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Johnson v. Weirich

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

May 15, 2015

ERROL JOHNSON, SR., Plaintiff,
AMY WEIRICH, ET AL., Defendants.


JAMES D. TODD, District Judge.

On January 29, 2015, Plaintiff, Errol Johnson, Sr., booking number 14106164, a pretrial detainee at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Complex in Memphis, Tennessee, filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, accompanied by a motion seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF Nos 1 & 2.) In an order issued on January 30, 2015, the Court granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis and assessed the civil filing fee pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a)-(b). (ECF No. 4.) The Clerk shall record the Defendants as Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich; the City of Millington, Tennessee; Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham, whose last name was misspelled "Odom"; and Millington Police Sergeant Dennis Brunson.[1]

The complaint alleges that, on February 18, 2014, Plaintiff was arrested on charges of aggravated child neglect and first degree murder. Upon receiving discovery in the case, Plaintiff learned that Defendant Brunson is listed as both a witness and the prosecutor on the indictment. (ECF No. 1 at 2.) According to Plaintiff, "[t]he case stands on slanderous, contradictory comments made by Sgt. D. Brunson." (Id. ) Plaintiff further avers that "Amy Weirich being Shelby County District Attorney General is not only part of the wrongful arrest and prosecution, but also slander, libel and defamation due to using the media as a outlet to make false accusations and statements against me." (Id. ) The arrest was carried out by officers with the Shelby County Sheriff's Office. (Id. ) The prayer for relief states as follows:

I wish to obtain my freedom due to my innocence. Also I wish to obtain punitive damages for my mental anguish, loss of employment and wages. I've lost my personal property and residence. I wish to be granted monetary damages for the slander, defamation, libel, wrongfully arrest, prosecution (wrongful), and wrongful imprisonment.

(Id. at 3.)

By way of background, on February 13, 2014, a grand jury in Shelby County, Tennessee returned a four-count indictment charging Plaintiff with two counts of aggravated child abuse and two counts of first degree murder.[2] The case is pending. The victim was Plaintiff's disabled twelve-year-old daughter, Andrea Ruth, who allegedly "died from gangrene and infected bedsores due to neglect... in what has been described as one of the worst child-neglect cases police have ever seen in Tennessee."[3]

The Court is required to screen prisoner complaints and to dismiss any complaint, or any portion thereof, if the complaint-

(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

In assessing whether the complaint in this case states a claim on which relief may be granted, the standards under Fed.R.Civ.P. 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), are applied. 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). "[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." Hill, 630 F.3d at 470 (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989)). "Any complaint that is legally frivolous would ipso facto fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Id. (citing Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 328-29).

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. Unlike a dismissal for failure to state a claim, where a judge must accept all factual allegations as ...

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