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Gross v. Jones

United States District Court, M.D. Florida

May 25, 2018

ROBERT GROSS, Plaintiff,
JULIE JONES, et al., Defendants.


          BRIAN J. DAVIS, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Robert Gross, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action on April 30, 2018, by filing a pro se Civil Rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1; Complaint) and a motion to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 2). Plaintiff names twenty-two Defendants related to events that he claims arose while he was housed at Jefferson Correctional Institution (JCI), located in Monticello, Florida, which sits in the Northern District of Florida. See Complaint at 5, 8. Plaintiff asserts he suffered injuries to his head and hands following an attack by another inmate. Id. at 15. Following the attack, Plaintiff alleges, Defendants provided inadequate medical care while he was housed at JCI, Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI), and Lake Butler Reception and Medical Center (RMC).[1] Id. at 14-22. As relief, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and an apology from the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC). Id. at 7.

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) requires a district court to dismiss a complaint if the court determines that the action is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii). With respect to whether a complaint “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) mirrors the language of Rule 12(b)(6), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, so courts apply the same standard in both contexts. Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d 1483, 1490 (11th Cir. 1997); see also Alba v. Montford, 517 F.3d 1249, 1252 (11th Cir. 2008). “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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “Labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” that amount to “naked assertions” will not do. Id. (quotations, alteration, and citation omitted).

         Moreover, a complaint must “contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory.” Roe v. Aware Woman Ctr. for Choice, Inc., 253 F.3d 678, 683 (11th Cir. 2001) (quotations and citations omitted). In reviewing a pro se plaintiff's pleadings, a court must liberally construe the plaintiff's allegations. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Bingham v. Thomas, 654 F.3d 1171, 1175 (11th Cir. 2011). However, the duty of a court to construe pro se pleadings liberally does not require the court to serve as “de facto counsel” for the plaintiff. Freeman v. Sec'y, Dept. of Corr., 679 Fed.Appx. 982, 982 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing GJR Invs., Inc. v. Cty. of Escambia, 132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998)).

         Plaintiff's Complaint is due to be dismissed pursuant to this Court's screening obligation under the PLRA because he attempts to raise claims against Defendants located in the Northern District, and he has failed to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” See Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678. First, with respect to Defendants located in the Northern District, arising out of conduct that occurred while Plaintiff was housed at JCI, Plaintiff should file a civil rights complaint in that forum. Thus, the following Defendants are due to be dismissed subject to Plaintiff's right to pursue a claim against them in the Northern District of Florida: Warden Hayden, A. Varona, P. Chambers, Carol Dallas, T. King, Joe Kacur, Graham, Tracy, [2] Sgt. Gallon, Deputy Smith. See 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(1)-(3) (providing that “a civil action may be brought in (1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides . . . [or] (2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred”).

         Second, as to the remaining Defendants, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that (1) the defendant deprived him of a right secured under the United States Constitution or federal law, and (2) such deprivation occurred under color of state law. Salvato v. Miley, 790 F.3d 1286, 1295 (11th Cir. 2015); Bingham, 654 F.3d at 1175. More than conclusory and vague allegations are required to state a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See L.S.T., Inc., v. Crow, 49 F.3d 679, 684 (11th Cir. 1995) (per curiam); Fullman v. Graddick, 739 F.2d 553, 556-57 (11th Cir. 1984). In the absence of a federal constitutional deprivation or violation of a federal right, a plaintiff cannot sustain a cause of action.

         Plaintiff asserts that Defendants violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. See Complaint at 3. However, his allegations against each Defendant, while not only vague and conclusory, do not assert constitutional violations. As to the Defendants who allegedly engaged in offending conduct at RMC or CCI, Plaintiff appears to name them based on three discrete theories of liability: those who treated him, or assisted in treating him, following the inmate attack at JCI; those who hold supervisory positions over medical providers or employees of the FDOC; and those who received, responded to, or interfered with his grievances.

