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Gibson v. Rankin

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

October 3, 2014




Lionel Gibson, an Indiana prisoner currently incarcerated at the Westville Correctional Facility ("Westville"), filed this 47-page civil rights complaint in state court alleging that twelve defendants violated his constitutional rights. Specifically, Gibson alleges that the defendants provided him with inadequate medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment while he was incarcerated at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility ("Wabash Valley"). Gibson's claims are brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The defendants removed this action to this Court and the complaint is now subject to screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.


The complaint is subject to the screening requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). Pursuant to this statute, "[a] complaint is subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim if the allegations, taken as true, show that plaintiff is not entitled to relief." Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007).

To satisfy the notice-pleading standard of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must provide a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " which is sufficient to provide the defendant with "fair notice" of the claim and its basis. Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) and quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.... 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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quotations omitted). Pro se complaints such as that filed by Lionel Gibson, are construed liberally and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Erickson , 551 U.S. at 94; Obriecht v. Raemisch , 517 F.3d 489, 491 n.2 (7th Cir. 2008).

Applying the standard set forth above, certain claims must be dismissed while one claim shall proceed.

II. Claim Which Shall Proceed

The claim that Dr. Lolit Joseph was deliberately indifferent to the rash on Gibson's head, face and neck in violation of the Eighth Amendment shall proceed. The complaint lists specific circumstances which Gibson asserts reflects Dr. Joseph deliberate indifference to Gibson's serious medical needs between July 2, 2012, and May 24, 2013. Although listed as fourteen separate grounds for relief, these circumstances state one claim of deliberate indifference because it is the totality of the care provided for Gibson's rash that is at issue. This claim shall proceed. For the reasons explained below, all other claims are dismissed.

II. Dismissed Claims

A. Claims Arising Out of Westville Correctional Facility.

Claims against Dr. Andrew Llaw are dismissed without prejudice as improperly joined. Dr. Llaw is a doctor at Westville. All other defendants are associated with Wabash Valley. Claims against Dr. Llaw should be brought in a separate action in the Northern District of Indiana or an appropriate state court. In this instance, the claims against Dr. Llaw will not be severed into a new action and transferred to the Northern District of Indiana for four reasons. First, if the plaintiff acts diligently the statute of limitations will not be an issue because Gibson was transferred to Westville on March 13, 2014, and first examined by Dr. Llaw on May 16, 2014. Second, Gibson will have the opportunity to file his claims against Dr. Llaw in either state or federal court. Third, filing a new action against Dr. Llaw will allow the focus of the complaint to be on the events which occurred at Westville such that the record in the new action will not be muddied by the expansive number of claims which arose at Wabash Valley. Finally, Gibson will have the opportunity to ensure that he has exhausted his administrative remedies as to the claims occurring at Westville prior to filing his complaint.

If Gibson disagrees with the dismissal of Dr. Llaw without prejudice for the reasons explained above, he shall have through October 22, 2014, in which to file a motion for reconsideration which has attached a statement of the claims alleged against Dr. Llaw. These claims will then (in the Court's discretion and as a matter of judicial economy) be severed into a new action and transferred to the Northern District of Indiana.

The claims for injunctive and declaratory relief are dismissed as moot because Gibson is no longer incarcerated at Wabash Valley and the defendants associated with Wabash Valley are no longer responsible for his medical treatment. Church of Scientology of Cal. v. United States, 506 U.S. 9, 12 (1992) ("[I]f an event occurs while a case is pending on appeal that makes it impossible for the court to grant any effectual relief whatever to a prevailing party, the appeal must be dismissed, " for federal courts have "no authority to give opinions upon moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or rules of law which cannot affect the matter in issue in the case before it.") (internal quotation marks omitted); Lehn v. Holmes, 364 F.3d 862, 871 (7th Cir. 2004)("[W]hen a prisoner who seeks injunctive relief for a condition specific to a particular prison is transferred out of that prison, the need for relief... become[s] moot."); Higgason v. Farley, 83 F.3d 862, 871 (7th Cir. 1996) (same); Samuels v. Mackell , 401 U.S. 66 (1971) (equating remedies of injunctive and declaratory relief)).

To the extent Gibson seeks a declaratory judgment that the actions of these defendants associated with Wabash Valley violated his constitutional rights, this claim must be dismissed because declaratory judgment cannot be used "solely to adjudicate [a defendant's] past conduct" and not to affect future behavior. Simso v. State of Connecticut, 2006 WL 3422194, at *8 (D.Conn. Nov. 28, 2006); see also Mirbeau of Geneva Lake LLC v. City of Lake Geneva , 2009 WL ...

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