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Strange v. Correct Care Solutions

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

November 7, 2019

ROBERT JOE STRANGE, Plaintiff,
v.
CORRECT CARE SOLUTIONS, et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          SUZANNE MITCHELL, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, a pro se Oklahoma inmate housed at the Lawton Correctional Facility (LCF), filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Doc. 1.[1] Plaintiff names as defendants Correct Care Solutions, which he describes in the caption as “G.E.O. Group Ink's Medicl Provider, ” “Corporate G.E.O., ” and Mr. Honaker.[2] Id. at 2-3. Chief United States District Judge Timothy D. DeGiusti has referred the matter to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for proceedings consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), (C). Doc. 4. Because Plaintiff fails to state any cognizable claims under § 1983, the undersigned recommends the Court dismiss the complaint in its entirety without prejudice and deny Plaintiff's “Order of Motion.” Doc. 11.

         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. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if it is “frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted” or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. §§ 1915A(b), 1915(e)(2)(B).

         “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). The 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); see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (per curiam). The Court, however, may not serve as Plaintiff's advocate, creating arguments on his behalf. See Yang v. Archuleta, 525 F.3d 925, 927 n.1 (10th Cir. 2008).

         II. Plaintiff's claims.

         In his first claim, Plaintiff alleges “both G.E.O. and Correct Care Solutions[3] violated [his] 8th Amendment right[]s to be free from cruel and the unusual punishment.” Doc. 1, at 2.[4] He explains he learned from an “O.U. Center Heart speclist” on July 22, 2019 that he had been prescribed the “wrong” heart medication. Id. He faults “both G.E.O. and Correct Care Solutions” for “keeping” him on the “heart damaging pills that were prescribed by O.D. Jeffery, Trout O.D.”[5] for “more than eighteen months.” Id. Additionally, he states he “has requested his heart medications (Nitro Heart Pills) multiple times with no relief and suffers.” Id. He asks this Court to cite Correct Care Solutions for “inadequate medical care at L.C.F., and world-wide” and to provide him “needed relief” by correcting “this issue.” Id.[6]

         In his second claim, Plaintiff alleges “G.E.O. and C.C.S. both violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process by continuously keeping [his] medications from him” which endangers his heart and by “allowing the transport C/O's to have his property packed-up” when he was medically transported or moved which has caused him to lose “alot” of his property and his “sacred items.”[7] Id. at 2-3. He states he is “embarrassed by the treatment of staff & the C.C.S. nurses” because “they know better or should be trained better.” Id. at 2. For this lack of training he faults “Mr. Honaker” who he states is the “latest hire for C.C.S.” and “does not have the knowledge to handle his position.” Id.

         III. Discussion.

         A. Defendants Correct Care Solutions' and G.E.O.'s proper capacity for suit.

         Plaintiff names two private entities that he alleges run the private prison where the State of Oklahoma houses him and provide medical care to him and the other inmates. Doc. 1, at 1. “Contracting out prison medical care does not relieve the State of its constitutional duty to provide adequate medical treatment to those in its custody, and it does not deprive the State's prisoners of the means to vindicate their Eighth Amendment rights.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 56 (1988)). And private persons or groups “to whom the state delegates its penological functions, which include the custody and supervision of prisoners, ” can be held liable for Constitutional violations. Smith v. Cochran, 339 F.3d 1205, 1215-16 (10th Cir. 2003). A private entity, however, cannot be held vicariously liable for its employee's alleged constitutional violations under § 1983. See Dubbs v. Head Start, Inc., 336 F.3d 1194, 1216 (10th Cir. 2003) (“[A] private actor ‘cannot be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor-or, in other words . . . cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory.'” (quoting Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978))); See also Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997) (“We have consistently refused to hold municipalities liable under a theory of respondeat superior.”). Instead, like a municipality, liability against a private entity serving in the capacity of a traditional state actor is limited to “action for which the [private entity] is actually responsible.” Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 479 (1986); see Dubbs, 336 F.3d at 1216 (“Although the Supreme Court's interpretation of § 1983 in Monell applied to municipal governments and not to private entities acting under color of state law, caselaw from this and other circuits has extended the Monell doctrine to private § 1983 defendants.”).

         Thus, to establish liability under § 1983, “a plaintiff must show: 1) the existence of a . . . policy or custom[;] and 2) a direct causal link between the policy or custom and the injury alleged.” Graves v. Thomas, 450 F.3d 1215, 1218 (10th Cir. 2006) (citing City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989)); see Schneider v. City of Grand Junction Police Dep't, 717 F.3d 760, 770 (10th Cir. 2013) (“‘[I]t is when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983.'” (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 694)). Dismissal is appropriate when a plaintiff fails to make this link. See Sherman v. Klenke, 653 Fed.Appx. 580, 592 (10th Cir. 2016) (“Because Mr. Sherman has failed to identify any custom or practice of CHP that has a direct causal link to the alleged constitutional violations, dismissal of this claim was appropriate.”).

         Plaintiff claims both “C.C.S. and Corporate (G.E.O.)” have endangered his “safty, health, and well-being” by “allowing C.C.S. staff to care for his medical needs.” Doc. 1, at 2. He further alleges “Defendants G.E.O. and C.C.S” violated his due process rights by keeping his medications from him and allowing the “transport C/O's” to lose his property. Id. at 3. What he fails to do is either identify any “staff” member whose actions endangered his health or allege any actions taken against him were made pursuant to a policy or custom which violated his rights. Because Plaintiff fails to identify an official custom or policy tying either Correct Care Solutions or G.E.O. to his alleged constitutional injuries, he fails to state a cognizable claim against these Defendants. Graves, 450 F.3d at 1218. As a result, Plaintiff's claims against these Defendants should be dismissed without prejudice. Sherman, 653 Fed.Appx. at 592.

         B. Plaintiff's failure to state a claim on any of his allegations.

         In addition, to dismissing the private entities from this suit, the Court should also find Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief on any of his allegations against any of the Defendants. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b) (On screening, “the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, ” if it “fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.”).

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