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Hugueley v. Haslam

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

January 18, 2017

BILL HASLAM et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff 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, [1] 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. 13).

         I. Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

         Under 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.

         Nevertheless, 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.

         II. Initial Review under the PLRA

         A. Standard of Review

         Under 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).

         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, 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)).

         B. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff's 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.)

         Plaintiff's 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.

         Plaintiff 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.

         Plaintiff 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# 82.)

         Plaintiff 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 told ...

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