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Ali v. Duboise

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

November 30, 2017

MURTAZA ALI, Plaintiff,
v.
DUSTIN DUBOISE, Dep. Sheriff, Tulsa County Jail; TRAVIS LAMBERT, Det. Officer, Tulsa County Jail; GARY KAISER, Sgt., Tulsa County Jail; JOHN DOE, Det. Officer, Tulsa County Jail; ARMOR CORRECTIONAL HEALTH SERVICES, INC., Medical Provider, Tulsa County Jail, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CLAIRE V. EAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Murtaza Ali, appearing pro se, initiated this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action on January 15, 2016, by filing a complaint (Dkt. # 1). The Court granted Ali leave to proceed in forma pauperis. See Dkt. # 5. Ali filed a “Third Amended Civil Rights Complaint” (Dkt. # 83) on April 5, 2017. Before the Court are two motions: the motion to dismiss filed by defendants Dustin Duboise, Gary Kaiser, and Travis Lambert (collectively, defendants) (Dkt. # 86); and the motion to dismiss filed by Armor Correctional Health Services, Inc. (Armor) (Dkt. # 85).[1] For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that both motions shall be granted, that Ali's amended complaint shall be dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted as to Armor, and Kaiser, and that the amended complaint shall be dismissed with prejudice as to Duboise and Lambert because they are entitled to qualified immunity.

         I. Background

         When Ali filed his original complaint, he was an alien detainee in custody of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and housed at the Rolling Plains Regional Jail and Detention Center, Haskell, Texas. But this civil rights action arises from events that Ali alleges occurred while he was a federal prisoner detained at the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center (a.k.a., the Tulsa County Jail or TCJ), Tulsa, Oklahoma. See Dkt. # 83. The following facts are drawn from Ali's amended complaint.

         Ali is “an Orthodox Muslim with sincerely held Islamic Religious Beliefs.” Dkt. # 83 at 2. Ali is obligated by his religion to pray five times each day. Id. at 4 n.1. On October 17, 2015, at approximately 1:15 p.m., he was preparing to pray in his cell on the J-4 Unit with another federal prisoner, Kamau J. Williams. Id. at 4. Deputy Duboise opened the cell door and asked Ali what he was doing. Id. When Ali replied that he and Williams were preparing to pray, Duboise stated, “You both cannot perform your prayers in the cell, you will have to pray outside.” Id. Ali then asked Duboise “to state a place on the unit where they could conduct their obligatory prayers.” Id. According to Ali, Duboise “got infuriated by Ali's questioning, display[ed] hostility, ” and threatened to “lock [Ali] up.” Id. Then, when Ali suggested there was “‘no legitimate reason' to lock him up, ” Duboise “pushed Ali's chest with his left arm, causing Ali's back to be slammed into the cell wall by the door.” Id. When Ali asked to report the “assault” to a supervisor, Duboise became “further infuriated” and, “yelled, ‘Look at the badge . . . It states Deputy Sheriff, back up, or I will fuck you up and place you under arrest!” Id. Duboise then “slammed the cell door and locked Ali in the cell until 5 [p.m.]” Id. at 5.

         That same day, around 6:30 p.m., Ali asked Officer FNU Williams if he could report Duboise's “assault” and pursue criminal charges against him. Id. at 5-6. About 15 minutes later, Officer Lambert and Officer FNU Blackheart, “arrived in the sally port of Unit J-4, and entered the J-4 Unit.” Id. at 6. Ali walked into the sally port when the sally port door opened. Id. When Lambert noticed Ali in the sally port, Lambert “pointed a taser at Ali's back side, shouted, ‘PUT YOUR FUCKING HANDS UP, ” and told Ali to turn around. Id. Ali complied. Id. Lambert then “approached” Ali, “violently grabbed [him] by his left arm, ” “jerked [him] back onto the [J-4 Unit, ] and vigorously pushed [him] face first on the J-4 control desk while simultaneously twisting his left arm behind his back.” Id. Ali alleges that he “was not resisting and [that he was] complying with all orders.” Id.

