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Falkner v. Makowsky, Ringel, Greenberg

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

February 11, 2015

BEVERLY FALKNER, Plaintiff,
v.
MAKOWSKY, RINGEL, GREENBERG and ITS OWNERS, Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915

CHARMIANE G. CLAXTON, Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court, by way of Administrative Order 2013-05, [1] is a pro se complaint filed on January 13, 2014 by Plaintiff Beverly Falkner, resident of Memphis, Tennessee, against Makowsky, Ringel Greenberg and its Owners[2], accompanied by a motion seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis and a motion for appointment of counsel. (Docket Entries ("D.E.") 1, 2 & 3.) The motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis was granted on July 31, 2014 and the motion for appointment of counsel was denied on the same date. (D.E. # 7)

Plaintiff's complaint consists of five paragraphs obliquely referencing her housing situation (D.E. # 1, p 1 and 2) and an 88 page attachment which appears to be a compilation of letters from the plaintiff to public officials and letters to the defendant. (D.E. # 1-1). Plaintiff states that she "prays for compensatory damages determined by the court."

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). A[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 (ARule 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[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) (ADistrict 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).

"Rule 8 serves the important purpose of requiring plaintiffs to state their claims intelligibly so as to inform the defendants of the legal claims being asserted." Mann v. Boatright, 477 F.3d 1140, 1148 (10th Cir.2007). The statement of the claim must be "plain" because "the principal function of pleadings under the Federal Rules is to give the adverse party fair notice of the claim asserted so as to enable him to answer and prepare for trial." Salahuddin v. Cuomo, 861 F.2d 40, 42 (2d Cir.1988). The statement should also be short because "unnecessary prolixity in a pleading places an unjustified burden on the court and the party who must respond to it because they are forced to select the relevant material from a mass of verbiage." Id . (quotations omitted); see also Vicom, Inc. v. Harbridge Merch. Servs., Inc., 20 F.3d 771, 775-76 (7th Cir.1994) (noting that a complaint that is "prolix and/or confusing makes it difficult for the defendant to file a responsive pleading and makes it difficult for the trial court to conduct orderly litigation"). A court is not obligated to "stitch together cognizable claims for relief from [a] wholly deficient pleading" filed by a plaintiff. Mann, 477 F.3d at 1148; see, e.g. Plymale v. Freeman, No. 90-2202, 1991 WL 54882, at *1 (6th Cir. Apr.12, 1991) (affirming district court's dismissal of 119 page "rambling complaint").

The document that Plaintiff has filed does not in any way meet the minimum requirements to be considered a complaint. There is no statement of grounds for the court's jurisdiction, there is no statement of the claim showing that Plaintiff is entitled to relief and there is no demand for relief sought - all elements required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). The volume of papers filed does not remedy the failure to minimally state a claim for which relief may be granted. Therefore, it is RECOMMENDED that the Court DISMISS the action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

The Court must also consider whether Plaintiff should be allowed to appeal this decision in forma pauperis, should she 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.


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