mere allegations of verbal abuse or epithets do not rise to §1983 violations


Earnest Matthews is an inmate currently in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Matthews brought a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit against Department officials, alleging that his civil rights had been violated. He alleged that a prison guard, Sergeant Patricia Miller, directed racial slurs at him and was biased against African-American inmates.

Matthews asserted that on one occasion, Miller struck another inmate and addressed him with a racial slur. He further alleged that two prison officials, Captain Syed Ahmed and Warden Stacey LeBlanc, failed to protect him from Miller or supervise her in any meaningful way.

A magistrate judge recommended the dismissal of LeBlanc from the case. A later recommendation was that Miller and Ahmed, who had yet to make an appearance in the action, also be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(A)(b). The district court agreed with both recommendations. The court entered a final judgment dismissing Matthews’s claims. Matthews appealed. The 5th affirmed.


Section 1915A provides for early dismissal of prisoner complaints if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

We begin with Matthews’s claims against Miller, which appear to be an amalgam of Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment violations arising out of Miller’s interactions with Matthews. Section 1983 allows for civil suits for violations of constitutional rights. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Though inmates have the constitutional right to be free of racial discrimination, mere allegations of verbal abuse or epithets, reprehensible though they may be, do not amount to a cognizable constitutional violation under Section 1983. See Bentley v. Beck, 625 F.2d 70 (5th Cir. 1980). Verbal abuse is all Matthews has alleged.

Further, Matthews makes no allegations that he was treated differently because of his race but only loosely asserts that he was called a “snitch” and treated differently because he “talked politics.” Consequently, Matthews’s constitutional claims concerning Miller’s behavior were properly dismissed.

Matthews’s remaining claims relate to Ahmed and LeBlanc in their roles as supervisors. The magistrate judge properly held there was no vicarious liability under Section 1983. Instead, a litigant must demonstrate that the supervisor either (1) participated personally in the constitutional violation or (2) implemented unconstitutional policies that causally result in plaintiff’s injury. See Putnal. Matthews has not pled facts that would allow him to prevail on either theory. The district court properly dismissed these supervisory claims against LeBlanc and Ahmed.

Matthews also raises a failure-to-protect claim against Ahmed and LeBlanc. To prevail, the litigant first must show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994). Second, the litigant must demonstrate that the prison official was deliberately indifferent to the inmate’s health or safety. Matthews has shown neither. At most, Matthews has alleged that Miller uses offensive racial slurs and once had an altercation with another inmate. We cannot say on this record that Matthews’s various allegations show a substantial risk of harm to him as contemplated by the Eighth Amendment. The district court correctly dismissed this claim as well. Matthews has demonstrated none of these elements. These claims were properly dismissed.

Finally, to the extent that Matthews seeks monetary damages against the prison officials in their official capacities, the Eleventh Amendment bars that relief. See Will v. Michigan Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58 (1989).