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Williams v. Glover

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division

March 15, 2019




         Plaintiff Marcellus Williams commenced this suit, pro se, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging Eighth Amendment violations. Compl., pp. 4-7, ECF No. 2. The case was referred to the Honorable Dwane L. Tinsley, Magistrate Judge, for Proposed Findings and Recommendations (“PF&R”). Standing Order, p. 2, ECF No. 3. In his PF&R issued on October 10, 2018, Magistrate Judge Tinsley recommends this Court grant Defendant Glover's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 53), dismiss all claims, and remove this case from the Court's docket. PF&R, p. 8, ECF No. 74.[1]

         Plaintiff filed objections to the PF&R pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C) on October 23, 2018. Pl.'s Objs. to PF&R, ECF No. 76. As explained below, the Court DENIES in part and GRANTS in part Plaintiff's objections, ADOPTS in part and REJECTS in part Magistrate Judge Tinsley's PF&R, and DENIES in part and GRANTS in part Defendant Glover's Motion to Dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Complaint, taken as true for the purposes of a motion to dismiss, alleges the following. Plaintiff arrived at Western Regional Jail on February 7, 2017. Compl., at 4. He informed the medical staff there that he was diagnosed with asthma and had a prescription for an inhaler. Id. Plaintiff was denied the ability to have an inhaler in the jail, and instead was instructed to notify jail officers anytime he had difficulty breathing, including heaviness of chest and wheezing, and they would bring him to the medical staff for treatment. Id.

         At around 2:00 AM on April 7, 2017, Plaintiff began suffering such symptoms and notified Defendant Officer Glover, who was in the control tower, that he required his prescribed treatment. Id. at 7. Officer Glover instructed Plaintiff to notify Defendant Officer Gabriel, who was roving around the pod where Plaintiff's cell was, which Plaintiff then did.[2] Id. Officer Gabriel then redirected Plaintiff back to Officer Glover. Id. When Plaintiff asked if the medical staff had been contacted, he was told “No.” Id.

         At around 5:00 AM, Officer Gabriel was escorting two inmates to the medical facility. Id. at 5. As Officer Gabriel passed by Plaintiff, Plaintiff again requested Officer Gabriel provide him medical treatment for his asthma, to which Officer Gabriel looked at Plaintiff, and then left the area without responding. Id. Officer Gabriel returned at around 6:00 AM with the two inmates he had been escorting to the medical facility. Plaintiff again asked both Officers Glover and Gabriel to be taken to the medical facility and inquired if the medical staff had been notified of his previous requests for required treatment. Id. Plaintiff was told by both officers, separately, they had not notified the medical staff and he would not be taken because the area was not cleared as being secure, despite the fact that Officer Gabriel had just returned from the medical facility with two inmates. Id. When pressed as to who would be held accountable for the denial of medical assistance, Officer Glover told Plaintiff he would be responsible. Id. Finally, Plaintiff directly notified medical personnel of his condition, having to bypass the jail officers as intermediaries, when a nurse was conducting a pill pass at 8:30 AM, to which she said that he would be escorted to the medical facility between 9:00 AM and 10:00 AM. Id. Plaintiff was then brought to the medical facility and treated. Id.

         Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this case on March 26, 2018, alleging violations of his rights under the Eighth Amendment and requesting damages and injunctive relief. Compl., at 7. The Complaint was amended on July 25, 2018 to include a specific amount of damages and clarifying his condition potentially so severe that if his “airways swell[ed] shut he would die.” Am. to Compl., p. 2, ECF No. 55. Plaintiff's claims were permitted to proceed, as this Court found that administrative remedies were functionally unavailable to him. ECF No. 72. WRJ Officers Gabriel and Glover are the only remaining defendants in this action. See ECF Nos. 62, 72. The Court now considers Magistrate Judge Tinsley's PF&R (ECF No. 74), Plaintiff's Objections to the PF&R (ECF No. 76), and Defendant Glover's underlying Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 53).


         This Court conducts a de novo review of those portions of the magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations to which a party objects. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The Court is not required to review, under a de novo or any other standard, the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge as to those portions of the findings or recommendations to which no objections are made. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985).

         Courts must look for “plausibility” in a complaint. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 (2007). This standard requires a plaintiff to set forth the grounds for an “entitle[ment] to relief” that is more than mere “labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. at 555 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Accepting the factual allegations in the complaint as true (even when doubtful), the allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .” Id. (citations omitted).

         Rule 8 does not demand “detailed factual allegations”, but a mere “unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation” is insufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Facial plausibility exists when a claim contains “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged”, but “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citation omitted).

         Whether a plausible claim is stated in a complaint requires a court to conduct a context-specific analysis, drawing upon the court's own judicial experience and common sense. Id. at 679. “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Id. However, a pro se litigant's pleadings are “to be liberally construed.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         When a defendant responds to a complaint claiming qualified immunity, such immunity would provide “an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability; and like an absolute immunity, it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial.” Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985). It is important for determination of qualified immunity to be resolved “at the earliest possible stage in litigation.” Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991) (per curiam). The complaint must sufficiently state a claim that the defendant violated a “clearly established law”, otherwise “a defendant pleading qualified immunity is entitled to dismissal before the commencement of discovery.” Mitchell, 472 U.S. at 526.


         Magistrate Judge Tinsley's PF&R recommends this Court grant dismissal of all remaining claims, finding (A) claims against the Officers in their official capacity are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and the Will Doctrine, (B) claims against the Officers in their individual capacity are not plausible and are protected by qualified immunity, and (C) Officer Gabriel has not timely ...

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