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Green v. Daniel

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

September 2, 2014

DEANA DANIEL et al., Defendants.


ALETA A. TRAUGER, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jamie Christopher Green, a state inmate presently incarcerated at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, has filed a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in this court (ECF No. 1). The complaint is before the court for an initial review pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A, and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e.

I. Standard of Review

Under the PLRA, the court must conduct an initial review of any civil complaint filed in forma pauperis, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), or brought by a prisoner-plaintiff against government entities or officials, 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, or challenging the conditions of confinement, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). Upon conducting this review, the court must dismiss the complaint, or any portion thereof, that fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted, is frivolous, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c).

The Sixth Circuit has confirmed that the dismissal standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), "governs dismissals for failure to state a claim under those statutes because the relevant statutory language tracks the language in Rule 12(b)(6)." Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). Thus, to survive scrutiny on initial review, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

In reviewing the complaint to determine whether it states a plausible claim, "a district court must (1) view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and (2) take all well pleaded factual allegations as true." Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gunasekera v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)). A pro se pleading must be liberally construed and "held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). Pro se status, however, does not exempt a plaintiff from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law. See Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989) ("Neither [the Supreme] Court nor other courts... have been willing to abrogate basic pleading essentials in pro se suits."); see also Brown v. Matauszak, 415 F.App'x 608, at *5 (6th Cir. Jan. 31, 2011) (affirming dismissal of pro se complaint for failure to comply with "unique pleading requirements" and stating, "a court cannot create a claim which [a plaintiff] has not spelled out in his pleading") (citation and internal quotation marks omitted; alteration in original).

II. Factual Allegations

The plaintiff names as defendants in this action the following: Tina Brewer, library supervisor at the Turney Center Industrial Complex - Wayne County Annex ("TCIX - Annex"); Deana Daniel, Brewer's immediate supervisor at the TCIX - Annex library; Kenny Brewer, first-shift dorm supervisor of the Parole Technical Violator Diversion Program ("PTVD Program") at TCIX - Annex; TCIX Warden Debra Johnson; Classification Coordinator Jason Culp; Tennessee Department of Corrections ("TDOC"); TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield. Each defendant is named in his or her official and individual capacity.

At the time the plaintiff filed his complaint in June 2014, he was incarcerated at TCIX - Annex and a participant in the PTVD Program there. Less than a month after instituting this lawsuit, the plaintiff provided notice to the court that he had been transferred to Bledsoe County Correctional Complex.

The plaintiff states that he was transferred to the TCIX - Annex on January 9, 2014, while another federal civil-rights lawsuit he had initiated in this Court, Green v. Howard, No. 3:13-cv-00020 (M.D. Tenn.), was still pending. The plaintiff asserts that, while housed at TCIX - Annex, he was deprived of access to the court, in violation of his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. In support of that claim, he alleges that TCIX - Annex provided no access to a law library or legal materials and no assistance with the preparation or filing of legal papers by persons trained in the law. The plaintiff alleges that his other lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice on April 15, 2014 as a result of the defendants' failure to provide access to legal research, an adequate law library, or assistance from persons trained in the law. The plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief.

III. Discussion

The plaintiff seeks to bring suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to vindicate alleged violations of his federal constitutional rights. Section 1983 confers a private federal right of action against any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives an individual of any right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or federal laws. Wurzelbacher v. Jones-Kelley, 675 F.3d 580, 583 (6th Cir. 2012). Thus, to state a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) a deprivation of rights secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and (2) that "the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color of state law." Tahfs v. Proctor, 316 F.3d 584, 590 (6th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted); 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

As an initial matter, the court notes that, insofar as the plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, his claims have been mooted by his transfer away from TCIX - Annex to another prison. See Colvin v. Caruso, 605 F.3d 282, 289 (6th Cir. 2010) ("[A]ny declaratory or injunctive relief that Colvin seeks stemming from his complaint has been mooted by his transfer to a different prison facility."); Kensu v. Haigh, 87 F.3d 172, 175 (6th Cir. 1996) ("[T]o the extent Kensu seeks declaratory and injunctive relief his claims are now moot as he is no longer confined to the institution that searched his mail."). The claims for injunctive relief are subject to dismissal on that basis.

In addition, the suit against TDOC must be dismissed because TDOC is not a "person" subject to suit under § 1983. Instead, TDOC is an agency of the State of Tennessee and, as such, is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. Mumford v. Basinski, 105 F.3d 264, 267 (6th Cir. 1997); Foster v. Walsh, 864 F.2d 416, 418 (6th Cir. 1988). The Eleventh Amendment bars suits against a state, and its agencies or departments, unless the state has waived its immunity or Congress has abrogated it. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66 (1989). The only exceptions to a state's immunity are if the state has consented to suit or if Congress has properly abrogated a state's immunity. S & M Brands, Inc. v. Cooper, F.3d 500, 507 (6th Cir. 2008). Neither of these exceptions applies to § 1983 suits against the State of Tennessee or its agencies. See Berndt v. Tennessee, 796 F.2d 879, 881 (6th Cir. 1986) (noting that Tennessee has not ...

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