United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division
July 31, 2015
EDWARD BRADLEY, Plaintiff,
D.R. STEPHENS, ET AL., Defendants.
ORDER DISMISSING CLAIMS, CERTIFYING APPEAL NOT TAKEN IN GOOD FAITH AND NOTIFYING PLAINTIFF OF APPELLATE FILING FEE
JAMES D. TODD, District Judge.
On January 17, 2014, Plaintiff Edward Bradley ("Bradley"), who is currently an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution ("FCI") Medium in Forrest City, Arkansas, filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 addressing conditions during his previous incarceration at FCI Memphis in Memphis, Tennessee. (ECF No. 1.) In response to the Court's order, Bradley filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis on March 2, 2014. (ECF Nos. 3 & 4). In an order issued July 16, 2015, the Court granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis and assessed the civil filing fee pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a)-(b). (ECF No. 5) The Clerk shall record the defendants as FCI Warden D.R. Stephens, Unit Manager Kessel, Lieutenant ("Lt.") Taylor, Captain Winfield, Ms. Williams-Grahams, Ms. Mayfield, First Name Unknown ("FNU") Hargrove, FNU Carbernero and Officers FNU Atkins, FNU Towels, FNU Smith, and FNU Hargrove.
I. The Complaint
Bradley's complaint details a variety of conditions at FCI Memphis that he and other U.S. Marshal detainees are asking to be remediated. (ECF No. 1 at PageID 2.) First, Bradley alleges that black mold is growing inside the walls and inside the cells. (ECF No. 1-1 at PageID 3). Second, Bradley alleges the Marshal's detainees are being deprived access to the law library. ( Id. at PageID 4). Third, Bradley alleges they are being deprived of access to the phone. ( Id. ). Bradley states they are getting the phone about every other day, according to how the correctional officer feels that day. ( Id. ) Fourth, Bradley alleges they are being denied the right to buy certain food and other items from the commissary, specifically Vaseline or lotion. ( Id. ) Fifth, Bradley alleges the Marshal's detainees are being held in "23 and 1" lock down; sometimes only getting outside for one hour per day. ( Id. ) Sixth, Bradley alleges they are being exposed to lead paint which, he contends is in every cell. ( Id. ) Lastly, Bradley alleges that Marshal's detainees are receiving inadequate medical and safety checks. ( Id. )
Bradley seeks only injunctive relief, asking that the detainees be given proper medical treatment, daily use of the phone, and daily recreation, that they not be enclosed in cells with lead paint, mildew, leaking roofs, and black mold, and that they not be locked down for twenty-three to twenty-four hours per day.
A. Screening and Standard
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 court applies 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 (quoting Martin v. Overton, 391 F.3d 710, 712 (6th Cir. 2004)). Pro se litigants and prisoners 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, No. 09-2259, 2011 WL 285251, 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'") (quoting Clark v. Nat'l Travelers Life Ins. Co., 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir. 1975)) (alteration in original); Payne v. Sec'y 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.").
B. Bivens Claim
Bradley filed a seven-page, handwritten, single-spaced complaint jointly with other pretrial detainees at FCI Memphis. As a pre-trial detainee who was in the custody of the U.S. Marshal at the time the complaint was filed, Bradley's complaint will be construed under the Bivens line of cases which provide a right of action against federal employees who violate an individual's rights under the United States Constitution. "Under the Bivens line of cases, the Supreme Court has recognized a cause of action against federal officials for certain constitutional violations when there are no alternative processes to protect the interests of the plaintiff and no special factors counseling against recognizing the cause of action." Koubriti v. Convertino, 593 F.3d 459, 466 (6th Cir. 2010).
