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Letizia v. Gonzalez

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

May 21, 2019

RICHARD VINCENT LETIZIA, SPN #02880904, Plaintiff,
v.
HARRIS COUNTY SHERIFF EDWARD GONZALEZ, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SIM LAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The plaintiff, Richard Vincent Letizia, also known as Richard Vincent (SPN #02880904), has filed a Complaint for Violation of Civil Rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Complaint") (Docket Entry No. 1), concerning the conditions of his confinement at the Harris County Jail. At the court's request Letizia has supplemented his pleadings with Plaintiff's More Definite Statement ("Plaintiff's MDS") (Docket Entry No. 8). Because Letizia is an inmate who proceeds .in forma pauperis, the court is required to scrutinize the claims and dismiss the Complaint, in whole or in part, if it determines that the Complaint "is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted" or "seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). After considering the pleadings, the court concludes that this case must be dismissed for the reasons explained below.

         I. Background

         Letizia was arrested as an "out of state fugitive" and placed in the Harris County Jail (the "Jail") on July 6, 2016.[1]He was released on bond, which was later revoked.[2] Letizia returned to the Jail on February 18, 2018, where he remains incarcerated pending his return to Florida, where he has been convicted and sentenced in absentia to five years' imprisonment.[3]

         In his pending Complaint against Harris County Sheriff Edward Gonzalez, Letizia claims that there was "no water service" at the Jail for five days, starting on July 5, 2018, until July 10, 2018.[4]As a result, inmates were forced to defecate in plastic bags and urinate in the shower.[5] Letizia contends that the smell was "unbarable [sic]" and that conditions were "extremely unsanitary" during this time because no showers could be taken.[6] One inmate became upset or "frustrated" with the conditions and assaulted Letizia by striking him in the left eye on July 8, 2018, which Plaintiff's MDS, Docket Entry No. 8, p. 2. required hospitalization and has resulted in permanently blurred vision.[7]

         Letizia contends that the conditions of his confinement that he endured while the Jail was without water service for several days during July 2018 violated the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments.[8] Invoking 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Letizia seeks damages in the amount of $1 million for the loss of vision in his left eye from being assaulted and the psychological distress he experienced as the result of his exposure to unsanitary conditions.[9]

         II. Discussion

          A. Supervisory Liability

         The only defendant identified by Letizia is Sheriff Gonzalez, who is sued in his capacity as a supervisory official in charge of the Harris County Sheriff's Department, which operates the Jail.[10] A public official cannot be held vicariously liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the conduct of those under their supervision. See Alderson v. Concordia Parish Correctional Facility, 848 F.3d 415, 419 (5th Cir. 2017) (citing Mouille v. City of Live Oak, 977 F.2d 924, 929 (5th Cir. 1992)). Supervisory officials are accountable for their own acts of deliberate indifference and for implementing unconstitutional policies that causally result in injury. Id. In other words, to establish supervisory liability under § 1983 a plaintiff must allege either that they participated in acts that caused a constitutional deprivation or that they implemented unconstitutional policies causally related to his injuries. See Alderson, 848 F.3d at 421 (citing Mouille, 977 F.2d at 929).

         Letizia does not allege facts showing that Sheriff Gonzalez was personally involved in any of the incidents referenced in his pleadings. Likewise, as discussed further below, Letizia does not allege facts establishing a claim for which relief may be granted or that he is entitled to recover damages due to the existence of a constitutionally deficient policy attributable to Sheriff Gonzalez. See Thompkins v. Belt, 828 F.2d 298, 303-04 (5th Cir. 1987). Accordingly, the Complaint against Sheriff Gonzalez must be dismissed.

         B. Conditions of Confinement

         Letizia cannot recover compensatory damages for psychological distress due to his temporary exposure to unsanitary conditions of confinement. The PLRA, which governs this lawsuit, precludes an action for compensatory damages "for mental or emotional injury-suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury or the commission of a sexual act (as defined in section 2246 of Title 18)." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e).

         The only physical injuries described by Letizia are those he suffered when he was assaulted by another inmate.[11] Because Letizia does not identify any physical injury that was caused by his exposure to unsanitary conditions at the Jail, § 1997e(e) precludes him from recovering damages for his mental and emotional distress. See Alexander v. Tippah County, Miss., 351 F.3d 626, 630-31 (5th Cir. 2003) (concluding that two inmates could not recover damages from their temporary exposure to "deplorable conditions" because the only injury alleged was nausea from the smell of raw sewage). Accordingly, Letizia's conditions-of-confinement claim must be dismissed.

         C. Failure to ...


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