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Smith v. Coupe

United States District Court, D. Delaware

June 6, 2018

ROBERT COUPE, et al., Defendants.



         The plaintiff, Kendall Maurice Smith, III ("Smith"), an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC") in Smyrna, Delaware, filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983[1] alleging violations of his constitutional rights. (D.I. 3, 11.) He appears pro se and was granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. He has also filed a request for counsel. (D.I. 8.)


         Smith alleges that he suffered for a number of years from an extreme delay and denial of medical care. He explains that in 2013, he was seen by an optometrist who examined him. Smith was later given a pair of prescription eyeglasses. However, the new glasses did not correct his vision, and he was not able to see properly. Smith complained to the nurse who urged him to wait to allow his eyes to adjust to the new eyeglasses. He waited, but his eyes did not adjust.

         Smith submitted a sick call slip and was seen by a nurse in August 2014 who tested and examined Smith. The nurse indicated that Smith should again see an optometrist so that he could be properly prescribed a new pair of eyeglasses. Smith submitted a sick call slip on March 29, 2016, and was seen by a nurse. Smith alleges that it was not until June 14, 2016, when he was finally seen by an optometrist and provided new eyeglasses a few weeks later.

         Between August 2014 and June 2016, Smith submitted the following grievances complaining about the optometrist/eyeglasses issues:

         • Grievance 290794, submitted September 13, 2014, was investigated by Deborah Snow ("Snow") who requested an optometric evaluation for Smith. Smith did not sign off on the grievance because his requests remained unresolved.

         • Grievance 321826, submitted November 2, 2015, raised the same eyeglasses and optometrist issues. Investigator Lisa Ulsh ("Ulsh") who requested that Smith be seen for vision testing. On December 9, 2015, the matter was heard by grievance committee members Katrina Burley ("Burley"), Stacie Collins-Young ("Collins-Young"), Penny Davis-Wipf ("Davis-Wipf), and Adina Negoita ("Negoita"). The committee denied the grievance on the grounds that Smith had not submitted a sick call slip. Plaintiff did not appeal.

         • Grievance 334538, submitted April 10, 2016, complaining that Grievance 321826 was denied in error and asking that it be granted, that he had been charged a $4.00 medical fee and that he had yet to see an optometrist or receive newly prescribed eyeglasses. Ulsh investigated the matter, but the grievance remained unresolved. The grievance committee, consisting of Laura Brackett ("Brackett"), Burley, Collins-Young and Davis-Wipf heard the matter on May 6, 2016, but they did not grant Smith's request for an optometric evaluation and new eyeglasses. Smith appealed.[2] Grievance 334538 was upheld on the fee charge and denied on all other issues.

         Smith alleges that the defendants former Delaware Department of Correction ("DOC") Commissioner Robert Coupe ("Coupe"), DOC Correctional Healthcare Services Bureau Chief Marc Richman ("Richman"), John/Jane Doe medical director ("Director Doe"), and John/Jane Does Grievance Committee members and investigators are either directly or indirectly responsible for the more than two-year delay and denial of medical treatment, and are responsible for further damage to Smith's vision and caused mental discomfort. He seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief.


         A federal court may properly dismiss an action sua sponte under the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b) if "the action is frivolous or 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." Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2013); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (in forma pauperis actions); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress from a governmental defendant); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (prisoner actions brought with respect to prison conditions). The court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light most favorable to a, pro se plaintiff. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). Because Smith proceeds pro se, his pleading is liberally construed and his complaint, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 94 (citations omitted).

         An action is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and § 1915A(b)(1), a court may dismiss a complaint as frivolous if it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory" or a "clearly baseless" or "fantastic or delusional" factual scenario. Neitzke, 490 at 327- 28; Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989); see, e.g., Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1091-92 (3d Cir. 1995) (holding frivolous a suit alleging that prison officials took an inmate's pen and refused to give it back).

         The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and § 1915A(b)(1) is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions. Tourscher v. McCullough,184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999) (applying Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard to dismissal for failure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)). However, before dismissing a complaint or claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A, the court ...

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