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Littler v. Shroyer

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

May 14, 2018

PHILLIP LITTLER, Plaintiff,
v.
JUSTIN SHROYER, NATHAN LYDAY, CALEB SAPPINGTON, TRENT TINKLE, ZACHARY LYDAY, CHANDLER WILLARD, JAMES PHILLIPS, PATRICK ARNOLD, RICHARD BROWN, AMANDA PIRTLE Captain, RICHARD YARBER Lieutenant, CORIZON HEALTH SERVICES, Defendants.

          ENTRY GRANTING MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS, DISCUSSING AMENDED COMPLAINT, DISMISSING INSUFFICIENT CLAIMS, SEVERING CLAIM AGAINST CORIZON HEALTH SERVICES, AND DIRECTING SERVICE OF PROCESS

          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge United States District Court

         I. Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

         The plaintiff's renewed motion to proceed in forma pauperis, Dkt. No. 9, is granted. The assessment of an initial partial filing fee is waived at this time because the plaintiff does not have the assets or the means to pay it. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(4).

         II. Screening of the Amended Complaint

         Plaintiff Phillip Littler is incarcerated at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (“Wabash Valley”). Because the plaintiff is a “prisoner” as defined by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(h), this Court has an obligation under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b) to screen his amended complaint before service on the defendants. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), the Court must dismiss the complaint if it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim for relief, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. In determining whether the complaint states a claim, the Court applies the same standard as when addressing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Lagerstrom v. Kingston, 463 F.3d 621, 624 (7th Cir. 2006). To survive dismissal,

[the] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for 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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Pro se complaints such as that filed by the plaintiff are construed liberally and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Obriecht v. Raemisch, 517 F.3d 489, 491 n.2 (7th Cir. 2008).

         The amended complaint filed on April 26, 2018, alleges that the following individuals participated in a cell extraction that occurred on May 24, 2016, because Mr. Littler refused to leave his cell so that it could be searched: 1) Officer Justin Shroyer; 2) Officer Nathan Lyday; 3)

         Officer Caleb Sappington; 4) Officer Trent Tinkle; 5) Officer Zachary Lyday; 6) Officer Chandler Willard; 7) Officer James Phillips; 8) Officer Patrick Arnold; 9) Captain Amanda Pirtle; and 10) Lt. Richard Yarber. Mr. Littler alleges that the first eight of these officers applied excessive force when they extracted him from his cell, causing a broken right ankle. He alleges that Captain Pirtle and Lt. Yarber supervised the extraction. He also alleges that he never received medical treatment for his ankle, but it healed on its own. He alleges violations of his Eighth Amendment rights, a conspiracy claim, and state law claims of medical malpractice, battery, and a violation of § 23 of the Indiana Constitution. He seeks compensatory and punitive damages and an injunction prohibiting the defendants from continuing this behavior.

         Mr. Littler also alleges that he sent grievances to “proper authorities, ” including Major Dusty Russell, Assistant Superintendent, Frank Littlejohn, Superintendent Richard Brown, and Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Correction Bruce Lemmon, reporting past occasions of similar treatment. He alleges none of them responded. To the extent he seeks to include these individuals as defendants, he has failed to state a viable claim against them. Simply writing a letter to various supervisory staff after an incident occurs does not pull those individuals within the zone of liability. None of these individuals are alleged to have participated in any excessive force or other constitutional violation. Mere “knowledge of a subordinate's misconduct is not enough for liability.” Vance v. Rumsfeld, 701 F.3d 193, 203 (7th Cir. 2012) (en banc). Therefore, any claims against these individuals are dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         Mr. Littler's 42 U.S.C. § 1985 conspiracy claim asserted against the defendant officers is superfluous because it does not add any substance to his other more applicable constitutional claims and because all of the officers are state actors. The function of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) is to permit recovery from a private actor who has conspired with state actors. Fairley v. Andrews, 578 F.3d 518, 526 (7th Cir. 2009) (“All defendants are state actors, so a § 1985(3) claim does not add anything except needless complexity.”). The § 1985 conspiracy claim is dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         Any claim based on the alleged violation of Article 1, section 23 equal privileges and immunities section of the Indiana Constitution is dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because there is no private cause of action for damages under the Indiana Constitution under the circumstances alleged by Mr. Littler. Cantrell v. Morris, 849 N.E.2d 488, 491-93 (Ind. 2006); City of Indianapolis v. Cox, 20 N.E.3d 201, 212 (Ind.Ct.App. 2014) (rejecting claim under Article 1, section 23 because “no Indiana court has explicitly recognized a private right of action for monetary damages under the Indiana Constitution”) (internal quotation omitted); Hoagland v. Franklin Twp. Community School Corp., 10 N.E.3d 1034, 1040 (Ind.Ct.App. 2014) (“[T]here is no right of action for monetary damages under the Indiana Constitution”), aff'd in relevant part, 27 N.E.2d 737 (Ind. 2015); Smith v. Ciesielski, 975 F.Supp.2d 930, 947 (S.D. Ind. 2013) (Article I, Section 23's “equal privileges and immunities” provision does not provide a cause of action for the vindication of those rights).

         The excessive force Eighth Amendment claims shall proceed against 1) Officer Justin Shroyer; 2) Officer Nathan Lyday; 3) Officer Caleb Sappington; 4) Officer Trent Tinkle; 5) Officer Zachary Lyday; 6) Officer Chandler Willard; 7) Officer James Phillips; and 8) Officer Patrick Arnold. The claims against Captain Amanda Pirtle and Lt. Richard Yarber, liberally construed as failure to intervene claims, shall also proceed.

         The state law claim of battery shall proceed against the officers who allegedly participated in the cell extraction: Officer Justin Shroyer; Officer Nathan Lyday; Officer Caleb Sappington; Officer Trent Tinkle; Officer Zachary Lyday; ...


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