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Allison v. Ball

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

March 5, 2019

OFFICER BALL, et al., Defendants.


          Michael F. Urbanski, Chief United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Antonio Lamont Allison, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Unit Manager Turner and Officer Ball at Keen Mountain Correctional Center (“Keen Mountain”).[1] Allison alleges that Officer Ball violated the Eighth Amendment by calling him a snitch and child molester in front of staff and other inmates. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss and Allison responded with a motion for summary judgment against Officer Ball. This matter is ripe for disposition. Having reviewed the record, the court concludes that defendants' motion to dismiss must be granted in part and denied in part, and Allison's motion for summary judgment must be denied.


         Allison alleges in his unverified complaint that, on multiple occasions, beginning on August 24, 2017 and continuing through November 29, 2017, in front of other inmates and staff, Officer Ball called Allison names such as, “snitching mother fucker, ” “hot mother fucker, ” and “child molester.” Allison also alleges that Officer Ball told other inmates Allison's cell number and told his coworkers that he hated Allison and implied that Allison had filed grievances against them. On one occasion, Officer Ball was blowing up rubber gloves and popping them “as he was shooting at [Allison].”

         Allison also alleges that other non-defendant staff and inmates called Allison a snitch and child molester, and that other inmates also threatened to physically attack, stab, or kill him. Allison claims that on November 29, 2017, one inmate “was trying to pay” another inmate to “assault [him] and get [him] out of the pod.” He also claims that other inmates wrote grievances under his name.

         On January 9, 2018, inmate Walker, an “unstable, violent offender” with a “history of violence, ” was assigned to Allison's pod. On January 12, 2018, Walker “violen[tly] attacked” Allison multiple times in his cell, by punching, kneeing, and biting him. Later that evening, Allison reported the incident to the building sergeant and received medical treatment.

         On January 25, 2018, and continuing through March 4, 2018, Officer Ball called Allison derogatory names again and said that Allison: likes to fight, was “scared to death, ” wrote request forms on staff, and should go back to general population so that “they can kill his ‘snitching ass.'” In addition, during that same time period, other staff and other inmates called him derogatory names and laughed at him.[2]

         In his complaint, Allison makes no allegations against and describes no conduct committed by defendant Unit Manger Turner. The only reference to Unit Manager Turner is in a grievance response attached to the complaint. In the response, the Warden of Keen Mountain addresses Allison's complaints that Officer Ball called him names on August 24, 2017 and that another officer called him names on August 26, 2017. With regard to Unit Manager Turner, the Warden states, “Unit Manager Turner states after investigating this and speaking to the staff involved . . . . all staff have been supervised and have been trained in the proper way to conduct themselves while assigned to C-Building. He reports he can find no evidence the staff have treated you in an unprofessional manner.”


         Defendants Unit Manager Turner and Officer Ball filed a motion to dismiss Allison's complaint. 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).


         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must show direct personal involvement by each particular defendant. Trulock v. Freeh, 275 F.3d 391, 402 (4th Cir. 2001) (noting that liability in a civil rights case is “personal, based upon each defendant's own constitutional violations”); see also Garraghty v. Va. Dep't of Corr., 52 F.3d 1274, 1280 (4th Cir. 1995). That is, as the Supreme Court has cautioned, “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676. Here, however, Allison has not identified any specific, alleged misconduct with respect to Unit Manager Turner. To the extent he could be complaining that Turner did not adequately investigate his allegations, any such claim fails. See Charles v. Nance, 186 Fed.Appx. 494, 495 (5th Cir. 2006) (holding that alleged failure to investigate a grievance “fails to assert a due process violation”); Sweat v. Rennick, No. 9:11-2908, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55200, at *5, 2012 WL 1358721, at *2 (D.S.C. Feb. 7, 2012) (“Plaintiff's complaint that this Defendant has not properly investigated his claims . . . fails to set forth a claim for a violation of a constitutional right.”); Lewis v. Williams, Nos. 05-13, 05-51, 05-52, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8444, at *18-19, 2006 WL 538546, at *7 (D. Del. Mar. 6, ...

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