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Wilkerson v. Eldridge

United States District Court, D. Utah

March 27, 2017



          DALE A. KIMBALL, United States District Court Judge

         Plaintiff, Ryan Wilkerson, is a pro se prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis. In this civil-rights complaint, 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 (2017), he asserts his federal constitutional rights under the Eighth (cruel-and-unusual punishment) and Fourteenth (equal protection) Amendments have been breached by Defendants failing to protect him. Defendants are: Rick Eldridge, San Juan County (SJC) Sheriff; John Young, SJC Jail Commander; Officer Dennis Hoggard, SJC; Officer Preston Palmer, SJC; and James Chipp, Utah Department of Corrections (UDOC) Inmate Placement Program Supervisor. The SJC defendants move for summary judgment, as does Defendant Chipp separately. The Court grants SJC Defendants' motion, but first, under its screening power, see 28 U.S.C.S. § 1915A (2017), dismisses some defendants and issues upon the basis of failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.


         In evaluating the propriety of dismissing claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, this Court takes all well-pleaded factual assertions as true and regards them in a light most advantageous to the plaintiff. Ridge at Red Hawk L.L.C. v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007). Dismissal is appropriate when, viewing those facts as true, the plaintiff has not posed a "plausible" right to relief. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247-48 (10th Cir. 2008). "The burden is on the plaintiff to frame a 'complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' that he or she is entitled to relief." Robbins, 519 F.3d at 1247 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). When a civil-rights complaint contains "bare assertions, " involving "nothing more than a 'formulaic recitation of the elements' of a constitutional . . . claim, " the Court considers those assertions "conclusory and not entitled to" an assumption of truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1951 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 554-55). In other words, "the mere metaphysical possibility that some plaintiff could prove some set of facts in support of the pleaded claims is insufficient; the complaint must give the court reason to believe this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims." Red Hawk, 493 F.3d at 1177 (italics in original).

         This Court must construe pro se "'pleadings liberally, ' applying a less stringent standard than is applicable to pleadings filed by lawyers. Th[e] court, however, 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) (citations omitted). In the Tenth Circuit, this means that if this Court can reasonably read the pleadings "to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so despite the plaintiff's failure to cite proper legal authority, his confusion of various legal theories, his poor syntax and sentence construction, or his unfamiliarity with pleading requirements." Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). Still, it is not "the proper function of the district court to assume the role of advocate for the pro se litigant." Id.; see also Peterson v. Shanks, 149 F.3d 1140, 1143 (10th Cir. 1998) (citing Dunn v. White, 880 F.2d 1188, 1197 (10th Cir. 1989) (per curiam)).


         The complaint must clearly state what each individual defendant did to violate Plaintiff's civil rights. See Bennett v. Passic, 545 F.2d 1260, 1262-63 (10th Cir. 1976) (stating personal participation of each named defendant is essential allegation in civil-rights action). "To state a claim, a complaint must 'make clear exactly who is alleged to have done what to whom.'" Stone v. Albert, No. 08-2222, slip op. at 4 (10th Cir. July 20, 2009) (unpublished) (emphasis in original) (quoting Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1250 (10th Cir. 2008)). Plaintiff may not name an entity or individual as a defendant based solely on supervisory position. See Mitchell v. Maynard, 80 F.3d 1433, 1441 (10th Cir. 1996) (stating supervisory status alone is insufficient to support liability under § 1983). Nor does "denial of a grievance, by itself without any connection to the violation of constitutional rights alleged by plaintiff . . . establish personal participation under § 1983." Gallagher v. Shelton, No. 09-3113, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 25787, at *11 (10th Cir. Nov. 24, 2009).

         Considering these guidelines, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has done nothing to affirmatively link Defendants Rick Eldridge and John Young to his claims, but has instead identified them merely as supervisors or deniers of grievances--and has not tied any material facts to them. Plaintiff's claims against these defendants therefore may not survive this screening. And these defendants are thus dismissed.


         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Chipp failed to protect him by keeping him in facilities where he was mingled with other inmates who were classified as more aggressive and perhaps dangerous than his own classification, putting him at risk of an attack. Here, the “injury” he cites is the fear and anxiety that he suffers in perceiving that he is vulnerable. However, “[n]o Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury or the commission of a sexual act.” 42 U.S.C.S. §1997e(e) (2017).

         This particular allegation of failure to protect against Defendant Chipp does not include physical injury. And, therefore, Plaintiff has not stated a claim for relief which may be granted here. This being the only claim against Defendant Chipp, he is dismissed from this case and his summary-judgment motion is denied as moot.


         Based on Plaintiff's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies through the prison grievance process, SJC Defendants (the only two remaining, Hoggard and Palmer) move for summary judgment. (See Docket Entry # 82 .) Defendants support their motion with a Martinez report (including affidavits and grievance policy and history) and a memorandum. (See Docket Entry # s 37, 38, 39, 70, 83, 84.) Plaintiff responds to the Martinez report and motion. (See Docket Entry #s 75 & 90.) The Court rules for Defendants.

         A. STANDARD & ...

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