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Woods v. Hardeman County

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

June 8, 2018





         On May 6, 2016, the pro se Plaintiff, Willie Ray Woods, who at the time of filing was incarcerated at the Obion County Jail in Union City, Tennessee, initiated this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Hardeman County, Tennessee, Sheriff's Office. (Docket Entry ("D.E.") 1.) That same date, he also moved for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (D.E. 2), which was granted on May 24, 2016 (D.E. 6). The complaint is now before the Court for screening.[1]


         A municipal agency such as a sheriff's office is not a proper defendant in a § 1983 action. See Matthews v. Jones, 35 F.3d 1046, 1049 (6th Cir. 1994) (a county police department is not an entity that may be sued under § 1983); Mathes v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cty., No. 3:10-cv-0496, 2010 WL 3341889, at *2 (M.D. Tenn. Aug. 25, 2010) ("since Matthews, federal district courts in Tennessee have frequently and uniformly held that police departments and sheriff's departments are not proper parties to a § 1983 suit."). A § 1983 claim against a local police agency is best construed as one against the municipality. Nouri v. Cty. of Oakland, 615 Fed.Appx. 291, 300 (6th Cir. 2015). Accordingly, the Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to substitute Hardeman County, Tennessee, as the Defendant.


         Plaintiff avers in his complaint that, while he was an inmate at the Hardeman County Jail in Bolivar, Tennessee, he “was not given a pork substitute on [his] meal trays as per [his] religion” on twenty-nine separate occasions. (D.E. 1 at PageID 2.) He seeks "legal disciplinary action" against the Defendant. (Id. at PageID 3.)


         Courts are required to screen prisoner complaints and dismiss such pleadings or any portions thereof that “[are] frivolous, malicious, or fail[] to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). To assess whether the complaint states a claim on which relief may be granted, the Court applies the pleading standards under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) announced in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). "To survive scrutiny under [§§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b)], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Walton v. Gray, 695 Fed.Appx. 144, 145 (6th Cir. 2017) (per curiam) (quoting Hill, 630 F.3d at 471) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Pro se complaints are to be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, and should therefore be liberally construed." Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). That said, courts have not "been willing to abrogate basic pleading essentials in pro se suits." Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989); see also Young Bok Song v. Gipson, 423 Fed.Appx. 506, 510 (6th Cir. 2011) (“declin[ing] to affirmatively require courts to ferret out the strongest cause of action on behalf of pro se litigants”).


         Section 1983 provides in pertinent part as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

         To state a claim under the statute, "a plaintiff must set forth facts that, when construed favorably, establish (1) the deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States (2) caused by a person acting under the color of state law." Doe v. Miami Univ., 882 F.3d 579, 595 (6th Cir. 2018).

         "A municipality or other local government may be liable under [§ 1983] if the governmental body itself subjects a person to a deprivation of [constitutional] rights or causes a person to be subjected to such deprivation." Richmond v. Huq, 885 F.3d 928, 948 (6th Cir. 2018) (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks omitted), reh'g en banc denied (May 17, 2018). "A municipality may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents." Stanfield v. City of Lima, ___ Fed.Appx. ___, 2018 WL 1341646, at *8 (6th Cir. Mar. 15, 2018) (quoting Burgess v. Fischer, 735 F.3d 462, 478 (6th Cir. 2013)). “A plaintiff raising a municipal liability claim under § 1983 must demonstrate that the alleged federal violation occurred because of a municipal policy or custom.” Bickerstaff v. Lucarelli, 830 F.3d 388, 401-02 (6th Cir. 2016). "This means that the plaintiff must ...

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