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Peters v. Oklahoma Department of Corrections

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

March 25, 2019




         Plaintiff Mark Allen Peters, a state prisoner appearing pro se and proceeding in forma pauperis, brings this federal civil rights action against several defendants, alleging violations of his federal constitutional rights. On January 18, 2019, the Court dismissed all claims asserted against six of these defendants for failure of service. See Order of Jan. 18, 2019 (Doc. No. 59). Because the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted against the remaining defendants, the Court now dismisses without prejudice all remaining claims in Plaintiff's Complaint.


         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated at Lawton Correctional Facility (“LCF”), a private prison in Lawton, Oklahoma, owned and operated by GEO Group, Inc. pursuant to a contract with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (“ODOC”). Plaintiff filed his suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting violations of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. See Compl. (Doc. No. 1) at 8-12, 13.[1]

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff names the following defendants: ODOC; ODOC Director Joe Allbaugh; ODOC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joel McCurdy; private prison operator GEO Group, Inc.; LCF Warden Hector Rios; John/Jane Doe; healthcare services provider Correct Care Solutions (“CCS”); and eight CCS employees, including Christina Thomas, Shirley Stouffer, Parks, Gary, Savoy, Richmond, Holmburg, and Tocknell. All of the individual defendants, with the possible exception of John/Jane Doe, are identified as sued in both their individual and official capacities.[2] See Id. at 2-6; see also Jones v. Barry, 33 Fed.Appx. 967');">33 Fed.Appx. 967, 971 n.5 (10th Cir. 2002). Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief. See Compl. at 14.

         On January 18, 2019, the Court dismissed Defendants Thomas, Stouffer, Parks, Gary, Richmond, and Doe from this action for failure of service. See Order of Jan. 18, 2019, at 1-5; Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(m).


         The Court is obligated to conduct a review of Plaintiff's Complaint to identify its cognizable claims and to dismiss the pleading, or any portion thereof, that is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A(b); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1); Doc. No. 6 (Order granting Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis).

         A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted when it lacks factual allegations sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (footnote and citation omitted). In evaluating whether a plaintiff has stated a valid claim, the Court “accept[s] as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and view[s] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Burnett v. Mortg. Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., 706 F.3d 1231, 1235 (10th Cir. 2013). Bare legal conclusions in a complaint are not entitled to the assumption of truth; “they must be supported by factual allegations” to state a claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         A pro se litigant's complaint must be liberally construed. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). The broad construction afforded to the pro se litigant's allegations does not, however, “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).

         I. Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment Claims

         To state a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 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); see 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Phillips v. Tiona, 508 Fed.Appx. 737, 750 (10th Cir. 2013) (“We have long assumed that employees of a private prison act under color of state law for purposes of § 1983 suits by inmates . . . .”).

         a. Failure to Protect

         Plaintiff first alleges that unspecified LCF prison officials failed to protect Plaintiff from the violent attack of another prisoner, thus violating their duty under the Eighth Amendment to protect inmates from harm. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832-33 (1994) (explaining that prison officials have a duty under the Eighth Amendment to “take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of . . . inmates, ” and “to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners” (internal quotation marks omitted)). In support of this claim, Plaintiff alleges that on December 2, 2016, after being placed in a segregated housing unit, Plaintiff's cellmate violently attacked him. See Compl. at 8-9. Plaintiff claims that he pressed the cell's panic button several times but the guards failed to respond. Plaintiff sustained a fractured nose, black eye, and contusions. See Id. at 9.

         Plaintiff does not specifically allege the involvement of any named Defendant in relation to this claim. In lawsuits that include multiple defendants, it is “particularly important” that plaintiffs “make clear exactly who is alleged to have done what to whom.” Kan. Penn Gaming, LLC v. Collins, 656 F.3d 1210, 1215 (10th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). “[I]t is incumbent upon a plaintiff to identify specific actions taken by particular defendants” to state cognizable § 1983 claims against those defendants. Pahls v. Thomas, 718 F.3d 1210, 1226 (10th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). Because Plaintiff has failed to do so here, his failure-to-protect claim does not plausibly show that any Defendant infringed his rights. See Pahls, 718 F.3d at 1225-26.

         Accordingly, the Court dismisses Plaintiff's failure-to-protect claim without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A(b); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1).

         b. Incorrect Medication

         Plaintiff next alleges that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs on three occasions when Plaintiff was provided the wrong medication. See Sealock v. Colorado, 218 F.3d 1205, 1209 (10th Cir. 2000) (“A prison official's deliberate indifference to an inmate's serious medical needs violates the Eighth Amendment.”). Plaintiff alleges that on January 9, 2017, a few hours after an unspecified nurse gave him the wrong medication, he had a strong adverse reaction that caused him to have no control over his legs and to sustain a fall. See Compl. at 9. Plaintiff claims he was taken to the medical department but was “just left in an unattended room.” Id. The second incident occurred on March 5, 2017, when Defendant Tocknell “refused to allow Plaintiff to see his medications” before he took them, and, as a result of being given the wrong medication, Plaintiff had a seizure of such severity that he required emergency medical attention. Id. at 9-10 (emphasis omitted). Plaintiff then alleges that on March 11, 2017, Defendant Savoy included along with Plaintiff's normal pills a red pill that Plaintiff did not recognize. See Id. at 10. When Plaintiff brought this to Defendant Savoy's attention, she told Plaintiff to “flush” the red pill. Id. Defendants Tocknell and Savoy are the only Defendants named in relation to this claim.

         Prison officials violate the Eighth Amendment “‘when they are deliberately indifferent to the serious medical needs of prisoners in their custody.'” Oxendine v. Kaplan, 241 F.3d 1272, 1276 (10th Cir. 2001) (quoting Perkins v. Kan. Dep't of Corr., 165 F.3d 803, 811 (10th Cir. 1999)). To state such a claim, a plaintiff must allege both an objective and a subjective component. Id. To satisfy the objective component, a plaintiff must allege facts that plausibly show that the alleged deprivation was “sufficiently serious.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; see Sealock, 218 F.3d at 1209. To satisfy the subjective component, a plaintiff must allege facts that plausibly show that the defendant was aware of and ignored “an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837; see Sealock, 218 F.3d at 1209. Plaintiff must show that Defendants “ha[d] a culpable state of mind”-i.e., that they “act[ed] or fail[ed] to act with deliberate indifference to inmate health and safety.” Shannon v. Graves, 257 F.3d 1164, 1168 (10th Cir. 2001); accord Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834, 837.

         The Supreme Court has “defined this ‘deliberate indifference' standard as equal to ‘recklessness,' in which ‘a person disregards a risk of harm of which he is aware.'” DeSpain v. Uphoff, 264 F.3d 965, 972 (10th Cir. 2001) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 836-37). “But an inadvertent failure to provide adequate medical care-even if it rises to the level of medical malpractice-does not in itself amount to a constitutional violation.” Hill v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 685 Fed.Appx. 665, 668 (10th Cir. 2017) (citing Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105-06).

         The Court assumes that the objective component of an Eighth Amendment violation would be met by Plaintiff's alleged facts. However, such allegations, even when accepted as true and liberally construed in his favor, do not support a reasonable inference that either Defendant Tocknell or Defendant Savoy “acted or failed to act despite [her] knowledge of a ...

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