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Farmer v. Munkeboe

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

May 29, 2018

KEITH LEMONT FARMER, No. 401959, Plaintiff,
RON MUNKEBOE, et al., Defendants.


          Aleta A. Trauger United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, an inmate of the Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, Tennessee, brings this pro se, in forma pauperis action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Ron Munkeboe, Kara L. Everett, Leon Ruben, Carolyn Piphus, Harold Dean Haney, Assistant District Attorney, Judge Monte D. Watkins, and Bill Haslam, alleging violations of his civil rights and state law. (Docket No. 1).

         The complaint 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.

         I. PLRA Screening Standard

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the court must dismiss any portion of a civil complaint filed in forma pauperis that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, is frivolous, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Section 1915A similarly requires initial review of any “complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity, ” id. § 1915A(a), and summary dismissal of the complaint on the same grounds as those articulated in § 1915(e)(2)(B). Id. § 1915A(b).

         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). “[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, 561F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gunasekera v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)).

         Although pro se pleadings are to be held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Jourdan v. Jabe, 951 F.2d 108, 110 (6th Cir. 1991), the courts' “duty to be ‘less stringent' with pro se complaints does not require us to conjure up [unpleaded] allegations.” McDonald v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 1979) (citation omitted).

         II. Section 1983 Standard

         Plaintiff filed his complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Docket No. 1 at 1). Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 creates a cause of action against any person who, acting under color of state law, abridges “rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws . . . .” To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege and show two elements: (1) that he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) that the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color of state law. Tahfs v. Proctor, 316 F.3d 584, 590 (6th Cir. 2003); 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         III. Motions

         Subsequent to the filing of his complaint, the plaintiff filed numerous motions. The court will address each motion in turn before completing the required screening pursuant to the PLRA.

         A. Motions to amend the complaint

         First, the plaintiff filed a Declaration (Docket No. 5) in which he asks the court to amend his complaint to allege a First Amendment denial of access to the courts claim against Corporal f/n/u Bentley, corrections officer f/n/u Tinsley, and Warden LeBoore. The plaintiff alleges that these defendants are not the delivering to the plaintiff mail sent to him from this court and the Eastern District of Tennessee. (Id. at 3).

         Rule 15(a) (2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that leave to amend should be freely given “when justice so requires.” In deciding whether to grant a motion to amend, courts should consider undue delay in filing, lack of notice to the opposing party, bad faith by the moving party, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by previous amendments, undue prejudice to the opposing party, and futility of amendment. Brumbalough v. Camelot Care Ctrs., Inc., 427 F.3d 996, 1001 (6th Cir. 2005).

         The plaintiff filed the motion to amend shortly after the filing of his complaint. There appears to be no undue prejudice to the opposing party by permitting the plaintiff to amend his complaint at this time; the defendants have not been served. With regard to the consideration of futility of an amendment, the law is well settled that a prisoner has a First Amendment right of access to the courts. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821-823 (1977). The right of access to the courts requires prison officials to ensure that inmates have access to the courts that is “adequate, effective and meaningful.” Id. at 822. To ensure the meaningful exercise of this right, prison officials are under an affirmative obligation to provide inmates with access to an adequate law library, Walker v. Mintzes, 771 F.2d 920, 931 (6th Cir. 1985), or some alternative form of legal assistance, Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 419 (1974)(overruled on other grounds by Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401 (1989)). Meaningful access varies with the circumstances, and prison officials are accorded discretion in determining how that right is to be administered. Bounds, 430 U.S. at 830-31. However, it is not enough for a plaintiff simply to claim that he was denied access to the courts, or that he did not have access to an adequate law library or to some alternate form of legal assistance. To state a claim on which relief may be granted, a plaintiff must show that a defendant's conduct in some way prejudiced the filing or prosecution of a legal matter. Walker, 771 F.2d at 932; Kensu v. Haigh, 87 F.3d 172, 175 (6th Cir. 1996).

         Here, the plaintiff alleges that three individuals are not delivering mail from two federal district courts. However, the plaintiff has not alleged that he has been prejudiced in filing this instant lawsuit or has suffered any litigation related detriment to either this case or another case. In fact case, the plaintiff submitted a 159 page complaint and multiple motions in this case alone. While he claims that he has not been able to respond to orders from the court, he has not pointed to anything specific to demonstrate that he incurred a legal detriment to this lawsuit or another action. Because the plaintiff has not shown that he sustained an actual injury in his efforts to litigate, if the court allowed the plaintiff to amend his complaint to allege denial of access to courts claims, the claims would be subject to dismissal under the PLRA for failure to state claims upon which relief can be granted. Therefore, the court finds that the plaintiff should not be permitted to amend his complaint to assert these new claims.

         Next, the plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint on November 3, 2017. (Docket No. 7). In his motion, the plaintiff seeks to clarify the capacity in which he sues the defendants named in the original complaint. The court finds that the proposed amendments to the complaint are appropriate under Rule 15(a), and the plaintiff will be permitted to amend his complaint to assert that all named defendants are sued in their individual capacities only.

         The plaintiff later filed another motion to amend his complaint. (Docket No. 15). In the motion, the plaintiff requests to be released from custody. (Id. at 1). He asks the court to mail him a blank form for filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The court will grant the motion because it informs the court as to the plaintiff's intent in filing the instant action, and the Clerk will mail the plaintiff the requested form.

         On March 8, 2018, the plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint “adding a party of proof.” (Docket No. 20). The plaintiff wants the court to subpoena a witness, Mrs. Erin Coleman, who the plaintiff contends has information relevant to his claim that his arrest warrant was not signed or was falsified in some way. (Id. at 1). These claims fall under the Heck bar discussed herein at pages 14 and 15 and therefore are not appropriately brought in a § 1983 complaint. Consequently, an amendment to add Mrs. Fowler's information to the complaint would be futile as the claims which her testimony would support are subject to dismissal. The plaintiff's request for leave to file an amended complaint, therefore, will be denied.

         B. “Motion Jury to be Pick after Defendants and Plaintiff been Polygraphed”

         The plaintiff filed a motion asking the court to administer polygraph tests to the plaintiff and all defendants prior to jury selection. (Docket No. 8). The plaintiff's request regarding jury selection is premature as his claims have not yet been screened pursuant to the PLRA. Consequently, the plaintiff's motion will be denied.

         C. Motion for the appointment of counsel

         The plaintiff filed a motion requesting the appointment of counsel. (Docket No. 14). He states that he is unable to afford an attorney, his imprisonment limits his ability to litigate effectively, and a trial in this case will involve conflicting testimony ...

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