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Owens v. Webb

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Abilene Division

April 28, 2017

PEJAE A. OWENS, (TDCJ No. 017160344) Plaintiff,
v.
FNU WEBB, Warden, TDCJ French Robertson Unit, et ah, Defendants

          OPINION AND ORDER OF DISMISSAL UNDER 28 U.S.C. S§ 1915A & 1915(E)(2)(B) [1]

          E. SCOTT FROST UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This case is before the Court for review of pro-se-inmate/plaintiff PeJae A. Owens's pleadings under the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A and 1915(e)(2)(B). After review of the pleadings, the Court finds and concludes that all claims must be dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff initially filed a form civil rights complaint with attachment pages, naming three defendants allegedly then located at the TDCJ-French Robertson Unit; Warden Webb, Major McQuade, and Captain Wyatt. (Complaint, (doc. 1) at Style, at 3.) After review of this pleading, the Court issued an Order directing Plaintiff to file completed answers to the Court's questionnaire, which Plaintiff did by filing a Response to the Questionnaire. (Docs. 5, 7.) Thus, the complaint and Response to the Court's Questionnaire ("Court Response") are the pleadings subject to the Court's review.

         In the complaint, Plaintiff alleges that in April 2015, a fire was started in Cell 61, resulting in Officers Ortega and Gonzalez (not defendants) spraying water into Cell 61, and also "purposely into Cells 59 and 57, resulting in a "bumrush" of three rows of inmates to the day-room. (Compl. (doc. 1), at 4.) He recounts that all of the inmates associated with those cells were locked up and in the aftermath, he was charged with attempting to set fires and to assault staff. (Doc. 1, at 4.) He complains that Captain Wyatt wrote up the disciplinary case against him, and served as a hearing officer along with Defendant McQuade, where he was found guilty. (Doc. 1, at 4.) He alleges that Warden Webb agreed with and supported the finding of guilt in response to his administrative grievances. Plaintiff seeks to have the disciplinary case overturned, seeks to have his custody level reinstated and he seeks monetary damages in the form of "reimbursement" for costs of this suit and the "money lost in the attempt to rectify this situation." (Doc. 1, at 4; Court Response (doc. 7), at 5.).

         II. REVIEW UNDER § 1915A and § 1915(e)(2)(B)

         As noted, as Plaintiff is a prisoner seeking redress from an officer or employee of a governmental entity, his complaint is subject to preliminary screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 A. See Martin v. Scott, 156 F.3d 578, 579-80 (5th Cir. 1998) (per curiam). Because he is proceeding in forma pauperis, his complaint is also subject to screening under § 1915(e)(2). Both § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915 A(b) provide for sua sponte dismissal of the complaint, or any portion thereof, if the Court finds it is frivolous or malicious, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or if it seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. A complaint is frivolous when it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A claim lacks an arguable basis in law when it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory." Id. at 327. A claim that falls under the rule announced in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), "is legally frivolous unless the conviction or sentence at issue has been reversed, expunged, invalidated, or otherwise called into question." Hamilton v. Lyons, 74 F.3d 99, 102 (5th Cir. 1996). A claim lacks an arguable basis in fact when it describes "fantastic or delusional scenarios." Id. at 327-28. A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted when it fails to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); accord Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim, plaintiffs must allege facts sufficient to "raise the right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Mere "labels and conclusions" nor "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" suffice to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Id.

         (A) Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief May be Granted

         (I) Claim under the Eighth Amendment for Cruel and Unusual Punishment

         In order to assert a claim for damages for violation of federal constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must set forth facts in support of the required elements of a § 1983 action: (1) that he has been deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) that the defendants deprived him of such right while acting under color of law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988)(citing cases); Resident Council of Allen Parkway Village v. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 980 F.2d 1043, 1050 (5th Cir. 1993). Plaintiff alleges that he was subjected to "cruel and unusual punishment", and although he does not cite to the Eighth Amendment, the Court construes this claim as an assertion of a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

         The Court construes Owens's pleadings as stating two separate theories of recovery on the allegation of cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. First, he alleges that he had to "endure the chemical agents that were used during the whole fiasco."(Doc. 7, at 4.) Apparently Owens is referring to his exposure to the chemicals used to put out the fire on the cell block. Second, Plaintiff asserts that he had to "endure the punishment of cell, property, commissary, and recreation restrictions all for something I didn't do" and as a result he also had his custody level status reduced.

         As to the first claim of exposure to chemical agents used to put out the cell fire, the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. Although the Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons, neither does it permit inhumane ones. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994)(citing Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 349 (1981)). If conditions for prisoners are "restrictive and even harsh, they are part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society." Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347. The Eighth Amendment imposes a duty on prison officials to provide humane conditions of confinement. "[P]rison officials must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and 'must take reasonable measures to ensure the safety of inmates.'" Farmer, 511 U.S. at 832 (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)(other citations omitted)). But, "extreme deprivations are required to make out a conditions-of-confinement claim." Hudson v. McMillan, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992). "Minor deprivations suffered for short periods of time will not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation ... ."Jacobs v. Quinonies, No. 1:10-CV-02349-AWI-JLT (PC), 2013 WL 144234, at *7 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 11, 2003) (citations omitted).

         Here, as to the chemical exposure claim, Plaintiff recites exposure to chemical agents that could have only lasted a brief period of time. But "a brief, one time exposure to a disinfectant or other chemical does not amount to an Eighth Amendment violation where there is no allegation that the exposure caused harm or pain and no evidence to suggest that Defendants intended to cause pain." Garland v. Stanley, et al, No. 1:12-CV-01755-AWI-MJS (PC), 2015 WL 1513635, at *4 (E.D. Cal. March 30, 2015) (citations omitted), rep. and rec. adopted, (E.D. Cal. July 17, 2015) As Plaintiff recites no more than a brief exposure to fire retardant chemicals, alleges no physical injury, and alleges no conduct on the part of any defendant relative to the use of such chemicals, he has failed to state a claim under the Eighth Amendment based on the brief exposure to fire-retardant chemicals.

         Furthermore, when asked to detail his claim that he suffered "cruel and unusual punishment, Plaintiff asserts that he had to "endure the punishment of cell, property, commissary and recreation restrictions all for something I didn't do" and as a result have his custody level status reduced. (Doc. 7, at 4.) The Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment requires prison officials to provide "humane conditions of confinement, " ensuring that "inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care . ..." Farmer v. Brennan,511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). The Supreme Court has held, however, that "to the extent prison conditions are restrictive and even harsh, they are part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society." Rhodes v. Chapman,452 U.S. 337, 346-7 (1981). Owens's claims challenging his cell, property, commissary, and recreation privileges, and reduction in class status, do not rise to the level of "unnecessary and wanton" infliction of pain. See Althouse v. Cockrell, No.3:01-CV-2291-D, 2002 WL 32170945, at * 3-4 (N.D. Tex. Dec. 17, 2002) (finding that ten-day cell and commissary restrictions imposed as disciplinary punishment for failure to report for inmate work are "limited restrictions" that do "not rise to the level of 'unnecessary and wanton' inflictions of pain") (citations omitted); see also Neals v. Norwood,59 F.3d 530, 533 (5th Cir. 1995) (holding inmate does not have a constitutional right to receive a certain custodial classification); Parker v. Currie, 359 F.App'x 488, 490 (5th Cir. 2010) (holding an inmate's "mere disagreement with a [custodial] ...


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