United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Glen E. Conrad, Senior United States District Judge.
plaintiff, Quentin Joshua Riffle, a Virginia jail inmate
proceeding pro se, filed this action under 42 U.S.C. §
1983, alleging that he has suffered unconstitutional living
conditions and a violation of a federal privacy law. After
review of his submissions, the court concludes that the
action must be summarily dismissed.
is confined at the jail facility in Duffield, Virginia,
operated by the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority.
He alleges that he and six other inmates were "locked in
a cell for 20 hours a day with no air [and] temperatures
exceeded 80 [degrees] for an excess of 20 days." Compl.
2, ECF No. 1. He asked jail officials "to fix [the]
air" conditioning many times. Id. He was told
that they did not know how or that the air had been fixed.
Riffle also alleges that mental health staff at the jail
violated his rights under the Health Insurance Portability
and Accountability Act ("HIPAA") "by having an
untrained officer present talking about [Riffle's]
charges," although "the officer is not bound
by" HIPAA requirements. Id.
28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), the court must screen and
dismiss a § 1983 complaint "in which a prisoner
seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer" if
the court concludes that it "is frivolous, malicious, or
fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted." To state a claim, the plaintiffs "[f]
actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief
above the speculative level," to one that is
"plausible on its face," rather than merely
"conceivable." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007).
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). The Eighth Amendment protects prisoners from cruel and
unusual living conditions. Rhodes v. Chapman, 452
U.S. 337, 347 (1981). "[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." Id. at 347-49. 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). Thus, to
allege a past violation of the amendment, a prisoner must
show that he suffered "significant physical or emotional
harm" as a result of the challenged conditions.
Shakka v. Smith, 71 F.3d 162, 166 (4th Cir. 1995).
apparently claims that by housing him in a hot jail cell for
nearly three weeks, the jail authority violated the Eighth
Amendment. While there is no doubt that Riffle suffered
discomfort from the conditions he describes, Riffle does not
allege that those conditions caused him any significant
physical or emotional harm. Thus, he fails to meet the injury
element of his claim.
to prove that a jail authority is liable under § 1983
for constitutional violations committed by an employee, the
plaintiff must show that the jail authority's policy was
"the moving force of the constitutional violation."
Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 326 (1981)
(citation omitted). He must show that the allegedly
unconstitutional action (the lack of air conditioning for
three weeks) "implement[ed] or execut[ed] a policy
statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially
adopted and promulgated by" the jail authority and its
officers. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436
U.S. 658, 690 (1978). Riffle's allegations do not reflect
that the jail authority has a policy against providing air
conditioning in inmate housing or against repairing such
equipment when it malfunctions. Accordingly, his complaint
does not state a § 1983 claim about cell conditions
against the jail authority.
also fails to state any actionable claim against anyone under
HIPAA. That federal statute simply did not create a private
right of legal action allowing a patient to sue his mental
health care providers under HIPAA for failing to protect his
privacy on matters related to his mental health. See, e.g.,
Acara v. Banks, 470 F.3d 569, 571-72 (5th Cir. 2006)
(finding no private right of legal action created by HIPAA);
Lee-Thomas v. Lab. Corp., 316 F.Supp.3d 471, 474
(D.D.C. 2018) (finding that HIPAA did not create private
cause of legal action and dismissing patient's claim
against hospital for conducting intake interview within
earshot of other patients).
Riffle's complaint thus presents no factual basis for a
claim actionable under § 1983, the court will summarily
dismiss this action without prejudice under §
1915A(b)(1) for failure to state a claim upon which relief
could be granted. An appropriate order will enter this day.
Dismissal without prejudice leaves Riffle free to refile his