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Ramos v. State

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

January 16, 2020

STATE OF FLORIDA, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Martino Ramos, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action on June 14, 2019, by filing a pro se Civil Rights Complaint (Complaint; Doc. 1) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On August 27, 2019, the Court dismissed the Complaint without prejudice and directed Ramos to file an amended complaint. On September 26, 2019, pursuant to the mailbox rule Ramos filed a pro se amended Civil Rights Complaint (Amended Complaint; Doc. 13).[1] Ramos names the State of Florida, Sgt. Weeks, Sgt. Broomfield, Sgt. Tilton, C.O. Mosley, Lt. Nate, Sgt. Fields, Ms. Garber, and Mr. McGlew as Defendants. Ramos asserts violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Amended Complaint at 5-6.[2] Ramos also raises a state law claim of elder abuse. Id. As relief, Ramos requests compensatory, punitive, and nominal damages in the amount of $20 million, the criminal prosecution of Defendants, and relief for other elderly and disabled inmates. Id. at 8.

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act requires the Court to dismiss this case at any time 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). Additionally, the Court must read a plaintiff's pro se allegations in a liberal fashion. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972).

         "A claim is frivolous if it is without arguable merit either in law or fact." Bilal v. Driver, 251 F.3d 1346, 1349 (11th Cir. 2001) (citing Battle v. Central State Hosp., 898 F.2d 126, 129 (11th Cir. 1990)). A complaint filed in forma pauperis which fails to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is not automatically frivolous. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 328 (1989). Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) dismissals should only be ordered when the legal theories are "indisputably meritless," id. at 327, or when the claims rely on factual allegations which are "clearly baseless." Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32 (1992). "Frivolous claims include claims 'describing fantastic or delusional scenarios, claims with which federal district judges are all too familiar.'" Bilal, 251 F.3d at 1349 (quoting Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 328). Additionally, a claim may be dismissed as frivolous when it appears that a plaintiff has little or no chance of success. Id.

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that (1) the defendant deprived him or her 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 v. Thomas, 654 F.3d 1171, 1175 (11th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (citation omitted); Richardson v. Johnson, 598 F.3d 734, 737 (11th Cir. 2010) (per curiam) (citations omitted). Moreover, the Eleventh Circuit "'requires proof of an affirmative causal connection between the official's acts or omissions and the alleged constitutional deprivation' in § 1983 cases." Rodriguez v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., 508 F.3d 611, 625 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Zatler v. Wainwright, 802 F.2d 397, 401 (11th Cir. 1986)). 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). As such, "'conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts, or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal.'" Rehberger v. Henry Cty., Ga., 577 Fed.Appx. 937, 938 (11th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (citation omitted). In the absence of well-pled facts suggesting a federal constitutional deprivation or violation of a federal right, Ramos cannot sustain a cause of action against the Defendants.

         Claims Against the State of Florida

         Absent waiver, § 1983 claims against a state are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66 (1989). The State of Florida has not waived Eleventh Amendment immunity for § 1983 claims. See Gamble v. Fla. Dept. of Health and Rehab. Services, 779 F.2d 1509, 1520 (11th Cir. 1986) (holding that Florida has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity); Garcia v. Reyes, 697 So.2d 549, 550 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997) (citing Hill v. Department of Corr., 513, So.2d 129, 133 (Fla. 1987)) (recognizing the same). Accordingly, to the extent Ramos sues the State of Florida, his claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See Will, 491 U.S. at 66. Therefore, the State of Florida is due to be dismissed as a Defendant.

         Claims Against Sgt. Broomfield

         Ramos asserts that on August 15, 2016, he was handcuffed for five hours in the medical dorm, he was forced to walk and carry his property that weighed sixty pounds for about a mile, and Sgt. Broomfield read Ramos' felony case documents. Amended Complaint at 15. Approximately fourteen months later, Ramos contends that Sgt. Broomfield told Sgt. Weeks the nature of Ramos' felony conviction and sexually harassed Ramos in front of all the inmates present in the chow hall at lunch time. Id. Notably, Ramos does not allege how Sgt. Broomfield sexually harassed him.

         Ramos' claim of sexual harassment is due to be dismissed as conclusory, as he has not alleged any specific facts as to the nature of the harassment, nor any facts suggesting the existence of a claim plausible on its face. See L.S.T., Inc., 49 F.3d at 684; Fullman, 739 F.2d at 556-57; Rehberger, 577 Fed.Appx. at 938. Moreover, the Court notes that “allegations of verbal abuse and threats by the prison officers [do] not state a claim because the defendants never carried out these threats and verbal abuse alone is insufficient to state a constitutional claim.” Hernandez v. Fla. Dep't of Corr., 281 Fed.Appx. 862, 866 (11th Cir. 2008). Based on a liberal reading of the Amended Complaint as a whole, it appears that Ramos' claim of sexual harassment is based upon verbal abuse regarding child molestation and homosexuality. As such, Sgt. Broomfield's verbal abuse alone cannot state a claim for relief under § 1983. See id.; Allen v. McDonough, No. 4:07-cv-469-RH-GRJ, 2011 WL 4102525, *6 (N.D. Fla. August 17, 2011), report and recommendation adopted, No. 4:07-cv-469-RH-GRJ, 2011 WL 4103081 (N.D. Fla. Sept. 14, 2011) (finding a defendant's sexual comments and gestures towards plaintiff during his decontamination shower did not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment constitutional violation).

         To the extent Ramos asserts that Sgt. Broomfield violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, the Eleventh Circuit has explained the requirements for an Eighth Amendment violation.

"The Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons, but neither does it permit inhumane ones . . . ." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 832, 114 S.Ct. at 1976 (internal quotation and citation omitted).[3] Thus, in its prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishments," the Eighth Amendment requires that prison officials provide humane conditions of confinement. Id. However, as noted above, only those conditions which objectively amount to an "extreme deprivation" violating contemporary standards of decency are subject to Eighth Amendment scrutiny. Hudson, 503 U.S. at 8-9, 112 S.Ct. at 1000.[4] Furthermore, it is only a prison official's subjective deliberate indifference to the substantial risk of serious harm caused by such conditions that gives rise to an Eighth Amendment violation. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 828, 114 S.Ct. at 1974 (quotation and citation omitted); Wilson, 501 U.S. at 303, 111 S.Ct. at 2327.[5]

Thomas v. Bryant, 614 F.3d 1288, 1306-07 (11th Cir. 2010). For claims based on a failure to prevent harm, the objective component requires the inmate to “show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. The subjective component requires the inmate to demonstrate the defendant intended the plaintiff to be harmed or was at least consciously indifferent to the plaintiff's safety. Id. Notably, “[t]he infliction of pain in the course of a prison security measure . . . does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment simply because it may appear in retrospect that the degree of force authorized or applied for security purposes was unreasonable, and hence unnecessary in the strict sense.” Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986).

         The Court finds Ramos' allegation concerning handcuffs and carrying his property does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment. See Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981) (“[C]onditions that cannot be said to be cruel and unusual under contemporary standards are not unconstitutional. To the extent that such conditions are restrictive and even harsh, they are part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.”). Being handcuffed for five hours while outside of his cell does not strike the Court as cruel and unusual punishment under contemporary standards. Likewise, forcing Ramos to carry his own belongings, especially without allegations of physical harm or deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, is insufficient to state a claim of an Eighth Amendment violation. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; Whitley, 475 U.S. at 319. Based on the above analysis, the claims against Defendant Sgt. Broomfield are due to be dismissed.

         Claims ...

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