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Hinton v. Finch

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

January 18, 2017

SERGEANT FINCH, et at, Defendants.


          John A. Gibney, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Donald Lee Hinton, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action.[1] In his Particularized Complaint ("Complaint, " ECF No. 22), Hinton contends that Defendants Sergeant Finch, Recreation Supervisor Walker, Unit Manager C. Townes, Sergeant Malone, Ombudsman C. Jones, and Doctor Mililani committed various constitutional violations with regard to Hinton's fall from a broken bench during his incarceration at the Lawrenceville Correctional Center ("LCC"). The matter is before the Court for evaluation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A.


         Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") this Court must dismiss any action filed by a prisoner if the Court determines the action (1) "is frivolous" or (2) "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The first standard includes claims based upon '"an indisputably meritless legal theory, "' or claims where the '"factual contentions are clearly baseless."' Clay v. Yates, 809 F.Supp. 417, 427 (E.D. Va. 1992) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)). The second standard is the familiar standard for a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         "A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing 5 A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1356 (1990)). In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations are taken as true and the complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993); see also Martin, 980 F.2d at 952. This principle applies only to factual allegations, however, and "a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "require[ ] only 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Ail. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (second alteration in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Plaintiffs cannot satisfy this standard with complaints containing only "labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. (citations omitted). Instead, a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " id. (citation omitted), stating a claim that is "plausible on its face, " id. at 570, rather than merely "conceivable." Id. "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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atl Corp., 550 U.S. at 556). In order for a claim or complaint to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, therefore, the plaintiff must "allege facts sufficient to state all the elements of [his or] her claim." Bass v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003) (citing Dickson v. Microsoft Corp., 309 F.3d 193, 213 (4th Cir. 2002); Iodice v. United States, 289 F.3d 270, 281 (4th Cir. 2002)). Lastly, while the Court liberally construes pro se complaints, Gordon v. Leeke, SI A F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), it does not act as the inmate's advocate, sua sponte developing statutory and constitutional claims the inmate failed to clearly raise on the face of his complaint. See Brock v. Carroll, 107 F.3d 241, 243 (4th Cir. 1997) (Luttig, J., concurring); Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).


         Hinton's initial Complaint ("Initial Complaint, " ECF No. 1) repeated the following unhelpful statement of his claims: "gross negligence, deliberate indifference, and reckless disregard for [Plaintiffs] health and safety" in violation of the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Initial Compl. 2 (capitalization corrected).) The Court noted that Hinton's allegations were extremely repetitive, conclusory, and failed to provide each defendant with fair notice of the facts and legal basis upon which his or her liability rests. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Accordingly, by Memorandum Order entered on August 17, 2016, the Court directed Hinton to particularize his Initial Complaint.

         On August 29, 2016, the Court received another Complaint ("Second Complaint, " ECF No. 20) from Hinton. This Second Complaint was nearly identical to the Initial Complaint that Hinton previously filed and that the Court determined was deficient. Hinton repeated the identical repetitive, conclusory, and unhelpful statement of his claims. Hinton failed to correct any of the deficiencies identified in the Court's Memorandum Order and disregarded the Court's directives almost entirely. Nevertheless, the Court allowed Hinton one final attempt to correct the deficiencies in his Second Complaint. In his latest Particularized Complaint ("Complaint"), Hinton mostly complied with the Court's directives; however, he lacks a section containing a comprehensive statement of the facts giving rise to his claims. Instead, the facts are scattered throughout the Complaint making it difficult for the Court to provide a concise summary. Moreover, the Complaint is long on legal conclusions and short on facts. Accordingly, the Court has parsed the Complaint and makes a list of pertinent facts as follows:[2]

1. On "June 25, 2016, after a 'work order' for bolts missing from the bench was entered, Donald Lee Hinton sat on the bench and fell back injuring his head, neck, and back needing immediate medical treatment." (Compl. ¶ 27.)
2. "Sergeant Malone . . . was there and saw the incident. Because Hinton complained of head, neck, and back pain, Malone took him to medical." (Id. ¶¶ 69-70 (paragraph numbers omitted)).
3. "Sergeant Finch admitted he knew the bolts were missing from the bench before Hinton fell because he filed a 'work order'." (Id. ¶ 14.)
4. "Walker, Recreation Supervisor had actual knowledge the bolts were missing because Sergeant Finch had filed a 'work order'." (Id. ¶ 28.)
5. "After the bench caused Hinton to fall, Sergeant Malone took Hinton to medical. Nurse Moody RN referred Hinton to Dr. Mililani. Nearly a month passed before Dr. Mililani saw Hinton. ... Dr. Mililani immediately ordered X-rays and pain medication; meaning Hinton had no medication to ease the pain for twenty-six (26) days." (Id. ¶¶ 9-12 (paragraph numbers omitted).)
6. "Hinton is a diabetic and suffers from hypertension magnifying the head, neck, and back injury suffered in the fall. Dr Mililani knows about this." (Id. ¶46.)
7. C. Townes, Unit Manager "lied in her response of July 1, 2015 to Hinton's Informal Complaint #01855, saying: 'It was Hinton's fault he was injured.' Townes again lied in her response of July 26, 2015 to Hinton's Informal Complaint #02185, saying, "Staff could not verify the bench was broken.'" (Id. ¶¶ 55-56 (paragraph numbers omitted).)
8. "Townes failed to follow the Rules of Operating Procedure 866.1 requiring an investigation." (Id. ¶ 63.)
9. "Hinton sent a request to Malone asking for a copy of the 'incident report' that is required when an incident of this nature occurs. Malone never responded. Because Malone did not respond on July 12, 2015, Hinton filed an Informal Complaint #02068. Malone refused to respond ...

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