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King v. Norman

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

September 18, 2014

WILLIAM C. KING, Plaintiff,
CANDY NORMAN, et al., Defendants.


KEVIN H. SHARP, District Judge.

The plaintiff (#258469), an inmate at the Whiteville County Correctional Facility in Whiteville, Tennessee, brings this pro se action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against attorney Josh Heopiner, corrections officer Candy Norman, jail administrator Laurel Wasik, and jailer Evella Rich. (Docket No. 1). Norman, Wasik, and Rich are alleged to be employees of the Fentress County Sheriff's Department in Jamestown, Tennessee, where the plaintiff previously was incarcerated. ( Id . at p. 1). All of the defendants are sued in their official capacities, and defendants Norman and Heopiner are also sued in their individual capacities. ( Id .)

I. PLRA Screening of the Plaintiff's complaint

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the court must dismiss any portion of a civil complaint filed in forma pauperis that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, is frivolous, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Section 1915A similarly requires initial review of any "complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity, " id. § 1915A(a), and summary dismissal of the complaint on the same grounds as those articulated in § 1915(e)(2)(B) . Id. § A(b).

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). "[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)).

Although pro se pleadings are to be held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Jourdan v. Jabe , 951 F.2d 108, 110 (6th Cir. 1991), the courts' "duty to be less stringent' with pro se complaints does not require us to conjure up [unpleaded] allegations." McDonald v. Hall , 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 1979) (citation omitted).

The plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to § 1983. To state a claim under § 1983, the plaintiff must allege and show: (1) that he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) that the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color of state law. Parratt v. Taylor , 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981)(overruled in part by Daniels v. Williams , 474 U.S. 327, (1986)); Flagg Bros. v. Brooks , 436 U.S. 149, 155-56 (1978); Black v. Barberton Citizens Hosp. , 134 F.3d 1265, 1267 (6th Cir. 1998). Both parts of this two-part test must be satisfied to support a claim under § 1983. See Christy v. Randlett , 932 F.2d 502, 504 (6th Cir. 1991).

Here, the complaint alleges that, while incarcerated at the Fentress County Jail, plaintiff William King decided that he wanted to instruct his lawyer to file a motion to withdraw the guilty plea the plaintiff had entered on January 14, 2011. According to the complaint, the plaintiff asked defendant Rich if he could use the telephone to contact his lawyer. When Rich took the plaintiff to the jailer's desk to use the telephone, the plaintiff asked if he could speak to his lawyer privately. Rich did not give the plaintiff the option to use another telephone. The plaintiff alleges that, while he was talking with his lawyer, defendant Norman listened to the plaintiff's conversation and, at one point, "took the phone away from me... [and] told my lawyer to not withdraw the plea as I had instructed him." (Docket No. 1 ¶¶ 11-12). Norman told the plaintiff's lawyer "that she would take care of [the plaintiff]." ( Id . ¶ 14). When the plaintiff asked his attorney if he would withdraw the plaintiff's guilty plea, the attorney told the plaintiff that "he would not go against Ms. Norman." ( Id . ¶ 17).

Afterwards, Norman instructed Rich not to allow the plaintiff to call his lawyer again. The plaintiff filed grievances regarding Norman and Rich's behavior. Defendant Wasik was "over" the grievance system and never responded to the plaintiff's grievances.

On or about February 2, 2011, the plaintiff asked to use the telephone to call his lawyer and Norman would not permit it, even though other inmates were allowed to use the telephone to call anyone they wished.

The plaintiff's attorney, Josh Heopiner, never filed a motion to withdraw the plaintiff's guilty plea.

In February of 2014, the plaintiff learned while speaking to a "legal aid" that the defendants may have violated the plaintiff's civil rights by preventing him from talking with his lawyer and by interfering with the plaintiff's desire to withdraw his guilty plea. (Id . ¶ 33).

A. Access to the courts claims

The law is well settled that a prisoner has a First Amendment right of access to the courts. Bounds v. Smith , 430 U.S. 817, 821-823 (1977). The right of access to the courts requires prison officials to ensure that inmates have access to the courts that is "adequate, effective and meaningful." Id . at 822. To ensure the meaningful exercise of this right, prison officials are under an affirmative obligation to provide inmates with access to an adequate law library, Walker v. Mintzes , 771 F.2d 920, 931 (6th Cir. 1985), or some alternative form of legal assistance, Procunier v. Martinez , 416 U.S. 396, 419 (1974)(overruled on other grounds by Thornburgh v. Abbott , 490 U.S. 401 (1989)). Meaningful access varies with the circumstances, and prison officials are accorded discretion in determining how that right is to be administered. Bounds, 430 U.S. at 830-31. However, it is not enough for plaintiff simply to claim that he was denied access to the courts, or that he did not have access to an adequate law library or to some alternate ...

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