Ulrich v. West, CIV-22-767-HE

CourtUnited States District Courts. 10th Circuit. Western District of Oklahoma
PartiesJERRY RAY ULRICH, III, Plaintiff, v. CHRIS WEST, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCIV-22-767-HE
Decision Date22 November 2022


CHRIS WEST, et al., Defendants.

No. CIV-22-767-HE

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

November 22, 2022



Plaintiff, appearing pro se and in forma pauperis, sued multiple officials at the Canadian County Detention Center under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] Doc. 1.[2]United States District Judge Joe Heaton has referred the matter to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for proceedings consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), and (C). Doc. 4. Plaintiff sues: (1) Chris West, Canadian County


Sheriff; (2) Kevin Ward, Canadian County Undersheriff; and (3) Kristie Carter, Canadian County Jail Administrator, each in their official and individual capacities. Doc. 1, at 4-5.

For the reasons discussed below, the undersigned recommends dismissing the Complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim.

I. Screening.

Federal law requires the Court to screen complaints filed by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court also has an ongoing duty to consider the sufficiency of his claims. See id. § 1915(e)(2); Doc. 7. The Court must dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if it is “frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted” or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. §§ 1915A(b), 1915(e)(2)(B).

“To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). 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.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); see also Gee v. Pacheco, 627 F.3d 1178, 1184 (10th Cir. 2010).

This Court construes “[a] pro se litigant's pleadings . . . liberally,” holding them “to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991); see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (per curiam). The Court, however, may not serve as Plaintiff's advocate, creating arguments on his behalf. See Yang v. Archuleta, 525 F.3d 925, 927 n.1 (10th Cir. 2008).

II. Plaintiff's claims.

In Claim One, Plaintiff sues Defendants West, Ward, and Carter, asserting they had “knowledge of sexual misconduct” that occurred for months while Plaintiff was in their care. Doc. 1, at 6. He also asserts he was subject to the “infliction of emotional stress.” Id. Plaintiff seeks $1,500,000 in monetary relief. Id. at 7. Plaintiff does not identify the constitutional provision or law giving rise to Claim One. Liberally construing the Complaint, the Court interprets Claim One as asserting an Eighth Amendment claim of deliberate


indifference and a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) under Oklahoma law. See id. at 8.

In Claim Two, Plaintiff alleges each Defendant violated his Eighth Amendment rights because they subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment by using excessive force, isolating him, and targeting him with retaliation, and not feeding him state-issued meals. Id. at 7. Plaintiff seeks $5,000,000 in damages. Id. at 11.

III. Analysis.

A. Relevant law.

Plaintiff contends he is both pretrial detainee and a convicted and sentenced state prisoner. Id. at 3. During the relevant period, Plaintiff was serving a state sentence and awaiting trial on pending charges in Canadian County. See https://okoffender.doc.ok.gov/ (Plaintiff was received into state custody on February 25, 2021 on a kidnapping charge in Oklahoma County (last viewed Oct. 31, 2022)); https://www.oscn.net/dockets/GetCaseInformation.aspx?db=canadian&numbe r=CF-2021-570&cmid=452348 (Plaintiff was charged with felony aggravated assault and battery in Canadian County District Court on October 25, 2021, and convicted of the same on October 20, 2022 (last viewed Oct. 31, 2022)); https://www.oscn.net/dockets/GetCaseInformation.aspx?db=canadian&numbe r=CM-2021-611&cmid=452388


(Plaintiff was charged with misdemeanor rioting on October 26, 2021, and convicted of the same on October 20, 2022 (last viewed Oct. 31, 2022)). Plaintiff's status is relevant because the Eighth Amendment protects the rights of convicted prisoners in a § 1983 claim, while “pretrial detainees [have] access to the claim under the Fourteenth Amendment.” Strain v. Regalado, 977 F.3d 984, 989 (10th Cir. 2020), cert. denied, 142 S.Ct. 312 (2021).

Because Plaintiff only invokes the Eighth Amendment in his Complaint, Doc. 1, at 7, the Court addresses only the Eighth Amendment standard for his claims. Cf. Geddes v. Weber Cnty., 2022 WL 3371010, at *9 (10th Cir. Aug. 16, 2022) (holding the “complaint only provided fair notice that the basis for his § 1983 action was a purported Fourteenth Amendment violation” where the “complaint repeatedly [and] unequivocally stated that the basis for the § 1983 claim was a violation of rights ‘secured by the Fourteenth Amendment'” and that “[p]leading one type of excessive-force claim cannot put defendants on notice of the other type of claim”).

This approach is supported by the common practice of using the standard applicable to convicted prisoners' claims where the plaintiff is both a pretrial detainee and a convicted prisoner. See Morgan ex. rel Morgan v. Wayne Cnty., Mich., 33 F.4th 320, 326 (6th Cir. 2022) (“[T]he more demanding Eighth


Amendment standard is applicable” where “[a]t the time of the alleged assault, Morgan was both a pretrial detainee . . . and a convicted prisoner” and “she has pleaded and argued this case solely under the Eighth Amendment standard.”); Joost v. Cornell Corr., Inc., 1998 WL 939531, at *2 (D.R.I. Dec. 11, 1998) (“To the extent that Joost's status as a convicted prisoner versus a pretrial detainee is otherwise relevant, plaintiff's argument that he [] occupies a dual status is not persuasive. Joost's recidivism does not enhance his constitutional rights. The fact that for a portion of the time that he was incarcerated at Wyatt he was awaiting retrial on the firearm charge does not obviate the fact that he was also imprisoned as a convicted felon.”).

1. The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

The Eighth Amendment “imposes duties on [prison] officials, who must provide humane conditions of confinement; prison officials must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and must ‘take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates[.]'” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-527 (1984)). “[A] prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only (1) if the constitutional deprivation is ‘objectively sufficiently serious' and (2) the prison official has a ‘sufficiently culpable state of mind.'” Ullery v. Bradley, 949 F.3d 1282, 1290 (10th Cir. 2020) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). An injury


is “sufficiently serious” if it denies an inmate “the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834.

The objective component is satisfied if a defendant's “alleged wrongdoing was objectively harmful enough to establish a constitutional violation.” Id. The subjective component is met if a prison official “knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. “[T]he official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Id.

“Personal participation is an essential allegation in a § 1983 claim.” Bennett v. Passic, 545 F.2d 1260, 1262-63 (10th Cir. 1976). Plaintiffs complaint must “‘identify specific actions taken by particular defendants.'” See Pahls, 718 F.3d at 1226 (quoting Tonkovich v. Kan. Bd. of Regents, 159 F.3d 504, 532 (10th Cir. 2011)). A plaintiffs “undifferentiated contention that ‘defendants' infringed his rights” cannot state a § 1983 claim because “a plaintiff must show that each defendant acted with the requisite state of mind.” Id.

2. Official-capacity claims are claims against the county.

If a defendant is sued under § 1983 in his or her official capacity, the suit is generally treated as one against the governmental entity that the defendant represents. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985); see Porro v. Barnes,


624 F.3d 1322, 1328 (10th Cir. 2010) (holding that a suit under § 1983 against an employee in their official capacity is “another way of pleading an action against the county or municipality they represent”). The relevant governmental entity here is a county, implicating municipal liability. See, e.g., Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978) (“[I]t is when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983.”); Cox v. Glanz, 800 F.3d 1231, 1254 (10th Cir. 2015) (applying Monell to a county); see also Martinez v. Beggs, 563 F.3d 1082, 1091 (10th Cir. 2009) (“To the extent [plaintiff] brings a claim against [the sheriff] in his official capacity, it is the same as bringing a suit against the county.”).

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