Blake v. Gandy

Decision Date24 June 2022
Docket Number5:20-cv-137-RV/MJF
PartiesKEVIN L. BLAKE, Plaintiff, v. LISA GANDY, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Florida

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Michael J. Frank United States Magistrate Judge

Plaintiff Kevin L. Blake alleges that Defendants-three correctional officers at the Calhoun County Correctional Facility-used excessive force and/or failed to intervene to protect him from excessive uses of force. Defendants have moved to dismiss all of Blake's claims. Doc. 60. Blake has responded in opposition. Doc. 64. Because Blake plausibly alleges that some of Defendants' conduct violated the Eighth Amendment, and Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity as to those claims, the District Court should grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motion to dismiss. Additionally, the District Court should dismiss claims that Blake attempts to assert under Florida common law, because he fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, his fifth amended complaint violates the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure with respect to these claims, and he violated the undersigned's orders not to amalgamate multiple claims into one count.

I. Background

Blake is a state prisoner in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections (“FDC”). Doc. 48 at 15. On February 5, 2020, the FDC transported Blake to the Calhoun County Correctional Facility for “an overnight layover” during a transfer “for court.”[1] Id. at 6.

On February 6, 2020, sometime between 8:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m Blake began masturbating in his cell. Id. at 5. Defendant Lisa Gandy, an officer at the Calhoun County Sheriff's Office (“CCSO”), approached Blake's cell, and Blake continued to masturbate in her presence. Id. at 14. Without warning, Gandy allegedly sprayed Blake with “chemical agents” and stated, “Choke to death you nasty [racial slur].” Id. Blake does not allege that any other CCSO officers were present when Gandy allegedly used chemical agents. Gandy allegedly left Blake “in the cell inhaling chemical agents for an extended amount of time.” Doc. 48 at 14.

Defendant Lieutenant Trevor Ramos then approached Blake's cell.[2] Id. Blake requested a decontamination shower. Id. Ramos responded, “Yeah, as soon as you stop running that cum catcher. I've been doing this confinement shit for ten years now.” Id. at 14-15. Blake attempted to respond, but Ramos sprayed Blake with chemical agents. Id. at 15. The chemical agents caused “respiratory issues” and “burning of [Blake's] skin and eyes,” and Blake reported “choking and spitting blood for a week.” Doc. 48 at 6.

Ramos then opened the door to Blake's cell and informed Blake that he would be escorted to a decontamination shower. Id. at 16. Blake “placed his arms at his side in a non-threatening manner” and approached the cell door. Id. Ramos then stepped to the side and McClellan shot Blake with a taser. Id. Blake apparently fell after being tased and he sustained “several injuries,” including a cut on his head that required four staples to close. Id. at 5-6. Blake alleges that the location of the cut remains tender and that he has “constant” migraines. Doc. 48 at 6.

On March 7, 2022, Blake filed a fifth amended complaint, in which he asserts Eighth-Amendment claims of excessive force and failure to intervene against Gandy, Ramos, and McClellan in their individual capacities.[3] Id. at 5-6, 14-18. Blake also asserts assault and battery claims in one sentence: “Infurtherance, Plaintiff also alleges the torts of Assault and Battery pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 for the malicious and wanton actions of Defendant(s) were committed in Bad Faith.” Id. at 19 (errors in original).[4] On May 23, 2022, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss all of the claims contained in Blake's fifth amended complaint. Doc. 60.

II. Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) authorizes defendants to move to dismiss a claim for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). At the motion-to-dismiss stage, the court accepts all well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint as true and evaluates all reasonable inferences derived from those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Newbauer v. Carnival Corp., 26 F.4th 931, 934 (11th Cir. 2022) (citation omitted). For a claim to survive dismissal, the “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

“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,” rather than the mere possibility that the defendant acted unlawfully. Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). That is, the complaint's factual allegations must be “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (reiterating that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 demands “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation”). “Factual allegations that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability fall short of being facially plausible.” Doe v. Samford Univ., 29 F.4th 675, 685-86 (11th Cir. 2022) (quotation omitted).

