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Lynch v. Balogh

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

December 21, 2017

DR. ROBERT BALOGH, M.D., [1] et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, Delbert Lavon Lynch, a state prisoner appearing pro se and in forma pauperis, has filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Compl.) [Doc. No. 1]. Chief United States District Judge Joe Heaton has referred the matter for proposed findings and recommendations consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C). Defendants filed the Court-ordered Special Report [Doc. No. 19] and a Motion to Dismiss/Motion for Summary Judgment (Motion) [Doc. No. 21]. Plaintiff responded (Pl.'s Response) [Doc. No. 24] and Defendants replied (Defs.' Reply) [Doc. No. 25]. For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that Defendants' Motion be denied in part and granted in part. The Court should also dismiss one claim on screening. These rulings will terminate the action.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff is confined at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center (JHCC). See Compl. at 4.[2] He claims that after another inmate allegedly (and anonymously) reported that he had been selling his morphine, the JHCC physician Defendant Balogh cut off Plaintiff's pain medication “cold turkey” “as a form of punishment” and without any due process. Id. at 9, 12, 16. Plaintiff claims Defendant Balogh's actions violated prison policy and showed deliberate indifference to his substantial pain. See Id. at 9-16. Plaintiff further alleges that while trying to exhaust his administrative remedies on this issue, Defendants Mike McDougal and Buddy Honaker denied him “appellate due process.” Id. at 17-26. Plaintiff invokes the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments[3]of the federal constitution and also refers to the Oklahoma Constitution. See Id. at 2, 6-7, 15. Because Plaintiff cites 28 U.S.C. § 1367, it is presumed that he is asking the Court to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any state-law claims.[4]

         Plaintiff sues each defendant in his individual and official capacities[5] and seeks an injunction requiring Defendant Balogh to restart Plaintiff's pain medication and a “direct settlement conference.” Id. at 4, 7-8.

         II. Analysis of Defendants' Motion

         Defendants seeks dismissal and/or summary judgment on numerous grounds. The Court should: (1) deny dismissal on Defendants' Eleventh Amendment immunity argument; (2) grant dismissal with prejudice on Plaintiff's “appellate due process” claim; and (3) grant summary judgment for Plaintiff's failure to establish deliberate indifference under the Eighth Amendment. These rulings negate any need to address Defendants' remaining arguments.

         A. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

         In relevant part, Defendants seek dismissal on grounds that they are immune from monetary relief under the Eleventh Amendment and Plaintiff cannot state a due process claim based on alleged interference with the grievance process. See Motion at 13-15, 17-18. The Court should reject the first argument, but grant dismissal on the second.

         1. Standard for Review

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for 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 plaintiff's complaint must be broadly construed under the Rule 12(b)(6) standard. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). However, the generous construction “does not relieve the plaintiff of the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). The 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).

         2. Defendants' Eleventh Amendment Argument

         Generally, “[s]tates enjoy sovereign immunity from suit under the Eleventh Amendment.” Muscogee (Creek) Nation v. Pruitt, 669 F.3d 1159, 1166 (10th Cir. 2012). Pursuant to this doctrine, Defendants first argue that in their official capacities they “cannot be sued in federal court for violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Motion at 14. They then explain that they are “immune from suit for money damages in their official capacities as employees of ODOC.” Id. Defendants' arguments are misguided.

         First, Plaintiff has not sought monetary relief; instead, he seeks an injunction forcing Defendant Balogh to restart his preferred prescription medication. See Compl. at 7.[6] So, Defendants' argument relating to their immunity from monetary damages is moot. See Raheem v. Miller, No. CIV-09-80-C, 2010 WL 1253572, at *1 (W.D. Okla. Feb. 24, 2010) (unpublished report and recommendation) (“The Eleventh Amendment immunity defense is moot, as [plaintiff] did not seek monetary damages from [Defendants].”), adopted, 2010 WL 1253577 (W.D. Okla. Mar. 25, 2010) (unpublished district court order).

         Second, a plaintiff may indeed sue State employees in their official capacities in this Court when he seeks prospective injunctive relief to end an alleged ongoing violation of federal law.[7] See Muscogee (Creek) Nation, 669 F.3d at 1166 (holding under Ex parte Young, “a plaintiff may bring suit against individual state officers acting in their official capacities if the complaint alleges an ongoing violation of federal law and the plaintiff seeks prospective relief”). Here, Plaintiff is seeking an injunction for an allegedly continuing violation of the Eighth Amendment - the ongoing denial of his preferred pain medication. Under such circumstances, the Eleventh Amendment does not bar his request for prospective injunctive relief. See Gosselin v. Kaufman, 656 Fed.Appx. 916, 918 (10th Cir. 2016) (noting that plaintiff was requesting an injunction ordering a prison medical official to arrange for medical treatment and holding: “The Eleventh Amendment does not bar this claim seeking prospective relief.”); see also Campbell v. Jones, No. CIV-13-926-R, 2014 WL 652340, at *1, *5 (W.D. Okla. Feb. 19, 2014) (unpublished district court order) (holding plaintiff's request for injunctive relief seeking adequate medical care “is a request for prospective relief”).

         Under these circumstances, the Court should deny Defendants' motion to dismiss on their Eleventh Amendment immunity defense.

         3. Defendants' Defense to Plaintiff's “Appellate Due Process” Claim

         According to Plaintiff, Defendants Honaker and McDougal violated Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) policy and his “appellate due process” rights when they allegedly allowed Defendant Balogh to change a grievance response and otherwise interfered with his attempts to exhaust administrative remedies. Compl. at 17-26.[8] Defendants argue that ...

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