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Armstrong v. Dunlap

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio

August 31, 2017

JAMES M. ARMSTRONG, Plaintiff,
v.
DANIEL DUNLAP, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER [RESOLVING DOC. 12, 20, 21]

          JAMES S. GWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pro se Plaintiff James M. Armstrong filed this civil rights action against Defendants Lake County Sheriff Daniel Dunlap, Chief Deputy Frank Leonbruno, and Captain Cynthia Brooks. In his Complaint, Plaintiff makes a series of allegations concerning jail conditions and facilities at the Lake County Adult Detention Facility.[1] He seeks an injunctive order requiring Defendants to rectify the conditions and facilities at the jail, as well as monetary damages.[2]

         Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a cause of action.[3] Plaintiff opposes.[4] For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff asserts that inmates at Lake County Adult Detention Facility should be given the following rights:

1) Medications distributed by registered nurses;
2) Sanitary living conditions free of mold or insects;
3) An up-to-date law library;
4) One free phone call at booking;
5) Clean heating and air duct systems;
6) One hour of recreation a day;
7) Clean blankets once a month;
8) Sanitary food service;
9) Medical attention;
10) Food served at reasonable times; and
11) Food with enough calories.[5]

         Plaintiffs seek an injunctive order requiring the jail to address Plaintiff's concerns.[6]Plaintiff also seeks $85, 000 in monetary damages.[7]

         Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint for failing to state a claim against Defendants in either their official or individual capacities.[8] Defendants also argue that Plaintiff has failed to allege any constitutional violations.[9] Plaintiff opposes.[10]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Although federal courts are obligated to construe pro se complaints liberally, [11] such principles are not without limits.[12] Plaintiffs proceeding pro se must still meet basic pleading standards, and courts are not required to “conjure allegations on [their] behalf.”[13]

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'”[14] The plausibility requirement is not a “probability requirement.”[15] Plaintiff need not try to prove his case in the complaint. But there must be “more than a sheer possibility that the defendant has acted unlawfully.”[16]

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 provides the general pleading standard and only requires that a complaint “contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”[17] “Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hypertechnical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.”[18] In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “a court should assume the[] veracity” of “well-pleaded factual allegations, ” but need not accept a plaintiff's conclusory allegations as true.[19]

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Official Capacity Claims

         The Court first addresses whether Plaintiff sufficiently alleges claims against Defendants in their official capacities. Plaintiff makes claims against Lake County Sheriff Daniel Dunlap, Chief Deputy Frank Leonbruno, and Captain Cynthia Brooks in their official capacities.[20] These individuals are employees of Lake County.[21]

         A suit against a government employee in his or her official capacity “represent[s] only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.”[22] Therefore, Plaintiff's official capacity claims under Section 1983 are claims directly against Lake County.

         A local government subdivision such as Lake County is a “person” with respect to § 1983 liability.[23] However, Lake County cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory.[24] Lake County can only be held liable under § 1983 when the execution of the local government's policy or custom inflicts the alleged injury.[25] Thus, Plaintiff must demonstrate a direct causal link between the government's policy or custom and the constitutional deprivation by showing that the alleged injury was caused by the execution of the particular policy or custom.[26]

Here, Plaintiff fails to allege any facts that suggest the jail employees were acting pursuant to Lake County's custom or policy. In fact, Plaintiff does not mention “custom” or “policy” at all in his Complaint. Thus, the Court dismisses Plaintiff's official capacity claims against Defendants.

         B. Individual Capacity Claims

         Plaintiff also fails to allege claims against Defendants in their individual capacities.[27]

         Plaintiffs can only demonstrate Defendants' individual liability by showing Defendants were personally involved in the unconstitutional behavior alleged.[28] Thus, individual liability “must be based on the actions of that defendant in the situation that the defendant faced, and not based on any problems caused by the errors of others, either defendants or non-defendants.”[29]

         To impose supervisory liability, “‘a § 1983 plaintiff must show that a supervisory official at least implicitly authorized, approved or knowingly acquiesced in the unconstitutional conduct of the offending subordinate.'”[30]

         Plaintiff fails to make any such allegations. At most, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants “are responsible for the functioning of the facility Lake County Jail.”[31] Plaintiff also seems to say that Defendants are responsible for the alleged constitutional violations by denying Plaintiff's grievances.[32] These allegations fail to support individual capacity claims against Defendants.

         First, these allegations do not demonstrate that Defendants knew Plaintiff or personally participated in the decisions concerning the jail's functioning that injured Plaintiff.[33]

         Second, these allegations fail to impose supervisory liability on Defendants. Plaintiff has not alleged any facts suggesting that Defendants authorized, approved, or knowingly acquiesced in the alleged constitutional violations.

         Likewise, Defendants' alleged “denial of [Plaintiff's] administrative grievances or the[ir] failure to act” is also insufficient.[34] Plaintiff can only assert claims against the subjects of his grievances, not those who merely decided whether to grant or deny the grievances.[35] Thus, Plaintiff fails to impose supervisory liability on Defendants merely because they denied his administrative grievances.

         Thus, to the extent Plaintiff alleges individual capacity claims against Defendants, these claims are also dismissed.

         C. Plaintiff Does Not Allege Any Cognizable Constitutional Violations.

         Even if Plaintiffs could bring suit against Defendants, the Court finds that Plaintiff fails to allege any cognizable violations of his constitutional rights.

         1. Law Library

         Plaintiff requests a law library with up-to-date materials.[36] However, neither the First nor Fourteenth Amendment guarantees inmates access to an adequate law library.

         The First Amendment only guarantees inmates the right to access the courts. But to show he was denied this right, Plaintiff must explain how the “the alleged shortcomings in the library . . . hindered his efforts to pursue a legal claim.”[37] Plaintiff makes no such allegation. Thus, Plaintiff fails to make a cognizable claim under the First Amendment.

         Furthermore, Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment right to due process only guarantees Plaintiff the right to an attorney during his criminal trial.[38] Accordingly, Plaintiff cannot state a Fourteenth Amendment violation because he was deprived of an adequate law library.

         The Court thus dismisses Plaintiff's claim concerning his right to an adequate law library.

         2. ...


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