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White v. Okeye

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

April 30, 2019

WILLIAM DEXTER WHITE, TDCJ # 00545599, Plaintiff,
CECILIA OKEYE, et al, Defendants.


          George C. Hanks Jr., United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff William Dexter White, an inmate at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Correctional Institutions Division (“TDCJ”), proceeds pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. As ordered by the Court, Plaintiff filed an amended pleading (Dkt. 19). Because White 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

         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff originally filed this civil rights action in 2005 in the Eastern District of Texas, Civil Action No. 6:05-0026. On October 21, 2014, the court for the Eastern District severed some of White's claims and transferred them to this Court (Dkt. 1). After the Court instructed him to cure pleading deficiencies (Dkt. 13), Plaintiff filed an amended pleading (Dkt. 19) on December 19, 2014.

         On January 18, 2018, the Court severed Plaintiff's claims into two civil actions, Civil Action No. 3:14-333 and Civil Action No. 3:18-0017. Civil Action No. 3:14-333 consisted of Plaintiff's claims that Defendants Nix, Mayes, and Cooper used excessive force against him in 2003. On June 13, 2018, the Court dismissed Civil Action No. 3:14-333 on Plaintiff's motion.

         Civil Action No. 3:18-0017 is the case at bar. As set forth in the severance order (Dkt. 25, at 2-3), [1] this case consists of two sets of claims: (1) Plaintiff's claim that six Defendants on the Darrington Unit classification committee (V. Dodson, J. O'Guinn, Susan Ballie, B. Horn, Herman Weston, and A. Velasquez) failed to protect him after he was transferred in from the Michael Unit in early 2003, which allegedly led to an assault on Plaintiff by another inmate in September 2004, and (2) Plaintiff's claim that four Defendants (Cecilia Okeye, Owen Murray, Steven Smock, and an unnamed medical defendant) failed to provide him with adequate medical care for his injuries after the September 2004 assault.

         B. Factual Background

         The relevant facts, as alleged in Plaintiff's amended complaint (Dkt. 19), are as follows: On or about April 5, 2003, Plaintiff arrived at the Darrington Unit from the Michael Unit. Plaintiff had been in “safekeeping” at the Michael Unit. He states that after he was convicted of the disciplinary infraction of attempted extortion on December 30, 2002, prison officials “used” the conviction to “remove [him] from safekeeping and subsequently transfer [him] to the Darrington Unit” (Dkt. 19, at 25; see Dkt. 19-3, at 29 (disciplinary record); Dkt. 19-3, at 25-28 (grievance regarding disciplinary case)).

         After arriving at the Darrington Unit, Plaintiff informed Defendant Horn, whom he identifies as the “ranking officer over classification” at Darrington, that he would have “serious problems” with gang members at the unit (Dkt. 19, at 11). In particular, Plaintiff informed Horn that he had been branded a “snitch” due to his cooperation with criminal prosecutions of other inmates and previously had been brutally assaulted by a member of the Aryan Brotherhood (id.). Plaintiff requested that Horn put him “back on safekeeping, ” as he had been at the Michael Unit, but Horn stated that Plaintiff's disciplinary conviction prevented Horn from granting the request (id.).

         In August and September 2003, Plaintiff filed three grievances complaining that his life was in danger from other inmates at the Darrington Unit due to gang affiliations and racial tensions (Dkt. 19-3, at 1-4; id. at 5-8; id. at 9-12). Plaintiff complained that he was mishoused and unprotected from prison gangs. He also claimed that another inmate known as “Ponyboy” could provide prison officials with evidence regarding the danger Plaintiff faced. In response, TDCJ officials stated that unit administration had investigated his claim, that the claim had no merit and was unsupported by evidence, and that the grievance officials would defer to the housing decision by the classification committee (Dkt. 19-3, at 4, 8, & 12).

         In September 2003, at the time Plaintiff's grievances were under consideration, officials at the Darrington Unit conducted an offender protection investigation (“OPI”) based on Plaintiff's request for protection from gang activity. The OPI records, which Plaintiff submitted along with his complaint (Dkt. 19-3, at 14-20), indicate that the investigation began on September 5, 2003 in response to an incident on September 4, 2003 (id. at 14). The report attaches a lengthy record of an official's interview with Plaintiff on September 8, 2003, which details Plaintiff's past conflicts with other inmates, his prior disciplinary case, and his prior placement on “safekeeping” (id. at 15-16). In the interview, Plaintiff stated that his conflicts from the Michael Unit had followed him to the Darrington Unit and that he had a reputation as a snitch (id. at 17-18). He told the interviewer that Ponyboy could provide information “about what [Plaintiff] did on the Michael Unit” (id. at 18). He claimed that his line at the Darrington Unit was currently locked down and that he had heard other inmates saying that they would “get all the snitches” as soon as lockdown lifted (id. at 17-18). However, Plaintiff did not know the identity of the inmates he had heard and could not identify anyone who was threatening him (id.).