1. Twombly Standard
The complaint contains no factual allegations against any of the Defendants other than Officer Towels. The only specific allegation directed towards Officer Towels is that she was "unprofessional" in reading the petition out loud. (ECF No. 1-1 at PageID 6.) There is no allegation that Officer Towels violated Bradley's rights under the United States Constitution or that Bradley was injured by Officer Towels actions. When a complaint fails to allege any action by a defendant, it necessarily fails to "state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
In addition, Bradley lacks standing to sue for deprivations of the rights of his fellow inmates. "To state a case or controversy under Article III [of the United States Constitution], a plaintiff must establish standing." Ariz. Christian Sch. Tuition Org. v. Winn, 131 S.Ct. 1436, 1442 (2011).
[T]he irreducible constitutional minimum of standing contains three elements: First, the plaintiff must have suffered an "injury in fact"-an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical. Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of.... Third, it must be likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.
Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992) (internal quotation marks, footnote and citations omitted); see also Lance v. Coffman, 549 U.S. 437, 439 (2007) (same). "In requiring a particular injury, the Court meant that the injury must affect the plaintiff in a personal and individual way." Winn, 131 S.Ct. at 1442 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Unless plaintiff suffered an actual injury, he "was not the aggrieved party, [and] he lacks standing" to sue. Percival v. McGinnis, 24 F.Appx. 243, 246 (6th Cir. 2001); see also Corn v. Sparkman, No. 95-5494, 1996 WL 185753, at *1 (6th Cir. Apr. 17, 1996) ("A prisoner cannot bring claims on behalf of other prisoners. A prisoner must allege a personal loss and seek to vindicate a deprivation of his own constitutional rights." (citation omitted)). Bradley's complaint contains no allegations of individual injury, and relief is sought on behalf of all the detainees collectively.
3. Jail Conditions Claims
Bradley's complaint addresses multiple issues regarding prison conditions and treatment of the Marshal's detainees. These claims concerning black mold, lead paint, "23 and 1" lock down and safety and medical checks, arise under the Eighth Amendment. The complaint does not allege that any of the Defendants are directly responsible for the conditions at the jail, but rather that the conditions themselves are unconstitutional.
An Eighth Amendment claim consists of both objective and subjective components. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994); Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8 (1992); Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991); Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d at 383; Mingus v. Butler, 591 F.3d 474, 479-80 (6th Cir. 2010). The objective component requires that the deprivation be "sufficiently serious." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; Hudson, 503 U.S. at 8; Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298.
To satisfy the objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim, a prisoner must show that he "is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm, " Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; see also Miller v. Calhoun Cnty., 408 F.3d 803, 812 (6th Cir. 2005), or that he has been deprived of the "minimal civilized measure of life's necessities, " Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Hadix v. Johnson, 367 F.3d 513, 525 (6th Cir. 2004) ("To succeed in an Eighth Amendment challenge, [a prisoner] must establish that... a single, identifiable necessity of civilized human existence is being denied...."). The Constitution "does not mandate comfortable prisons." Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "[R]outine discomfort is part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society." Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Thus, "extreme deprivations are required to make out a conditions-of-confinement claim." Id. at 9.
In considering the types of conditions that constitute a substantial risk of serious harm, the Court evaluates not only the seriousness of the potential harm and the likelihood that the harm will actually occur, but evidence that unwilling exposure to that risk violates contemporary standards of decency, i.e., that society does not choose to tolerate the risk in its prisons. Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 36 (1993). The Supreme Court has also emphasized that prisoners can rarely establish an Eighth Amendment violation from a combination of conditions of confinement that, in themselves, do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation:
Some conditions of confinement may establish an Eighth Amendment violation "in combination" when each would not do so alone, but only when they have a mutually enforcing effect that produces the deprivation of a single, identifiable human need such as food, warmth, or exercise-for example, a low cell temperature at night combined with a failure to issue blankets. To say that some prison conditions may interact in this fashion is a far cry from saying that all prison conditions are a seamless web for Eighth Amendment purposes. Nothing as amorphous as "overall conditions" can rise to the level of cruel and unusual punishment when no specific deprivation of a single human need exists.
