Memorandum & Recommendation
Plaintiff Justin M. Tyson is a pretrial detainee at the Pitt County Detention Center who claims that two of the facility's nurses have breached the terms of a contract and violated his constitutional rights. His claims against Nurse Sanders arise out of her denial of his request for sleep medicine. And he claims that Nurse Oxendine is liable to him because she told him he would need to write to the kitchen staff about his dietary concerns. This matter is before the court for the initial screening required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA").
The PLRA requires courts to review, prior to docketing, actions filed by prisoners against governmental entities or officials. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The purpose of this review is to eliminate those claims that unnecessarily impede judicial efficiency and the administration of justice. The court must examine the pleadings, identify cognizable claims, and dismiss any portion of the complaint that is frivolous, malicious, 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).
A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted if it does not "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). The Supreme Court has explained that "[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. Tyson's pro se status relaxes, but does not eliminate, the requirement that his complaint contain facially plausible claims. The court must liberally construe a pro se plaintiff's allegations, but it "cannot ignore a clear failure to allege facts" that set forth a cognizable claim. Johnson v. BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP, 867 F. Supp. 2d 766, 776 (E.D.N.C. 2011).
Courts evaluate claims related to a pretrial detainee's conditions of confinement under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process clause instead of the Eighth Amendment. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535, 537 n.16 (1979). But "pretrial detainees are entitled to at least the same protection under the Fourteenth Amendment as are convicted prisoners under the Eighth Amendment." Young v. City of Mount Ranier, 238 F.3d 567, 575 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing City of Revere v. Massachusetts Gen. Hosp., 463 U.S. 239, 243-44 (1983). Thus, the court's analysis of Tyson's claim is governed by the same standard as if he were incarcerated after a conviction.
Tyson complains about the actions the nurses have taken with respect to his request for sleep medication and his diet. To state a claim for constitutionally inadequate medical care, an inmate must establish an objective component, that the inmate had a serious medical need, and a subjective component, that the prison officials were deliberately indifferent to that need. Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 241 (4th Cir. 2008). A health condition qualifies as a serious medical need if it "is 'one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.'" Id. (quoting Henderson v. Sheahan, 196 F.3d 839, 846 (7th Cir. 1999)).
The subjective component will be satisfied if an inmate shows that a prison official "'knows of and disregards' the risk posed by the serious medical needs of the inmate." Id. (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994)). This factor requires that the alleged wrongdoer had "actual knowledge of the risk of harm to the inmate" and "'recognized that his actions were insufficient' to mitigate the risk of harm to the inmate arising from his medical needs." Id. (quoting Parrish ex rel Lee v. Cleveland, 372 F.3d 294, 303 (4th Cir. 2004)). Allegations of negligence or medical malpractice are insufficient to establish a constitutional violation. See Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105-06.
The requirement that a plaintiff allege more than negligence or medical malpractice to establish a constitutional violation requires the dismissal of Tyson's claim. Throughout his Complaint, he maintains that the defendants acted negligently and committed malpractice. And there are no facts in his Complaint that plausibly establish deliberate indifference. Thus, these claims should be dismissed without prejudice.
Tyson also claims that the defendants have discriminated against him while providing medical care. This type of claim falls under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. But Tyson's Complaint does not allege that he was treated differently from any person with whom he is similarly situated. Thus this claim should be dismissed without prejudice. See Morrison v. Garraghty, 239 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir. 2001) (in order to succeed on an equal protection claim, "a plaintiff must first demonstrate that he has been treated differently from others with whom he is similarly situated and that the unequal treatment was the result of intentional or purposeful discrimination.").
Also included in the complaint is an allegation that the defendants conduct constitutes a breach of contract. But the complaint does not contain any factual allegations that would allow the court to find that the defendants breached a contractual duty owed directly to Tyson or that he was entitled to bring a breach of contract claim as a third-party beneficiary to a contract between the defendants and the Pitt County Detention Center. See Crosby v. City of Gastonia, 635 F.3d 634, 645 (4th Cir. 2011) (explaining that under North Carolina law "[t]he elements of a claim for breach of contract are (1) existence of a valid contract and (2) breach of the terms of that contract."); Frye v. Brunswick Cty. Bd. of Educ., 612 F. Supp. 2d 694, 708 (E.D.N.C. 2009) ("Under North Carolina law, a person may bring an action to enforce a contract to which he is not a party, if he demonstrates that the contracting parties intended primarily and directly to benefit him or the class of persons to which he belongs.) Thus, this claim should be dismissed without prejudice.
For the reasons described above the undersigned recommends that the district court dismiss Tyson's Complaint without prejudice. The district court should also deny Tyson's motion for summary judgment as moot or, alternatively, because the defendants have not yet appeared in this action. D.E. 9.
The Clerk of Court must serve a copy of this Memorandum and Recommendation ("M&R") on each party who has appeared in this action. Any party may file a written objection to the M&R within 14 days from the date the Clerk serves it on them. The objection must specifically note the portion of the M&R that the party objects to and the reasons for their objection. Any other party may respond to the objection within 14 days from the date the objecting party serves it on them. The district judge will review the objection and make their own determination about the matter that is the subject of the objection. If a party does not file a timely written objection, the party will have forfeited their ability to have the M&R (or a later decision based on the M&R) reviewed by the Court of Appeals. Dated: June 21, 2019
Robert T. Numbers, II
United States Magistrate Judge