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Washington v. Martinez

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 14, 2020

DARNELL EMERSON WASHINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
JIMMY MARTINEZ, Defendant.

          ORDER

          MICHAEL E. HEGARTY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, initiated this action on January 25, 2019, asserting Defendant violated his constitutional rights by moving him into a cell contaminated by blood and human waste. Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on August 19, 2019, asserting similar, however less detailed, factual allegations. In response, Defendant filed the present Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), arguing Plaintiff fails to state a plausible claim for relief, Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity, and the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) bars Plaintiff's claim for compensatory damages (ECF 50). For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Defendant's Motion.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

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

         Plaintiff is incarcerated at the Fremont Correctional Facility (“FCF”) in Canon City, Colorado, where Defendant works as a correctional officer. On June 28, 2018, Defendant moved Plaintiff from cell C-3 to cell A-12, in which he was locked down upon arrival. Once inside, Plaintiff noticed the cell “had a smell to it wich [sic] was caused by feces and other human waste as well as blood on the floors and walls of the cell.” Am. Compl. 4. There were multiple open cells in A-pod and C-pod, the group of cells Plaintiff had been moved from and moved into, respectively. Prior to moving Plaintiff into A-12, Defendant had made a report to his supervisor that a bio-hazard crew was needed to clean up the cell, but a bio-hazard crew never showed up. Plaintiff asked Defendant for help, but Defendant ignored Plaintiff and continued to walk his rounds until his shift ended. Correctional Officer “Vigil Smith” then came on shift and was outraged by the smell and conditions of A-12. She notified her supervisor, who was also outraged because the cell was labeled “off-limits.” Plaintiff suffers from multiple mental health conditions and believes this experience caused him mental and emotional distress in addition to putting him at risk of exposure to infectious diseases.

         A week before Plaintiff's move to A-12, Plaintiff, Defendant, and Defendant's supervisor had a meeting about problems Plaintiff had been having with Defendant. Plaintiff was removed from the mental health program at FCF, had not received any mental health treatment for fourteen months and, as of filing his Amended Complaint, was still not receiving such treatment. Prior to that meeting, Plaintiff had filed a lawsuit against a different correctional officer who had allegedly left him in a cell full of human waste.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         I. 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.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (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. The Supreme Court 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 that are legal conclusions, bare assertions, or merely conclusory. Id. at 678-80. 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.

         However, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The complaint must provide “more than labels and conclusions” or merely “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” so that “courts ‘are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, ” the complaint has made an allegation, “but it has not shown that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Id. (quotation and citation omitted).

         II. Treatment of a Pro Se Plaintiff's Complaint

         A federal court must construe a pro se plaintiff's “pleadings liberally, applying a less stringent standard than is applicable to pleadings filed by lawyers. [The] court, however, will not supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiff's complaint or construct a legal theory on a plaintiff's behalf.” Whitney v. New Mexico,113 F.3d 1170, 1173-74 (10th Cir. 1997) (quotations and citations omitted). The Tenth Circuit interpreted this rule to mean “if 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 construction, or his unfamiliarity with pleading requirements.” Hall v. Bellmon,935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). However, this interpretation is qualified in that it is not “the proper function of the district court to assume the role of advocate for the pro se litigant.” Id. ...


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