         When Ali told Lambert that he was using excessive force against him, Lambert stated, “I haven't used excessive force yet MOTHER FUCKER, I will show you excessive force.” Id. Lambert “continued to violently jerk Ali towards the stairs by his arms hand-cuffed behind his back, all while Ali offered no resistance, causing him to loose [sic] balance and fall on the stairs head first, with a hard impact.” Id. Lambert then “continued to drag . . . Ali's prone body up the stairs by violently jerking [him].” Id. Ali asked Lambert to stop and told him that he was experiencing pain in his shoulder. Id. at 7. Officer Doe told Lambert they should take Ali to the medical unit. Id. Lambert and Doe “then drug Ali back down the stairs while he still lay prone on his frontal body area, still being held by his handcuffed arms behind his back.” Id.

         At the bottom of the stairs, Sergeant Kaiser told Lambert, “Let me get him.” Id. Kaiser and Doe “continued to drag” Ali, while Ali “offered no resistance.” Id. When Ali told the officers that they would “not get away with assaulting [him] for no reason, ” Kaiser “pushed Ali's left wrist upwards . . . causing excruciating pain and shock to Ali from [his] wrist to left shoulder, ” and said to Ali, “How you like that . . .” Id. at 7-8.

         Kaiser, Doe and Ali arrived in the medical unit around 7 p.m. Id. at 10. Ali immediately told medical personnel that he had left shoulder pain and he requested “preservation of the surveillance videos of J-4 Unit and between hallways from J-4 Unit and medical unit showing assault and excessive use of force.” Id. at 8. According to Ali, medical personnel examined his shoulder, “concluded Ali had apparent injuries to [his] left shoulder, ” gave him two ibuprofen for the pain, and “informed Ali that he would be seen by medical the next day.” Id. at 8-9. Around 8 p.m., Kaiser transported Ali to the segregation housing unit (SHU) and placed him in a cell. Id.

         The next morning, Ali sent a handwritten request for immediate medical treatment. Id. at 10. Medical personnel came to the SHU at 7:30 a.m. and examined Ali's injuries through the glass window of his cell. Id. Ali “requested that his injuries be logged in his medical records.” Id. Ali again reported his injuries to medical personnel on October 20th or 21st. Id. at 10-11. On October 22, 2015, medical personnel arrived in the SHU to conduct a “New Arrival Inmate Physical Exam.” Id. at 11. For this exam, Ali was removed from his cell and transported to the SHU medical unit. Ali again asked medical personnel to log his injuries. Id. According to Ali, medical personnel “display[ed] hostility, ” and “refus[ed] to document facts regarding cause and effect of injuries to Ali by ‘Jailer Assault.'” Id. at 12. Ali alleges that he made repeated requests for further treatment and that medical personnel “ignored [his] request for proper medical diagnosis of injuries by [a] specialist.” Id. at 12-13. According to Ali, those injuries included “physical injury to left shoulder, laceration to right foot, contusion and bruising to right elbow and both wrists, swelling of left knee, numbness to both wrists and ongoing pain to left shoulder and shoulder blade, and ongoing numbness to left wrist.” Id. at 9.

         On November 3, 2015, Ali was transferred from the TCJ to federal prison to complete his federal sentence. Id. at 13. Upon completion of his federal sentence on November 10, 2015, the Federal Bureau of Prisons released Ali into ICE's custody for administrative/civil proceedings. Id. at 14. ICE then placed Ali in the TCJ as an alien detainee. Id. Ali alleges that while he was detained in the TCJ between November 10, 2015, and December 7, 2015, he “was never seen by a doctor or specialist to diagnose the extent of his injuries sustained during the ‘Jailer Assault'” on October 17, 2015. Id. at 14-15. ICE transferred Ali from the TCJ to the Rolling Plains Regional Jail and Detention Center on December 8, 2015. Id. at 15.

