O'Connor v. Jones

Decision Date13 January 2021
Docket NumberCase No. 3:18-cv-1423-J-39PDB
PartiesNYKA O'CONNOR, Plaintiff, v. JULIE JONES et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida
I. Status & Procedural History

Plaintiff, Nyka O'Connor, an inmate of the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) is proceeding pro se on an amended civil rights complaint against twelve Defendants, based on incidents that occurred at Florida State Prison (FSP) (Doc. 89; Am. Compl.).1

Plaintiff initiated this action on April 12, 2017, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida (Doc. 1). The Southern District dismissed the case with prejudice under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) because Plaintiff is a three-strikes litigant. See Orders (Docs. 11, 15). Plaintiff appealed (Doc. 21). The Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded, holding Plaintiffalleged facts showing he was in "imminent danger" as to his gastrointestinal problems (Doc. 32; Eleventh Circuit Order).2 On remand, the Southern District substantively screened Plaintiff's complaint and found Plaintiff failed to state a claim against some defendants. See Order (Doc. 42). Recognizing the only remaining claims related to conduct that occurred at FSP, the Southern District transferred the case here and ordered Plaintiff to file an amended complaint. See Order (Doc. 42).

When Plaintiff finally submitted an amended complaint in this Court, (Doc. 57), the Court struck it for Plaintiff's failure to comply with a Court order (Doc. 48) and federal pleading standards. Specifically, the Court noted Plaintiff's first amended complaint contained 657 paragraphs and seventy-seven pages of allegations, with over 400 pages of exhibits. See Order (Doc. 58). Since that time, the Court has directed Plaintiff numerous times to submit a complaint in compliance with federal pleading standards. See Orders (Docs. 58, 63, 67, 71, 79). Additionally, the Court instructed Plaintiff he may proceed only on claims related to inadequate medical care or diet for hisgastrointestinal issues and should pursue unrelated claims in a separate action. See Orders (Docs. 71, 79).

The Court denied Plaintiff's motion for injunctive relief on March 26, 2019. See Order (Doc. 58). Plaintiff appealed that ruling. See Notice of Interlocutory Appeal (Doc. 60). His appeal remains pending. See O'Connor v. Julie Jones, et al., Case No. 20-11456.3

All served Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint (Docs. 132, 134, 141, 146, 158).4 Plaintiff has responded to the motions (Docs. 142, 161, 162, 163).

II. Motion to Dismiss Standard

"To 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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); see also Lotierzo v. Woman's World Med. Ctr., Inc., 278 F.3d 1180, 1182 (11th Cir. 2002). "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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A plaintiff should allege enough facts "to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence"supporting the plaintiff's claims. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007).

Though detailed factual allegations are not required, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) demands "more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. As such, a plaintiff may not rely on "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Gill as Next Friend of K.C.R. v. Judd, 941 F.3d 504, 511 (11th Cir. 2019) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Rather, the well-pled allegations must nudge the claim "across the line from conceivable to plausible." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. In assessing the sufficiency of a complaint, all reasonable inferences should be drawn in favor of the plaintiff. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

III. Amended Complaint

While Plaintiff's allegations are much condensed from those in his initial and first amended complaints, they remain somewhat confusing and vague. Accordingly, the Court will summarize Plaintiff's claims here but will address his factual allegations when analyzing the individual motions under review.

Plaintiff purports to state the following claims: (1) deliberate indifference to serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment and Florida Constitution against the current and former Secretaries of the FDOC, Mark Inch, Julie Jones, and Michael Crews; former Wardens of FSP, John Palmerand Barry Reddish; and Defendants Espino, Le, Johnson, Singletary, and McCoy; (2) discrimination and a failure to accommodate disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act (RA) against current and former Secretaries Inch, Jones, and Crews, and former Wardens Palmer and Reddish; (3) denial of the free exercise of religion in violation of the First Amendment, the Florida Constitution, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) against current and former Secretaries Inch, Jones, and Crews; former Wardens Palmer and Reddish; and Defendants Espino, Le, Graham, and Cohens; and (4) deliberate indifference to "basic life need for adequate" sanitary meals in violation of the Eighth Amendment and the Florida Constitution against current and former Secretaries Inch, Jones, and Crews; former Wardens Palmer and Reddish; and Defendants Graham and Cohens. See Am. Compl. at 3-4.5 Plaintiff sues all Defendants in their individual and official capacities. Id. at 11.

