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Tran v. United States Marshal Service

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 21, 2018


         SECTION: “I” (5)



         Using the standardized form that is made available to prisoners for filing suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, the above-captioned matter was filed by pro se Plaintiff, David Tran, against Defendants, the United States Marshals Service (“USMS”), the St. Charles Parish Correctional Center (“SCPCC, ” better known as the Nelson Coleman Correctional Center, “NCCC”), the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office (“SCPSO”), and the unidentified Sheriff of St. Charles Parish. (Rec. docs. 5, pp. 1, 2, 3, 4; 5-1, pp. 1, 5). Given the entities and the individual named as Defendants herein, this matter comes before the Court for statutory screening under 28 U.S.C. §1915A irrespective of the fact that Plaintiff has paid the civil action filing fee prescribed by 28 U.S.C. §1914(a). (See docket entry between rec. docs. 7 and 8). The gatekeeping provision codified in §1915A directs a district court to dismiss a complaint, or any portion thereof, if it is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or if it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from providing such relief. 28 U.S.C. §1915A(b)(1) and (2); see also 42 U.S.C. §1997e(c)(1). For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that Plaintiff's lawsuit be dismissed pursuant to 1915A(b) and §1997e(c).

         Plaintiff is a federal pre-trial detainee who was assigned to be housed at the SCPCC/NCCC by the USMS following his arrest on Monday, November 7, 2017 and pending the resolution of the criminal charges that are pending against him in United States v. Tran, No. 17-CR-217 “H” (1). In the process of being booked into that facility by the SCPSO, Plaintiff alleges that he was “negligently injured” when he slipped and fell over an “improperly stored” leg shackle that was connected to a booking bench. Despite requesting medical care, Plaintiff states that he was not taken to the hospital or provided any treatment for his back, shoulder, hands, legs, and fingers, constituting deliberate indifference to his medical needs and the negligent imposition of suffering. (Rec. docs. 5, pp. 3, 4; 5-1, p. 5). Plaintiff seeks three million dollars in compensatory and punitive damages. (Rec. doc. 5-1, p. 6).

         The first of the four Defendants named in this matter is the USMS, a federal law enforcement agency within the U.S. Department of Justice. See 28 U.S.C. §561, et seq. As to it, “[a]bsent a waiver, sovereign immunity shields the Federal Government and its agencies from suit.” FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475, 114 S.Ct. 996, 1000 (1994). “Sovereign immunity is jurisdictional in nature.” Id. The Court being undirected to and unaware of any waiver of sovereign immunity by the USMS, via statute or otherwise, it lacks jurisdiction to consider the claims against the agency. Sheid v. United States Marshal Service, No. 08-CV-3295, 2009 WL 1750379 at *7 (S.D. Tex. Jun. 17, 2009), aff'd, 379 Fed.Appx. 345 (5th Cir. 2010), cert. denied, U.S.__, __ 131 S.Ct. 1469 (2011). Even if that were not the case, to the extent that this matter can be construed as a Bivens[1] action, the counterpart to an action under §1983, Evans v. Ball, 168 F.3d 856, 863 n. 10 (5th Cir. 1999), such an action may not be brought against a federal agency like the USMS. Sheid, 2009 WL 1750379 at *8. For these reasons, Plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted as to the USMS and should thus be dismissed. Id.

         The second Defendant named by Plaintiff in this matter is the SCPCC/NCCC. That correctional center, however, is not a proper defendant - it is a building, not a “person” subject to suit under §1983. Langlinais v. Nelson Coleman Corr. Center, No. 13-CV-3003, 2013 WL 5507303 at *1 (E.D. La. Oct. 2, 2013); Davis v. Nelson Corr. Center, No. 10-CV-2257, 2010 WL 4935304 at *2 (E.D. La. Oct. 29, 2010), adopted, 2010 WL 4931883 (E.D. La. Nov. 30, 2010); Taylor v. Nelson Coleman Corr. Center, No. 10-CV-0841, 2010 WL 1979618 at *2 (E.D. La. Apr. 22, 2010), adopted, 2010 WL 1980406 (E.D. La. May 14, 2010); Diggs v. Nelson Coleman Corr. Center, No. 10-CV-0097, 2010 WL 1038229 at *3 (E.D. La. Feb. 17, 2010), adopted, 2010 WL 1038230 (E.D. La. Mar. 17, 2010). No. valid §1983 claim against the SCPCC/NCCC lies here.

