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Covington v. Edmark

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

December 27, 2019

James Covington
v.
New Hampshire State Prison Warden Michelle Edmark, Veronica Paris, Bernie Campbell, Brian Isabelle, James Brown, Michael Mosher, and FNU Castallano

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Andrea K. Johnstone, United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the court is pro se plaintiff James Covington's complaint, which the court construes as having been filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. No. 1). The complaint is before this magistrate judge for preliminary review, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and LR 4.3(d)(1).

         Background

         Plaintiff is a prisoner of the State of New Hampshire who alleges that beginning in January 2013 he engaged in sexual intercourse and/or oral sex twice weekly with defendant Veronica Paris, identified as a nurse at the New Hampshire State Prison (“NHSP”) in Concord. Plaintiff alleges that these encounters occurred in the Health Services Center on the nights Paris worked alone. On those nights, plaintiff asserts, he was authorized to clean offices and wax floors without supervision.

         According to the complaint, the sexual encounters ended on or about July 9, 2018. Plaintiff asserts that he made sexual assault allegations against Paris under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (“PREA”), and that on October 30, 2018, the PREA advocate notified him that his allegations had been substantiated after an investigation by the NHSP Internal Investigations Department. Plaintiff sues Paris in her individual capacity and seeks compensatory and punitive damages for violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment.

         Plaintiff also seeks compensatory and punitive damages for Eighth Amendment violations by defendants Bernie Campbell, identified as Deputy Director of Medical Forensics at NHSP, and Brian Isabelle, James Brown, Michael Mosher, and FNU Castallano, identified as NHSP officers, in their individual capacities. Covington claims that these defendants played an unspecified role in authorizing unsupervised release from his housing unit to clean offices on nights defendant Paris worked alone in the Health Services Center. Finally, Covington sues Michelle Edmark in her official capacity as Warden of NHSP, alleging she had “constructive knowledge” of the other defendants' practice of sending him, unsupervised, to clean offices and wax floors in the Health Services Center on nights Paris worked alone.

         Preliminary Review Standard

         The court screens complaints filed by plaintiffs proceeding in forma pauperis to determine, among other things, whether the plaintiff has asserted any claim upon which relief might be granted or seeks monetary relief from any defendant who is immune from the relief sought. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); LR 4.3(d)(1). To determine if the pleading states a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court first disregards any parts of the pleading that amount to legal conclusions; next, takes as true all well-pleaded facts in the plaintiff's complaint, the inferences reasonably drawn from those facts, implications from documents incorporated into the complaint, and facts subject to judicial notice; and finally, construes those facts in a light most favorable to the plaintiff's theory of liability. See Breiding v. Eversource Energy, 939 F.3d 47, 49 (1st Cir. 2019); Hernandez-Cuevas v. Taylor, 723 F.3d 91, 102-03 (1st Cir. 2013). In determining whether a pro se pleading states a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court construes the pleading liberally. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

         Discussion

         I. Eighth Amendment Individual Capacity Damages Claims

         A. Elements

         The Eighth Amendment guarantees the right to be free from “cruel and unusual punishments” while in custody. Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 318 (1986) (quoting U.S. Const. amend. VIII). A properly stated Eighth Amendment claim must allege a subjective and objective element. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8 (1992). First, it must appear from the complaint that the defendant official acted with a “sufficiently culpable state of mind.” Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991). Second, the conduct must have been objectively “harmful enough, ” or “sufficiently serious” to violate the Constitution. Id.

         B. Sexual Abuse

         “[P]rison sexual abuse can violate the Constitution.” Ricks v. Shover,891 F.3d 468, 473 (3d Cir. 2018) (citing Washington v. Hively,695 F.3d 641, 643 (7th Cir. 2012)). “[S]evere or repetitive sexual abuse of an inmate by a prison officer can be ‘objectively, sufficiently serious' enough to constitute an Eighth Amendment violation.” Ricks, 891 F.3d at 474 (citation omitted). “Where no legitimate law enforcement or penological purpose can be inferred from the defendant's alleged conduct, the ...


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