United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
February 20, 2015
MARLIN N. GUSMAN, ET AL
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
DANIEL E. KNOWLES, III, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Mederick Scott, a state pretrial detainee, filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman, Warden Bonita J. Pittman, and Sergeants Weaver, West, Gibson, Dorsey, and Jimison. In this lawsuit, plaintiff challenges the conditions of his confinement within the Orleans Parish Prison system.
To better understand the factual bases of plaintiff's claims, the Court held a Spears hearing on January 26, 2015. See Spears v. McCotter , 766 F.2d 179 (5th Cir. 1985). "[T]he Spears procedure affords the plaintiff an opportunity to verbalize his complaints, in a manner of communication more comfortable to many prisoners." Davis v. Scott , 157 F.3d 1003, 1005-06 (5th Cir. 1998). The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has observed that a Spears hearing is in the nature of a Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e) motion for more definite statement. Eason v. Holt , 73 F.3d 600, 602 (5th Cir. 1996). Spears hearing testimony becomes a part of the total filing by the pro se applicant. Id.
I. Standards of Review
Federal law mandates that federal courts "review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Regarding such lawsuits, federal law further requires:
On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint -
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.
28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).
Additionally, with respect to actions filed in forma pauperis, such as the instant lawsuit, federal law similarly provides:
Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that... the action or appeal -
(i) is frivolous or malicious;
(ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
(iii) seeks monetary damages against a defendant who is immune from such relief.
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
A complaint is frivolous "if it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact." Reeves v. Collins , 27 F.3d 174, 176 (5th Cir. 1994). In making a determination as to whether a claim is frivolous, the Court has "not only the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless." Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989); Macias v. Raul A. (Unknown), Badge No. 153 , 23 F.3d 94, 97 (5th Cir. 1994).
A complaint fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted when the plaintiff does not "plead enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litigation, 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007) (citation, footnote, and quotation marks omitted). The United States Supreme Court has explained:
A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement, " but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.
Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations and quotation marks omitted).
Although broadly construing plaintiff's complaint and fully considering his Spears hearing testimony, the undersigned recommends that, for the following reasons, the complaint be dismissed as frivolous and/or for failing to state a claim on which relief may be granted.
II. Plaintiff's Claims
In his complaint, plaintiff states his claim as follows: "There's mildew and rust causing me to be sick. All officials as Defendants are responsible for not issueing [sic] cleaning supplies." At the Spears hearing, plaintiff testified that the rust and mildew have caused him to have a sore throat and trouble breathing when he tries to sleep. When he requested medical care, he was given a shot but it did not help.
It is clear that "the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the imposition of conditions of confinement on pretrial detainees that constitute punishment." Collins v. Ainsworth , 382 F.3d 529, 540 (5th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted). Nevertheless, the jurisprudence recognizes that the judiciary is ill equipped to micro-manage a jail's day-to-day operations, and federal courts are therefore loath to intervene when detainees complain of trivial inconveniences. Further, such judicial restraint is appropriate because the federal constitution simply is not concerned with a de minimis level of imposition on pretrial detainees. Bell v. Wolfish , 441 U.S. 520, 539 n.21 (1979); Ruiz v. El Paso Processing Center, 299 Fed.App'x 369, 371 (5th Cir. 2008). For the following reasons, it is apparent that plaintiff's complaints concern nothing more than de minimis inconveniences which do not constitute "punishment" or otherwise rise to the level of constitutional violations.
Obviously, there is a point beyond which a prison's conditions are so unsanitary as to render them unconstitutional. See, e.g., Gates v. Cook , 376 F.3d 323, 338 (5th Cir. 2004) (confinement in "extremely filthy' [cells] with crusted fecal matter, urine, dried ejaculate, peeling and chipping paint, and old food particles on the walls" was unconstitutional). That said, it must be remembered that, although prisons should be reasonably clean, "[t]he Constitution does not require that prisons be completely sanitized or as clean or free from potential hazards as one's home might be." McAllister v. Strain, Civ. Action No. 09-2823, 2009 WL 5178316, at *3 (E.D. La. Dec. 23, 2009); accord Talib v. Gilley , 138 F.3d 211, 215 (5th Cir. 1998) ("[T]he Constitution does not mandate prisons with comfortable surroundings or commodious conditions."). Therefore, the mere fact that mildew and rust are present does not warrant relief. See, e.g., Simmons v. Gusman, Civ. Action No. 14-1907, 2015 WL 151113, at *4 (E.D. La. Jan. 12, 2015); Penn v. Jones, Civ. Action No. 13-0830, 2014 WL 31351, at *2 (W.D. La. Jan. 2, 2014); Mitchell v. Jefferson Parish Correctional Center, Civ. Action No. 13-4963, 2013 WL 6002770, at *6 (E.D. La. Nov. 12, 2013); Jones v. Catahoula Parish, No. 11-CV-861, 2012 WL 704105, at *5-6 (W.D. La. Jan. 18, 2012), adopted, 2012 WL 696268 (W.D. La. Feb. 29, 2012); Sneeze v. Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office, Civ. Action No. 11-987, 2011 WL 2413464, at *3 (E.D. La. May 9, 2011), adopted, 2011 WL 2311867 (E.D. La. June 10, 2011); Carter v. Strain, Civ. Action No. 09-15 , 2009 WL 3231826, at *3 (E.D. La. Oct. 1, 2009); McCarty v. McGee, No. 2:06cv113, 2008 WL 341643, at *3 (S.D.Miss. Feb. 5, 2008).
It is therefore RECOMMENDED that plaintiff's complaint be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE as frivolous and/or for failing to state a claim on which relief may be granted.
A party's failure to file written objections to the proposed findings, conclusions, and recommendation in a magistrate judge's report and recommendation within fourteen (14) days after being served with a copy shall bar that party, except upon grounds of plain error, from attacking on appeal the unobjected-to proposed factual findings and legal conclusions accepted by the district court, provided that the party has been served with notice that such consequences will result from a failure to object. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Douglass v. United Services Auto. Ass'n , 79 F.3d 1415, 1430 (5th Cir. 1996) (en banc).