IV. Analysis & Conclusions
A. Defendant Le's Motion

In his motion to dismiss (Doc. 132; Le Motion), Defendant Le seeks dismissal on only one ground: that Plaintiff "should not be allowed to proceed" in forma pauperis (IFP) because he is a three-strikes litigant. See Le Motion at 2, 4. This argument has been foreclosed by the Eleventh Circuit. See Eleventh Circuit Order at 8 (holding Plaintiff's claims regarding his gastrointestinal issues satisfy the "imminent danger" exception to the three-strikes rule). Accordingly, Defendant Le's motion is due to be denied, and Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim against Defendant Le will proceed.6

B. Defendants Espino and Singletary's Motion

In their joint motion (Doc. 141; Espino Motion), Defendants Dr. Espino and Nurse Singletary argue, among other things, that Plaintiff fails to state a claim against them, and they are entitled to qualified immunity. See Espino Motion at 7-8, 9. As to the latter argument, according to the FDOC's notice regarding service of process (Doc. 101), Dr. Espino and Nurse Singletary were not FSP employees at the relevant times but were "employees of the contractedmedical provider." Accordingly, they may not invoke qualified immunity. See, e.g., Richardson v. McKnight, 521 U.S. 399, 412 (1997) (holding private prison guards "do not enjoy qualified immunity from suit in a § 1983 case"). See also Hinson v. Edmond, 205 F.3d 1264, 1265 (11th Cir. 2000) ("[A] privately employed prison physician[] is ineligible to advance the defense of qualified immunity."). The Court will now address whether Plaintiff states a deliberate indifference claim against Dr. Espino or Nurse Singletary in their individual capacities.7

A claim for deliberate indifference to a serious illness or injury is cognizable under § 1983. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). To state a claim, a plaintiff first must allege he had a serious medical need. Brown v. Johnson, 387 F.3d 1344, 1351 (11th Cir. 2004). Next, the plaintiff must "allege that the prison official, at a minimum, acted with a state of mind that constituted deliberate indifference." Richardson v. Johnson, 598 F.3d 734, 737 (11th Cir. 2010). "Where a prisoner has received . . . medical attention and the dispute is over the adequacy of the treatment, federal courts are generally reluctant to second guess medical judgments and to constitutionalize claims that sound in tort law." Hamm v. DeKalb Cty., 774 F.2d 1567, 1575 (11th Cir.1985) (quoting with alteration Westlake v. Lucas, 537 F.2d 857, 860 n.5 (1st Cir. 1981)). As such, allegations of medical negligence are not cognizable under § 1983. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106.

When a prisoner has received medical treatment, to allege an Eighth Amendment violation, he must assert facts showing the care he received was "'so grossly incompetent, inadequate, or excessive as to shock the conscience or to be intolerable to fundamental fairness.'" Harris v. Thigpen, 941 F.2d 1495, 1505 (11th Cir. 1991). Alleging a "simple difference in medical opinion" does not state a deliberate indifference claim. Waldrop v. Evans, 871 F.2d 1030, 1033 (11th Cir. 2007).

i. Dr. Espino

Plaintiff alleges Dr. Espino was deliberately indifferent to his medical needs at a call-out on October 1, 2013, because Dr. Espino simply asked "[Plaintiff] what [his] 2010 surgery was for, briefly listened to [Plaintiff's] stomach with his stethoscope, then yelled at [Plaintiff] to get out of his office." See Am. Compl. at 13. Plaintiff also alleges Dr. Espino prescribed "nothing," and disregarded his other medical issues because Plaintiff improperly grieved more than one medical problem in his September 29, 2013 sick-call request. Id. at 12, 13.

These allegations do not suggest deliberate indifference. Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true and assuming Plaintiff's gastrointestinalproblems constitute a serious medical need, Plaintiff alleges at most dissatisfaction with Dr. Espino's medical evaluation and decision not to prescribe medications, which "sound[s] in tort law." See Hamm, 447 F.2d at 1575. Plaintiff does not allege that Dr. Espino ignored an obvious immediate need for treatment. In fact, Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Espino physically assessed him on October 1, 2013, for complaints of gastro pain. See Am. Compl....

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