United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
J'KIAH A. THOMAS, Plaintiff,
STATE OF RHODE ISLAND, by and through PATRICIA COYNE-FAGUE, Acting Director of the Department of Corrections; ASHBEL T. WALL former Director of R.I.D.O.C.; ALIAS JOHN DOES, in their official capacities, Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
PATRICIA A. SULLIVAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
J'kiah Thomas, a prisoner at the Adult Correctional
Institutions (“ACI”), acting pro se, has
sued the State of Rhode Island, by and through its Director
of the Department of Corrections (“DOC”),
Patricia Coyne-Fague, acting in her official
capacity. ECF No. 1 ¶ 4 (“Compl.”).
In this report and recommendation, I address Director
Coyne-Fague's Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss,
ECF No. 24, mindful that “[l]ike a battlefield surgeon
sorting the hopeful from the hopeless, a motion to dismiss
invokes a form of legal triage, a paring of viable claims
from those doomed by law.” Iacampo v. Hasbro,
Inc., 929 F.Supp. 562, 567 (D.R.I. 1996). Rule 12(b)(6)
requires a complaint to allege a plausible entitlement to
relief that gives the defendant fair notice of the claim and
the grounds on which it rests. Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 559 (2007). The plausibility
inquiry requires the court to distinguish “the
complaint's factual allegations (which must be accepted
as true) from its conclusory legal allegations (which need
not be credited).” Morales-Cruz v. Univ. of
P.R., 676 F.3d 220, 224 (1st Cir. 2012).
required by our Circuit Court, I have read and analyzed
Plaintiff's writings with the leniency mandated for any
pro se filing. Instituto de Educacion Universal
Corp. v. U.S. Dep't of Educ., 209 F.3d 18, 23 (1st
Complaint alleges that his constitutional rights under the
Eighth Amendment were violated in January 2016, when he
participated as a member of the Bloods gang in a brawl inside
the ACI between members of the Bloods gang and members of the
rival Crips gang. Compl. ¶¶ 6-13. He alleges that,
like the other participants, he was punished for the brawl
with segregation. Id. ¶¶ 14-15. However,
unlike other members of the Bloods gang, unnamed correctional
officers placed him in the same segregation unit that also
housed members of the Crips gang who were involved in the
brawl; a few days later, two of them attacked him while he
was taking a shower, resulting in serious injuries.
Id. ¶¶ 14, 16-19. When Plaintiff
challenged an unnamed DOC representative regarding why he was
placed in an area of the ACI also housing members of a rival
gang, he claims that individual told him: “it was your
job to inform me.” Id. ¶ 21.
Complaint contains an array of conclusory allegations,
including that no correctional officer “took reasonable
steps to protect the Plaintiff from the objectively
unreasonable and conscience shocking cruel and unusual
punishment, ” as well as that “Defendants engaged
in the conduct described by this Complaint willfully,
maliciously, in bad faith, and reckless disregard of
[Plaintiff's] federally protected rights, ” and
“with shocking and willful indifference to
Plaintiff's rights and their conscious awareness that
they would cause Plaintiff severe physical and emotional
injuries.” Id. ¶¶ 29-31. The
pleading does not name any DOC or other state officials
(whether by name or other description) who Plaintiff alleges
were the actors whose conduct or omission resulted in the
claimed constitutional deprivation. Nor does it describe what
is the actionable conduct or omission that led to his
claim is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Id. ¶ 1. He seeks only money damages, including
punitive damages, as well as attorneys' fees pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1988. Id. at 9.
MOTION TO DISMISS AND ANALYSIS
Coyne-Fague's unopposed motion is based on two discrete
she asks the Court to dismiss the Complaint in accordance
with the bedrock principle that § 1983 damages cannot be
recovered from a state official sued in her official
capacity. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police,
491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (“[N]either a State nor its
officials acting in their official capacities are
‘persons' under § 1983.”). Consistent
with this principle, this Court has repeatedly dismissed
cases seeking § 1983 damages from former Director Wall,
when sued in his official capacity. See, e.g.,
Callahan v. Wall, C.A. No. 16-160 S, 2017 WL
3447895, at *4 (D.R.I. Aug. 11, 2017) (Director Wall
dismissed in official capacity from § 1983 case based on
Eighth Amendment and seeking money damages); Laporte v.
Wall, No. C.A. 03-70 S, 2003 WL 21518757, at *2 (D.R.I.
June 12, 2003) (“[P]ursuant to the Supreme Court's
ruling in Will, plaintiff's official capacity
claims [against Director Wall] cannot be sustained.”).
Like the pleadings in the cases where Director Wall was
dismissed because he was sued in his official capacity for
§ 1983 money damages, Plaintiff's pleading founders
in the face of this well-established legal doctrine.
Johnson v. Rodriguez, 943 F.2d 104, 108 (1st Cir.
1991); see Nieves-Marquez v. Puerto Rico, 353 F.3d
108, 124 (1st Cir. 2003) (“No cause of action for
damages is stated under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against a
state, its agency, or its officials acting in an official
capacity.”). Because it is clear the only defendant
named and joined is Director Coyne-Fague in her official
capacity, and the only remedy sought is money damages
pursuant to § 1983, this case must be dismissed in its
Director Coyne-Fague also seeks to dismiss the Complaint
because it lacks “a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ”
which is required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), as well as because
it fails to clear the plausibility bar set by the Supreme
Court in the now-familiar twins, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678, and Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. This argument is
also well founded.
Iqbal, Plaintiff's pleading describes a brutal
attack on a prisoner committed by individuals who are not
named in the case. 556 U.S. at 668-69. Also as in
Iqbal, instead of concrete and plausible facts
linking the named defendant or any DOC official to the
wrongdoing, Plaintiff substitutes conclusory allegations that
are not entitled to be assumed true, together with
“nothing more than a ‘formulaic recitation of the
elements' of a . . . claim.” Id. at 681.
The only specific fact alleged is insufficient to give rise
to a plausible claim of deliberate and intentional
indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm. Namely,
in ¶ 21, Plaintiff claims that, when he asked why he was
let out alone with a member of the Crips gang, an unknown
individual reminded him that he has to notify prison
officials of his gang affiliations and enemies. Assuming this
fact to be true, it fails to permit the inference that either
the named prison official (Director Coyne-Fague), or any
other DOC employee, had “knowledge that an inmate faces
a substantial risk of serious harm and . . . disregard[ed]
that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate the
harm.” Kelley v. Wall, No. C.A.10-233 ML, 2010
WL 5176172, at *2 (D.R.I. Nov. 30, 2010), adopted,
2010 WL 5313296 (D.R.I. Dec. 20, 2010); see Gebo v.
Thyng, Civil No. 11-CV-047-JD, 2012 WL 4848883, at *3
(D.N.H. Oct. 11, 2012) (“Deliberate indifference
requires that ‘the official must both be aware of facts
from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial
risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the
inference.'”). Thus, as in Iqbal,
Plaintiff's pleading lacks facial plausibility because it
is devoid of “factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.” 556 U.S. at 678.
I find that Plaintiff's Complaint “has not
‘nudged [his] claim[ ] . . . ‘across the line
from conceivable to plausible, '” I recommend that
it be dismissed. Id. at 680.