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Walker v. Collier

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Tyler Division

March 28, 2019



          Ron Clark, Senior District Judge

         The Plaintiff Johnny Lee Walker, an inmate of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. §1983 complaining of alleged violations of his constitutional rights. This Court referred the case to the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1) and (3) and the Amended Order for the Adoption of Local Rules for the Assignment of Duties to United States Magistrate Judges. As Defendants, Walker named TDCJ-CID Director Lorie Davis, TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier, Wardens Jerry Catoe, Jeffrey Richardson, and Patrick Cooper of the Coffield Unit, and the Texas Board of Criminal Justice.

         I. Background

         Walker raised a lengthy litany of allegations in his amended complaint. He asserted that: (1) his constitutional rights were violated because he was double-celled in a 45 square foot cell, including for 24 hours a day during unit lockdowns; (2) the Coffield Unit does not have designated sleep hours and activities go on through the night, disrupting his sleep; (3) the showers are overcrowded; (4) there are no accessible public toilets in the general population living areas (i.e. the dayroom) and the required hourly egresses are not conducted; (5) the unit suffers from structural problems which cause him to be exposed to excessive heat and cold; (6) the chow hall is unsanitary; (7) the water is contaminated with coliform bacteria; (8) the unit is deteriorating; (9) there are no climbing implements to allow access to the top bunk; and (10) the unit is infested with birds, spiders, and insects.

         The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss asserting that Walker did not claim any injuries stemming from overcrowded showers, lacks of toilets in the dayroom, chow hall contamination, or unsafe living and housing areas. They contended that Walker's allegations were conclusory and that he did not provide any specific dates for the alleged Eighth Amendment violations.

         The Defendants also maintained that Walker set out no allegations against the Texas Board of Criminal Justice. They argued that they are not liable under any theories of respondeat superior and that Walker did not show any personal involvement or causal connection between any named Defendants and the alleged violations. Instead, the Defendants stated that Walker provided only conclusory allegations of deliberate indifference.

         Walker filed a reply to the motion asserting that the Board of Criminal Justice is the final policy-maker and that the Defendants are liable under respondeat superior if they failed to properly train and oversee, give orders to, and discipline their staff after learning of the wrongful acts. He argued that the Defendants continue housing Walker and other inmates in the unsafe living areas while knowing of the dangers and risks.

         Walker asserted that he suffered physical injuries as a result of exposure to the heat and cold, the contaminated food and water, the sleep deprivation, inadequate living space, and unsafe housing, although he provided no facts concerning these injuries. Instead, Walker stated that he is in “constant dangers and health risks daily” from overcrowding, chow hall contamination, and unsafe housing. He stated that he places his life at risk from sexual assaults and incurable viruses every time he enters the shower, his consumption of “food-borne pathogen bacteria” three times a day has possibly caused irreversible harm and unknown diseases, and he has injured himself multiple times trying to get to his bunk.

          II. The Report of the Magistrate Judge

         After review of the pleadings, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report recommending that the motion to dismiss be granted. The Magistrate Judge set out the standards applicable to motions to dismiss as follows:

Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) does not require “detailed factual allegations but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). A pleading offering “labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” will not suffice, nor does a complaint which provides only naked assertions that are devoid of further factual enhancement. Courts need not accept legal conclusions as true, and threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, are not sufficient.
A plaintiff meets this standard when he “pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A complaint may be dismissed if a plaintiff fails to “nudge [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, ” or if the complaint pleads facts merely consistent with or creating a suspicion of the defendant's liability. Id.; see also Rios v. City of Del Rio, Tex., 444 F.3d 417, 421 (5th Cir. 2006).
Pro se plaintiffs are held to a more lenient standard than are lawyers when analyzing a complaint, but pro se plaintiffs must still plead factual allegations which raise the right to relief above the speculative level. Chhim v. University of Texas at Austin, 836 F.3d 467, 469 (5th Cir. 2016). “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
If the facts alleged in a complaint do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, a plaintiff has not shown entitlement to relief. Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Dismissal is proper if a complaint lacks a factual allegation regarding any required element necessary to obtain relief. Rios, 444 F.3d at 421.

