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Ford v. Westbrooks

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

June 6, 2019

DAVID WESTBROOKS, Warden, et al., Defendants.



         Mitchell Jarod Ford, an inmate of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution (RMSI) in Nashville, Tennessee, has filed a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. No. 1) and an application to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP). (Doc. No. 3.)

         I. Application to Proceed IFP

          Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a), a prisoner bringing a civil action may apply for permission to file suit without prepaying the filing fee of $350.00 required by 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). Because it is apparent from the IFP application that he lacks the funds to pay the entire filing fee in advance, his application (Doc. No. 3) will be granted by Order entered contemporaneously herewith.

         II. Initial Review of the Complaint

         A. PLRA Screening Standard

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the Court must dismiss any IFP complaint that is facially frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. Similarly, § 1915A provides that the Court shall conduct an initial review of any prisoner complaint against a governmental entity, officer, or employee, and shall dismiss the complaint or any portion thereof if the defects listed in § 1915(e)(2)(B) are identified. Under both statutes, this initial review of whether the complaint states a claim upon which relief may be granted asks whether it contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” such that it would survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).

         “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Applying this standard, the Court must view the complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiff and, again, must take all well-pleaded factual allegations as true. Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561 F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gunasekera v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)). Furthermore, pro se pleadings must be liberally construed and “held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). However, pro se litigants are not exempt from the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989), nor can the Court “create a claim which [a plaintiff] has not spelled out in his pleading.” Brown v. Matauszak, 415 Fed.Appx. 608, 613 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Clark v. Nat'l Travelers Life Ins. Co., 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir. 1975)).

         B. Section 1983 Standard

         Plaintiff seeks to vindicate alleged violations of his federal constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 creates a cause of action against any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives an individual of any right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or federal laws. Wurzelbacher v. Jones-Kelley, 675 F.3d 580, 583 (6th Cir. 2012). Thus, to state a § 1983 claim, Plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) a deprivation of rights 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. Carl v. Muskegon Cnty., 763 F.3d 592, 595 (6th Cir. 2014).

         C. Allegations and Claims

          Plaintiff states that he “is bringing this complaint to challenge the Constitutionality of being confined to Involuntary Administrative Segregation (hereinafter “IAS”) without being provided a Due Process Placement Hearing, in accordance [with] Tennessee Department of Correction (hereinafter “TDOC”) Policy 404.10.” (Doc. No. 1 at 17.) He attaches TDOC Policy 404.10 to his complaint and alleges that it confers a right to a placement hearing where the inmate can “put forth evidence as to why he should not be placed in to IAS, and if the Hearing Committee recommend[s] placement in IAS, then the inmate is provided the rights of appeal.” (Id. at 18.)

         Plaintiff alleges that, based on an incident of violence between himself and a correctional officer on August 29, 2015, he was charged with the disciplinary offense of assault on staff; that a disciplinary hearing was held on September 17, 2015 pursuant to TDOC policy; that he was allowed an inmate advisor at the hearing and was permitted to introduce evidence in his defense; and, that the RMSI disciplinary committee found him guilty and recommended punishment that included administrative segregation following three days of punitive segregation. (Id. at 17.) He was therefore placed in IAS on September 21, 2015. (Id.) Plaintiff further states that he appealed the disciplinary committee's findings first to the Warden and then to the Commissioner of TDOC, both of whom denied Plaintiff's appeal. (Id. at 17, 22-23, 30-32.) He alleges that as a result of these disciplinary proceedings he has been held in IAS for 36 months, with monthly IAS reviews which a counselor conducts at Plaintiff's cell door, but without ever having received an initial placement hearing or the appellate remedies that follow from the placement decision. Plaintiff alleges that he has been informed that he will remain in IAS for approximately five years, and that “[t]his type of punishment impose[s] atypical hardship” upon him. (Id. at 18.)

         The complaint does not request any particular relief. However, the Court construes Plaintiff's challenge to the constitutionality of his placement in administrative segregation without “a Due Process Placement Hearing” as seeking declaratory relief, and his ...

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