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Barley v. New River Valley Regional Jail Medical Department

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

March 6, 2017

TOBY JOE BARLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW RIVER VALLEY REGIONAL JAIL MEDICAL DEPT., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge.

         Toby Joe Barley, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the New River Valley Regional Jail Medical Department (“Medical Department”), Superintendent McPeak, “Head of Medical” Betty Akers, and Nurses Lowe and Neel. Barley alleges that the defendants denied him adequate medical treatment.[1] Defendants filed motions to dismiss, and Barley responded, making this matter ripe for disposition. Having considered the record, the court will grant the motion to dismiss by the Medical Department, McPeak, and Akers, but will deny the motion to dismiss by Lowe and Neel.

         I.

         Barley alleges that after arriving at the New River Valley Regional Jail, he developed a “bad rash” that caused him pain, got infected, and was so “raw from itching” that he had trouble sleeping. Barley states that he saw the doctor “numerous times” and “medical tried to the treat the rash, but was uns[uccess]ful.” Medical staff attributed the rash to everything from “soap, water, deodorant, [his] nerves, [a] yeast infection, to mites.” Barley alleges that although his request to go to the hospital or a dermatologist was refused, he did receive “pills and creams of all type[s], ” antibiotics, and steroids to treat the rash. Barley states that he sent “numerous request[s] and letters” about the rash to defendants McPeak and Akers, but they “would not lis[ten] or bel[ie]ve” him when he told them that he was allergic to the dye in the prison uniforms or the detergent used to wash them.

         Barley alleges that from 6:00 p.m. on May 10, 2015, to 6:00 a.m. on May 11, 2015, he was seen by defendants Lowe and Neel concerning his rash. Barley states that Lowe thought that Barley might have mites and recommended “mite killer treatment.” Lowe told Barley that “it was worth a try” and would not hurt him or make the rash any worse. Lowe called the doctor by telephone before administering the treatment, and the doctor approved it. Barley was told that he would stay in the medical department for the night and could not wash the mite killer treatment off for six or eight hours. Barley alleges that within seconds of rubbing the treatment on his body, he started feeling a “burning.” Barley states that his skin turned red and he started “begging” for help. While Barley was beating on the door, Lowe came to see him. He told her that the mite killer treatment was burning him and asked to wash it off. She told him that “it may be part of the healing process, ” and denied his request. Lowe left and the pain became so severe that Barley began crying and throwing up. Barley tried to wash the mite killer treatment off with water in his cell sink, but was unsuccessful. Barley continued to beat on the door and Neel came to see him. He asked her to take him to the hospital or let him wash the mite killer treatment off. She denied both requests and told him that only Akers could approve him going to the hospital, but she “wasn't in.” Barley states that he had never been in so much pain before and that the treatment burned him. At some point during the night, a sergeant and an officer came to Barley's cell after making rounds. When Barley showed them what was happening to his body, they agreed to get a camera and took pictures of him. When Akers arrived in the morning, she came to Barley's cell, told him to get dressed, and sent him to a dermatologist. Barley alleges that Akers stated that “they should have washed it off.” The dermatologist confirmed that Barley was allergic to the dye in the prison uniforms and the detergent used to wash them. Thereafter, Barley was given dye-free uniforms and his uniforms are to be washed in a different detergent.

         Defendants filed motions to dismiss arguing that Barley: 1) did not exhaust administrative remedies before filing this action, 2) failed to specify the relief he requests, and 3) failed to demonstrate that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need.

         II.

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint to determine whether the plaintiff has properly stated a claim; “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). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Legal conclusions in the guise of factual allegations, however, are not entitled to a presumption of truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).

         Although a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations and quotations omitted). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” id., with all the allegations in the complaint taken as true and all reasonable inferences drawn in the plaintiff's favor, Chao v. Rivendell Woods, Inc., 415 F.3d 342, 346 (4th Cir. 2005). Rule 12(b)(6) does “not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Consequently, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. A claim is plausible if the complaint contains “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged, ” and if there is “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         In order to allow for the development of a potentially meritorious claim, federal courts have an obligation to construe pro se pleadings liberally. See, e.g., Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364, 365 (1982) (citation omitted). Moreover, “[l]iberal construction of the pleadings is particularly appropriate where . . . there is a pro se complaint raising civil rights issues.” Smith v. Smith, 589 F.3d 736, 738 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Loe v. Armistead, 582 F.2d 1291, 1295 (4th Cir. 1978)). Nevertheless, “[p]rinciples requiring generous construction of pro se complaints are not . . . without limits.” Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). “A pro se plaintiff still must allege facts that state a cause of action.” Bracey v. Buchanan, 55 F.Supp.2d 416, 421 (E.D. Va. 1999) (quoting Sado v. Leland Memorial Hospital, 933 F.Supp. 490, 493 (D. Md. 1996)).

         III.

         Barley names the Medical Department as a defendant to this action. To state a cause of action under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege facts indicating that he has been deprived of rights guaranteed by the Constitution or laws of the United States and that this deprivation resulted from conduct committed by a “person” acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42 (1988). Because a medical department is not a legal entity, it is not a “person” subject to suit under § 1983, and Barley cannot maintain this action against it. See Harden v. Green, 27 F. App'x 173, 178 (4th Cir. 2001) (“The medical department of a prison may not be sued, because it is not a person within the meaning of § 1983.”). Accordingly, the court will dismiss the Medical Department as a defendant to this action.

         IV.

         Defendants argue that Barley's complaint should be dismissed because he failed to exhaust administrative remedies before filing the action. After accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of ...


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