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Taylor v. Fleming

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

September 27, 2017

LESLIE FLEMING, et al., Defendants.


          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge.

         Daniel Taylor, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In his amended complaint now before the court (Dkt. No. 77), Taylor asserts more than twenty “claims” that various events and/or conditions at Wallens Ridge State Prison (Wallens Ridge) violated his constitutional rights. After review of the record, I conclude that the defendants' dispositive motions must be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Taylor has been confined at Wallens Ridge since July 25, 2006, and has been assigned to segregated housing on numerous occasions. Within the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC), segregated (or special) housing is not to be used as punishment. (D. Collins Aff. ¶ 4, Dkt. No. 89-2.) Operating Procedure (OP) 861.3 defines conditions for segregation housing. (Id., at Encl. A, Dkt. No. 89-2.) Such inmates leave their cells only for showers (three times per week), recreation (one hour, five days per week), and medical appointments. (Id., at ¶¶ 3, 6.) Segregation inmates may sponge bathe in their cells whenever they choose. (OP 861.3(V)(E)(13)(b).)

         A segregation cell has a metal bed and mattress, sink, toilet, metal table, and metal shelf; staff members deliver meals and dispense medications to a segregation inmate through a tray slot in the cell door. (D. Collins Aff. ¶ 3.) Staff members deliver clean clothes to each inmate three times per week and exchange bed linens weekly. Inmates may retain authorized personal property items while in segregation and may purchase commissary items, but no storage lockers are authorized for segregation housing. Per policy, inmates are expected to maintain sanitary conditions in their cells. Each inmate receives cleaning products and two sponges twice per week to sanitize their cells, and officers inspect cells weekly for sanitation.

         Taylor began this action in late November, 2015. After his initial complaint, he submitted numerous “declarations” and amendments, seeking to add claims and defendants. By order entered in June 2016, the court denied Taylor's many amendments and granted him 21 days to: “file an amended complaint which must be a new pleading that stands by itself without reference to a complaint, attachments, or amendments already filed. The amended complaint must conform to the joinder rules [Fed. R. Civ. P. 18 and 20, as explained in the order]. . . . The amended complaint shall replace his original complaint and shall constitute the sole complaint.” (Order 1-2, Dkt. No. 68.). In September 2016, Taylor submitted the replacement pleading that the court now considers the full statement of his claims in this action, Dkt. No. 77-herein referred to as the amended complaint.

         The amended complaint consists of twenty-one “claims, ” each presenting one or more events or frustrations that Taylor has experienced in the Wallens Ridge segregation housing units. Taylor asserts that these claims describe violations of his rights under the Eighth and/or Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, committed by one or more of the nearly thirty defendants he has named. Taylor seeks declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief.

         By memorandum opinion and order entered on March 6, 2017, the court granted summary judgment as to Taylor's claims against Dr. Dulaney and Nurse Stanford. Taylor v. Fleming, No. 7:15CV00653, 2017 WL 888362 (W.D. Va. Mar. 6, 2017). Among other things, Taylor alleged that Dr. Dulaney had not adequately monitored or treated him for excessive weight loss in 2014 and 2016. Id. at *1-2. The court found that Taylor had not presented disputed facts to show that Dr. Dulaney had acted with deliberate indifference to any serious medical need implicated by Taylor's weight loss and that Taylor could not hold Nurse Stanford vicariously liable under § 1983 for the actions or omissions of others.[1] Id. at *3-5.

         The remaining defendants have filed dispositive motions that are ripe for the court's consideration.[2] Dr. Miller has filed a motion to dismiss Taylor's claim against him (Claim 9) as time-barred under the applicable statute of limitations (Dkt. No. 111). Defendants Barker and C. Collins (the medical defendants) have filed a motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 90), arguing that Taylor has not established any constitutional claims against them (Claim 19). The other (nonmedical) defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 88), asserting that some of Taylor's claims should be dismissed as time-barred, or for failure to exhaust available administrative remedies as required under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), and that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity or to summary judgment as a matter of law as to the remaining claims.