Courts “hold the allegations of a pro se complaint to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Campbell v. Air Jam. Ltd., 760 F.3d 1165, 1168 (11th Cir. 2014). But federal courts “cannot act as de facto counsel or rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading to sustain an action.” Bilal v. Geo Care, LLC, 981 F.3d 903, 911 (11th Cir. 2020) (citation omitted).

III. Discussion
A. Blake's Eighth-Amendment Excessive-Force Claims

Blake asserts an excessive-force claim under the Eighth Amendment against Gandy, Ramos, and McClellan. Doc. 48 at 5-6. Gandy and Ramos move to dismiss these claims as to them because Blake fails to state a plausible claim for relief and, even if Blake states a plausible claim for relief, they are entitled to qualified immunity. Doc. 60 at 5-7, 9-13. McClellan moves to dismiss the claim against him because he is entitled to qualified immunity.[5] Id. at 9-13.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments.” U.S. Const. amend. VIII. Uses of force by prison officials violate the Eighth Amendment when the force is applied “maliciously and sadistically to cause harm,” not when the force is applied in a “good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline.” Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 37 (2010) (per curiam) (quoting Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992)); Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986).

Eighth-Amendment excessive-force claims have a subjective and an objective element: “the official must have . . . ‘acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind' . . ., and the conduct must have been ‘objectively harmful enough to establish a constitutional violation.' Sconiers v. Lockhart, 946 F.3d 1256, 1265 (11th Cir. 2020) (quoting Hudson, 503 U.S. at 8). Under the subjective element, the force must be applied “sadistically and maliciously . . . for the very purpose of cause harm.” DeJesus v. Lewis, 14 F.4th 1182, 1195 (11th Cir. 2021) (quoting Sconiers, 946 F.3d at 1265). Five factors are relevant to determining if the force was applied “sadistically and maliciously”:

1. the need for force;
2. the relationship between that need and the amount of force used;
3. the extent of the resulting injury;
4. the extent of the threat to the safety of staff and inmates, as reasonably perceived by the responsible official on the basis of facts known to him; and
5. any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response.

Danley v. Allen, 540 F.3d 1298, 1307 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Whitley, 475 U.S. at 321); Cockrell v. Sparks, 510 F.3d 1307, 1311 (11th Cir. 2007); Skrtich v. Thornton, 280 F.3d 1295, 1300 (11th Cir. 2002). When considering these factors, courts “give a wide range of deference to prison officials acting to preserve discipline and security, including when considering decisions made at the scene of a disturbance.” Bowden v. Stokely, 576 Fed.Appx. 951, 953 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Fennell v. Gilstrap, 559 F.3d 1212, 1217 (11th Cir. 2009) (per curiam)); Pearson v. Taylor, 665 Fed.Appx. 858, 863 (11th Cir. 2016).

Under the objective element, the use of force must be “harmful enough” or “sufficiently serious.” DeJesus, 14 F.4th at 1195 (Sconiers, 946 F.3d at 1265). That is because the Eighth Amendment does not preclude de minimis uses of force. Id. (citing Sconiers, 946 F.3d at 1265-66); Sconiers, 946 F.3d at 1265 (“Not every malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise to a federal cause of action.”) (quoting Wilkins, 559 U.S. at 37). The Eighth Amendment instead “prohibits force that offends ‘contemporary standards of decency,' regardless of whether ‘significant injury is evident,' though the extent of injury may shed light on the amount of force applied or ‘whether the use of force could plausibly have been thought necessary.' Sconiers, 946 F.3d at 1266 (quoting Wilkins, 559 U.S. at 37) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). Eighth-Amendment claims of excessive force, therefore, should be “based on the nature of the force rather than the extent of the injury.” Wilkins, 559 U.S. at 34; Sears v. Roberts, 922 F.3d 1199, 1205 (11th Cir. 2019); Logan v. Smith, 439 Fed.Appx. 798, 802 (11th Cir. 2011).

1. Blake Alleges a Plausible Claim Against Gandy

Blake alleges that Gandy violated the Eighth Amendment because she approached Blake's cell as Blake was masturbating and sprayed Blake with chemical agents without...

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