         Next in terms of named Defendants is the SCPSO. In Louisiana, a “… sheriff's office is not a legal entity capable of being sued …” Cozzo v. Tangipahoa Parish Council - President Gov't, 279 F.3d 273, 283 (5th Cir. 2002); Wetzel v. St. Tammany Parish Jail, 610 F.Supp.2d 545, 548 (E.D. La. 2009); Causey v. Parish of Tangipahoa, 167 F.Supp.2d 898, 904 (E.D. La. 2001); Ruggiero v. Litchfield, 700 F.Supp. 863, 865 (M.D. La. 1988). In light of these authorities, Plaintiff's §1983 claim against the SCPSO should also be dismissed.

         The final named Defendant in this matter is the unidentified Sheriff of St. Charles Parish. Not only does Plaintiff fail to specifically identify the Sheriff by name, he also fails to provide any indication in his complaint of the capacity(ies) in which the Sheriff is being sued. “When a pro se plaintiff does not specify in his complaint whether a defendant is named in his or her official or individual capacity, it is generally presumed by operation of law that the defendant is named in his or her official capacity.” Douglas v. Gusman, 567 F.Supp.2d 877, 888-89 (E.D. La. 2008). “'In a suit brought against a municipal official in his [or her] official capacity, the plaintiff must show that the municipality has a policy or custom that caused his injury.'” Carter v. Strain, No. 09-CV-0015, 2009 WL 3231826 at *2 (E.D. La. Oct. 1, 2009)(quoting Parm v. Shumate, 513 F.3d 135, 142 (5th Cir. 2007), cert. denied, 555 U.S. 813, 129 S.Ct. 42 (2008)). “'A plaintiff may not infer a policy merely because harm resulted from some interaction with a governmental entity.'” Id. (quoting Colle v. Brazos County, Texas, 982 F.2d 237, 245 (5th Cir. 1993)). Rather, the plaintiff “. . . must identify the policy or custom which allegedly caused the deprivation of his constitutional rights.” Id. (citing Murray v. Town of Mansura, 76 Fed.Appx. 547, 549 (5th Cir. 2003) and Treece v. Louisiana, 74 Fed.Appx. 315, 316 (5th Cir. 2003)).

         Measured against the foregoing standards, Plaintiff's allegations against the Sheriff in his official capacity fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, as he does not allege that the purported deprivation resulted from a policy or custom, much less identify any such policy or custom. Carter, 2009 WL 3231826 at *2. Construing Plaintiff's allegations as having been made against the Sheriff in his individual capacity, Plaintiff fares no better for the following reasons. Although Plaintiff identifies the Sheriff as a Defendant on one of the pages of his complaint (rec. doc. 5-1, p. 5), he presents no factual allegations that specifically illustrate the Sheriff's participation in the alleged wrong, a necessary requirement in a civil-rights cause of action. Jacquez v. Procunier, 801 F.2d 789, 793 (5th Cir. 1986). “To state a cause of action under §1983, the plaintiff must allege facts reflecting the defendants' participation in the alleged wrong, specifying the personal involvement of each defendant.” Jolly v. Klein, 923 F.Supp. 931, 943 (S.D. Tex. 1996)(emphasis added)(citing Murphy v. Kellar, 950 F.2d 290, 292 (5th Cir. 1992)). Moreover, supervisory officials like the Sheriff cannot be held liable for civil-rights violations allegedly committed by his associates based on a theory of strict or vicarious liability. Harvey v. Andrist, 754 F.2d 569, 572 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 471 U.S. 1126, 105 S.Ct. 2659 (1985).

         Even if Plaintiff had named one or more proper Defendants in this matter and/or had identified and pled more specific allegations against the Sheriff, the undersigned would nevertheless recommend that his lawsuit be dismissed for the following reasons. Plaintiff's primary claim is that he was “negligently injured” when he fell over an “improperly stored” leg shackle in the booking area of the SCPCC/NCCC. Such an allegation is not actionable under §1983 as the Due Process Clause is simply not implicated by a negligent act of a state official causing unintended loss of or injury to life, liberty, or property. Herrera v. Millsap, 862 F.2d 1157, 1160 (5th Cir. 1989)(quoting Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 328, 106 S.Ct. 662, 664 (1986)).

