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Hunnicutt v. Smith

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 22, 2019

RAYMOND SMITH, et al, Defendants.


         Before the Court is Plaintiff's Pro Se Tort Complaint, which was removed to Federal Court on June 29, 2018 (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiff contends prison officials exposed him to crystalline silica dust; provided inadequate medical care; and mishandled his administrative grievance. Plaintiff asks the Court to remand this proceeding to state court, while Defendant Ortega seeks a more definite statement describing Plaintiff's claims (Docs. 3, 7). Having reviewed the matter under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court will deny the motion to remand, dismiss the Complaint, and grant leave to amend.

         I. Background[1]

         Plaintiff was previously incarcerated at the Lea County Correctional Facility (LCCF). (Doc. 1-1 at 2). In 2016, LCCF Warden Smith created a “Detail Cleaning Crew” to perform the “dirty work” other maintenance crews refused to do. Id. Smith created the Detail Cleaning Crew at the urging of LCCF Maintenance Manager Eddie Solomon. Id. at 3. Plaintiff alleges Solomon operated the maintenance department in a “clannish manner, ” giving preferential treatment and easier jobs to certain inmates. Id. For example, Solomon reserved the best materials - such as protective clothing, respirators, and safety pamphlets - for his favorite maintenance crew. Id. He also allegedly used prison labor and materials for personal projects. Id.

         Plaintiff joined, or was assigned to, the Detail Cleaning Crew in August 2016. (Doc. 1-1 at 3). He scraped old paint off of doors and shower walls using gloves, safety goggles, and “inadequate dust masks.” Id. The scraping produced crystalline silica dust, which migrated into the prison pods and ventilation system. Id. On more than one occasion, Solomon refused to open the ceiling vents. Id. When Plaintiff removed his dust mask at the end of the work day, he often noticed dust in his nose, mucus, and eyes. Id. He alleges Solomon, Warden Smith, Safety Manager Vazquez, Health Service Administrator Ortega, and Grievance Coordinator Valeriano “witnesse[d] this daily and did nothing to provide adequate protection, clothing[, ] … equipment[, ]” or “safety classes.” Id.

         In May 2017, Plaintiff experienced nosebleeds, shortness of breath, coughing fits, and fatigue. (Doc. 1-1 at 4-5). He visited the doctor, who accused Plaintiff of trying to file a class action lawsuit. Id. at 5. The doctor also stated that Plaintiff's lungs were clear, when a month earlier he advised Plaintiff: “Your chest is congested and you need to start exercising.” Id. at 4. After filing an informal complaint, Solomon provided Plaintiff with a respirator and goggles. Id. at 4. Plaintiff alleges the filters in the respirator were dirty. Id. He further alleges Solomon knew there were some safety risks because he hid Plaintiff's work cart in the electrical room when GEO Corp. executives visited LCCF. Id. Solomon instructed Plaintiff to “lay low and take a few days off with pay” during the GEO visits. Id.

         At some point, Plaintiff filed a formal grievance. (Doc. 1-1 at 5). Grievance Coordinator Valeriano allegedly failed to investigate, disregarded Plaintiff's statements, and denied relief. Id. Plaintiff appealed, but Prison Director German Franco affirmed the decision. Id. Plaintiff continued to scrape old paint from surfaces around LCCF between September 2017[2] and February 2018. Id. On one occasion, Solomon made him scrape paint from the showers and repaint the surfaces to “look good for [an] upcoming audit.” Id. When Plaintiff visited the maintenance shop for supplies, he often discovered Solomon's favorite inmate crew “kicking back, playing cards, sleeping, and/or feeding feral rabbits.” Id. Plaintiff complained, but Solomon banned him from the shop and directed him to recruit more inmates to help with the Detail Cleaning Crew. Id. In March 2018, Solomon disbanded the Detail Cleaning Crew because they were “making the maintenance department look bad.” Id.

         On May 17, 2018, Plaintiff filed the complaint in New Mexico's Fifth Judicial District Court, No. D-506-CV-2018-1047. (Doc. 1-1). The Complaint lists six LCCF Defendants:

(1) Warden Raymond Smith;
(2) Safety Manager Vazquez;
(3) Maintenance Supervisor Solomon;
(4) Health Service Administrator Ortega;
(5) Grievance Coordinator Valeriano; and
(6) Director of Adult Prisons German Franco.

(Doc. 1-1 at 2). Construed liberally, the Complaint raises claims for deliberate indifference to health, safety, and medical needs and due process violations in connection with the grievance process. Plaintiff seeks at least $900, 000 in damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and/or the New Mexico Tort Claims Act (NMTCA). Id. at 1, 6. s Defendant Ortega removed the Complaint to Federal Court on June 29, 2018. (Doc. 1). She also filed a motion for a more definite statement (Doc. 3). On August 9, 2018, Plaintiff filed a ...

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