United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division
January 12, 2015
BRENT A. ROWAN, Plaintiff,
MEMPHIS BONDING CO. et al., Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915
CHARMIANE G. CLAXTON, Magistrate Judge.
On July 19, 2013, Plaintiff Brent A. Rowan, a resident of Memphis, Tennessee, filed a pro se complaint captioned "Complaint for the Violations of Civil Rights Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983" against Memphis Bonding Co., accompanied by a motion seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Docket Entries ("D.E.") 1 & 2.) On October 7, 2013, the Court granted Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (D.E. # 4).
The complaint alleges that
"After my release from 201 Poplar Avenue, I walked to the Memphis Bonding Company. The representative informed me that my bond was posted by Ida B. Winston. Afterwards, I sought legal representation from Atty. John Priest. His office is on Exchange Avenue. At that time, I was not given a bill or invoice. My aunt used my ATM card to bail me out of jail. On July 15, 2013 at 6:10P.M. my aunt called me and informed me that I owe a bill. She was not very polite. However, my bank records reflect a payment on the outstanding balance before my release from jail."
Plaintiff states that he "would like the court to determine the exact amount due as of 07/17/2013. I would also like to request a bond hearing...I need the courts to inform Memphis Bonding Company of my indigency and disabilities which limit my income to federal disability. Inasmuch, I would like the courts to review documents for a Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy case. I need the courts to determine whether or not my civil rights are violated."
The Court is required to screen in forma pauperis complaints and to dismiss any complaint, or any portion thereof, if the action-
(i) is frivolous or malicious;
(ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
(iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).
In assessing whether the complaint in this case states a claim on which relief may be granted, the Court applies the standards under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), as stated in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-79 (2009), and in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-57 (2007). Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). "Accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true, the Court consider[s] the factual allegations in [the] complaint to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.'" Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681) (alteration in original). "[P]leadings that... are no more than conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 n.3 ("Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a showing, ' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief. Without some factual allegation in the complaint, it is hard to see how a claimant could satisfy the requirement of providing not only fair notice' of the nature of the claim, but also grounds' on which the claim rests.").
"A complaint can be frivolous either factually or legally. Any complaint that is legally frivolous would ipso facto fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Hill, 630 F.3d at 470 (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325, 328-29 (1989)).
Whether a complaint is factually frivolous under §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) is a separate issue from whether it fails to state a claim for relief. Statutes allowing a complaint to be dismissed as frivolous give "judges not only the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless." Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327, 109 S.Ct. 1827 (interpreting 28 U.S.C. § 1915). Unlike a dismissal for failure to state a claim, where a judge must accept all factual allegations as true, Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50, a judge does not have to accept "fantastic or delusional" factual allegations as true in prisoner complaints that are reviewed for frivolousness. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327-28, 109 S.Ct. 1827.
Id. at 471.
" Pro se complaints are to be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, and should therefore be liberally construed." Williams, 631 F.3d at 383 (internal quotation marks omitted). Pro se litigants, however, are not exempt from the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989); see also Brown v. Matauszak, 415 F.Appx. 608, 613 (6th Cir. 2011) ("[A] court cannot create a claim which [a plaintiff] has not spelled out in his pleading") (internal quotation marks omitted); Payne v. Secretary of Treas., 73 F.Appx. 836, 837 (6th Cir. 2003) (affirming sua sponte dismissal of complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) and stating, "[n]either this court nor the district court is required to create Payne's claim for her"); cf. Pliler v. Ford, 542 U.S. 225, 231 (2004) ("District judges have no obligation to act as counsel or paralegal to pro se litigants."); Young Bok Song v. Gipson, 423 F.Appx. 506, 510 (6th Cir. 2011) ("[W]e decline to affirmatively require courts to ferret out the strongest cause of action on behalf of pro se litigants. Not only would that duty be overly burdensome, it would transform the courts from neutral arbiters of disputes into advocates for a particular party. While courts are properly charged with protecting the rights of all who come before it, that responsibility does not encompass advising litigants as to what legal theories they should pursue."), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 461 (2011).
Plaintiff's complaint does not comply with Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1), which requires that "[a] pleading that states a claim for relief" contain "a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction." The instant complaint does not include any jurisdictional allegations beyond a brief mention of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,  a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) a deprivation of rights secured by the "Constitution and laws" of the United States (2) committed by a defendant acting under color of state law. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150 (1970). Plaintiff has not stated in the Complaint in what manner Defendant was acting under color of state law and what actions Defendant took to deprive Plaintiff of rights secured by the "Constitution and laws" of the United States.
Therefore, it is RECOMMENDED that the Court DISMISS the complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(ii).
The Court must also consider whether Plaintiff should be allowed to appeal this decision in forma pauperis, should he seek to do so. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit requires that all district courts in the circuit determine, in all cases where the appellant seeks to proceed in forma pauperis, whether the appeal would be frivolous. Twenty-eight U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) provides that "[a]n appeal may not be taken in forma pauperis if the trial court certifies in writing that it is not taken in good faith."
The good faith standard is an objective one. Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 445 (1962). The test under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) for whether an appeal is taken in good faith is whether the litigant seeks appellate review of any issue that is not frivolous. Id . It would be inconsistent for a district court to determine that a complaint should be dismissed prior to service on the defendants, but has sufficient merit to support an appeal in forma pauperis. See Williams v. Kullman, 722 F.2d 1048, 1050 n.1 (2d Cir. 1983). The same considerations that lead the Court to recommend dismissal of this case for failure to state a claim also compel the conclusion that an appeal would not be taken in good faith. It is therefore RECOMMENDED that the Court CERTIFY, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3), that any appeal in this matter by Plaintiff would not be taken in good faith and Plaintiff may not proceed on appeal in forma pauperis.