United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Stephen Lynn Hugueley is a state prisoner incarcerated on the
death row unit at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution
(“RMSI”) in Nashville, Tennessee. Before the
court is Plaintiff's application to proceed in forma
pauperis. (Doc. No. 10.) In addition, Plaintiff has
filed a complaint for civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 against defendants Bill Haslam, Tony Parker and
Bruce Westbrooks,  which 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. (Doc. 9.) Plaintiff's
motion to appoint counsel is also before the Court. (Doc. No.
Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis
28 U.S.C. § 1915(a), a prisoner bringing a civil action
may be permitted to file suit without prepaying the filing
fee of $350 required by 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). Because
Plaintiff properly submitted an in forma pauperis
affidavit, and because it appears from his submissions that
Plaintiff lacks sufficient financial resources from which to
pay the full filing fee in advance, the application (Doc. No.
10) will be granted.
under § 1915(b), Plaintiff remains responsible for
paying the full filing fee. The obligation to pay the fee
accrues at the time the case is filed, but the PLRA provides
prisoner-plaintiffs' the opportunity to make a
“down payment” of a partial filing fee and to pay
the remainder in installments. Accordingly, Plaintiff will be
assessed the full $350 filing fee, to be paid as directed in
the order accompanying this memorandum opinion.
Initial Review under the PLRA
Standard of Review
the PLRA, the court must conduct an initial review of any
civil complaint brought by a prisoner if it is filed in
forma pauperis, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), seeks
relief from government entities or officials, 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A, or challenges the prisoner's 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 may 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).
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, 561 F.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)).
allegations concern the operation of the death row unit at
RMSI. Plaintiff alleges that RMSI's death row has
experienced a resurgence of gang activity, coercion,
extortion and dealing of contraband, such as cell phones and
marijuana. Plaintiff alleges that of the approximately 65
inmates housed on death row, 50 are allowed out of their
cells without restraints for 8 to 14 hours each day and that
many of these inmates have jobs at the facility that allow
them access to most of the death row unit and other locations
within the facility. Plaintiff alleges that the way the death
row unit is currently being operated exposes every inmate,
correctional employee and the public to “possible
physical danger” on a daily basis. (Doc. 1 at Page ID#
76.) Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that the public is
exposed to an “electronic threat” from death row
inmates who possess cell phones. (Id.)
allegations go into detail about past, in some instances many
years past, incidents of violence, which he alleges resulted
from the failure of Tennessee Department of Corrections
(“TDOC”) officials to “lock-down”
death row inmates. As pertinent here, Plaintiff alleges that
A-Level death row inmates are frequently found possessing
cell phones. Indeed, Plaintiff alleges that he has possessed
and used cell phones during the time he has been on the death
row unit to contact the media, to set up webpages on
publically available group websites and dating websites, and
to communicate and “do business” with prisoners
in other facilities. (Doc. 9 at Page ID# 81.) Plaintiff
identifies many other death row inmates who have been caught
possessing cell phones, and he alleges that for every inmate
caught with a cell phone, there are many more who, though
possessing cell phones, have yet to be caught. Plaintiff
alleges that the TDOC knows that death row inmates are
obtaining cell phones, but refuses to acknowledge the
potential danger that death row inmates with cell phone
access pose to the public, institutional staff and prisoners.
That said, Plaintiff describes multiple searches conducted by
RMSI officers to locate and remove contraband, including cell
phones. See e.g., Doc. No. 1 at Page ID# 77-78
regarding searches conducted on November 21, 2016, July 29,
2016 and July 25, 2016.
sets forth details regarding several fights that he has
observed since he arrived on the death row unit in 2002.
Plaintiff alleges that he has seen fights between death row
inmates and between death row inmates and staff. Plaintiff
attributes these fights to the fact that unrestrained death
row inmates are allowed out of their cells.
notes that he has “spotted at least three weaknesses in
death row security that if exploited could lead to serious
harm or death, ” and he asserts that the Defendants are
not taking preventative action. (Id. at Page ID#
alleges that a gang of A-level death row inmates has taken
over the death row unit and that the gang controls the sale
and movement of contraband, and to the extent members of this
gang work in the kitchen, they control the amount of food
served to inmates. Plaintiff alleges that this gang has begun
using intimidation and coercion to try to prevent other
prisoners from associating with or talking to him. He also
alleges that A-level death row inmates who are kitchen
workers have told other inmates that if they talk to
Plaintiff they will not get any extra food or help getting
their commissary food items heated or cooked. Plaintiff
alleges that on or about November 1, 2016, death row inmate
Marlon Kiser, apparently a member of the gang, threatened to
kill death row inmate Richard Odom if Odom continued to talk
to or associate with Plaintiff. Plaintiff alleges that Kiser