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Atropin Palmer v. Sheriff Fred Abdalla

October 26, 2011

ATROPIN PALMER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SHERIFF FRED ABDALLA,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Kemp

JUDGE GEORGE C. SMITH

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Plaintiff Atropin Palmer, a prisoner proceding pro se, is currently incarcerated at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. On June 16, 2011 Mr. Palmer filed an action under 42 U.S.C. §1983 against Defendant Fred Abdalla, the Jefferson County Ohio Sheriff. On August 5, 2011, after he had filed an answer, Sheriff Abdalla filed a motion to dismiss. Mr. Palmer filed a response on August 11, 2011. On August 23, 2011, Defendant filed a reply. For the following reasons, the Magistrate Judge RECOMMENDS that the motion to dismiss be DENIED.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The following statement of facts is taken from Mr. Palmer's complaint. Mr. Palmer was transferred from the Ross Correctional Institution to the Jefferson County Jail on or about February 7, 2011. Upon his arrival, he "was placed in an area of the Jefferson County Jail where he was subjected to subfreezing temperature without sufficient means to maintain warmth." Furthermore, "during the course of his confinement within the county jail, there were no heating or ventilation ducts which produced a sufficient amount of heat to increase the heat or temperature within said living area." He was given only one blanket and was not provided with any bedding or a mattress to sleep on. On several occasions, Mr. Palmer asked jail officials for additional blankets, but his requests were denied. Mr. Palmer remained under these conditions for four days before being transferred back to the Ross Correctional Institution. It is on the basis of these facts that the pending motion will be decided.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Under Rule 12(b)(6), a claim may be dismissed for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Rule 12(c) states that once the pleadings are closed, "a party may move for judgment on the pleadings". Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). The standards of review for motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) and Rule 12(c) are identical. Sensations, Inc., v. City of Grand Rapids, 526 F.3d 291, 295 (6th Cir. 2008). When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to either Rule 12(b)(6) or Rule 12(c), a court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept all well-pleaded material allegations as true. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Roth Steel Products v. Sharon Steel Corp., 705 F.2d 134, 155 (6th Cir. 1983). In order "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. Finally, pro se complaints are held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers," Haines v. Kerner 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), "and should therefore be liberally construed." Williams v. Curtain, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011).

III. DISCUSSION

42 U.S.C. §1983 provides in relevant part: "Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . . , subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States ... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law . . . ." 42 U.S.C. §1983.

A plaintiff seeking relief under §1983 may bring a claim against a public official in the official's individual or official capacity. Individual-capacity claims "seek to impose individual liability upon a government officer for actions taken under color of state law." Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991). In contrast, an official-capacity claim is "another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent." Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 n.55 (1978). If the plaintiff does not specify in the complaint which type of claim he or she is bringing, the Court "must assume that [defendants] are being sued in their official capacities." Whittington v. Milby, 928 F.2d 188, 193 (6th Cir. 1989).

Mr. Palmer does not explicitly state whether he seeks relief from Sheriff Abdalla in his individual or his official capacity. However, the fact that Mr. Palmer demands judgment against the Jefferson County Jail indicates that he is bringing an official-capacity claim. Moreover, since Mr. Palmer did not specify which type of claim he was bringing in the complaint, the Court must construe his claim to be against Sheriff Abdalla in his official capacity.

For an official-capacity claim to be successful, the "plaintiff must: 1) identify a municipal policy or custom; 2) connect that policy or custom to the municipality; and 3) show that execution of that policy or custom caused the particular injury." Janis v. Marcum 77 Fed.Appx. 308, 310 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Garner v. Memphis Police Dep't., 8 F.3d 358, 364 (6th Cir. 1993)). Sheriff Abdalla argues that Mr. Palmer has failed to satisfy the first element - identifying a municipal policy or custom.

"There are at least four avenues a plaintiff may take to prove the existence of a municipality's illegal policy or custom. The plaintiff can look to (1) the municipality's legislative enactments or official agency policies; (2) actions taken by officials with final decision-making authority; (3) a policy of inadequate training or supervision; or (4) a custom of tolerance or acquiescence of federal rights violations." Thomas v. City of Chattanooga, 398 F.3d 426, 429 (6th Cir. 2005).

Turning first to Mr. Palmer's allegations of temperature generally, he claims he "was placed in an area of the Jefferson County Jail where he was subjected to subfreezing temperature" and "that during the course of his confinement within the county jail, there were no heating or ventilation ducts which produced a sufficient amount of heat to increase the heat or temperature within said living area." However, courts have generally not inferred official municipal policies from bare allegations of cold temperatures in prisons. See Thigpen v. Reid, 2011 WL 240159, *1 (N.D. Ohio Jan. 24, 2011); LaPine v. Chippewa Cnty. Corr. Facility, 2011 WL 3438481, *5 (W.D. Mich. Aug. 5, 2011) (holding that a prisoner's allegations regarding a number of prison conditions, including the temperature of the facility and its ventilation system, ...


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