Wilson, 501 U.S. at 304-05 (citation omitted); see also Thompson, 29 F.3d at 242 ("Eighth Amendment claims may not be based on the totality of the circumstances, but rather must identify a specific condition that violates" a particular right); Carver v. Knox Cnty., Tenn., 887 F.2d 1287, 1294 (6th Cir. 1989) (same).
To establish the subjective component of an Eighth Amendment violation, a prisoner must demonstrate that the official acted with the requisite intent, that is, that he had a "sufficiently culpable state of mind." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; see also Wilson, 501 U.S. at 297, 302-03. The plaintiff must show that the prison officials acted with "deliberate indifference" to a substantial risk that the prisoner would suffer serious harm. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; Wilson, 501 U.S. at 303; Helling, 509 U.S. at 32; Woods v. Lecureux, 110 F.3d 1215, 1222 (6th Cir. 1997); Street v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810, 814 (6th Cir. 1996); Taylor v. Mich. Dep't of Corr., 69 F.3d 76, 79 (6th Cir. 1995). "[D]eliberate indifference describes a state of mind more blameworthy than negligence." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835. Thus,
[a] prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference. This approach comports best with the text of the Eighth Amendment as our cases have interpreted it. The Eighth Amendment does not outlaw cruel and unusual "conditions"; it outlaws cruel and unusual "punishments." An act or omission unaccompanied by knowledge of a significant risk of harm might well be something society wishes to discourage, and if harm does result society might well wish to assure compensation. The common law reflects such concerns when it imposes tort liability on a purely objective basis.... But an official's failure to alleviate a significant risk that he should have perceived but did not, while no cause for commendation, cannot under our cases be condemned as the infliction of punishment.
Id. at 837-38, 114 S.Ct. at 1979 (emphasis added; citations omitted); see also Garretson v. City of Madison Heights, 407 F.3d 789, 796 (6th Cir. 2005) ("If the officers failed to act in the face of an obvious risk of which they should have known but did not, then they did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment."). The subjective component must be evaluated for each defendant individually. Bishop v. Hackel, 636 F.3d 757, 767 (6th Cir. 2011); see also id. at 768 ("[W]e must focus on whether each individual Deputy had the personal involvement necessary to permit a finding of subjective knowledge."). The complaint in this case makes no allegations that any individual Defendant acted with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk to Bradley's health or safety.
4. First Amendment Claims
Bradley has asserted that telephone usage is limited, which restricts access to counsel. However, the complaint does not assert a valid claim for denial of Bradley's First Amendment right of access to the courts. See Kensu v. Haigh, 87 F.3d 172, 175 (6th Cir. 1996); see also Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977) ("It is now established beyond doubt that prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts."). The Supreme Court has held that
"[t]he fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law." Bounds, 430 U.S. at 828. However, Bounds does not guarantee inmates the wherewithal to transform themselves into litigating engines capable of filing everything from shareholder derivative actions to slip-and-fall claims. The tools it requires to be provided are those that the inmates need in order to attack their sentences, directly or collaterally, and in order to challenge the conditions of their confinement. Impairment of any other litigating capacity is simply one of the incidental (and perfectly constitutional) consequences of conviction and incarceration.
Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 355 (1996); see also Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 391 (6th Cir. 1999) (en banc) (inmates' First Amendment right of access to the courts "extends to direct appeal, habeas corpus applications, and civil rights claims only").
To have standing to pursue a First Amendment claim that he was denied access to the courts, "a prisoner must show prison officials' conduct inflicted an actual injury, ' i.e., that the conduct hindered his efforts to pursue a nonfrivolous legal claim." Rodgers v. Hawley, 14 F.Appx. 403, 409 (6th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted); see also Hadix, 182 F.3d at 405-06 (explaining how Lewis altered the "actual injury" requirement previously articulated by the Sixth Circuit). "Actual injury" can be demonstrated by "the late filing of a court document or the dismissal of an otherwise meritorious claim." Pilgrim v. Littlefield, 92 F.3d 413, 416 (6th Cir. 1996). The complaint does not allege that Plaintiff suffered any actual injury due to lack of access to a telephone. The complaint also does not allege that any named Defendant was personally responsible for that lack of access.