         Nor does Plaintiff's complaint present an arguable claim for deprivation of needed medical care. To facilitate the Court in conducting the statutory screening mandated by §1915A(a), earlier on in this case the Sheriff was ordered to provide the undersigned, as well as Plaintiff, with a verified copy of the medical records that were generated at the SCPCC/NCCC. (Rec. doc. 8). Among those records is an Incident Report that was prepared by Corporal Ronald Springer the day after the occurrence. According to that Report, at approximately 6:42 p.m. on the day in question Springer ordered Plaintiff and two other inmates who were seated on the bench to stand up and walk to a particular cell. As Plaintiff was in the process of doing so, he stepped onto a shackle that was connected to a booking bench and slipped and fell, landing on his lower back. Springer notified the Medical Department of the incident and four minutes later, LPN Bridgette Oubre arrived on the scene, checked Plaintiff's vital signs, and performed an initial evaluation of his lower back. Oubre then conferred with Dr. Lawrence Durante and thereafter advised Corporal Singer that Plaintiff had been placed on the list to see the doctor and to have an x-ray done of his lower back. Plaintiff was prescribed Ibuprofen 800 mg three times per day and was cleared to return to his cell. Video surveillance of the incident was reviewed by Lieutenant Raiford who confirmed that Plaintiff had slipped on a shackle that was attached to a front booking bench.

         In being screened and processed into SCPCC/NCCC on November 7, 2017, Plaintiff was initially assigned to suicide watch after he refused to answer questions about his current mental state. By the following day, that assignment had been discontinued by the doctor after Plaintiff denied suicidal and homicidal ideations and was observed to be calm and cooperative with normal speech. He was assigned to a bottom bunk and appointments with two other doctors were scheduled for November 13 and 14, 2017. Plaintiff appeared before the Court for a detention hearing in his criminal case on November 9, 2017. In connection with that hearing, the undersigned issued an order directing the St. Charles Parish Sheriff to have Plaintiff medically examined and/or treated for “bruising/injury to back.” (Rec. doc. 13 in No. 17-MJ-145). On November 10, 2017, Plaintiff completed a “Request for Sick Call” form asking to be seen by a doctor for an unspecified complaint. That form was responded to with a request that Plaintiff identify his medical concern. Plaintiff was seen by a psychiatrist for suicide watch follow-up on November 13, 2017 and overall improvement to his mental health was documented. Later that night, Plaintiff submitted another “Request for Sick Call, ” stating that he was hurt and needed to see a doctor. The following day, Plaintiff was evaluated by Dr. Wood, who ordered x-rays of the left shoulder and lumbar spine, prescribed Tylenol for pain relief, and directed that Plaintiff remain on lower bunk assignment for two months. The ordered radiological studies were conducted on November 16, 2017. X-rays of the left shoulder were unremarkable. X-rays of the lumbar spine, however, revealed an age-indeterminate avulsion fracture of the superior anterior endplate of the L5 vertebral body with mild scattered degenerative disc disease.

         Plaintiff's pain medication list was reconciled on November 21, 2017. The following day, Plaintiff was re-evaluated by Dr. Wood in light of the recent x-ray results. Plaintiff's lower back pain was said to be “better” and the plan was to refer him to an orthopedist if there was no significant improvement in two weeks. His medication regimen was adjusted to better manage his pain. Per Dr. Wood's order, Plaintiff's mattress was also to be inspected to assure that it was properly inflated. On November 25, 2017, Plaintiff was seen by medical personnel for a single episode of coughing up blood and upset stomach after taking his medications the previous evening. Plaintiff was administered Pepto Bismol several days later after complaining of nausea and vomiting for three days. He was observed to ambulate without difficulty on this date. He also complained of a continuing back and left shoulder pain in a sick call request form dated November 26, 2017. Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Durante on November 30, 2017 and was prescribed Vistaril. A follow-up appointment with Dr. Wood was scheduled for December 6, 2017.

         On December 4, 2017, Plaintiff completed an “Inmate Request Form” which he directed to the Medical Department complaining of the adequacy of the mattress in his cell. A handwritten notation on the top right-hand corner of the form indicates that Plaintiff was eventually provided with a better mattress pursuant to a request from the Medical Department. Plaintiff was seen again by Dr. Wood on December 6, 2017 and a multi-step treatment plan was put in place, including a referral to an orthopedist. Based on recent weight loss ...

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