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Hartman v. Jones

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Tallahassee Division

February 6, 2018

JULIE L. JONES, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, initiated this case in November 2016 by filing a notice of intent to sue. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff filed a complaint in December 2016, ECF No. 4, and was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. ECF Nos. 5, 6, and 10. Service was directed, ECF No. 12, and Defendant Jones, the Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, filed a motion to dismiss. ECF No. 16. Plaintiff was advised of his obligation to file a response in opposition to the motion, ECF No. 17, and his response was timely filed. ECF No. 18.

         Allegations of the Complaint, ECF No. 4

         Plaintiff is a prisoner who is housed at Liberty Correctional Institution. ECF No. 4 at 1. Plaintiff was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Sleep Apnea Disease in 2001, prior to his incarceration. Id. at 3. His treatment for that condition includes “the use of a ‘CPAP' breathing-assistance machine . . . .” Id. at 4. Plaintiff has used his own personal CPAP machine since he began his incarceration and Department of Corrections' medical staff provide Plaintiff with regular supplies. Id. The machine requires an electrical outlet for power and Plaintiff alleged that he “has always been assigned a bunk adjacent to an electrical outlet for [that] specific purpose.” Id. at 4-5. However, Plaintiff alleged that he “cannot nap or sleep at all without his CPAP machine without exposure to the serious medical risks involved.” Id. at 5. Plaintiff alleged that on several occasions, dormitory staff “have turned off the power” to his machine “both during normal sleeping hours and during naps.” Id. at 6. He woke up choking and gagging. Id.

         Plaintiff asserted claims under the Rehabilitation Act and the Equal Protection Clause. ECF No. 4 at 1-2. Plaintiff claimed he “is being discriminated against by not being allowed to use his approved medical device at all times while sleeping, even for a nap while all other inmates in the dorm are permitted to do so.” Id. at 6. Plaintiff alleged that officers at Liberty C.I. have created and imposed “local institutional rules” which are unlawful.[1] Id. at 6-7, 9-11. He alleged that staff operate under a local, institutional manual which “should immediately be rescinded by Order of this Court.” Id. at 9. Plaintiff further alleged that his equal protection rights were violated “when he has repeatedly been prohibited from (1) being placed adjacent to a working electrical power outlet when inmates with similar medical needs and CPAP machines have not had the power to their machines turned off; and (2) when any an all other inmates have been permitted to rest/nap during the day . . . while the Plaintiff has been repeatedly prohibited from doing so due to the absence of electrical power to his CPAP breathing machine; and” (3) the denial of “the use of his required medical equipment under the guise of illegal ‘local institutional rules' and ‘security concerns' that are not in place or applied to inmates with similar medical conditions and equipment at other institutions within the Florida Department of Corrections.” Id. at 11-12.

         Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, requiring the Department to: (1) cease the use of local institutional procedural manuals, (2) ensure that inmates who need electrical power have it adjacent to their bunks at all times (including use of backup emergency generator), (3) ensure inmate records of special disabilities and related needs are available to appropriate staff, and (4) ensure inmates with special disabilities have equal opportunities to participate in inmate programs and privileges in the same manner as non-disabled inmates. Id. at 12-13.

         Standard of Review

         The issue on whether a complaint should be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is whether the plaintiff has alleged enough plausible facts to support the claim stated. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (retiring the standard from Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955).[2] “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); see also Speaker v. U.S. Dep't of Health, 623 F.3d 1371, 1380 (11th Cir. 2010). “The plausibility standard” is not the same as a “probability requirement, ” and “asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). A complaint that “pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, ” falls “short of the line between possibility and plausibility.” Iqbal, 129556 U.S. at 677 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         The pleading standard is not heightened, but flexible, in line with Rule 8's command to simply give fair notice to the defendant of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, 534 U.S. 506, 122 S.Ct. 992, 998, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002) (“Rule 8(a)'s simplified pleading standard applies to all civil actions, with limited exceptions.”). Pro se complaints are held to less stringent standards than those drafted by an attorney. Wright v. Newsome, 795 F.2d 964, 967 (11th Cir. 1986) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-521, 92 S.Ct. 594, 596, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972)). Nevertheless, a complaint must provide sufficient notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests so that a “largely groundless claim” does not proceed through discovery and “take up the time of a number of other people . . . .” Dura Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 125 S.Ct. 1627, 161 L.Ed.2d 577 (2005) (quoted in Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558). The requirements of Rule 8 do “not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. A complaint does not need detailed factual allegations to survive a motion to dismiss, but Rule 8 “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully- harmed-me accusation.” 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Thus, “conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual deductions or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal.” Davila v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 326 F.3d 1183, 1185 (11th Cir. 2003).

         Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 16

         A. Official Capacity Claims

         Defendant Jones asserts Eleventh Amendment immunity as a defense and contends that Plaintiff's “claim against Defendant for damages in her Official Capacity should be dismissed.” ECF No. 16 at 6-7. Absent limited exceptions, the State of Florida and its agencies are immune from suit in this Court by force of the Eleventh Amendment. Carr v. City of Florence, Ala., 916 F.2d 1521, 1524 (11th Cir. 1990); see also Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 169, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 3107, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985) (reiterating that “absent waiver by the State or valid congressional override, the Eleventh Amendment bars a damages action against a State in federal court.”). That “bar remains in effect when State officials are sued for damages in their official capacity.” Kentucky, 473 U.S. at 169, 105 S.Ct. at 3107; see also Odebrecht Const., Inc. v. Secretary, Fla. Dep't of Transp., 715 F.3d 1268, 1289 (11th Cir. 2013) (same).

         Thus, a suit under § 1983 against a state official sued in her official capacity is barred unless it meets one of three exceptions. The first two exceptions are through a waiver of sovereign immunity. See Atascadero State Hosp. v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 238, 105 S.Ct. 3142, 87 L.Ed.2d 171 (1985); Gamble v. Florida Dep't of Health and Rehab. Servs., 779 F.2d 1509 (11th Cir. 1986). Waiver may be either by the State or Congress may override a state's immunity pursuant to its power under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Educ. Expense Bd. v. College Sav. Bank, 527 U.S. 627, 119 S.Ct. 2199, 2205-06, 144 L.Ed.2d 575 (1999); Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 55, 116 S.Ct. 1114, 1124, 134 L.Ed.2d 252 (1996) (concluding “that the type of relief sought is irrelevant to whether Congress has power to abrogate States' immunity.”). In enacting § 1983, Congress did not abrogate a state's immunity, Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 99 S.Ct. 1139, 59 L.Ed.2d 358 (1979); Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974), nor did Florida waive its Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity and consented to suit in federal court under § 1983. Gamble, 779 F.2d at 1520; see ECF No. 16 at 6.

         The third exception is through Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908). See Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho, 521 U.S. 261, 269, 117 S.Ct. 2028, 138 L.Ed.2d 438 (1997) (reaffirming that prospective relief may be sought against a state official in federal court); Sandoval v. Hagan, 197 F.3d 484, 492 (11th Cir. 1999) (citing Summit Med. Assoc. v. Pryor, 180 F.3d 1326, 1336-38 (11th Cir. 1999). Here, Plaintiff seeks prospective injunctive relief only; he did not request monetary damages. ECF No. 4 at 12-13; ECF No. 18 at 1-2. The Eleventh Amendment does not bar these claims. The motion to dismiss should be denied as to this argument. Additionally, in light of this conclusion, there is no need to ...

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