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Edgerson v. West

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

May 29, 2019

LISA WEST, ET AL., Defendants.



         On October 16, 2017, Plaintiff James Ivory Edgerson, who is incarcerated at FCI La Tuna in Anthony, New Mexico, filed a pro se complaint on the form used for commencing actions pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and a motion to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF Nos. 1 & 2.) The complaint concerns events that occurred at the West Tennessee Detention Facility (WTDF) in Mason, Tennessee, while Edgerson was a federal detainee at the WTDF in custody of the U.S. Marshal Service. (ECF No. 1 at PageID 2.) The Court issued an order on October 26, 2017, granting leave to proceed in forma pauperis and assessing the civil filing fee pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a)-(b). (ECF No. 4.) The Clerk shall record the Defendants as Lisa West, WTDF Business Manager; Jeremy Hensley, Assistant Warden; and former WTDF Warden Arvil Chapman.

         Edgerson alleges that on June 16, 2017, Defendant West came to the warehouse where Edgerson worked, went through his personal belongings, and threw into the trash his Bible and other items. (ECF No. 1 at PageID 2.) West allegedly was recorded on video throwing away Edgerson's belongings and saying, “I'll worry about going to hell later.” (Id.) Edgerson alleges that West also reported her actions to Defendants Hensley and Chapman. (Id.) Edgerson states he grieved the incident but received no response. (Id.) Edgerson alleges he was fired for filing a grievance against West and has not been able to obtain new employment. (Id.) He subsequently filed a second grievance about the firing. (Id.) Edgerson alleges that “[t]hey stick together (Mrs. West, Warden).” (Id.)

         Edgerson asserts that Defendant West's actions violated his rights under the First Amendment. (Id. at PageID 3.) He sues the Defendants in their official and individual capacities and seeks $3 million in damages. (Id.)

         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 Fed.R.Civ.P. 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). The Court accepts the complaint's “well-pleaded” factual allegations as true and then determines whether the allegations “plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.'” Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681). Conclusory allegations “are not entitled to the assumption of truth, ” and legal conclusions “must be supported by factual allegations.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although a complaint need only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), Rule 8 nevertheless requires factual allegations to make a “‘showing,' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 n.3.

         “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, however, are not exempt from the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989); see also Brown v. Matauszak, 415 Fed.Appx. 608, 612, 613 (6th Cir. Jan. 31, 2011) (affirming dismissal of pro se complaint for failure to comply with “unique pleading requirements” and stating “a court cannot ‘create a claim which [a plaintiff] has not spelled out in his pleading'” (quoting Clark v. Nat'l Travelers Life Ins. Co., 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir. 1975))).

         Because Edgerson's claims arose while he was a federal detainee at the WTDF, his claims cannot be brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which applies only to deprivations of constitutional rights committed by a person acting under color of state law. Therefore, his claims arise, if at all, under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Bivens provides a right of action against federal employees who violate an individual's rights under the United States Constitution. “Under the Bivens line of cases, the Supreme Court has recognized a cause of action against federal officials for certain constitutional violations when there are no alternative processes to protect the interests of the plaintiff and no special factors counseling against recognizing the cause of action.” Koubriti v. Convertino, 593 F.3d 459, 466 (6th Cir. 2010).

         Although Edgerson was a federal detainee when the events at WTDF occurred, the WTDF is operated not by federal officials but by CoreCivic, a private prison corporation, and the Defendants in this case are alleged to be CoreCivic employees. The Supreme Court has held that a Bivens action may not be brought against private corporations that operate prison facilities housing federal detainees and convicted prisoners. Corr. Servs. Corp. v. Malesko, 534 U.S. 61 (2001). Therefore, Edgerson's official-capacity claims, which must be treated as having been brought against CoreCivic, fail to state a valid claim.

         The Supreme Court also has declined to extend the Bivens remedy to actions brought against “privately employed personnel working at a privately operated federal prison” where the allegedly unconstitutional conduct “is of a kind that typically falls within the scope of traditional state tort law.” Minneci v. Pollard, 565 U.S. 118, 131 (2012).

         Additionally, the Supreme Court recently stated in Ziglar v. Abbasi that “the Court has made clear that expanding the Bivens remedy is now a ‘disfavored' judicial activity.” 137 S.Ct. 1843, 1857 (2017). Thus, when claims arise in a new Bivens context, “a Bivens remedy will not be available if there are ‘special factors counselling hesitation in the ...

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