         The Magistrate Judge further stated that supervisors cannot be held liable for the actions of their subordinates under any theory of supervisory liability, but that supervisors may be held liable if there exists (1) his personal involvement in a constitutional deprivation, (2) a sufficient causal connection between the supervisor's wrongful conduct and the constitutional violation, or (3) if supervisory officials implement a policy so deficient that the policy itself is a repudiation of constitutional rights and is the moving force of the constitutional violation. Thompkins v. Belt, 828 F.2d 298, 304 (5th Cir. 1987); Terry v. LeBlanc, 479 Fed.Appx. 644, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 17110, 2012 WL 3496399 (5th Cir., August 15, 2012). Conclusory allegations of the creation or existence of a policy or custom are insufficient to establish supervisory liability. Rivera v. Salazar, 166 Fed.Appx. 704, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 29186, 2005 WL 3588443 (5th Cir., December 30, 2005), citing Thompkins and Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 742 (5th Cir. 2002). Government officials cannot be held liable merely because they acquiesced in their subordinate's misconduct. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677; Sterns v. Epps, 464 Fed.Appx. 388, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 5678, 2012 WL 911889 (5th Cir., March 19, 2012) (prison supervisor could not be liable because he was not personally involved in an incident).

         The Magistrate Judge discussed each of Walker's claims separately and determined that each of them failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Walker has filed objections to the Report.

         II. The Plaintiff's Objections

         A. Double Celling

         Walker complained that he has suffered from “severe mental and physical health problems” because he is double-celled in a 45 square foot cell, rendering him unable to protect himself from violent, aggressive, or mentally unstable cell mates. He also complained that this placed him at risk of disease from infected cell mates. Every six months, during unit lockdowns, he is confined in the cell with his cell mate for 24 hours a day.

         Walker asserted that the practice of double-celling was held unconstitutional in Ruiz v. Estelle, 679 F.2d 1115 (5th Cir. 1982), modified in part in other respects 688 F.2d 266 (5th Cir. 1982), but the Magistrate Judge observed that in Ruiz, the Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's holding that double-celling was cruel and unusual punishment. Instead, the Magistrate Judge stated that the Supreme Court and the Fifth Circuit have consistently held that double-celling of prisoners is not cruel and unusual punishment. Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347-50, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 69 L.Ed.2d 58 (1981); Lineberry v. U.S., civil action no. 5:08cv72, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15293, 2009 WL 499763 (E.D.Tex., February 27, 2009, appeal dismissed as frivolous 436 Fed.Appx. 293, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 11269, 2010 WL 7114190 (5th Cir., June 3, 2010) (rejecting complaint of double-celling at the Federal Correctional Institution at Texarkana); Collins v. Ainsworth, 382 F.3d 529, 540 (5th Cir. 2004), citing Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347-50. Thus, the Magistrate Judge determined that Walker failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

         In his objections, Walker repeats his contention that “this Court and the Defendants are aware that the ruling in Ruiz v. Estelle outlawed it as unconstitutional to place [two] prisoners in a cell of 45 square feet.” The Magistrate Judge correctly determined that this assertion is simply incorrect; while the district court in Ruiz may have held double-celling unconstitutional, this holding was vacated by the Fifth Circuit. Ruiz v. Estelle, 679 F.2d at 1148, 1150-61, 1165. Walker's objection on this point is without merit. B. Designated Sleep Hours Walker complained that he is unable to get five hours of uninterrupted sleep because of activities which go on through the night, including mail call, lay-ins, counts, linen exchange on Thursdays, chow call, pill window, outgoing chains, population shower and vocational turnout, field force and recreation turnout, dayroom time, passes, and work call.

         The Magistrate Judge, citing Walker v. Nunn, 456 Fed.Appx. 419, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 26073, 2011 WL 6934496 (5th Cir. 2011), stated that prisons have to operate on a 24-hour basis in order to perform the tasks required to keep the prison functioning. That case held that the structure of the prison schedule is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests and there was no Eighth Amendment violation in the fact that the 24 hour schedule of operations prevented the prisoner from getting adequate sleep. Although the plaintiff ...

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