         Based on these facts, Ali identifies the following claims:

Count I: Duboise, acting under color of state law, (a) violated Ali's rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, by preventing him from praying in his jail cell; and (b) violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment by using excessive force against him in response to Ali's attempt to exercise his religion.
Count II: Kaiser and Lambert, acting under color of state law, violated Ali's rights under the Eighth Amendment by using excessive force against him;
Count III: Armor, acting under color of state law, violated Ali's rights under the Eighth Amendment by failing to provide adequate medical care for the injuries he sustained on October 17, 2015.

See id. at 3-5, 10.[2] In his prayer for relief, Ali seeks a declaratory judgment that the defendants violated his constitutional rights and nominal damages for those violations, “an award of compensatory and punitive damages . . . in an amount to be proven at trial, ” and “equitable relief or such other relief . . . [he] is entitled to.” Id. at 16.

         II. Rule 12(b)(6) standard

         The defendants and Armor move to dismiss the amended complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See Dkt. ## 85, 86. In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court must accept all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true, even if doubtful in fact, and determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007). The complaint should be dismissed “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief.” Id. at 558.

         Additionally, when a plaintiff appears pro se, a court must liberally construe the complaint. Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1218 (10th Cir. 2007). This “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.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). Nonetheless, a pro se plaintiff still bears “the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.” Id. And in affording the plaintiff's complaint a liberal construction, a court “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).

         III. Discussion

         A. Failure to exhaust

         As a preliminary matter, Armor and the defendants contend that this action should be dismissed because Ali failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). See Dkt. # 85 at 11-13; Dkt. # 86 at 10-11. Section 1997e(a) provides that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 . . . by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” But the PLRA defines “prisoner” as “any person incarcerated or detained in any facility who is accused of, convicted of, sentenced for, or adjudicated delinquent for, violations of criminal law or the terms and conditions of parole, probation, pretrial release, or diversionary program.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(h). By Order dated February 3, 2016, the Court found that because Ali was being held in connection with immigration proceedings when he filed his original complaint, he did not appear to be a “prisoner” within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(h) and that he was therefore not subject to the PLRA's filing fee provisions. Dkt. # 5 at 2; see Norton v. City of Marietta, 432 F.3d 1145, 1150 (10th Cir. 2005) (concluding “that it is plaintiff's status at the time he files suit that determines whether § 1997e(a)'s exhaustion provision applies”); Agyeman v. INS, 296 F.3d 871, 885-86 (9th Cir. 2002) (finding that PLRA's filing fee provisions “do not apply to an alien detainee who proceeds in forma pauperis . . . so long as he does not also face criminal charges”). Because § 1915(h) and § 1997e(h) use identical language to define “prisoner, ” the Court concludes that Ali is likewise not subject to the PLRA's exhaustion requirement. Thus, the Court rejects the contention by Armor and the defendants that Ali's alleged failure to exhaust his administrative remedies supports dismissal of this action.

         B. Failure to state a claim against Armor

         In moving to dismiss Ali's amended complaint, Armor primarily contends that Ali fails to plausibly allege that Armor violated his Eighth Amendment right to adequate medical care. Alternatively, Armor contends that Ali fails to plausibly allege that Armor could be liable for any such violation under a theory of municipal liability. See Dkt. # 86 at 4-10.

         To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must plausibly allege: “(1) a violation of rights protected by the United States Constitution or created by federal statute or regulation, (2) proximately caused (3) by the conduct of a ‘person' (4) who acted under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom[, ] or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia.” Summum v. City of Ogden, 297 F.3d 995, 1000 (10th Cir. 2002) (alteration in original) (citation omitted); see also Schaffer v. Salt Lake City Corp., 814 F.3d 1151, 1155 (10th Cir. 2016) ...


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