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Ra-El v. Shelby County

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

March 17, 2017

KHALIQ RA-EL, Plaintiff,
SHELBY COUNTY, et. al., Defendants.



         On January 7, 2016, Plaintiff Khaliq Ra-El (“Ra-El”), who is incarcerated at the Shelby County Correctional Center (“SCCC”) in Memphis, Tennessee, filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the Circuit Court for the Thirtieth Judicial District of Tennessee at Memphis. (ECF No. 1-1 at 7-9.) On February 4, 2016, Defendants filed a notice of removal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441. (ECF No. 1.) The Clerk shall record the Defendants as Shelby County, [1] SCCC Director Bill Gupton, SCCC Administrator Bill Spears, SCCC Administrator Dennis Tillman, and SCCC Supervisor over Inmates Stephen Craig. All Defendants except Tillman were served with process prior to removal (id. at 2-3) and filed an answer in this Court on April 8, 2016 (ECF No. 16).

         Ra-El alleges that inmates at the SCCC are constantly being denied gym and outdoor recreation and are housed in dorms the entire day with absolutely no “out-of-dorm” activities. (ECF No. 1-1 at 9.) Ra-El alleges there are forty inmates housed in each dorm, many with mental illnesses. He states that tension is high in the dorms due to idleness and lack of privacy, resulting in frequent assaults between inmates, sometimes requiring medical attention. (Id.) Inmates plead with staff daily for recreation without any success. (Id.) Staff often responds sarcastically saying, “file a grievance, ” knowing they will not be held accountable, and some staff allegedly claim they are not there to do work, but rather to watch movies on computers. (Id.) Ra-El states that SCCC staff act like recreation is not important and that inmates receive only two hours a month for recreation. (Id.)

         Ra-El contends there is no penological justification for not allowing daily recreation and that SCCC has no policy regarding recreation. (Id.) Ra-El alleges that he has filed numerous grievances, but all of the Defendants have failed to act. (Id.) Specifically, Ra-El alleges that Defendant Craig claimed that two hours a month for recreation is adequate. (Id.) Ra-El contends he has been housed under these conditions since April 2013 and has sustained psychological injury as a result. (Id.)

         Notwithstanding the fact that this case was removed from state court, 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 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), are applied. 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. As the Sixth Circuit has explained:

Before the recent onslaught of pro se prisoner suits, the Supreme Court suggested that pro se complaints are to be held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972) (per curiam). Neither that Court nor other courts, however, have been willing to abrogate basic pleading essentials in pro se suits. See,e.g., id. at 521 (holding petitioner to standards of Conley v. Gibson); Merritt v. Faulkner, 697 F.2d 761 (7th Cir.) (duty to be less stringent with pro se complaint does not require court to conjure up unplead allegations), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 986 (1983); McDonald v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16 (1st Cir.1979) (same); Jarrell v. Tisch, 656 F.Supp. 237 (D.D.C. 1987) (pro se ...

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