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Smith v. Gusman

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 4, 2015



DANIEL E. KNOWLES, III, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Davis Cleveland Smith, filed the instant civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, Earl Weaver, Chief Bordelon, Melvin Howard, Mike Tidwell, Robert Martin, Charles Reed, Mary Goodwin, Phil Barre, Dr. Samuel Gore, Carlos Louque, and Bonita Pittman. In this lawsuit, plaintiff, who is no longer incarcerated, claimed that he was subjected to unconstitutional conditions while confined within the Orleans Parish Prison system. The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge.[1]

The defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[2] Plaintiff has filed no opposition to that motion.[3]

In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court may grant the motion when no genuine issue of material fact exists and the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). There is no "genuine issue" when the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmovant. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

"Procedurally, the party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the record which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Taita Chemical Co., Ltd. v. Westlake Styrene Corp., 246 F.3d 377, 385 (5th Cir. 2001) (quotation marks and brackets omitted). The party opposing summary judgment must then "go beyond the pleadings and by [his] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56); see also Provident Life and Accident Ins. Co. v. Goel, 274 F.3d 984, 991 (5th Cir. 2001). The Court has no duty to search the record for evidence to support a party's opposition to summary judgment; rather, "[t]he party opposing summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate the precise manner in which the evidence supports his or her claim." Ragas v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir. 1998). Conclusory statements, speculation, and unsubstantiated assertions are not competent summary judgment evidence and will not suffice to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment. Id.; Douglass v. United Servs. Auto Ass'n, 79 F.3d 1415, 1429 (5th Cir. 1996).

Having carefully reviewed the unopposed motion, the Court finds that the defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law for the following reasons.

As noted, plaintiff alleges that, while he was incarcerated within the Orleans Parish Prison system as a pretrial detainee, [4] he was subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement. 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 mere 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). As explained below, it is apparent that plaintiff's numerous complaints regarding the conditions of his confinement concerned inconveniences which did not constitute "punishment" or otherwise rise to the level of constitutional violations.

In his complaint, plaintiff provided a laundry list of grievances. For example, he argued that the jail was generally in poor condition, alleging that tiles were missing from the bathroom floor, a light fixture on the tier was "out and hanging from the ceiling, " and camera wiring was exposed.[5] However, he has presented no evidence whatsoever that those conditions resulted from a punitive motive, rather than from mere negligence. Further, the conditions themselves, while lamentable, were not inherently unconstitutional. See, e.g., Lee v. Hennigan, 98 Fed.App'x 286 (5th Cir. 2004) (rejecting a claim that defendants violated an inmates "constitutional rights by maintaining unsafe shower facilities, " noting that problem did not result from a punitive intent and that "[t]he fact that a detention interfered with a prisoner's desire to live as comfortably as possible does not convert the conditions of confinement into punishment").

Plaintiff also complained that the jail was unclean.[6] 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."). Again, while the conditions described by plaintiff may have been unpleasant, they were not so egregious as to be unconstitutional.

Plaintiff next claimed that there was mold and rust.[7] However, the jurisprudence has repeatedly held that the mere fact that mold is present in a jail does not render an inmate's confinement unconstitutional. See, e.g., Eaton v. Magee, Civ. Action No. 2:10-cv-112, 2012 WL 2459398, at *5 (S.D.Miss. June 27, 2012) ("Plaintiff's claim that the bathroom and shower area are unsanitary and contain black mold fails to rise to the level of a constitutional violation."); Barnett v. Shaw, No. 3:11-CV-0399, 2011 WL 2200610, at *2 (N.D. Tex. May 18, 2011) (allegation of "excessive amount of black mold in the showers and sinks" was insufficient to raise a claim for constitutional violation), adopted, 2011 WL 2214383 (N.D. Tex. June 7, 2011); Reynolds v. Newcomer, Civ. Action No. 09-1077, 2010 WL 234896, at *10 (W.D. La. Jan. 19, 2010) (plaintiff's complaints of "the presence of black mold in living areas, eating areas, and shower areas" were found to "rise to no more than a de minimis level of imposition with which the Constitution is not concerned" (quotation marks omitted)); McCarty v. McGee, No. 2:06cv113, 2008 WL 341643, at *3 (S.D.Miss. Feb. 5, 2008) ("Plaintiff's claim that the shower he was forced to share with other inmates is polluted and covered in mold and fungus, causing him to catch athlete's foot and ringworm, fails to rise to the level of a constitutional violation."). Similarly, the presence of rust in a jail does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation or otherwise warrant relief in a federal civil rights action. See, e.g., Maddox v. Gusman, Civ. Action No. 14-2435, 2015 WL 1274081, at *3 (E.D. La. Mar. 19, 2015); 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).

Plaintiff also complained that "gnats [were] numerous and an ongoing problem."[8] However, the mere presence of pests, such as gnats, likewise does not amount to a constitutional violation. See, e.g., Simmons, 2015 WL 151113, at *4; Clark v. Gusman, Civ. Action No. 11-2673, 2012 WL 1825306, at *5 (E.D. La. Mar. 29, 2012), adopted, 2012 WL 1825302 (E.D. La. May 18, 2012); Murray v. Edwards County Sheriff's Department, 453 F.Supp.2d 1280, 1292 (D. Kan. 2006), aff'd, 248 Fed.App'x 993 (10th Cir. 2007); Smith v. Barber, 316 F.Supp.2d 992, 1028-29 (D. Kan. 2004).

Plaintiff next complained of various plumbing problems. For example, he alleged that not all showers were operational, that not all toilets worked properly, and that inmates were without access to hot water for a period of two weeks.[9] While such plumbing problems are undoubtedly annoying, they are not actionable under federal law because the Constitution does not protect inmates from those types of "life's occasional inconveniences." Holloway v. Gunnell, 685 F.2d 150, 156 (5th Cir. 1982); Maddox, 2015 WL 1274081, at *4; Scott v. Gusman, Civ. Action No. 10-2706, 2011 WL 666851, at *7 (E.D. La. Feb. 14, 2011); Rue v. Gusman, Civ. Action No. 09-6480, 2010 WL 1930936, at *5 (E.D. La. May 11, 2010). Plaintiff's claim concerning the lack of hot water for a two-week period similarly fails because inmates simply have no constitutional right to hot water. Mann v. Smith, 796 F.2d 79, 85 (5th Cir. 1986); Johnson v. Desoto County Sheriff Department, Civ. Action No. 13cv43, 2013 WL 3944284, at *2 (N.D. Miss. July 31, 2013).

Plaintiff also complained that the ceiling leaked.[10] However, such "leaks, while unpleasant, are not unconstitutional." Bean v. Pittman, Civ. Action No. 14-2210, 2015 WL 350284, at *4 (E.D. La. Jan. 26, 2015); accord Davies v. Fuselier, No. 00-30554, 2001 WL 360709, at *3 (5th Cir. Mar. 15, 2001); Simmons v. Gusman, Civ Action No. 14-1907, 2015 WL 151113, at *5 (E.D. La. Jan. 12, 2015); McAllister v. Strain, Civ. Action No. 09-2824, 2009 WL 5088752 (E.D. La. Dec. 23, 2009).

Plaintiff next complained that the air conditioning system remained on even during the winter.[11] It cannot be doubted that exposure to "extreme cold" is actionable in some circumstances. See, e.g., Palmer v. Johnson, 193 F.3d 346, 353 (5th Cir. 1999). Here, however, there is no evidence that the air conditioning subjected plaintiff to "extreme cold" or that he suffered from any type disability which made him particularly vulnerable to harm as a result of ...

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