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Briggs v. Davis

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division

May 31, 2018

DEREK BRIGGS, TDCJ # 01666858 Plaintiff,
v.
LORIE DAVIS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          George C. Hanks Jr. United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Derek Briggs, a state inmate at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Correctional Institutions Division (“TDCJ”), brings this lawsuit complaining of events at the Darrington Unit in Brazoria County. Briggs alleges in his complaint (Dkt. 1) that he was dispensed medicine that did not belong to him. Because Briggs is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court is required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) to scrutinize the pleadings. The Court must dismiss the case, in whole or in part, if it determines that the action is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, § 1915(e)(2)(B). After reviewing all of the pleadings and the applicable law, the Court concludes that this case must be DISMISSED for the reasons that follow.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Briggs brings claims against (1) Defendant Teresa Garces, whom he identifies as a “charge nurse” at the Darrington Unit; (2) Defendant Betsy Zachariah, a supervisory nurse at Darrington Unit; (3) Defendant “UTMB Medical President”; and, (4) Defendant Lorie Davis, the Executive Director of TDCJ (Dkt. 1, at 3). He alleges that at the Darrington Unit on September 15, 2017, he received a “KOP, ” or “keep on person, ” medication pack that had another inmate's name on it and was not intended for him (id. at 4). Briggs states that a doctor has ordered that he not be dispensed KOP medication packs because he is a psychiatric patient and previously has attempted suicide by overdosing (id. at 6). He claims that the KOP pack was given to him by an unnamed “evening African pill nurse woman, ” that she refused to take it back, and that she gave him his “regular psych medication without asking for identification” (id. at 4). He claims that Defendant Garces, the “charge nurse, ” then took the KOP pack away from him in “the medical room” (id. at 4, 6). He does not state how long the KOP medication was in his possession, and does not claim that he consumed medicine that was intended for another inmate.[1] He apparently alleges that Garces failed to adequately correct the actions of the “pill nurse.”

         Briggs further alleges that, on the evening of January 1, 2018, a KOP blood pressure pill pack was dropped in his cell “again” (Dkt. 1, at 9). Although these medicines had been prescribed to Briggs, he appears to allege that they should not have been dispensed in a KOP pack because of the previous overdose attempt (id.).

         Briggs does not allege any physical harm resulting from the alleged incidents on September 15, 2017, or January 1, 2018. His complaint seeks $75, 000 in damages for “emotional distress” and a “violation that could have resulted in my death” (id. at 4).

         Briggs' complaint is undated and was docketed in the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Divison, on January 18, 2018. On February 8, 2018, the case was transferred to this Court (Dkt. 5) because the alleged events occurred at the Darrington Unit in Brazoria County, which is located in the Southern District of Texas, Galveston Division. Since the case was transferred, Briggs has submitted several letters regarding events occurring in February and March 2018 at the Michael Unit, where Briggs currently is incarcerated (Dkt. 9, 10, 11 & 13). The Michael Unit is located in the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court screens this case to determine whether the action is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, § 1915(e)(2)(B). In reviewing the pleadings, the Court is mindful of the fact that Plaintiff proceeds pro se. Complaints filed by pro se litigants are entitled to a liberal construction and, “however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Even under this lenient standard a pro se plaintiff must allege more than “'labels and conclusions' or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)); see Patrick v. Wal-Mart, Inc., 681 F.3d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 2012). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. (citation omitted). Additionally, regardless of how well-pleaded the factual allegations may be, they must demonstrate that the plaintiff is entitled to relief under a valid legal theory. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989); McCormick v. Stalder, 105 F.3d 1059, 1061 (5th Cir. 1997).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Briggs sues four Defendants affiliated with TDCJ in connection with his receipt of KOP packs on September 15, 2017, and January 1, 2018. Briggs alleges that he was endangered by these incidents because of a previous overdose attempt. He does not claim that he was physically harmed or that he consumed any medication that was not prescribed to him.

         Section 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, provides a vehicle for a claim against a person “acting under color of state law, ” such as a state prison official, for a constitutional violation. See Pratt v. Harris Cnty., Tex., 822 F.3d 174, 180 (5th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Townsend v. Moya, 291 F.3d 859, 861 (5th Cir. 2002). Because Briggs was, at all relevant times, a convicted felon in state prison, his claims regarding medical care are governed by the Eighth Amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual” conditions of confinement. Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 346 (1981); see Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 33 (1993) (the Eighth Amendment “requires that inmates be furnished with the basic human needs, one of which is ‘reasonable safety'”).

         A. Official immunity

         Briggs seeks $75, 000 in damages. To the extent he sues Defendants in their official capacities as state employees, Defendants are entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment from claims for monetary damages. Unless expressly waived, the Eleventh Amendment bars an action in federal court by a citizen of a state against his or her own state. See Lewis v. Univ. of Tex. Med. Branch at Galveston, 665 F.3d 625, 630 (5th Cir. 2011); Martinez v. Texas Dep't of Criminal Justice, 300 F.3d 567, 573 (5th Cir. 2002). The Eleventh Amendment bars a suit for money damages under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 ...


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