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Cunningham v. Danville City Jail

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

June 6, 2017


          James E. Cunningham, Pro Se Plaintiff.


          James P. Jones United States District Judge

         Plaintiff James E. Cunningham, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Liberally construed, his Complaint alleges that living conditions at the local jail where he is confined violate his constitutional rights. Upon review of the record, I find that this lawsuit must be summarily dismissed.

         Cunningham is incarcerated at the Danville City Jail (“the Jail”). Court records indicate that he is serving at least one term of confinement for violating the terms of his prior release under a suspended sentence. He brings this § 1983 action against the Jail and the City of Danville (“the City”). The allegations in Cunningham's Complaint are brief:

Eye sight damage according to the flores[c]ent lights or from the lights over the years.
No outside recreation-no windows and poor or no ventilation system, water taste[s] terrible jail under ground. No recreation once a day
Can stay in Jail up to two years without going outside, no church service, a stank smell from poor circulation and meadow [sic]

Compl. 2, ECF No. 1. As relief, he seeks monetary compensation and transfer to another facility.

         The court is required to dismiss any action or claim filed by a prisoner against a governmental entity or officer if the court determines the action or claim is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). A “frivolous” claim is one that “lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325, 327 (1989) (interpreting “frivolous” in former version of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d)). To state a claim and survive dismissal under § 1915A(b)(1), the pleading must state sufficient facts to make it clear that a claim for relief is not merely conceivable, but “plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         Section 1983 permits an aggrieved party to file a civil action against a person for actions taken under color of state law that violated his constitutional rights. See Cooper v. Sheehan, 735 F.3d 153, 158 (4th Cir. 2013). One of the defendants Cunningham names - the Jail itself - is not a “person” subject to suit under § 1983. See McCoy v. Chesapeake Corr. Ctr., 788 F.Supp. 890, 893-94 (E.D. Va. 1992) (finding that a jail is not a person for purposes of § 1983). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009) (“[A] plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.”). Because the Jail cannot be sued under § 1983, I will dismiss without prejudice all claims against this defendant under § 1915A(b)(1) as legally frivolous.

         Cunningham also sues the City itself for the problems he has encountered at the jail. A municipality can be sued under § 1983 for constitutional violations committed by its employees under an “official municipal policy of some nature.” Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). Cunningham's Complaint states no facts indicating that the lighting, recreation schedule, ventilation system, and other undesirable conditions at the jail have been imposed on him to implement any policy or decision issued by City officials. Accordingly, I conclude that his claims against the City must also be summarily dismissed without prejudice as legally frivolous.[1]

         Cunningham has also filed a pleading that I construe as a Motion to Amend. He seeks to add a claim against the Jail and the City for denial of treatment for Hepatitis C at the Jail. Because I conclude that the proposed amended claim is futile, I will deny the Motion to Amend.

         Cunningham's allegations in the Motion to Amend do not state any actionable § 1983 claim. He does not state what symptoms of the disease he is experiencing, when he asked for treatment, whether such treatment could reasonably be provided before the end of the term of confinement he is presently serving, or what injury he will suffer from not receiving treatment at the jail. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976) (holding that only a prison official's deliberate indifference to inmate's serious medical needs violates the Eighth Amendment). The deliberate indifference standard “is not satisfied by . . . mere disagreement concerning ‘[q]uestions of medical judgment.'” Germain v. Shearin, 531 F. App'x 392, 395 (4th Cir. 2013) (unpublished) (quoting Russell v. Sheffer, 528 F.2d 318, 319 (4th Cir. 1975)). Thus, Cunningham's mere disagreement with the Jail's doctor about whether or not the current stage of his disease requires immediate treatment is not sufficient to ...

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