         Medical Treatment

         Plaintiff names six Defendants who either provided medical treatment or assisted in the provision of medical treatment while he was housed at RMC or CCI: J. Pinero; Nurse Dawson; Polmen, P.T.; J. Baptiste, M.D.; Nutt, M.D., CCI-Annex; and G. Pedroza, M.D., RMC. Though Plaintiff's claims are unclear, at most they amount to an assertion of medical negligence or a disagreement over the nature of treatment provided. Allegations of medical negligence are not cognizable as an Eighth Amendment violation to support a claim under § 1983. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105-06 (1976).

[A] complaint that a physician has been negligent in diagnosing or treating a medical condition does not state a valid claim of medical mistreatment under the Eighth Amendment. Medical malpractice does not become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner. In order to state a cognizable claim, a prisoner must allege acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. It is only such indifference that can offend “evolving standards of decency” in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Id. at 106. See also Harris v. Thigpen, 941 F.2d 1495, 1505 (11th Cir. 1991) (“Medical treatment violates the eighth amendment only when it is ‘so grossly incompetent, inadequate, or excessive as to shock the conscience or to be intolerable to fundamental fairness.'”). A number of the Defendants whom Plaintiff names in their role as medical providers appear to be named only to establish them as witnesses who can verify that he suffered injuries necessitating treatment. In fact, Plaintiff's assertions read more like a chronicle of his medical history related to the injuries he sustained in the inmate attack; he does not attribute to any of the medical providers conduct that rises to the level of deliberate indifference to a serious risk of harm. For example, Plaintiff states that Dr. Pinero “dropped the ball” by recording the wrong date or conflicting dates on a medical report, Dr. Baptiste ordered wrist supports for his hands, Dr. Nutt informed him that a lack of “proper care of his original injuries”[3] caused him to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, and Dr. Pedroza treated him after the removal of his cast.[4] See Complaint at 17, 21-22.

         Importantly, Plaintiff does not allege any wrongdoing on the part of these medical providers. He does not allege, for example, that these medical providers refused to treat him or rendered grossly incompetent or inadequate care. The closest Plaintiff comes to asserting any wrongdoing related to his medical treatment at RMC or CCI is with respect to Dawson and Polmen. Plaintiff asserts that Nurse Dawson refused to refer him to a specialist, and that Polmen discontinued physical therapy due to his “poor progress.” Id. at 18. Even reading Plaintiff's allegations liberally, as this Court must do, he does not state a cognizable Eighth Amendment claim. At most, he asserts that he disagrees with Dawson and Polmen's opinions or decisions related to his medical care and course of treatment. Alleging a “simple difference in medical opinion, ” however, does not state a deliberate indifference claim. Waldrop v. Evans, 871 F.2d 1030, 1033 (11th Cir. 2007). Plaintiff does not allege an outright denial of medical care or a refusal to treat him. In fact, his allegations and supporting exhibits detail that he has received extensive medical treatment, while at three different institutions, including physical therapy. See Complaint; Doc. 1-2 at 1-25. Thus, he has failed to state a claim for relief against the Defendants named with respect to the provision of medical care at RMC and CCI, and they are due to be dismissed.

         Supervisory Defendants

         Plaintiff names three Defendants solely in their roles as supervisors: Julie Jones; Corizon; and Centurion[5]. As a preliminary matter, to the extent Plaintiff treated with medical staff employed by Corizon while he was housed at JCI, his claim should be raised in the Northern District. However, since Plaintiff names Corizon only with respect to its role as a supervisory entity over “medical staff, ” and because some medical providers employed by Corizon treated Plaintiff at CCI, Corizon will be addressed here. Plaintiff asserts that he is dissatisfied that the Corizon doctor only provided braces for his hands, which he feels does not meet “proper care, ” and he believes the “medical staff” provided negligent medical care for the injuries he sustained in the inmate attack. See Complaint at 14. Similarly, Plaintiff alleges Centurion's medical staff neglected his medical condition while he was housed at CCI, and he further alleges that Centurion has engaged in “fraud” ...

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