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Johnson v. Fitzgerald

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

February 3, 2017

CLEVEN J. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
TA'KISHA FITZGERALD, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THOMAS A. VARLAN CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Court is in receipt of a pro se prisoner's complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [Doc. 1], a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis [Doc. 5], and a motion to reopen case [Doc. 4]. It appears from the motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis that Plaintiff lacks sufficient financial resources to pay the filing fee. Accordingly, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, Plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis [Doc. 5] will be GRANTED. Also, for good cause set forth therein, Plaintiff's motion to reopen this case [Doc. 4] will be GRANTED. For the reasons set forth below, however, no process shall issue and this action will be DISMISSED for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under § 1983.

         I. Screening Standard

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), district courts must screen prisoner complaints and shall, at any time, sua sponte dismiss any claims that are frivolous or malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or are against a defendant who is immune. See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A; Benson v. O'Brian, 179 F.3d 1014 (6th Cir. 1999). The dismissal standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554 (2007) “governs dismissals for failure state a claim under [28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A] 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 an initial review under the PLRA, 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). Courts liberally construe pro se pleadings filed in civil rights cases and hold them to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).

         In order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must establish that he was deprived of a federal right by a person acting under color of state law. Black v. Barberton Citizens Hosp., 134 F.3d 1265, 1267 (6th Cir. 1998); O'Brien v. City of Grand Rapids, 23 F.3d 990, 995 (6th Cir. 1994); Russo v. City of Cincinnati, 953 F.2d 1036, 1042 (6th Cir. 1992); see also Braley v. City of Pontiac, 906 F.2d 220, 223 (6th Cir. 1990) (stating that “Section 1983 does not itself create any constitutional rights; it creates a right of action for the vindication of constitutional guarantees found elsewhere”).

         II. Analysis

         In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that multiple violations of his constitutional rights occurred during his 2009 criminal trial in Knoxville, Tennessee [Doc. 1 pp. 2-3]. Plaintiff generally asserts that these violations included prosecutorial and judicial misconduct, withholding of exculpatory materials, violations of due process, violations of Plaintiff's rights under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments, violations of Rule 11 and 18 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, violations of the Tennessee constitution, and violations of several Tennessee statutes [Id.]. As relief, Plaintiff seeks fifteen million dollars [Id. at 4].

         First, Plaintiff sets forth no specific facts in support of his general allegations of wrongdoing in his underlying criminal case. Formulaic and conclusory recitations of the elements of a claim which are not supported by specific facts are insufficient to state a plausible claim for relief, however. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681. Accordingly, the complaint fails to state a claim for relief as stated.

         Further, even if Plaintiff had set forth more details regarding his claims, it is apparent from Plaintiff's complaint that, if the Court were to find in Plaintiff's favor as to the claims therein, Plaintiff's criminal conviction would be rendered invalid. As such, Plaintiff's claims are barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), in which the Supreme Court held that an action for damages for an alleged constitutional conviction or for “harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a state conviction or sentence invalid, ” cannot be maintained unless the prisoner “prove[s] that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.” Id. at 486-87. As Plaintiff states that the appellate process for his criminal conviction is still ongoing [Doc. 1 p. 2], it is apparent that Plaintiff's claims are barred by Heck.

         III. Conclusion

         For the reasons set forth above, even liberally construing the complaint in favor of Plaintiff, it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under § 1983 and this action will therefore be DISMISSED without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A.

         Because Plaintiff is an inmate in the Knox County Detention Center, he will be ASSESSED the civil filing fee of $350.00. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1)(A) and (B), the custodian of Plaintiff's inmate trust account at the institution where he now resides will be DIRECTED to submit to the Clerk, U.S. District Court, 800 Market Street, Suite 130, Knoxville, Tennessee 37902, as an initial partial payment, whichever is greater of:

(a) twenty percent (20%) of the average monthly deposits to Plaintiff's inmate trust account; or
(b) twenty percent (20%) of the average monthly balance in Plaintiff's inmate trust account for the six-month period ...

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