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Payne v. Appleton

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

May 1, 2019

TOBY KRISTOPHER PAYNE, Prison ID # 1720023, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT APPLETON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          E. SCOTT FROST, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff sues two prison officials or employees of the French M. Robertson Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for failing to in violation of the Americans with Disability Act ("ADA"); the Rehabilitation Act ("RA"); and the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. See Compl. (doc. 1) at 4. The Court has granted Plaintiff permission to proceed with this case in forma pauperis. See PLRA Filing Fee Order (doc. 5). On May 1, 2018, the District Judge referred the case to the undersigned. See Order (doc. 7). Plaintiff thereafter consented to have a United States Magistrate Judge conduct any and all further proceedings in this case, including entry of a final judgment, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). See Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge (doc. 9).

         In August 2018, the Court sent Plaintiff a Magistrate Judge's Questionnaire ("MJQ") to flesh out the factual and legal bases for his claims. See MJQ (doc. 10). Plaintiff timely responded to the MJQ. See Answers to MJQ (doc. 11).[1] After considering Plaintiffs complaint, the MJQ answers, other relevant filings, and the applicable law, the Court issues this Memorandum Opinion and Order finding that Plaintiff has stated no claim that survives summary dismissal and thus dismisses this action in its entirety.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         On July 21, 2017, Plaintiff "was transferred from a psychiatric inpatient program at the William P. Clements Unit in Amarillo, Texas, called Chronic Mentally 111 (CMI) to general population [("GP")] as a custody level (G2), trustee level (Time Earning Level) S3 offender." Compl. at 5. Plaintiff alleges that he has "been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder," which "is a combination of acute psychosis and bi-polar disorder that requires" medication every day. Id. Due to alleged treatment prior to his transfer that are not at issue in this litigation, Plaintiff arrived at the Robertson Unit on July 21, 2017, "apprehensive, angry, and frustrated," but "also relieved that that nightmare was over." Id. at 6. Plaintiff was assigned janitorial duties for the night shift. See id.

         On August 1, 2017, after constant yelling with occasional vulgar language by an officer on night shift, Plaintiff "lost [his] cool" and vented his anger and frustrations towards the officer resulting in an incident report for threatening an officer. Id. Through the prison grievance process, Plaintiff sought to excuse his outburst by stating that (1) he "forgot to take [his] psych meds the morning prior to 8/1/17," (2) he "was still trying to get used to being back in GP from being in psychiatric ad-seg in the Chronically Mentally 111 program," and (3) on the evening of July 31, 2017, "no cold water was provided for the Janitors." See Step 1 Offender Grievance Form, attached as Doc. 2 to Compl.

         Plaintiff commenced this civil action in April 2018. See Compl. The Court severed all claims from this action except for claims against Defendants Scott Appleton and Jessie Singh. See Order (doc. 6). He asserts claims under the ADA, RA, and the Eighth Amendment under the same set of facts. See Compl. at 4; Answers 2 and 3. His sole claim in this action is that he was placed "into a minimum custody general population environment without providing [him] with any type of transitional psychiatric treatment, counseling, or program." See Compl. at 5. He claims that, had he "received such treatment [or] counseling, it is quite likely that [he] would have handled the situation" with the night shift officer "in a more progressive manner." Id. He also briefly mentions that defendants "were required to counsel [him] prior to the disciplinary case being allowed to go to hearing and could have justified that it should be dismissed," but they failed to do so. Id.

         With respect to the acts and omissions of the two named defendants, Plaintiff alleges that Mental Health Counselor Scott Appleton "failed to provide adequate psychological counseling when [Plaintiff] arrived from the CMI program at the Clements Unit in the form of transition counseling to help [Plaintiff] retrain [his] mind from living in an administrative segregation environment into a general population environment." Answer 5. He sues Psychiatrist Jessie Singh because he "is the person responsible for proper dispensation of psychiatric medications" and had he examined Plaintiff "right away" when Plaintiff arrived at the Robertson Unit, "he may have wanted to adjust my medication in order to calm [Plaintiff] down from a very apprehensive mental state." Answer 6. Plaintiff further states that Singh "may have also discovered that I was suicidal and treated [Plaintiff] for it," but he "failed to do so thereby putting [Plaintiffs] life in jeopardy." See id.

         When asked to describe the physical injury, if any, that he sustained as a result of the alleged conduct of defendants, Plaintiff states that he "only seeks punitive damages for the lack of adequate psychological counseling and failure to communicate with the CMI team at the Clements Unit." Answer 4. He states that his "injury is emotional and adverse to [his] diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder." See Id. In his complaint, Plaintiff seeks to recover costs, "possible attorney fees," and an unspecified award for damages, while also wanting the Court to erase or reverse his disciplinary case #20170356150. Compl. at 5. However, contemporaneously with this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Court has granted Plaintiffs requested amendment that his requested relief be limited to nominal and punitive damages. See PL's Mot. Leave Am. Compl. (doc. 22).

         Given these facts and background information, the Court now conducts the preliminary screening of this action as contemplated by 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A.

         II. SCREENING

         Plaintiff proceeds with this case in forma pauperis. Therefore, this action is subject to sua sponte dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). In addition because he is a prisoner seeking redress from governmental entity or an officer or employee of such an entity, his complaint is subject to preliminary screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A regardless of whether he proceeds in forma pauperis. See Martin v. Scott, 156 F.3d 578, 579-80 (5th Cir. 1998) (per curiam). Both statutes 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. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A(b).

         The Court may find a claim 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, furthermore, when it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory." Id. at 327. 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, on the other hand, 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 ...

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