLENA STEVENS, in her individual capacity, JANE DOE, Head of Mental Health, in her individual capacity, and JANE DOE, Head of Medical, in her individual capacity, Defendants.


          Michael E. Hegarty, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Defendants Steven Owens, Anglena Stevens, and Adam Gingrich (collectively “Defendants”) ask the Court to dismiss the causes of action brought against them pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff Darnell Washington brings claims related to his conditions of confinement and his allegedly inadequate medical treatment during his incarceration at the Colorado State Penitentiary (“CSP”). The Court holds that Mr. Washington fails to state a claim against Warden Owens and Ms Stevens. Additionally, Officer Gingrich is entitled to qualified immunity on Mr. Washington's First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment claims. However, the Court finds Mr. Washington's allegations against Officer Gingrich sufficient to plausibly assert an Eighth Amendment violation. Accordingly, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.


         I. Facts

         The following are relevant factual allegations (as opposed to legal conclusions, bare assertions, or merely conclusory allegations) made by Mr. Washington in his Second Amended Complaint, which are taken as true for analysis under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         Regarding the claims of inadequate medical care, Mr. Washington alleges he was unable to see a doctor between November 1, 2015 and August 25, 2016, which caused him to endure pain and suffering. Second Am. Compl. 4, ECF No. 16. When he visited a doctor on August 25, 2016, the doctor informed him that he would need surgery for growing lumps on his back.[1] Id. According to Mr. Washington, he has not undergone surgery, and the lumps are causing him pain and suffering. Id. Ms. Stevens-CHP's director of mental health-informed Mr. Washington that he has been getting inadequate treatment, because he “pissed off someone in administration and Mr. Owens.” Id. at 5. According to Mr. Washington, the former director of mental health told Ms. Stevens not to give Mr. Washington adequate care, and Ms. Stevens gave the same instruction to her staff. Id. at 9.

         On July 15, 2017, Mr. Washington swallowed a razor and attempted to hang himself, because his mental health had deteriorated. Id. at 5. This caused him to cough up blood and endure “massive pain.” Id. It was not until after this incident that Mr. Washington received “adequate care” from Ms. Stevens. Id.

         Mr. Washington alleges that Mr. Owens-the warden of CSP-“is fully aware of the problem and continues to allow outrageous behavior . . . .” Id. at 5. According to Mr. Washington, Mr. Owens “houses all the mentally ill inmates but refuses to have mental health programs.” Id. at 13.

         Mr. Washington also takes issue with his conditions of confinement. On February 15, 2017, Mr. Washington told Officer Gingrich that he wanted to commit suicide. Id. at 5-6, 11. Officer Gingrich removed Mr. Washington from his cell and placed him in an observation cell in the back of the intake area. Id. The observation cell did not have toilet paper, which forced Mr. Washington to wipe himself with his shorts or shirt. Id. at 6, 11. He then placed his shorts or shirt in the toilet, and the toilet overflowed. Id. As a result, Mr. Washington ate and remained in a “cell full of human waste for hours.” Id. Officer Gingrich informed Mr. Washington that he was following basic orders to retaliate against him and keep him in the cell. Id. at 6, 11.

         II. Procedural History

         Mr. Washington initiated this case on April 17, 2017. Compl., ECF No. 1. Pursuant to an order issued by the Honorable Gordon P. Gallagher, Mr. Washington filed the operative Second Amended Complaint on August 8, 2017. Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 16. Mr. Washington alleges an Eight Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claim, a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim, and a First Amendment retaliation claim against Officer Gingrich and Warden Owens. Id. at 11-13. Mr. Washington asserts claims against Ms. Stevens for Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”). Id. at 9.

         On October 30, 2017, Defendants responded to Mr. Washington's Second Amended Complaint by filing the present Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 45. Regarding Mr. Washington's Fourteenth Amendment due process claims, Defendants contend the Court should analyze them under the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 4. Furthermore, Defendants argue that Mr. Washington's allegations do not give rise to a protected liberty interest in the conditions of his confinement. Id. at 4-6. As for the Eighth Amendment claims, Defendants assert Mr. Washington does not plausibly allege he was deprived of an objectively serious medical need or that Defendants were subjectively aware of an excessive risk to Mr. Washington's safety. Id. at 6-9. Defendants then argue that Mr. Washington does not allege the elements of his First Amendment retaliation claims, his ADA violation, and his claim for IIED. Id. at 10-13, 14-15. Finally, because Mr. Washington sues Defendants only in their individual capacities, Defendants assert entitlement to qualified immunity over the constitutional claims. Id. at 13-14.

         Mr. Washington subsequently filed a response, which generally restates the allegations in his Second Amended Complaint. Resp. to Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 50. Defendants did not file a reply brief. Instead, Defendants filed a motion to stay this case pending the resolution of their Motion to Dismiss, which the Court granted. See Order Granting Mot. to Stay, ECF No. 52.


         I. Dismissal Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662');">556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Plausibility, in the context of a motion to dismiss, means that the plaintiff pleaded facts which allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Twombly requires a two prong analysis. First, a court must identify “the allegations in the complaint that are not entitled to the assumption of truth, ” that is, those allegations which are legal conclusions, bare assertions, or merely conclusory. Id. at 679-80. Second, the Court must consider the factual allegations “to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 681. If the allegations state a plausible claim for relief, such claim survives the motion to dismiss. Id. at 680.

         Plausibility refers “to the scope of the allegations in a complaint: if they are so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct, much of it innocent, then the plaintiffs ‘have not nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'” Khalik v. United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1191 (10th Cir. 2012) (quoting Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008)). “The nature and specificity of the allegations required to state a plausible claim will vary based on context.” Kan. Penn Gaming, LLC v. Collins, 656 F.3d 1210, 1215 (10th Cir. 2011). Thus, while the Rule 12(b)(6) standard does not require that a plaintiff establish a prima facie case in a complaint, the elements of each alleged cause of action may help to determine whether the plaintiff has set forth a plausible claim. Khalik, 671 F.3d at 1191.

         II. Dismissal of a Pro Se Plaintiff's Complaint

         A federal court must construe a pro se plaintiff's pleadings “liberally” and hold the pleadings “to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings filed by lawyers.” Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1096 (10th Cir. 2009). “[The] court, however, will not supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiff's complaint or construct a legal theory on plaintiff's behalf.” Id. (citing Whitney v. New Mexico, 113 F.3d 1170, 1173-74 (10th Cir. 1997)). The Tenth Circuit has interpreted this rule to mean:

[I]f the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so despite the plaintiff's failure to cite proper legal authority, his confusion of various legal theories, his poor syntax and sentence ...

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