         Taylor has submitted numerous documents in support of the amended complaint and in response to the defendants' motions: an unverified “motion to proceed without summary judgment, ” Dkt. No. 83, restating all of his claims with some additional details; several documents titled “declaration under the penalty of perjury, ” Dkt. Nos. 104, 109, 114, 120, and 121; and an untitled response to Dr. Miller's motion to dismiss, Dkt. No. 119. The court will consider all of these submissions to the extent that they offer any factual matter or argument in support of the claims raised in the amended complaint. Many of the declarations, however, concern events and issues unrelated to the claims before the court. Any new legal claims related to these later submissions are not properly joined to the existing action, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 18 and 20, and they present no indication that Taylor exhausted administrative remedies before submitting them, as required under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Therefore, the court will not construe any such submissions as motions to amend and will consider only the claims presented in the amended complaint.


         A. Standards of Review

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the legal sufficiency of a plaintiff's complaint to determine whether the plaintiff has properly stated a claim. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). To avoid dismissal, the complaint must establish “facial plausibility” by pleading “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). In essence, he must “nudge[ ] [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         Rule 56 provides that a court should grant summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “As to materiality, . . . [o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Summary judgment is inappropriate “if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.; see also JKC Holding Co. v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001). In considering a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, a court must view the record as a whole and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Id. at 255; Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d 791, 798 (4th Cir. 1994).

         The moving party has the burden of showing - “that is, pointing out to the district court - that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). If the movant satisfies this burden, then the non-movant must set forth specific, admissible facts that demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of fact for trial. Id. at 322-23. A party is entitled to summary judgment if the record as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find in favor of the non-movant. Williams v. Griffin, 952 F.2d 820, 823 (4th Cir. 1991); see Ennis v. Nat'l Ass'n of Bus. & Educ. Radio, Inc., 53 F.3d 55, 62 (4th Cir. 1995) (“Mere unsupported speculation . . . is not enough to defeat a summary judgment motion.”).

         B. Misjoinder of Claims

         Taylor has submitted an amended complaint that pulls together, in one omnibus civil action, multiple and unrelated claims from different time periods against nearly thirty defendants, in blatant defiance of the federal rules of joinder. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 18 and 20. The court's order granting him the opportunity to file the amended complaint explained the requirements of these rules:

Rule 18(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a plaintiff to only join “either as independent or as alternate claims, as many claims, legal, equitable, or maritime, as the party has against an opposing party.” Rule 20 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows the joinder of several parties only if the claims arose out of the same transaction or occurrence, or series thereof, and contain a question of fact or law common to all the defendants.

(Order 1 n. 1, Dkt. No. 68.); see also Green v. Denning, No. 06-3298, 2009 WL 484457, at *2 (D. Kan. Feb. 26, 2009) (“[A] plaintiff may name more than one defendant in a multiple claim lawsuit only if the claims against all defendants arose out of the same incident or incidents and involve a common factual or legal question.”). These procedural rules apply with equal force to pro se prisoner cases. Id.

         Taylor's claims against a multitude of defendants involve neither common legal issues nor common facts. Indeed, the only common thread his claims share is that they occurred during his incarceration for ten years at Wallens Ridge, a connection that simply does not satisfy the elements of joinder authorized under Rules 18 and 20. See Pruden v. SCI-Camp Hill, No. 3:07cv0304, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36874, at *5-6 (M.D. Pa. 2007). Many of Taylor's claims assert that various officials' actions violated VDOC policies. State officials' failure to abide by state procedural regulations is not a federal due process issue, and is, therefore, not actionable under § 1983. Riccio v. Cty. of Fairfax, 907 F.2d 1459, 1469 (4th Cir. 1990) (“If state law grants more procedural rights than the Constitution would otherwise require, a state's failure to abide by that law is not a federal due process issue.”). Thus, a common theme of policy violations is not a sufficient nexus to meet the requirements of proper joinder under Rules 18 and 20 in this § 1983 action.

         Under the Federal Rules, such disparate claims as Taylor raises here must be presented in separate complaints in separate civil actions. Accordingly, the court would be well within its authority to sever this case into multiple civil actions of properly joined claims and require Taylor to consent to pay filing costs for all of them before resolving any of his claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b) (requiring prisoner plaintiffs to pay filing fee for civil actions). Because the case is ripe for resolution at this stage, for the sake of judicial efficiency, the court will forego severing this action and decide the defendants' motions.

