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Johnson v. Roach

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

December 28, 2018

Frank Stephon Johnson, Plaintiff,
Officer Roach, Defendant.



         The plaintiff, Frank Stephon Johnson, a self-represented state pretrial detainee, brings this civil rights action. This matter is before the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) (D.S.C.). Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and § 1915A.

         I. Background

         By order issued July 30, 2018, the court authorized service of the Second Amended Complaint on Defendant Roach, construing a claim for deliberate indifference in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] (ECF No. 31.) The summons was returned unexecuted and the returned Form USM-285 indicated “Need more identifiers for defendant.” (ECF No. 35.) Plaintiff then filed a motion to substitute an unnamed party for Roach in his official capacity pursuant to Rule 25(d). (ECF No. 36.) The court issued an order directing Plaintiff to complete a Form USM-285 providing more identifying information for Officer Roach, denying the motion to substitute, and advising Plaintiff that to the extent he sought to name a new defendant in Roach's place, he must file a proper motion to amend or correct under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15. (ECF No. 38.) The order also warned Plaintiff that his failure to comply with the court's order could result in dismissal of Officer Roach as a defendant. (Id. at 2.)

         Plaintiff now files a motion to amend the Second Amended Complaint, seeking to name “Director Myers” as a defendant.[2] (Mot. to Amend, ECF No. 49 at 1.) Plaintiff claims that when he slipped and fell coming out of the shower, Director Myers called “code blue” and locked down the unit. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff claims he slipped on a spot that chronically has water pooled, and which cannot be seen because of stains on the floor. (Id.) Plaintiff argues that Myers should have either cleaned up the area or provided warning that the area was wet. (Id.) Plaintiff seeks to raise a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deliberate indifference to conditions of confinement in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and a state law negligence claim against Myers. (Id. at 1, 3.)

         II. Motion to Amend

         Plaintiff's motion to amend is denied because it is futile. Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted as to his federal claim, and the defendant is immune from suit as to Plaintiff's state law claim. See Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178 (1962) (holding that leave to amend a pleading should be denied when the amendment would cause undue delay, when it would be prejudicial to the opposing party, when there has been bad faith on the part of the moving party, or when the amendment would be futile); U.S. ex rel. Wilson v. Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., 525 F.3d 370, 376 (4th Cir. 2008) (“Under Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court should freely give leave when justice so requires. Although such motions should be granted liberally, a district court may deny leave if amending the complaint would be futile-that is, if the proposed amended complaint fails to satisfy the requirements of the federal rules.”) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted); Johnson v. Oroweat Foods Co. 785 F.2d 503, 510 (4th Cir. 1986) (“Leave to amend, however, should only be denied on the ground of futility when the proposed amendment is clearly insufficient or frivolous on its face.”).

         A. Plaintiff's Federal Claim

         A legal action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 allows “a party who has been deprived of a federal right under the color of state law to seek relief.” City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd., 526 U.S. 687, 707 (1999). To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         Claims of pretrial detainees against detention center officials regarding conditions of confinement are evaluated under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment rather than under the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 & n.16 (1979); Martin v. Gentile, 849 F.2d 863, 870 (4th Cir. 1988). “The due process rights of a pretrial detainee are at least as great as the eighth amendment protections available to the convicted prisoner; while the convicted prisoner is entitled to protection only against punishment that is ‘cruel and unusual,' the pretrial detainee, who has yet to be adjudicated guilty of any crime, may not be subjected to any form of ‘punishment.' ” Martin, 849 F.2d at 870; see also Hill v. Nicodemus, 979 F.2d 987, 991 (4th Cir. 1992). Further, “the fact that [the] detention interferes with the detainee's understandable desire to live as comfortably as possible and with as little restraint as possible during confinement does not convert the conditions or restrictions of detention into ‘punishment.' ” Bell, 441 U.S. at 537.

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has held that the standard for determining whether detention center officials have violated a pretrial detainee's right to due process is deliberate indifference. See Hill, 979 F.2d at 991. Although these claims are analyzed under the Fourteenth Amendment, case law interpreting the standard of “deliberate indifference” under the Eighth Amendment is instructive. See, e.g., Brown v. Harris, 240 F.3d 383, 388 (4th Cir. 2001) (stating that whether the plaintiff is a pretrial detainee or a convicted prisoner, the “standard in either case is the same-that is, whether a government official has been ‘deliberately indifferent to any [of his] serious medical needs' ”) (quoting Belcher v. Oliver, 898 F.2d 32, 34 (4th Cir. 1990)).

         Generally, to establish a claim based on alleged deliberate indifference, an inmate must establish two requirements: (1) objectively, the deprivation suffered or injury inflicted was “sufficiently serious, ” and (2) subjectively, the prison officials acted with a “sufficiently culpable state of mind.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994); Williams v. Benjamin, 77 F.3d 756, 761 (4th Cir. 1996). “What must be established with regard to each component ‘varies according to the nature of the alleged constitutional violation.' ” Williams, 77 F.3d at 761 (quoting Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 5 (1992)). Objectively, the court must assess “whether society considers the risk that the prisoner complains of to be so grave that it violates contemporary standards of decency to expose anyone unwillingly to such a risk. In other words, the prisoner must show that the risk of which he complains is not one that today's society chooses to tolerate.” Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 36 (1993).[3]

         Here, Plaintiff fails to allege a sufficiently serious deprivation of life's necessities that would implicate the Due Process Clause. Specifically, claims that wet floors caused personal injuries do not rise beyond the level of tort actions. See Samuel v. Noland, Civil Action No. 2:11-cv-3417-MGL-BHH, 2013 WL 360263, at *3 (D.S.C. Jan. 9, 2013) (finding that “a slippery floor does not constitute a denial of necessities sufficient to meet the first objective prong of a conditions of confinement claim” and that “[a] slippery floor also does not amount to punishment in the constitutional sense”); see also Smith v. Brown, Civil Action No. 1:12-CV-328-TWT-JSA, 2012 WL 5392154, *2 (N.D.Ga. Sept. 25, 2012) (collecting cases); Shannon v. Vannoy, Civil Action 15-446-SDD-RLB, 2016 WL 1559583, n.19 (M.D. La. Apr. 18, 2016) (also collecting cases). Thus, the sole federal claim Plaintiff asserts in his motion to amend fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         B. ...

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