As stated, Plaintiff seeks only injunctive relief in this case. Therefore, because he is no longer incarcerated at FCI Memphis, his claims seeking remediation of conditions at that facility are now moot. Moore v. Curtis, 68 F.Appx. 561, 562 (6th Cir. 2003) (claims for declaratory and injunctive relief against prison staff moot when inmate transferred to another facility); Kensu v. Haigh, 87 F.3d 172, 175 (6th Cir. 1996) (same); Tramber v. Pleasant, No. 4:12CV-P31-M, 2012 WL 4594339, at *5 (W.D. Ky. Oct. 2, 2012) (inmate's claim for a transfer and medical care moot when he was transferred to another facility).
III. Standard for Leave to Amend
The Sixth Circuit has held that a district court may allow a prisoner to amend his complaint to avoid a sua sponte dismissals under the PLRA. LaFountain v. Harry, 716 F.3d 944, 951 (6th Cir. 2013); see also Brown v. R.I., No. 12-1403, 2013 WL 646489, at *1 (1st Cir. Feb. 22, 2013) (per curiam) ("Ordinarily, before dismissal for failure to state a claim is ordered, some form of notice and an opportunity to cure the deficiencies in the complaint must be afforded."). Leave to amend is not required where a deficiency cannot be cured. Brown, 2013 WL 646489, at *1; Gonzalez-Gonzalez v. United States, 257 F.3d 31, 37 (1st Cir. 2001) ("This does not mean, of course, that every sua sponte dismissal entered without prior notice to the plaintiff automatically must be reversed. If it is crystal clear that the plaintiff cannot prevail and that amending the complaint would be futile, then a sua sponte dismissal may stand."); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002) (" in forma pauperis plaintiffs who file complaints subject to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) should receive leave to amend unless amendment would be inequitable or futile"); Curley v. Perry, 246 F.3d 1278, 1284 (10th Cir. 2001) ("We agree with the majority view that sua sponte dismissal of a meritless complaint that cannot be salvaged by amendment comports with due process and does not infringe the right of access to the courts.").
IV. Appeal Issues
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(a)(3), the Court must also consider whether an appeal by Plaintiff in this case would be taken in good faith. The good faith standard is an objective one. Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 445 (1962). The test 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 dismiss this case for failure to state a claim also compel the conclusion that an appeal would not be taken in good faith.
The Court DISMISSES Bradley's complaint as to all Defendants for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b(1). Leave to Amend is DENIED because the deficiencies in Bradley's complaint cannot be cured. It is also CERTIFIED, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(a)(3), that any appeal in this matter by Plaintiff would not be taken in good faith.
The Court must also address the assessment of the $505 appellate filing fee if Plaintiff nevertheless appeals the dismissal of this case. A certification that an appeal is not taken in good faith does not affect an indigent prisoner plaintiff's ability to take advantage of the installment procedures contained in § 1915(b). See McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 610-11 (6th Cir. 1997), partially overruled on other grounds by LaFountain, 716 F.3d at 951. McGore sets out specific procedures for implementing the PLRA, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)-(b). Therefore, the Plaintiff is instructed that if he wishes to take advantage of the installment procedures for paying the appellate filing fee, he must comply with the procedures set out in McGore and § 1915(a)(2) by filing an updated in forma pauperis affidavit and a current, certified copy of his inmate trust account for the six months immediately preceding the filing of the notice of appeal.
For analysis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) of future filings, if any, by Plaintiff, this is the first dismissal of one of his cases as frivolous or for failure to state a claim. This "strike" shall take effect when judgment is entered. Coleman v. Tollefson, 135 S.Ct. 1759, 1763-64 (2015).
The Clerk is directed to prepare a judgment.
IT IS SO ORDERED.