         C. Immunity against Claims for Damages

         Section 1983 permits an aggrieved party to file a civil action against a person for actions taken under color of state law that violated “a right arising under the Constitution or laws of the United States.” Cooper v. Sheehan, 735 F.3d 153, 158 (4th Cir. 2013). “[N]either a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are “persons” [subject to being sued] under § 1983.” See Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70 (1989). Thus, to the extent that Taylor brings this action against the defendants in their official capacities for monetary damages, such relief is not available under § 1983. Id. at 70. Therefore, the court will grant the defendants' motions for summary judgment as to all such claims.

         With the exception of Dr. Miller, the defendants assert that they are entitled to qualified immunity against Taylor's claims for monetary damages. This doctrine provides that government officials “performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Such an official will be protected by qualified immunity if his actions were objectively reasonable. Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 639 (1987).

         D. Exhaustion of Available Administrative Remedies

         The defendants also contend that many of Taylor's claims should be dismissed because he failed to present the facts and issues to prison officials using the administrative remedies available to VDOC inmates. Under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), a prisoner cannot bring a civil action concerning prison conditions until he has first exhausted available administrative remedies. This exhaustion requirement is “mandatory.” Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1856 (2016), and “applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002).

         To comply with § 1997e(a), an inmate must follow each step of the established grievance procedure that the facility provides to prisoners and meet all deadlines within that procedure. See Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90-94 (2006). Even if the particular form of relief the inmate seeks in his lawsuit is not available through the prison's grievance proceedings, he must, nevertheless, exhaust properly all available remedies under that procedure as to each claim before bringing that claim in a civil action in this court. Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001).

         E. Taylor's Claims

         The court has elected to address Taylor's multiple and diverse claims one by one. As to each claim, the court will summarize the allegations in Taylor's submissions and the defendants' evidence and present the resolution of the defendants' motions as to that claim under applicable law.

         Claim 1: No hand-washing facilities for food servers

         Taylor alleges that none of the housing units at Wallens Ridge have a sink where pod workers or officers may wash their hands before serving inmates' food. He alleges that “[t]here have been times when officers have used the urinal” in a vacant cell or nearby outside recreation area, or “snake toilets” in inmates' cells, only to serve food minutes later without first washing their hands. (Am. Compl. at 7, Dkt. No. 77.) Officers do not always have access to the pod office, where they might have hand sanitizer. Taylor contends that “[t]his day-to-day unsanitary food distribution has put the prisoners' health at serious risk.” (Id.)

         Taylor raised some of these complaints through the inmate grievance procedures. Officials investigated his allegations and found no evidence of unsanitary food handling. (Fleming Aff. ¶ 5 and Encl. C, Dkt. No. 89-3.) It is undisputed that persons distributing inmates' meal trays wear latex gloves. (Id.)

         a. Lack of personal involvement by defendants

         The court concludes that the defendants are entitled to summary judgment. Taylor has not alleged facts showing that any of the defendants, personally, designed the housing units without hand washing facilities, served food without washing their hands, or knew and did not take action to correct this alleged, unsanitary practice. Thus, Taylor fails to state any constitutional claim against the defendants under § 1983 in their individual capacities. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009) (“Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to . . . § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.”) Moreover, Taylor also fails to state facts showing any violation of his constitutional rights by anyone related to this alleged deficiency in the Wallens Ridge furnishings.

         b. No Eighth Amendment claim

         The Eighth Amendment, which applies to the states under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, “protects inmates from inhumane treatment and conditions while imprisoned.” Williams v. Benjamin, 77 F.3d 756, 761 (4th Cir. 1996). “[T]he Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons, ” however, and conditions that are “restrictive and even harsh . . . are part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347-49 (1981). It is well established that “only the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain implicates the Eighth Amendment.” Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 297 (1991).

         To sustain an unconstitutional conditions claim, a prisoner must show that: (1) objectively, the deprivation was sufficiently serious, in that the challenged, official acts caused denial of “the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities”; and (2) subjectively, the defendant prison officials acted with “deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). The prisoner must show “significant physical or emotional harm, or a grave risk of such harm, ” resulting from the challenged conditions. Shakka v. Smith, 71 F.3d 162, 166 (4th Cir. 1995). Taylor must also show that each defendant was deliberately indifferent - that each one knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to Taylor's health or safety. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837.

         Taylor's allegations in Claim 1 do not make these showings. He does not allege that he has been deprived of any necessity for life, such as food or shelter, or that he has suffered any serious harm from the alleged food service practices at Wallens Ridge. ...

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