United States District Court, D. Connecticut
JEREMY A. STEELE, Plaintiff,
CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS: C.O. AYOTTE, C.O. OLSEN, CORRIGAN CORRECTIONAL CENTER; and JOHN DOE, UCONN HOSPITAL EMPLOYEE, Defendants.
RULING ON MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT [DOC. 9] AND
MOTION TO APPOINT COUNSEL [DOC. 14]
CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
August 11, 2017, pro se plaintiff Jeremy A. Steele,
currently incarcerated at MacDougall-Walker Correctional
Institution ("MacDougall-Walker") in Suffield,
Connecticut, commenced a civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 against Correction Officers Ayotte and Olsen,
alleging violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. He also
brought a state law claim for negligence against John Doe, a
truck driver employed at UCONN Hospital.
Court issued its Initial Review Order ("IRO")
[Doc.6] on February 6, 2018, permitting Steele's Eighth
Amendment claim for deliberate indifference to safety to
proceed against Ayotte and Olsen in their individual
capacities for damages. The Court ruled that Steele stated a
plausible claim that the two officers failed to secure him
with a seatbelt, despite his repeated requests, and also
engaged in reckless conduct (sharing videos on their cell
phones) as they drove Steele in a prison van to the UCONN
Hospital. The Court clarified that this claim was
"plausible only as to the drive to the hospital, and not
to the period while the van was parked in the loading dock
[at the hospital]." Steele v. Ayotte, No. 3:
17-CV-1370 (CSH), 2018 WL 731796, at *15 (D. Conn. Feb. 6,
2018). Plaintiff thus "may not recover compensatory
damages resulting from the collision with the truck under
this claim" because he "does not allege that he
suffered any injury as the result of his seatbelt being
unfastened during the earlier drive to the
hospital." Id. It was during that drive that
the defendants allegedly engaged in their reckless conduct of
viewing cell phone videos as Ayotte drove. Viewing a cell
phone while the van was parked was negligent at best.
Plaintiff may recover "nominal damages, in the amount of
$1.00" from the two officers for the trip to UCONN
Hospital because a § 1983 litigant "is entitled to
an award of nominal damages upon proof of a violation of a
substantive constitutional right even in the absence of
actual compensable injury." Id. (quoting
Amato v. City of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., 170 F.3d
311, 317 (2d Cir. 1999)). Plaintiff was not injured on the
way to the hospital (during the officers' allegedly
reckless conduct) so only nominal damages may be awarded.
Court dismissed Steele's Eighth Amendment claim for
deliberate indifference to medical needs against Ayotte and
Olsen based on their refusal to permit him to remain in the
emergency room at UCONN until he received medical treatment
following the transport van's collision with the truck.
Ayotte and Olsen had waited "for over an hour for an
emergency room doctor to become available" before
deciding "to return to Corrigan, where Plaintiff could
also be examined by medical personnel." Id., at
*11. Plaintiff's self-described symptoms included
"discomfort in his lower back and neck;" and
"[c]omplaints of discomfort do not rise to the level of
a serious medical need." Id., at *11-12
the Court dismissed Plaintiff's state law negligence
claim against Doe, the truck driver, for failing to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted. No. facts alleged
that the conduct of the truck driver, in backing up too fast
and hitting the prison van at the loading dock, was anything
more than negligent. "A negligent motor vehicle
accident, in and of itself, is not actionable under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983." Id., at *13 (citing
Carrasquillo v. City of New York, 324 F.Supp.2d 428,
436 (S.D.N.Y. 2004)).
March 16, 2018, Steele filed a motion to amend his complaint
[Doc.9] "in light of [his] injuries, due to the accident
caused by the defendants." In support of his motion,
Steele reminded the Court that he is an inmate in state
prison with no litigation experience, no law library, and no
"inmate legal assistance." Doc. 9, at 2. He then
proceeded to argue that he "suffered neck and lower back
injuries" due to the two officers' refusal "to
strap him in with a seatbelt for his safety."
Id. Plaintiff concluded by stating that his injuries
are "ongoing." Id., at 3. Steele attached
no amended complaint to his motion. The two officer
defendants filed their answer [Doc.12] to the initial
complaint on April 10, 2018.
addition to his motion to amend, Plaintiff has filed a
"Motion for Appointment of Counsel" [Doc. 14],
requesting that the Court appoint pro bono counsel
to represent him. The Court resolves both the motion to amend
and the motion to appoint counsel herein.
Motion to Amend
to Rule 15(a), Fed. R. Civ. P., a plaintiff may amend his
complaint once as a matter of course within twenty-one days
after service of the complaint or within twenty-one days
after service of a responsive pleading (i.e., answer
or motion to dismiss) or of a Rule 12(b), (e), or (f) motion,
whichever is earlier. See Fed. R. Civ. P.
15(a)(1)(A) and (B). See also, e.g., Baines v.
Pillai, No. 3:16-CV-01374 (CSH), 2017 WL 1375168, at *1
(D. Conn. Apr. 10, 2017); Taurus B, LLC v. Esserman,
No. 3:14-CV-715 CSH, 2014 WL 4494398, at *1 (D. Conn. Sept.
12, 2014); O'dell v. Bill, 13 Civ. 1275
(FJS/TWD), 2015 WL 710544, *44 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 18, 2015). In
all other cases, the plaintiff may amend his complaint only
with "the opposing party's written consent or the
court's leave, " which should be "freely
give[n] when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P.
present case, the IRO was filed on February 6, 2018, ordering
service of the complaint on defendants within twenty-one days
of entry of that order. 2018 WL 731796, at *16. Ayotte's
waiver of service was filed on February 20, 2018, and
Olsen's waiver on March 2, 2018. Doc. 7, 8. Steele signed
his motion to amend on March 15, 2018, and the Clerk filed it
the following day. Doc. 9. The motion to amend was thus filed
within 21 days after the second defendant waived service.
Furthermore, a complaint is a pleading "to which a
responsive pleading is required, " so that under Rule
15(a)(1)(B), Plaintiff could amend as a matter of course
within 21 days after the defendants answered his complaint.
They did not answer till April 10, 2018, Doc. 12, twenty-five
days after Plaintiff filed his motion to amend. Under these
circumstances, Steele is entitled to amend his complaint once
as a matter of course under Rule 15(a)(1).
Plaintiff has failed to present an amended complaint for
filing. He has only filed a motion to amend. Unless and until
he files his proposed amended complaint, the Court cannot
carry out its duty under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A to screen any
amended claim to determine whether it may proceed.
Specifically, the Court must perform a sua sponte
initial review of a prisoner's claims against
governmental entities or their officers. If any claim is
"frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon
which relief may be granted" or "seeks monetary