         The investigator's summary, dated September 10, 2003, stated that Plaintiff described his enemies as “White, Hispanic, or black” and claimed that they were “everywhere on th[e] unit, ” but had “successfully avoid[ed] identifying any specific person(s)” (id. at 19). The investigator noted that Plaintiff had offered “one possible witness, ” Ponyboy, but that “the act of questioning [Ponyboy] would give [Plaintiff] ammunition to claim that staff has endangered his life” (id. at 19). See id. at 14 (OPI investigation form states that other offenders were not interviewed because “[i]nvolvement of other inmates would jeopardize complainant”). The investigator concluded that “[Plaintiff's] conclusions of life endangerment are solely based on his assumptions and not on any one act, or acts, towards him by any person(s) on this unit” (id. at 19). At a classification hearing the next day, on September 11, 2003, Plaintiff's request for a transfer was denied with the notation, “no evidence” (id.).

         Plaintiff alleges that approximately one year later, on September 20, 2004, he was viciously assaulted by another inmate at the Darrington Unit who was a prison gang member (Dkt. 19, at 3). He claims that the denied transfer in 2003 amounted to a failure to protect him from the 2004 assault. Plaintiff appears to allege generally that all six Defendants from the classification committee “mishoused” Plaintiff upon his arrival at the Darrington Unit in April 2003 and failed to respond properly to his request for protection in 2004. Regarding Defendants Horn and O'Guinn, Plaintiff alleges that each failed to adequately investigate the protection issue by failing to interview Ponyboy during the OPI investigation (Dkt. 19, at 11-12). As for other Defendants who were members of the classification committee (Defendants Dodson, Ballie, Weston, and Velasquez), Plaintiff makes no specific allegations, despite the Court's previous instructions to state “how each person was personally involved in the harm suffered by plaintiff” (Dkt. 13, at 2). Rather, he alleges that “each” committee member had a responsibility to review Plaintiff's classification file before rendering a decision and that the file contained evidence indicating that Ponyboy's testimony would be relevant to the decision. On that basis, he alleges that each committee member “refused” to interview Ponyboy and improperly denied Plaintiff a transfer, which “resulted in Plaintiff being the victim of a vicious brutal attack” one year later in September 2004 (Dkt. 19, at 14).

         Plaintiff's left sinus cavity and left jaw were “crushed” and severely swollen in the September 2004 assault (id. at 2-3). He alleges that he was taken to the infirmary and “blood was steadily dripping from his nose and eye” but that he was “sent back to his cell with no pain medication” (id. at 2). Two days later, on or about September 22, 2004, he received x-rays and spoke remotely with an unknown doctor at John Sealy Hospital, part of the University of Texas Medical Branch (“UTMB”). He then was transported to UTMB, apparently on the same day, where additional x-rays and an MRI examination “verified the cheek was crushed and jaw fractured” (id.). Plaintiff attaches some of his medical records from his emergency room visit, which refer to facial trauma and a “blowout fracture.” See Dkt. 19-1, at 6 (medical personnel note obvious deformity of nose and facial trauma); id. at 7 (x-ray report records “[f]oreign body in interior right orbit possibly secondary to old surgery and evidence of acute blowout fracture in right orbit”). Plaintiff was instructed to follow up with an ear, nose, and throat (“ENT”) doctor and with optometry (id. at 6, 8-9).

         Plaintiff claims that, during his hospitalization, unnamed medical personnel told him that “corrective surgery” would be scheduled “within two days” and that “‘his cheek and jaw would be fixed, ” but that he “mysteriously” was released several days later without corrective surgery (Dkt. 19, at 2). He was discharged with no pain medication, despite having been prescribed Tylenol 3 while at the hospital (id. at 3). He states that he was instructed to ask for non-prescription Tylenol at the Darrington Unit's pill window but that non-prescription Tylenol is “totally worthless for acute pain and suffering” (id.).

         Plaintiff supplies copies of several sick call slips he submitted at the Darrington Unit in September and October 2004 that requested pain medication and repair of his fractured bones (Dkt. 19-1, at 10-19). Prison officials' responses informed him that he was awaiting appointments with optometry and the ENT clinic. In response to his requests for different pain medication, ...

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