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Logan v. Clemmons

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

November 6, 2019

M.C. CLEMMONS et al., Defendants.



         I. Status

         Plaintiff, James Alexander Logan, is proceeding on a pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1; Compl.) against the following individuals at Suwannee Correctional Institution (SCI): M.C. Clemmons, Warden; F. W. Mock, Assistant Warden; Melissa L. Comerford, Head of Classification; C. McGee, Captain; D. Spreadly, Sergeant; C. Edward, Lieutenant; and C. Morgan, Sergeant. See Compl. at 3, 5-6. Plaintiff alleges Defendants violated the Eighth Amendment by failing to protect him from an inmate attack, failing to intervene during the attack, or “by conspiring to help kill [him].” Id. at 7. Before the Court is Defendants' joint motion to dismiss (Doc. 54; Motion). Plaintiff has responded (Doc. 55; Resp.). Accordingly, the motion is ripe for this Court's review.

         II. Motion Standard

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept the factual allegations set forth in the complaint as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Additionally, the complaint allegations must be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Gill as Next Friend of K.C.R. v. Judd, ___F.3d___, No. 17-14525, 2019 WL 5304078, at *2 (11th Cir. Oct. 21, 2019). When a plaintiff proceeds pro se, the court must liberally construe the 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 tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions[, ]” which simply “are not entitled to [an] assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 680. The plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         Though detailed factual allegations are not required, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) demands “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. As such, a plaintiff may not rely on “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.” Gill, 2019 WL 5304078, at *2 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Rather, the well-pled allegations must nudge the claim “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. A plaintiff should allege enough facts “to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” supporting the plaintiff's claims. Id. at 556.

         III. Complaint Allegations[1]

         Plaintiff claims Defendants failed to protect him when his cellmate, a murderer and gang member, attacked him. Compl. at 7, 12. Plaintiff alleges that, on December 15, 2016, Defendant Spreadly approached his cell to speak with his cellmate, inmate Bank. Id. at 11. While Defendant Spreadly was at the cell, inmate Bank punched Plaintiff in his face. Id. Defendant Spreadly walked away “like he saw nothing.” Id. Plaintiff and inmate Bank then started fighting. Inmate Bank began “telling inmates to call [Defendant] Spreadly which inmates [were] blood game [sic] members and that he need [sic] a knife.” Id. Defendant Spreadly returned to the cell, apparently with gang member inmate Harris. Plaintiff asked Defendant Spreadly to let him out of the cell, but Spreadly refused to do so and again walked away, leaving inmate Harris at the cell. Id.

         After Spreadly left, inmate Harris slid a knife under the cell door to inmate Bank, who used the knife to stab Plaintiff in his chest, knee, and finger. Id. at 11-12. It is unclear whether Defendant Spreadly saw inmate Harris slide the knife to inmate Bank, or whether Defendant Spreadly knew inmate Harris had a knife. However, Plaintiff alleges that, after the attack, inmate Harris, in front of Defendant Spreadly, admitted to providing the knife to inmate Bank. Id. at 12. Plaintiff alleges Defendant Spreadly was deliberately indifferent to his safety by failing to intervene during the attack. Id. at 9, 13.

         No other Defendant was present during or witnessed the attack. Plaintiff asserts Defendant Comerford, the head of classification, and Defendant Morgan, the movement sergeant, inadequately screened him and negligently placed him in a cell with inmate Bank, knowing he was a murderer and gang member. Id. at 12, 13, 14.

         Plaintiff alleges Defendants Clemmons, Mock, Edward, and McGee were deliberately indifferent to his safety by failing “to take corrective action to have all dorms through[ly] search[ed]” for weapons knowing that “inmates [had] been killing each other.” Id. at 8, 9, 10, 12. Plaintiff asserts he had been housed at SCI for about two months when this attack occurred, and during that time, there had been a similar incident in his dorm. According to Plaintiff, in November 2016, an inmate stabbed and killed his cellmate. Id. at 13. Plaintiff alleges Defendants Clemmons, Mock, Edward, and McGee were aware of the November incident. Id. at 8-10; Compl. Ex. at 1.

         Plaintiff further alleges Defendants Spreadly, Edward, and McGee conspired to conceal the knife inmate Bank used to stab him by failing to take photos of the knife. Compl. at 10, 12.

         IV. Summary of the Arguments

         Defendants move the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. Motion at 1. They assert Plaintiff fails to state a failure-to-protect claim under the Eighth Amendment, arguing Plaintiff provides only conclusions with no facts suggesting Defendants could have foreseen the attack. Id. at 3-4. Defendants contend, “Plaintiff does not allege that Defendants had prior knowledge that his cell mate would assault him or that they would assault each other.” Id. at 5. Defendants further argue Plaintiff fails to state a conditions-of-confinement claim under the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 7-8. Defendants maintain Plaintiff's allegations regarding his cell assignment with inmate Bank amount to no more than a suggestion of negligence, not intentional conduct to subject to him an unreasonable risk of serious harm. Id. at 7. Finally, Defendants assert Plaintiff fails to state a conspiracy claim because he alleges no facts showing Defendants “reached an understanding” to deny him his constitutional rights. Id. at 11. In the alternative, Defendants argue the intracorporate conspiracy doctrine bars the claim. Id. at 12.[2]

         In response, Plaintiff argues his failure-to-protect claim is sufficiently pled because he alleges Defendants were aware of the incident that occurred in November 2016 at SCI, in which one inmate (a convicted murderer) stabbed and killed his cellmate. Resp. at 1. Plaintiff says the prior inmate death was a result of “inadequate[] screening by classification [officer Defendant] Comerford . . . and [Defendant] Morgan.” Id. at 1-2. Plaintiff claims Defendants Clemmons and Mock were aware of the previous murder and failed to take corrective action to ensure the dorms were being properly searched, in violation of Florida Administrative Code provisions. Id. at 2.

         Plaintiff also notes he alleges all Defendants knew his cellmate, inmate Bank, was a murderer and gang member. Id. at 2-3. Plaintiff contends his allegations demonstrate “a history of widespread abuse at [SCI], ” referencing the November 2016 murder, and suggesting other inmate attacks occurred in the months following his attack. Id. at 3. With respect to the conspiracy claim, Plaintiff states the intracorporate conspiracy doctrine does not apply because Defendants' actions were criminal in nature. Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff states Defendants Spreadly, Edward, and McGee's concerted efforts to conceal the knife prevented him from pursuing criminal charges against inmate Bank. Id. at 4-5.

         As to Defendant Spreadly's actions, Plaintiff says the following, clarifying the allegations in his Complaint:

Defendant Spreadly was present at Plaintiff['s] cell front talking to inmate [B]ank and watch[ed] inmate [B]ank assault[] Plaintiff th[e]n walk off like he saw nothing and came back with inmate [H]arris that[']s blood gang member and refused to let me out [of] the cell but left and allowed inmate [H]arris to slide a knife ...

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