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Martin v. Montgomery County Jail

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

June 19, 2015

JOSEPH CLINT MARTIN #496557, Plaintiff,
v.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY JAIL, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

TODD CAMPBELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Joseph Martin, a state inmate serving a 10-year sentence in the Montgomery County Jail, has filed this pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1.) The complaint (Docket Entry No. 1) is before the court for an initial review pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A, and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e.

I. Standard of Review

Under the PLRA, the court must conduct an initial review of any civil complaint filed in forma pauperis, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), or brought by a prisoner-plaintiff against government entities or officials, 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, or challenging the conditions of confinement, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). Upon conducting this review, the court must dismiss the complaint, or any portion thereof, 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. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). 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).

In reviewing the complaint to determine whether it states a plausible claim, "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)). A pro se pleading must be liberally construed and "held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). Pro se status, however, does not exempt a plaintiff from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law. See Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989) ("Neither [the Supreme] Court nor other courts... have been willing to abrogate basic pleading essentials in pro se suits."); see also Brown v. Matauszak, 415 F.Appx. 608, at *5 (6th Cir. Jan. 31, 2011) (affirming dismissal of pro se complaint for failure to comply with "unique pleading requirements" and stating "a court cannot create a claim which [a plaintiff] has not spelled out in his pleading") (citation and internal quotation marks omitted; alteration in original).

II. Factual Allegations

Plaintiff alleges in his statement of facts (ECF No. 3) that inmates of the Montgomery County Jail are required to shower in sight of male and female guards, and that on at least one occasion a female guard has verbally harassed or mocked him while he was in the shower.

Plaintiff alleges that the air circulation in the jail allows mace sprayed by a guard on one floor to choke and burn the skin and eyes of inmates on another floor, and that a guard recently laughed about the situation after spraying someone with mace and leaving the pod.

Plaintiff also complains that inmates are not provided with tables or chairs and are required to eat in the floor or on the toilet.

Plaintiff alleges that he was recently put on lock-down for 48 hours, lost his job for 6 months and will likely not be granted parole because jail staff failed to inspect and discover that a razor was broken before they delivered it to him. He alleges that jail policy provides that inmates are only entitled to an investigation if they are placed on lock-down for 72 hours or more.

Finally, Plaintiff alleges that his right to Equal Protection is being violated by his placement at the Montgomery County Jail rather than in a Tennessee Department of Correction ("TDOC") facility where he could have access to educational and treatment programs that could improve his life and his chances of being granted parole.

III. Discussion

Plaintiff brings suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to vindicate alleged violations of his federal constitutional rights. Section 1983 confers a private federal right of action against any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives an individual of any right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or federal laws. Wurzelbacher v. Jones-Kelley, 675 F.3d 580, 583 (6th Cir. 2012). Thus, to state a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) a deprivation of rights secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and (2) that "the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color of state law." Tahfs v. Proctor, 316 F.3d 584, 590 (6th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted); 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The only defendant named by Plaintiff is the Montgomery County Jail. But it is well established that a jail is not a "person" subject to suit under § 1983. See Watson v. Gill, 40 F.Appx. 88, 89 (6th Cir. 2002) (county jail is a department of the county and not a legal entity susceptible to suit); Travis v. Clinton Cnty. Jail, No. 1:10-cv-1276, 2011 WL 447000, at *2 (W.D. Mich. Feb. 4, 2011) ("The jail is a building, not an entity capable of being sued in its own right."). However, because Plaintiff alleges that the claimed violations at the jail are carried out under the authority of an official policy (ECF No. 1, at 5), the Court will construe his complaint liberally to state a claim against Montgomery County itself. See Matthews v. Jones, ...


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