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Davis v. Geo Group Corrections Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

November 9, 2017

EZEKIEL DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
GEO GROUP CORRECTIONS, INC., in its official and individual capacity; AMBER MARTIN, Vice President of GEO Group Inc., in her official and individual capacity; HECTOR RIOS, JR., Warden, in his official and individual capacity; CHRISTINA THOMAS, Medical Supervisor, in her official and individual capacity; DR. GONZAGA, in his official and individual capacity; LT. DURANT, Grievance Coordinator, in his official and individual capacity; BUDDY HONAKER, Medical Services Admin., in his official and individual capacity; JOE M. ALLBAUGH, Direct. ODOC, in his official and individual capacity; DAN RONAY, Supervisor-Correct Care Solutions, in his official and individual capacity; JANE DOE, Lawton Foot Clinic, Podiatrist, in her official and individual capacity; SHERYL DENTON, Nurse Practitioner, in her official and individual capacity; LT. DAWSON, Grievance Coordinator; MARGO SALDANA, Law Library C.O.; FNU CLARK, C.O., assigned to law library; FNU ADAMS, Sgt., Correctional Officer; FNU COLLINS, Warden, Law Library Supervisor; FNU CARLISLIE, Chaplin; MARK KNUTSON, Director Designee; JOHN DOE, Podiatrist Lawton Foot Clinic, in his official and individual capacity; DR. FNU MUSALLAM, in his official and individual capacity; FNU McGEE, ODOC Medical Service Admin., in his official and individual capacity; FNU MINYARD, ODOC Contract Monitor, in his official and individual capacity, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          SUZANNE MITCHELL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Ezekiel Davis (Plaintiff)-a prisoner in the custody of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC)-has filed an amended complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, [1] seeking relief for alleged constitutional violations during his incarceration at Lawton Correctional Facility (LCF), a private prison owned and operated by GEO Group under contract with the DOC. Doc. 20.[2] Plaintiff appears pro se.[3]

         Plaintiff specifically identifies sixteen Defendants as parties to his amended complaint, and he sues each in their individual and official capacities. Id. at 1, 5, 6, 7, 8. They include nine LCF officials: Warden Rios; Medical Supervisor Thomas; Doctor Gonzaga; Grievance Coordinator Durant; Nurse Practitioner Denton; Doctor Musallam; Medical Director John/Jane Doe; Correctional Officer Adams; and Correctional Officer Dawson. Id. He also names four DOC officials-Director Allbaugh, Medical Services Administrator (MSA) Honaker, [4] Medical Services Administrator (MSA) McGee, [5] and Contract Monitor Minyard. Plaintiff identifies the three remaining Defendants as: GEO Group Corrections, Inc., Amber Martin, V.P.; Dan Ronay, Correct Care Solutions (CCS)[6] supervisor; and John Doe, podiatrist and director of Lawton Foot Clinic. Id. at 1, 5, 6, 7, 8. He seeks monetary and injunctive relief from each Defendant. Id. at 11, 25, 36, 41.

         Chief United States District Judge Joe Heaton has referred the matter to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for proceedings consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), (C). Doc. 39.

         I. Screening.

         Federal law requires the court to screen complaints filed by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In addition, because Plaintiff is conditionally proceeding in forma pauperis, Docs. 19, 51, the court has an ongoing duty to consider the sufficiency of his claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The court must dismiss any frivolous or malicious claim, any claim asking for monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief, or any claim on which the court cannot grant relief. Id. §§ 1915A(b), 1915(e)(2)(B).

         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, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “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); see also Gee v. Pacheco, 627 F.3d 1178, 1184 (10th Cir. 2010). “[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         “A pro se litigant's pleadings are to be construed liberally and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). The court, however, may not serve as Plaintiff's advocate, creating arguments on his behalf. See generally Yang v. Archuleta, 525 F.3d 925, 927 n.1 (10th Cir. 2008).

         For the following reasons, the undersigned recommends the dismissal on screening of all official capacity claims against the LCF Defendants and of all claims against the DOC Defendants.

         II. Analysis.

         A. Claims for relief from the LCF Defendants in their official capacities.

         Private prison employees can be held liable in their individual capacities under § 1983, but they “do not have an ‘official capacity' as that term is used under Eleventh Amendment.”' Jones v. Barry, 33 F. App'x 967, 971 n.5 (10th Cir. 2002); see also Yost v. Stouffer, Case No. CIV-15-783-F, 2016 WL 4154281, at *7 n.4 (W.D. Okla. June 30, 2016) (unpublished magistrate judge recommendation) (an LCF employee lacks an “official capacity” under § 1983), adopted, 2016 WL 4150935 (W.D. Okla. Aug. 4, 2016) (unpublished district court order). Plaintiff does not state a viable claim for relief against the LCF Defendants-Rios, Thomas, Gonzaga, Durant, Denton, Musallam, Medical Director John/Jane Doe, Adams, and Dawson-in their official capacities, and the undersigned recommends the dismissal of these claims on screening.

         B. Claims against the DOC Defendants.

         1. Claims for monetary relief from the DOC Defendants in their official capacities.

         Claims for damages against a state official in his or her official capacity are construed as claims against the State and, so, are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 169 (1985) (holding that a suit against an individual acting in an official capacity is properly treated as a suit against the state itself and “the Eleventh Amendment bars [such] a damages action.”); see also White v. Colorado, 82 F.3d 364, 366 (10th Cir. 1996) (holding Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity barred § 1983 claims “for money damages” against prison officials in their official capacities). While a State may waive the defense of sovereign immunity, the State of Oklahoma has not waived its sovereign immunity defense against § 1983 claims brought in federal district court cases. See Ramirez v. Okla. Dep't of Mental Health, 41 F.3d 584, 588-89 (10th Cir. 1994), overruled on other grounds by Ellis v. Univ. Kan. Med. Ctr., 163 F.3d 1186 (10th Cir. 1998). The Eleventh Amendment, therefore, forecloses Plaintiff's claims for monetary relief against state officials in their official capacity, and the undersigned recommends the dismissal of these claims on screening.

         2. Remaining claims against the DOC Defendants.

         “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Here, Plaintiff seeks relief from various Defendants through four claims, and he identifies one or more DOC officials as Defendants in three of those claims. See Doc. 20.

         a. First claim for relief.

         Plaintiff claims a “violation of [his] Eighth Amendment right to adequate medical services” while housed at LCF. Id. at 10. He alleges instances of what he maintains were knowing and deliberate failures, denials, and delays by LCF-related Defendants-medical staff, supervisors, and corporate ownership-to adequately treat and respond to his medical needs and pain. Id. at 12-14. He contends the medical staff was not qualified, and he details both his requests for evaluations by outside specialists and his administrative grievance efforts. Id.

         Plaintiff then makes his initial reference to a DOC Defendant, MSA Honaker, ...


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