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Marshall v. Mental Health Dept. of Correction

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

July 31, 2019

Mimi Joe Marshall, Plaintiff,
v.
Mental Health Dept. of Correction, Ms. Fox, and Dept. of Correction Inst., Defendants.

          ORDER AND NOTICE

          Shiva V. Hodges United States Magistrate Judge.

         Mimi Joe Marshall (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, filed this complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against “Mental Health Dept. of Correction, ” Ms. Fox, and “Dept. of Correction Inst.” (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging violations of his constitutional rights. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e) (D.S.C.), the undersigned is authorized to review such complaints for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the district judge.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff is incarcerated at Lee Correctional Institution. [ECF No. 1 at 2]. He alleges on April 15, 2018, from 5:00 to 6:00, prison officials left him in the F3 dorm, where bodies were lying on the ground. Id. at 4-5. Plaintiff asserts he has been denied needed mental health care after the incident and that the Department of Corrections' lack of security endangered his life. Id.

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         Plaintiff filed his complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, which permits an indigent litigant to commence an action in federal court without prepaying the administrative costs of proceeding with the lawsuit. To protect against possible abuses of this privilege, the statute allows a district court to dismiss a case upon a finding that the action fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted or is frivolous or malicious. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), (ii). A finding of frivolity can be made where the complaint lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992). A claim based on a meritless legal theory may be dismissed sua sponte under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989).

         Pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). A federal court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In evaluating a pro se complaint, the plaintiff's allegations are assumed to be true. Fine v. City of N.Y., 529 F.2d 70, 74 (2d Cir. 1975). The mandated liberal construction afforded to pro se pleadings means that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so. Nevertheless, the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts that set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal district court. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 390-91 (4th Cir. 1990).

         B. Analysis

         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although the court must liberally construe a pro se complaint, the United States Supreme Court has made it clear a plaintiff must do more than make conclusory statements to state a claim. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Rather, the complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim that is plausible on its face, and the reviewing court need only accept as true the complaint's factual allegations, not its legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79.

         To state a plausible claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, an aggrieved party must sufficiently allege he was injured by “the deprivation of any [of his or her] rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the [United States] Constitution and laws” by a “person” acting “under color of state law.” See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see generally 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1230 (3d ed. 2014).

         Only “persons” may act under color of state law, and, therefore, a defendant in a § 1983 action must qualify as a “person.” See Monnell v. Dep't of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). Inanimate objects such as buildings, facilities, and grounds cannot act under color of state law. See Harden v. Green, 27 Fed.Appx. 173, 178 (4th Cir. 2001) (finding that the medical department of a prison is not a person pursuant to § 1983); see also Post v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 750 F.Supp. 1131 (S.D. Fla. 1990) (dismissing city police department as improper defendant in § 1983 action because not “person” under the statute); Shelby v. City of Atlanta, 578 F.Supp. 1368, 1370 (N.D.Ga. 1984) (dismissing police department as party defendant because it was merely a vehicle through which city government fulfills policing functions).

         The doctrine of supervisory liability is generally inapplicable to § 1983 suits, such that an employer or supervisor is not liable for the acts of his employees, absent an official policy or custom that results in illegal action. See Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978); Fisher v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Authority, 690 F.2d 1133, 1142-43 (4th Cir. 1982). The Supreme Court explains that “[b]ecause vicarious liability is inapplicable to Bivens and § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676; see Slakan v. Porter, 737 F.2d 368, 372-74 (4th Cir. 1984) (finding officials may be held liable for the acts of their subordinates, if the official is aware of a pervasive, unreasonable risk of harm from a specified source and fails to take corrective action as a result of deliberate indifference or tacit authorization).

         To assert a viable § 1983 claim against a particular public official, Plaintiff must allege a causal connection or affirmative link between the conduct of which he complains and the official sued. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009) (providing that a plaintiff in a § 1983 action must plead that the defendant, through his own individual actions, violated the Constitution); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 371-72 (1976) (holding a § 1983 plaintiff must show that he suffered a specific injury as a result of specific conduct of a defendant, and an affirmative link between the injury and that conduct); Wright v. Collins, 766 F.2d 841, 850 (4th Cir. 1985) (“In order for an individual to be liable under § 1983, it must be ‘affirmatively shown that the official charged acted personally in the deprivation of the plaintiff's rights. The doctrine of respondeat superior has no application under this section.'”) (quoting Vinne ...


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