United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Dean Wood, Pro Se Plaintiff.
P. Jones, United States District Judge.
Dean Wood, a Virginia jail inmate proceeding pro se, filed
this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He alleges that when
he was attacked by three other inmates, the two guards who
were escorting him ran away, leaving him to be punched and
kicked by the inmates. Upon review of the record, I find that
the action must be summarily dismissed with prejudice for
failure to state a claim.
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1), the court may dismiss any
§ 1983 action “with respect to prison conditions .
. . if the court is satisfied that the action is frivolous,
malicious, [or] fails to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted.” 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). To hold an official liable
under § 1983, the plaintiff must state facts that
affirmatively show how the official acted personally to
deprive him of constitutional rights. Vinnedge v.
Gibbs, 550 F.2d 926, 928 (4th Cir. 1977). Wood's
Complaint names a guard, McGlauphlin, as a defendant and
seeks monetary damages. Wood does not describe any action
this individual personally took in violation of Wood's
constitutional rights, however. Thus, Wood states no claim
actionable under § 1983 against McGlauphlin.
allegations in general also fail to state a constitutional
claim against anyone.
The Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons, but
neither does it permit inhumane ones. Prisons house persons
with demonstrated proclivities for antisocial criminal, and
often violent, conduct, and at the same time strips inmates
of virtually every means of self-protection. The government
and its officials are not free to let the state of nature
take its course, and gratuitously allowing the beating or
rape of one prisoner by another serves no legitimate
Prison officials are, therefore, obligated to take reasonable
measures to guarantee inmate safety. In particular, prison
officials have a duty to protect prisoners from violence at
the hands of other prisoners.
That being said, not every injury suffered by a prisoner at
the hands of another translates into constitutional liability
for prison officials responsible for the victim's safety.
Rather, liability attaches only when two requirements are
met. First, a prison official's act or omission must
result in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of
life's necessities. For a claim based on a failure to
prevent harm, the plaintiff must show that he was
incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of
Makdessi v. Fields, 789 F.3d 126, 132-33 (4th Cir.
2015). In this case, Wood must show, objectively,
that he has suffered a “significant physical or
emotional harm” as a result of the hazardous condition
at issue. Shakka v. Smith, 71 F.3d 162, 166 (4th
Cir. 1995). Wood makes no such showing. He does not allege
facts showing that he suffered any significant injury from
the incident described in his Complaint.
second requirement in the constitutional standard is to show
that, subjectively, the defendant official knew facts
indicating a substantial risk of serious harm, recognized the
existence and seriousness of that risk, and failed to respond
reasonably to alleviate it. Makdessi, 789 F.3d at
133-34. While prison officials are constitutionally
“obligated to take reasonable measures to guarantee
inmate safety” against attacks from other inmates, they
cannot be liable under § 1983 for failing to prevent
such an attack through mere inadvertence or negligence.
Id. at 132. Wood alleges that the inmate attackers
should have been locked in their cells while he was being
escorted through the area. Without more, this allegation
suggests merely negligent oversight, which does not support a
constitutional claim against anyone.
theoretically Wood might be able to plead additional facts in
order to overcome the deficiencies in his case as noted
above, prison officials “may be found free from
liability if they responded reasonably to the risk, even if
the harm ultimately was not averted.” Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 844 (1994). Based on Wood's
description of the events, the escorting guards did not
respond unreasonably to the circumstances by running for help
when they were outnumbered by attackers.
stated reasons, I am satisfied that Wood cannot state facts
consistent with his allegations that will support an
actionable § 1983 claim against anyone. Accordingly, I
will dismiss this civil action with prejudice under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1997e(c)(1). An appropriate order will enter this day.