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Owens v. Racine County Jail

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

March 10, 2017

NATHANIEL GERROD OWENS, Plaintiff,
v.
RACINE COUNTY JAIL, Defendant.

          ORDER

          J.P. STADTMUELLER U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The plaintiff, who is incarcerated at Racine County Jail (the “Jail”), filed a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his civil rights were violated. (Docket #1). This matter comes before the Court on the plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis. (Docket #2). It was determined that the plaintiff was not required to pay an initial partial filing fee. (Docket #5).

         The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally “frivolous or malicious, ” that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Gladney v. Pendelton Corr. Facility, 302 F.3d 773, 774 (7th Cir. 2002). The Court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327; Gladney, 302 F.3d at 774. “Malicious, ” although sometimes treated as a synonym for “frivolous, ” “is more usefully construed as intended to harass.” Lindell v. McCallum, 352 F.3d 1107, 1109 (7th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted); accord Paul v. Marberry, 658 F.3d 702, 705 (7th Cir. 2011).

         To state a cognizable claim under the federal notice pleading system, the plaintiff is required to provide a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). It is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead specific facts and his statement need only “give the defendant fair notice of what the…claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); see Christopher v. Buss, 384 F.3d 879, 881 (7th Cir. 2004). However, a complaint that offers “labels and conclusions” or “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). To state a claim, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, “that is plausible on its face.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The complaint allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted); Christopher, 384 F.3d at 881.

         In considering whether a complaint states a claim, courts should follow the principles set forth in Twombly by first, “identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Legal conclusions must be supported by factual allegations. Id. If there are well-pleaded factual allegations, the Court must, second, “assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id.

         To state a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: 1) he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and 2) the deprivation was visited upon him by a person or persons acting under color of state law. Buchanan-Moore v. County of Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Kramer v. Vill. of N. Fond du Lac, 384 F.3d 856, 861 (7th Cir. 2004)); see also Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). The Court is obliged to give the plaintiff's pro se allegations, “however inartfully pleaded, ” a liberal construction. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).

         The plaintiff alleges that on January 24, 2017, he slipped and fell on a wet floor in the dayroom of the Jail. (Docket #1 at 2). Some correctional officers and a nurse took the plaintiff back to his cell in a wheelchair because he complained of back, neck, and rib pain. Id. at 2-3. He was not taken to the hospital or allowed to see a doctor. Id. at 3. The plaintiff alleges that he is “seeking damages from the Racine County Jail for me falling, the nurse practetioner [sic] for denieing [sic] me a doctor, and also the two nurse[s] that worked 2nd and 3rd shift for refusing me treatment.” Id.

         The plaintiff fails to state a viable claim for relief. He attempts to assert a claim for constitutional injury under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, but does not identify any constitutional provision which he believes was violated. See generally (Docket #1). With regard to his complaint about the wet floor in the Jail, the Seventh Circuit holds that,

[t]o prevail on a constitutional claim that he was injured by the conditions of his confinement, a plaintiff must show that jail officials were aware of a substantial risk of serious injury but nevertheless failed to take appropriate steps to protect him. Negligence or even gross negligence on the part of officials is not sufficient for liability; their actions must be intentional or criminally reckless.

Bell v. Ward, 88 Fed.Appx. 125, 127 (7th Cir. 2004) (citations and quotations omitted). Unfortunately for the plaintiff, “[f]ederal courts consistently have adopted the view that slippery surfaces and shower floors in prisons, without more, cannot constitute a hazardous condition of confinement.” Pyles v. Fahim, 771 F.3d 403, 410, n.25 (7th Cir. 2014); Bell, 88 Fed.Appx. at 127. The Bell court held that the wet floor Bell complained of “did not present a substantial risk of serious injury. Although wet floors do present a possibility that inmates might slip, Bell's allegations do not suggest a substantial risk of serious harm that reflects the deliberate indifference required to impose liability under the Eighth Amendment.” Bell, 88 Fed.Appx. at 127. A typical negligence claim such as this does not automatically become a constitutional injury just because it occurs in a prison. See Watkins v. Lancor, 558 Fed.Appx. 662, 665 (7th Cir. 2014).[1]

         As to the plaintiff's claim of deficient medical treatment, his potential constitutional recourse lies in the Eighth Amendment. The Gayton case outlines the elements of the claim:

[T]he plaintiff must show that: (1) [he] had an objectively serious medical condition; (2) the defendants knew of the condition and were deliberately indifferent to treating [him]; and (3) this indifference caused [him] some injury. An objectively serious medical condition is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would perceive the need for a doctor's attention. A medical condition need not be life-threatening to be serious; rather, it could be a condition that would result in further significant injury or unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain if not treated.
With regard to the deliberate indifference prong, the plaintiff must show that the official acted with the requisite culpable state of mind. This inquiry has two components. The official must have subjective knowledge of the risk to the inmate's health, and the official also must disregard that risk. Evidence that the official acted negligently is insufficient to prove deliberate indifference. Rather, “deliberate indifference” is simply a synonym for intentional or reckless conduct, and that “reckless” describes conduct so dangerous that the deliberate nature of the defendant's actions can be inferred. Simply put, an official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and ...

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