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Hurt v. Smith

August 31, 2009

KEENAN HURT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DINNIS SMITH, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra M. Snyder United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT, WITH LEAVE TO FILE AMENDED COMPLAINT WITHIN 30 DAYS (Doc. 1)

Plaintiff Keenan Hurt ("Plaintiff") is a federal prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil action pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999 (1971), which provides a remedy for violation of civil rights by federal actors. Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana ("USP-Terre Haute"). Plaintiff mentions in his complaint that he has also been incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Atwater, California ("USP-Atwater") as well as the United States Penitentiary in Allenwood, Pennsylvania ("USP-Allenwood"). Plaintiff names Dinnis Smith, H. R. Rios, Jr., Harvey Lappin, Robert McFadden, A. W. Bell, Lothrop, and John Does 1-3 as defendants. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff will be given leave to file an amended complaint curing the deficiencies identified in this order within 30 days.

I. Screening Requirement

The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious," that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1),(2). "Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal . . . fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

"Rule 8(a)'s simplified pleading standard applies to all civil actions, with limited exceptions," none of which applies to section 1983 actions. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002); Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). Pursuant to Rule 8(a), a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). "Such a statement must simply give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 512. However, "the liberal pleading standard . . . applies only to a plaintiff's factual allegations." Neitze v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 330 n.9 (1989). "[A] liberal interpretation of a civil rights complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled." Bruns v. Nat'l Credit Union Admin., 122 F.3d 1251, 1257 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Ivey v. Bd. of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982)).

II. Background

Plaintiff alleges that the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("FBOP") discriminated against him by treating him differently than other government witness-inmates. Plaintiff alleges that FBOP "has certain prisons designed strictly for the protection of government witnesses, but only allow[s] certain government witnesses to enter/occupy them". (Compl. 2.) Plaintiff alleges that witnesses that serve their sentences in these prisons "do not risk being stabbed or assaulted", "enjoy the usage of [their] allocated monthly minutes for phone, their allocated hours for recreation, their allocated hours for family visits, etc.". (Compl. 2.) In contrast, Plaintiff alleges that "witnesses such as myself" are sent to United States Penitentiaries where they are subjected to physical and verbal abuse. Further, "after we are assaulted we are then placed in SHU (special housing unit) where we are to abide by [the] same rules & regulations as inmates who[] are placed in SHU for disciplinary reasons." (Compl. 2.) Plaintiff complains that he is only give one 15 minute phone call per month, is not allowed to go to the store for regular canteen/food, is allowed only one hour for recreation per day for five days a week, and does not have access to educational or rehabilitative programs.

Plaintiff also alleges that he continues to be assaulted and placed in life threatening situations by FBOP. Plaintiff's cooperation with federal agencies led to the arrest of numerous "Grape Street Crips". While at USP-Allenwood, Plaintiff was housed with another inmate, W. Fenner, who was a "Grape Street Crip" that Plaintiff informed on. Fenner figured out who Plaintiff was and told other inmates about Plaintiff's activities against the "Grape Street Crips". Plaintiff alleges that he was going to be hit by the Crips but "was informed by one of them who took a liking to me". (Compl. 4.) Plaintiff alleges that he "was able to make a move first by throwing a hot mug of water on [Fenner]". (Compl. 4.) In response, Fenner attacked Plaintiff with a combination lock wrapped in a sock. Both Plaintiff and the other inmate were placed in the SHU.

Plaintiff alleges that Fenner spread the word about Plaintiff's cooperation with federal agencies. Because the other inmates were transferred to other federal institutions, word has spread to all the institutions where Plaintiff has been transferred to. Plaintiff claims that "he could not go to officers" to inform them about how information about his activities was spreading "because after all officers placed me there after I specifically told SIS that I could not go around or be around Grape Street Crips." (Compl. 4.)

III. Discussion

A. Eighth Amendment Claims

Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of cruel and unusual punishments and "embodies 'broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity and decency.'" Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976) (quoting Jackson v. Bishop, 404 F.2d 571, 579 (8th Cir. 1968)). A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met: (1) the objective requirement that the deprivation is "sufficiently serious", Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991), and (2) the subjective requirement that the prison official has a "sufficiently culpable state of mind", Id. (quoting Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298). The objective requirement that the deprivation be "sufficiently serious" is met where the prison official's act or omission results in the denial of "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities".

Id. (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). The subjective requirement that the prison official has a "sufficiently culpable state of mind" is met where the prison official acts with "deliberate indifference" to inmate health or safety. Id. (quoting Wilson, 501 U.S. at 302-303). A prison official acts with deliberate indifference when he/she "knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety". Id. at 837. "[T]he official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Id.

Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment because Plaintiff's life was placed in danger after other inmates discovered that he had cooperated with federal agencies by providing information about the "Grape Street Crips". Plaintiff's complaint suffers from a number of deficiencies. First, Plaintiff does not describe how the individuals named in this action, Defendants Smith, Rios, Lappin, McFadden, Bell, Lothrop, and John Does 1-3, caused Plaintiff's life to be placed in danger. Inmate Fenner discovered Plaintiff's activities as a government witness and spread the word to other inmates while Plaintiff was housed at USPAllenwood. Defendants appear to be ...


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