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Vargas v. Smith

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

April 4, 2018

JOSE A. VARGAS, Former No. 11190-089, [1] Plaintiff,
v.
Lieutenant Smith, and USA Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          J. PHIL GILBERT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff is a former inmate in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Until May 2017, he was housed at FCI-Greenville. At the time of filing, he was not incarcerated, and he currently resides in Butler, Pennsylvania.

         Proceeding pro se, Plaintiff filed this action for alleged violations of his constitutional rights by persons acting under the color of federal authority. See Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). He additionally seeks relief under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). Plaintiff claims that Lieutenant Smith failed to protect him from being assaulted by other inmates. He also alleges that unspecified officials at FCI-Greenville failed to provide necessary medical treatment for the injuries he received during the alleged assault. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages.

         Plaintiff has requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”) (Doc. 2) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Section 1915 is meant to ensure that indigent litigants have meaningful access to the federal courts, and it applies to non-prisoner plaintiffs and prisoners alike. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989); Floyd v. United States Postal Serv., 105 F.3d 274, 275-77 (6th Cir. 1997) (overruled on other grounds) (“[T]he only logical interpretation of the statute is that non-prisoners have the option to proceed in forma pauperis under § 1915(a).”). Under § 1915, an indigent party may commence a federal court action, without paying required costs and fees, upon submission of an affidavit asserting inability “to pay such fees or give security therefor” and stating “the nature of the action, defense or appeal and the affiant's belief that the person is entitled to redress.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). Plaintiff has done so in the instant case, but the Court's inquiry does not end there.

         Section 1915(e)(2) requires careful threshold scrutiny of the complaint filed by an IFP plaintiff. A court can deny a qualified plaintiff leave to file IFP or dismiss a case if the action is clearly frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim, or is a claim for money damages against an immune defendant. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). The test for determining if an action is frivolous or without merit is whether the plaintiff can make a rational argument on the law or facts in support of the claim. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 325; Corgain v. Miller, 708 F.2d 1241, 1247 (7th Cir. 1983). An action fails to state a claim if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). When assessing an IFP motion, a district court should inquire into the merits of the claims, and if the court finds them to be frivolous, it should deny leave to proceed IFP. Lucien v. Roegner, 682 F.2d 625, 626 (7th Cir. 1982). The Complaint survives preliminary review under this standard. Accordingly, Plaintiff shall be granted leave to proceed IFP, and his Complaint shall receive further review.

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff arrived at FCI-Greenville in June of 2016. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiff immediately sought protection from the “Latin Folks.” Id. According to Plaintiff, “Latin Folks” is a term used to describe “a litany of street gangs who align together in the federal prison setting.” Id. Because of an alleged threat to Plaintiff's life from these individuals, Plaintiff was initially placed in the Special Housing Unit. Id. On August 2, 2016, Plaintiff met with Lieutenant Smith. Id. Plaintiff told Lieutenant Smith that, if he was released into the general population, he would be assaulted. Id. Lieutenant Smith disagreed, indicating that the alleged threat was unverified. Id. He also told Plaintiff that members of the Latin Folks stated that they had no intention of harming Plaintiff. Id. Plaintiff insisted this was just a ruse to get access to Plaintiff. Id. Plaintiff told Lieutenant Smith that if he was released into the general population these individuals would assault and possibly kill him. Id. He told him he feared for his life and explained why he feared for his life. Id. Lieutenant Smith disregarded Plaintiff's concerns. Id. On August 9, 2016, after being placed in the general population, Plaintiff was “savagely attacked” by the Latin Folks and suffered serious trauma to his head. Id. Following the attack, Plaintiff suffered from headaches, dizziness, and blurred vision. Id. Plaintiff also claims that, following the attack, “prison medical personnel” failed to provide necessary medical care and exhibited deliberate indifference to his injuries. Id.

         Division of Counts

         Based on the allegations of the Complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se action into the following counts. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion regarding their merit.

Count 1: Lieutenant Smith failed to protect Plaintiff from an inmate assault on August 9, 2016, by returning Plaintiff to the general population despite a known threat to his safety, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
Count 2: The United States, by and through the negligence or deliberate indifference of Lieutenant Smith, is liable under the FTCA for Plaintiff's assault on August 9, 2016, and for his resulting injuries.
Count 3: Unspecified officials exhibited deliberate indifference toward Plaintiff's medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment and Bivens, when they failed to provide him with adequate medical care for the injuries he sustained during the assault on August 9, 2016.

         Discussion

         A federal prisoner who seeks relief for the misconduct of federal agents has three options for obtaining relief in federal court. He may bring a suit against the United States under the FTCA for misconduct of federal agents that is considered tortious under state law. Sisk v. United States, 756 F.2d 497, 500 n. 4 (7th Cir. 1985) (citing 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(6), 2680). He may bring a suit against the agent for a violation of his constitutional rights under the theory set forth in Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Id. Or, he may bring both types of ...


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