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Hensley v. Dugger

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division

December 10, 2014

DANNY RAY HENSLEY Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN F. DUGGER, Jr., MICHAEL J. LAGUARDIA, SHERIFF RONNIE LAWSON, HAWKINS COUNTY JAIL, HAWKINS COUNTY JAIL ADMIN., HAWKINS COUNTY JAIL STAFF, DR. MATTHEWS, NURSING STAFF, LIEUT. GALLION, AUTUMN ARMSTRONG, PAUL MORRISON, SCOTT WILLIAMS, BILL HENARD, CLIFF EVANS, JAMES WEBE, BOBBY MATTHEWS, ROY MATTHEWS, TYLER LAW, JOHN NORTH, JESSEE WILLIAMS, DEPUTY KEVIN JOHNSON, DEPUTY SKOALFIELD, DEPUTY MORRISON, DEPUTY MIKE L/N/U, DEPUTY COLLINS, DEPUTY COREY, DEPUTY YOUNG and GARY LAWSON, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

J. RONNIE GREER, District Judge.

This pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was filed by former prisoner Danny Ray Hensley while he was confined in the Hawkins County jail. Plaintiff application to proceed without prepayment of the fees and costs is GRANTED (Doc. 1).

I. Screening

Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), district courts must screen prisoner complaints (including those filed while a plaintiff is incarcerated) and sua sponte dismiss those that are frivolous or malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or are against a defendant who is immune. See, e.g., Benson v. O'Brian, 179 F.3d 1014 (6th Cir. 1999).

Responding to a perceived deluge of frivolous lawsuits, and, in particular, frivolous prisoner suits, Congress directed the federal courts to review or "screen" certain complaints sua sponte and to dismiss those that failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, that sought monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief, or that were frivolous or malicious.

Id . at 1015-16 (6th Cir. 1999) (citing 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A).

In screening complaints, the Court bears in mind the rule that pro se pleadings filed in civil rights cases must be liberally construed and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Still, the complaint must be sufficient "to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, " Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), which simply means the factual content pled by a plaintiff must permit a court "to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The Court examines the complaint in light of those requirements.

II. Review of the Complaint

A. Suable Defendants

At the outset, the Hawkins County Jail, one of the named defendants, is a building and not a suable entity under § 1983. See Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 688-90 & n.55 (1978) (for purposes of a § 1983 action, a "person" includes individuals and "bodies politic and corporate"); Marbry v. Correctional Medical Services, 2000 WL 1720959, *2 (6th Cir. Nov. 6, 2000) ("[T]he Shelby County Jail is not an entity subject to suit under § 1983.") (citing Rhodes v. McDannel, 945 F.2d 117, 120 (6th Cir. 1991)); Cage v. Kent County Corr. Facility, 1997 WL 225647, *1 (6th Cir. May 1, 1997) (("The district court also properly found that the jail facility named as a defendant was not an entity subject to suit under § 1983.").

Likewise, the Hawkins County Jail Administration, the Hawkins County Jail Staff, and the Hawkins County Jail Nursing Staff are not suable entities either. See Hix v. Tennessee Dept. of Corrections, 196 F.Appx. 350, 355 (6th Cir. Aug. 22, 2006) ("[W]e conclude that the defendant medical departments are not persons' under § 1983."); Horton v. Hamblen County Jail Medical Staff, 2007 WL 172523, *1 (E.D. Tenn. Jan. 18, 2007) (concluding that the jail medical staff is a non-suable entity under § 1983); Sullivan v. Hamilton County Jail Staff, 2006 WL 1582418, *3 n. 1 (E.D. Tenn. June 5, 2006) (noting that the jail's medical staff and jail staff are subdivisions of the sheriff's department and not a legal entity subject to being sued) (citing to Fischer v. Cahill, 474 F.2d 991, 992 (3rd Cir.1973) for its holding that a state prison medical department is not a "person" under § 1983)); see also Holifield v. Mobile County Sheriff's Dept. of Mobile, 2008 WL 2246961, *5 (S.D.Ala. May 29, 2008) (finding that the Mobile County Jail Medical Unit was a subdivision of the jail and not a distinct legal entity which could be sued under § 1983).

Thus, any allegations asserted against these four defendants fail to state a claim for relief and they are DISMISSED from this lawsuit.

B. Injunctive Relief

The jurisdiction of federal courts is limited to "cases and controversies." U.S. CONST. art. III, § 2, cl.1. A case becomes moot "when the issues presented are no longer live or parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome." Cleveland Branch, NAACP v. City of Parma, 263 F.3d 513, 530 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting County of Los Angeles v. Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 631 (1979)). Here, plaintiff seeks a transfer to another facility and other forms of injunctive relief from the alleged wrongful treatment to which he was subjected at the Hawkins County jail, but he has been released from confinement and is no longer housed in that facility (Doc. 3). Clearly, a transfer is not feasible under these circumstances. Also, deterrence of the alleged unconstitutional conditions and treatment at the Hawkins County jail on behalf of other inmates would provide plaintiff no benefit because he is not presently confined in that institution and does not indicate that he expects to be imprisoned in there in the future. See City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 102 (1983) (noting that "[p]ast exposure to illegal conduct does not in itself show a present case or controversy regarding injunctive relief... if unaccompanied by any continuing, present adverse effects") (quoting O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 495-96 (1974)).

Thus, plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief are MOOT, see Kensu v. Haigh, 87 F.3d 172, 175 (6th Cir. 1996), and they are DISMISSED.

C. Plaintiff' Allegations

The Court has grouped together related claims asserted in the complaint.

1. Access to the Courts

Plaintiff alleges that he has been denied access to law books in his ongoing case and that his legal papers have been seized (Doc. 2, Compl. at 3-4).

Prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts, Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977), but no abstract, freestanding right to a law library in prison. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351 (1996). To state a claim for denial of access to the courts, a plaintiff must show prejudice, such as the late filing of a court document or the dismissal of a non-frivolous claim resulting from the inadequate jail law library. Pilgrim v. Littlefield, 92 F.3d 414, 415-16 (6th Cir. 1996) (citing Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351). Plaintiff has failed to allege any actual injury caused by the lack of law library or the removal of his legal papers.

Additionally, "a prisoner's constitutionally-guaranteed right of access to the courts has been protected when a state provides that prisoner with either the legal tools necessary to defend himself, e.g., a state-provided law library, or the assistance of legally-trained personnel." Holt v. Pitts, 702 F.2d 639, 640 (6th Cir. 1983) (citing Bounds and Avery v. Johnson, 393 U.S. 483 (1969)). Since plaintiff has sued his defense attorney for alleged misteps in representing him in his state criminal case, he has been furnished with the requisite legal tools ...


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