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Howell v. Jones County Jail

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

June 1, 2017

ROBERT MICHAEL HOWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
JONES COUNTY JAIL, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          E. SCOTT FROST UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff sues Jones County Jail ("the Jail") and various staff members for events that occurred between May and June 2015. Plaintiff has filed a Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge. See Doc. 8. After reviewing the law and complaint, as amended by Plaintiffs Answers to Magistrate Judge's Questionnaire ("MJQ"), [1] the Court finds that Plaintiff has stated no claim that survives summary dismissal.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         In February 2016, Plaintiff filed a one page complaint suing Jones County Jail for unspecified civil rights violations and unconstitutional conditions based upon the Jail placing him in a top bunk, a fall from the bunk resulting in an arm injury, and a failure to provide medical attention. See Compl. (doc. 1). At the request of the undersigned, Plaintiff answered questions intended to flesh out the factual and legal bases for his claims. See Answers to MJQ (doc. 9). Because the Jail appears to be a non-jural entity that is not subject to suit, Plaintiff listed the following new defendants: Deputy Jailer Eric Lozano, Sheriff Moor, Deputy Stewart, and unidentified nursing staff. See Answer to Question 1 of MJQ. Although the question asked Plaintiff to provide an address for each listed new defendant and to provide all facts supporting a claim against any listed defendant, Plaintiff simply listed the new defendants without further elaboration. See id.

         The Jail housed Plaintiff between August 2014 through June 2015, when he was released after serving out his tickets.[3] See Answer to Question 4 of MJQ. The events leading to this litigation occurred between May 1 and June 16, 2015.[4] See Answer to Question 3 of MJQ. When asked what medical treatment he received related to the events of his complaint, Plaintiff said that (1) he "was taken to the nurse's office" after his fall; (2) deputies documented the fall and told him that the nurse would see him in the morning; and (3) the nurse did not see him "until the next week" and, even then, she said he "was fine." See Answer to Question 5 of MJQ.

         Plaintiff alleges that his fall caused "lots of back, leg, arm pain that has made [his] already bad condition worse." See Answer to Question 6 of MJQ. He "believe[s]" that medical care "would have helped" so that he could have explained to a doctor that he was disabled and should not be put on a top bunk. See Answer to Question 7 of MJQ. Despite his fall, the Jail still assigned him a top bunk, but "luckily an inmate gave [him] his bottom bunk." See Id. He also states that he "could have been diagnosed by the proper medical help." Id.

         With his answers to the MJQ, Plaintiff provides nine pages of medical records, a DVD-R, and five CDs from the Radiology Department of Hendrick Medical Center (an undated one and others dated July 14, 2015; July 15, 2015; August 11, 2016; September 22, 2016). Although Plaintiff does not refer to the medical records in his MJQ answers, the Court has reviewed them to see whether they facially support his claims. From the submissions, the Court reasonably infers that Plaintiff began seeking medical care about a month after his release in mid-June 2015. The covers of the CDs indicate radiology visits in July 2015, August 2016, and September 2016. The attached medical records show that Plaintiff had a prior "crush injury to the right arm that he suffered in 2008" which has required multiple surgeries and a July 2012 x-ray of a fractured arm. Records of Daniel L. Munton, M.D., show that Plaintiff was a new patient on September 17, 2015. In July 2016, Plaintiff received treatment from the West Texas Back Clinic.

         Records from Steven W. Brown, M.D. reflect treatment in August and October 2016. More specifically, they show that Plaintiff received treatment in 2016 for thoracic spine pain resulting from a May 2015 fall from a bunk bed, including (a) an x-ray of thoracic spine on July 20, 2016, showing possible compression deformity with loss of disc height; (b) an August 10, 2016 MRI of the thoracic spine that shows no fracture, stenosis, or neural foraminal narrowing, but shows "relatively healthy" discs with "what appears to be a syrinx in multiple locations." Dr. Brown noted that Plaintiffs thoracic spine looks very healthy structurally and he doubted that Plaintiff would benefit from any neurosurgical intervention. He recommended further evaluation of the syrinx. A September 2016 MRI of the thoracic spine shows some degenerative changes but no abnormal enhancement or need for surgical intervention. Dr. Brown recom- mended that Plaintiff return to Dr. Munton "for further nonoperative treatment of his spine pain." Per his answers to the Court's questionnaire, Plaintiff asserts three claims: (1) a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") for the assignment to the top bunk, (2) a civil rights violation based upon denial of proper medical treatment, and (3) negligence for putting him on the top bunk. See Answers to Questions 8 and 9 of MJQ. He seeks monetary damages for his claims. See Compl. at 1.

         II. PRELIMINARY SCREENING

         The Court has permitted Plaintiff to proceed in forma pauperis in this action. His complaint is therefore subject to screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). That statute provides 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 "lacks an arguable basis in fact if, after providing the plaintiff the opportunity to present additional facts when necessary, the facts alleged are clearly baseless." Rogers v. Boatright, 709 F.3d 403, 407(5thCir. 2013) (quoting Berry v. Brady, 192 F.3d 504, 507 (5th Cir. 1999)).

         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." BellAtl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement, " but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability, it "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of 'entitlement to relief.'"

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations omitted). 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 ...


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