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Routt v. Hansford

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

April 24, 2019

JOHN STEPHEN ROUTT, Plaintiff,
v.
DUSTIN HANSFORD, Detention Officer, JOSHUA LANKFORD, Kitchen Supervisor, and ARAMARK CORPORATION, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          James H. Payne United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights complaint (Dkt. # 1). Plaintiff is an inmate at Lawton Correctional Facility. Dkt. 1, Complaint, at 4. He alleges Correctional Officer Hansford slammed him against a wall and then placed him in lockdown for no reason. Plaintiff further alleges Kitchen Supervisor Lankford and Aramark Corporation (Aramark) served unsanitary food. Id. at 7. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will dismiss the claims regarding lockdown and unsanitary food and grant leave to file an amended complaint.

         I. Screening/Dismissal Standards

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), federal courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in which prisoners seek redress from a government entity or officer. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must identify any cognizable claim and dismiss any claim which is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim, a complaint must present factual allegations, assumed to be true, that “raise a right to relief about the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. A court must accept all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true, and must construe the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id. at 555. However, “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a [plausible] claim of entitlement to relief, ” the cause of action should be dismissed. Id. at 558. Twombly articulated the pleading standard for all civil actions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009). The Court applies the same standard of review for dismissals under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) that is employed for Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1217-18 (10th Cir. 2007).

         A pro se plaintiff's complaint must be broadly construed. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). The generous construction to be given the pro se litigant's allegations “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). Notwithstanding a pro se plaintiff's various mistakes or misunderstandings of legal doctrines or procedural requirements, “if a court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so ….” Id. However, the Court need not accept “mere conclusions characterizing pleaded facts.” Bryson v. City of Edmond, 905 F.2d 1386, 1390 (10th Cir. 1990); see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (“While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.”) (quotations and citations omitted)). Nor will the Court “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).

         II. Screening the Complaint

         Plaintiff asserts three claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He alleges: (Count I) Defendant Hansford applied excessive force; (Count II) Defendant Hansford placed Plaintiff in solitary confinement without due process; and (Count III) Defendants Lankford and Aramark served Plaintiff unsanitary meat. Dkt. 1, Complaint, at 3-6. In his prayer for relief, Plaintiff seeks $25, 000 in compensatory damages; $25, 000 in nominal damages; and $1 million in punitive damages. Id. at 6. The Court will address each Count below.

         a. Count I: Excessive Force Claim Against Defendant Hansford

         In Count I, Plaintiff alleges the prison assigned Defendant Hansford to escort him from the medical unit to the housing pod on November 20, 2016. Dkt. 1, Complaint, at 4. As they were walking down a hallway, Hansford allegedly twisted Plaintiff's arm and slammed him into a wall twice. Id. At some point two other officers approached the area, and Plaintiff stopped to talk to them. Id. Thereafter, the officers allegedly joined Hansford in restraining Plaintiff. Id. He contends they twisted his arms behind his back, marched him to his cell, swung him forward, and shoved him inside. Id. at 5. The movement purportedly hurt Plaintiff's neck, back, and shoulder. Id. Plaintiff alleges he was simply walking back to his housing pod and did “nothing for force to be used.” Id. at 4. He believes Hansford used force “in a malicious and sadistic manner” to inflict harm and impose a punishment. Id. at 4-5.

         This is not the first time Defendant filed suit based on the above occurrences. On November 13, 2017, he filed a Civil Rights Complaint against different guards involved in the incident. See Routt v. Harris, 17-CV-020 JED-JFJ. The original Complaint described the same events but referred to the primarily wrongdoer (Hansford) as a “male detention officer.” Dkt. 1 in 17-CV-020, Complaint, at 5-6. A few weeks after filing the original Complaint, Plaintiff identified the officer as Dustin Hansford and filed a motion to assert additional claims against him. Dkt. 5 in 17-CV-020, Mnt to Supplement. The Court granted the motion and directed Plaintiff to file an amended complaint by March 17, 2017. Dkt. 6 in 17-CV-020, Order. Plaintiff failed to comply, and the case proceeded against the existing defendants. On January 22, 2018, when the case was ready for a dispositive ruling, Plaintiff filed a second motion to add Hansford as a Defendant. Dkt. 47 in 17-CV-020, Mnt for Joinder of Party. By an Opinion and Order entered May 25, 2018, this Court denied the second motion and dismissed the claims against the remaining defendants. Dkt. 52 in 17-CV-020, Opinion. By a Mandate issued April 12, 2019, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal. Dkt. 65 in 17-CV-020, UCCA Mandate.

         On this record, it is not entirely clear that Plaintiff can renew his claims against Hansford in this proceeding. However, preclusion principles must be raised as an affirmative defense, and there is nothing on the face of the complaint that would permit the Court to sua sponte dismiss on that basis. See Keller Tank Servs. II, Inc. v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue, 854 F.3d 1178, 1193 (10th Cir. 2017) (preclusion principles must be raised as an affirmative defense); Fogle v. Pierson, 435 F.3d 1252, 1258 (10th Cir. 2006) (“A complaint may be dismissed sua sponte under § 1915 based on an affirmative defense only when the defense is obvious from the face of the complaint and no further factual record is required to be developed.”) (quotations omitted). The Court will therefore screen the merits of Count I under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         To succeed on his excessive force claim, the “plaintiff must show (1) that the alleged wrongdoing was objectively harmful enough to establish a constitutional violation; and (2) that defendants acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind.” Norton v. The City Of Marietta, 432 F.3d 1145, 1154 (10th Cir. 2005). “The objective component ... is contextual and responsive to contemporary standards of decency. The subjective element ... turns on whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.” Smith v. Cochran, 339 F.3d 1205, 1212 (10th Cir. 2003) (quotations omitted). The wrongdoing here satisfies both elements: Plaintiff alleges Hansford slammed him into a wall multiple times with a sadistic intention to cause pain. Count I therefore survives initial review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915.

         b. Count II: Due Process Claim Against Defendant Hansford

         Count II addresses Plaintiff's placement in lockdown. Dkt. 1, Complaint, at 7. On November 20, 2016 - the same day cited above - Defendant Hansford alleged placed Plaintiff on a 72-hour lockdown. Id. Hansford accused Plaintiff of hindering a prison employee in the performance of his duties. Id. Hansford allegedly failed to issue a misconduct report or written notice, and Plaintiff was not afforded a hearing. I ...


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