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Cheatham v. Kanode

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

March 1, 2019

KANODE, et al., Defendants.



         Sylvester M. Cheatham, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the Warden, a doctor, and a nurse at River North Correctional Center (River North). Cheatham alleges that he was denied medical treatment after an injury. Defendants filed motions to dismiss, and this matter is ripe for disposition. Having considered the pleadings, the court concludes that defendants' motions must be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Cheatham alleges that on July 4, 2017, another inmate hit him on the left side of his head with the metal footrest from a wheelchair, causing injuries to his skin, ear, and eye, and prolonged dizziness. On July 6, 2017, Cheatham was seen by defendant Dr. Stevens, had x-rays taken, and was prescribed ibuprofen. That same day, Cheatham submitted a request for service form addressed to defendant Nurse Parks. In the form, Cheatham noted that he had seen Dr. Stevens that day and had x-rays taken. He also requested a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) because of his injuries. He did not indicate on the form that an MRI had been ordered by a doctor. On July 10, 2017, someone responded to that request by indicating that Cheatham had been placed on sick call. On August 1, 2017, Cheatham filed a regular grievance, stating that he was still experiencing blurred vision, slight incoherence, dizziness, and headaches. On August 2, 2017, Cheatham was seen in the medical department for a follow-up appointment, at which time he was referred for consultations with an optometrist and an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT). On September 25, 2017, Cheatham had an eye examination. On November 8, 2017, Cheatham was seen by an ENT regarding “left ear pain and hearing loss due to injury.” On November 13, 2017, Cheatham had another eye examination. On December 14, 2017, Cheatham was seen by an optometrist. Compl., Dkt. No. 1, 4; Med. Rec., Dkt. No. 1-2, 11-17, 21, Request for Serv. Form, Dkt. No. 1-2, 21; Reg. Grievance, Dkt. No. 1-2, 26.

         In his complaint, Cheatham states that on an unspecified date, he saw an unnamed eye doctor at River North who ordered an MRI and that he has not been sent out for the MRI yet. There is no indication in the medical records attached to Cheatham's complaint that any doctor actually ordered an MRI. Cheatham also states in his complaint that he was told that he needs a “good audiogram” but that he has not been sent out for one of those either. The attachments to his complaint show that the ENT who evaluated him on November 8, 2017, noted that he “needs a good audiogram, ” but Cheatham does not allege, and there is no indication in the medical records, that the ENT or any doctor actually ordered an audiogram. Cheatham alleges that his “problems” are getting worse and “nothing is being done.” He claims that Nurse Parks and Dr. Stevens failed to follow the “Medical Standards and Procedures.” Compl., Dkt. No. 1, 4-5; Med. Rec., Dkt. No. 1-2, 17; Reg. Grievance, Dkt. No. 1-2, 30.

         In a letter submitted with his complaint, Cheatham states that, after he was hit with the wheelchair footrest, another “incident” took place “with another wheelchair in [the] same pod.” He does not allege that he was involved in this second incident. Cheatham claims that, after that second incident, defendant Warden Kanode and security staff altered the wheelchairs by bolting down all the removable parts of the wheelchairs. Letter, Dkt. No. 1-1.


         A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

          The defendants have filed motions to dismiss. 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). 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.” Id. 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). 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). 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).

         In deciding a motion to dismiss, attachments to the complaint may be considered. See Butters v. James Madison Univ., 145 F.Supp.3d 610, 616 (W.D. Va. 2015) (citing Sec'y of State for Defence v. Trimble Navigation, Ltd., 484 F.3d 700, 705 (4th Cir. 2007)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c) (2018). Here, plaintiff attached certain records to his complaint upon which he relies. In the event of conflict between the bare allegations of the complaint and any attached exhibit, the exhibit prevails. Fayetteville Investors v. Commercial Builders, Inc., 936 F.2d 1462, 1465 (4th Cir. 1991).

         B. Official Capacity Damages

         To the extent Cheatham brings this action against the defendants in their official capacities for monetary damages, such relief is not available via § 1983. Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58 (1989). Therefore, the court will grant defendants' motions to dismiss as to ...

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