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CALDWELL v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

October 6, 1995

LAWRENCE CALDWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: OBERDORFER

 This case concerns Section 1983 claims against the District of Columbia, the D.C. Department of Corrections, and three officers of the Department of Corrections. The Complaint alleges violation of plaintiff's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights for failure to protect plaintiff from his fellow inmates and for failure to provide timely medical care. Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) or for summary judgment. Plaintiff, who proceeds in the instant action pro se, has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment.

 I.

 The Complaint alleges that on the evening of September 9, 1994, plaintiff was attacked in his cell at the D.C. Jail at approximately 9:15 by three unknown prisoners "with long, thick, tapered ball point pens. The unidentified assailants stabbed Plaintiff near his eyes, on the head, his back and on his right leg. They alternately stabbed and punched Plaintiff." The attack ended at approximately 9:45 p.m. Complaint at 7.

 The Complaint further alleges that officers did not assist plaintiff until thirty minutes after plaintiff had been attacked; although at 10:00 p.m., fifteen minutes after the attack, Officer Branson, while conducting the counting of prisoners, observed plaintiff and did not respond to his pleas for help. Complaint at 7-8. Plaintiff's cell door was opened after he notified an orderly.

 The Complaint further alleges that when plaintiff made his way to the guards' station or "bubble," he requested medical attention from defendants, Officers Perrier and Eggleston. Eggleston asked plaintiff how he sustained his injuries. Plaintiff "replied that he fell off his bed." Officers continued to press plaintiff as to the source of his injuries, and plaintiff continued to respond that he fell off his bed. Complaint at 8.

 The Complaint further alleges that twenty minutes after plaintiff reached the guards' station, plaintiff was taken to the D.C. Jail Infirmary. Fifteen minutes later, paramedics transported plaintiff to D.C. General Hospital, where he was treated for puncture wounds on the left side of his back, a collapsed left lung, severe damage to his left eye, and puncture wounds on his head on right leg. Complaint at 9.

 From these facts, plaintiff claims that the failure of the officers to protect him from his fellow inmates violates his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights; and that the delay in medical treatment on the part of the officers, the Department of Corrections, and the District of Columbia violates his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

 II.

 The Supreme Court has held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is "not implicated by the lack of due care of an official causing unintended injury to life, liberty or property." Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344, 347, 88 L. Ed. 2d 677, 106 S. Ct. 668 (1986). Even if the government's failure to act is the proximate cause of a prisoner's injuries, the Supreme Court has required that there be "deliberate indifference" on the government's part: the "guarantee of due process has never been understood to mean that the State must guarantee due care on the part of its officials." Id. at 348.

 In Davidson v. Cannon, a prisoner filed suit against prison officials under Section 1983 claiming violation of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights for injuries suffered when they failed to protect him from another inmate. Prior to the attack, plaintiff sent a note reporting the threat to the Assistant Superintendent of the Prison, who, in turn, relayed the note to a Corrections Sergeant. Id. at 345. Despite this notice of a threat to plaintiff's health and safety, plaintiff was attacked.

 The Supreme Court held that the prison officials' "lack of due care in this case led to serious injury, but that lack of care simply does not approach the sort of abusive government conduct that the Due Process Clause was designed to prevent." Id. at 347 (emphasis added).

 Assuming as true the facts alleged in the Complaint, plaintiff's claims are not cognizable under Section 1983. Plaintiff's recitation of the events of September 9, 1994 simply do not rise to the level of "deliberate indifference" required to merit constitutional relief and defined, by the Supreme Court, as an "abuse" of governmental conduct. 474 U.S. at 348. At best, the Complaint evinces negligence on the part of the officers in executing the D.C. Jail's procedures on the opening and closing of cell doors. If, as in Davidson, a failure to act even when notice of possible attack was received does not constitute "deliberate indifference" -- Cannon "mistakenly believed that the situation was not ...


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