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Morrow v. Holland

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

June 27, 2019

JAMES E. MORROW, Plaintiff,
JOSIE HOLLAND, ET AL., Defendants.



         On June 14, 2018, Plaintiff James E. Morrow, who is incarcerated at the Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, Tennessee, filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and a motion to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF Nos. 1 & 2.) After Morrow filed the required financial documentation under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a)-(b), (ECF No. 6), the Court issued an order granting leave to proceed in forma pauperis and assessing the civil filing fee. (ECF No. 7.) The Clerk shall record the Defendants as Josie Holland and Paul Guibao, attorneys; Chris B. Craft, Otis Higgs, John P. Colton, and Carolyn Blackett, Criminal Court Judges for the Thirtieth Judicial District in Shelby County;[1] Richard DeSaussure[2] and William Key, former Shelby County Criminal Court Clerks; and John Billings at JB Investigations.

         Morrow alleges that in April 1998, he was found guilty after a bench trial of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to two concurrent life sentences in the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC). (ECF No. 1 at PageID 4.) Morrow moved for a new trial, which was denied and affirmed on appeal. (Id.) In April 2001, Morrow filed a petition for post-conviction relief. (Id.) He alleges the petition has since languished in the Shelby County Criminal Court before four different judges (all of whom he names as Defendants in his complaint) without a scheduling order, preliminary order, or hearing ever being set or taking place. (Id.) He describes the treatment of his petition as a “Judicial Roundabout, and Inordinate Delay” that have denied him “an adequate opportunity to raise his State and Federal claims in the State court.” (Id. at PageID 7.)

         Morrow alleges that Judges Colton, Higgs, Blackett, and Craft illegally authorized investigative funds, failed to follow the Tennessee Post Conviction Act (TPCA), [3] and prejudiced his post-conviction petition. (Id. at PageID 11-18.) He asserts their actions have violated his rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, the Tennessee Constitution, and the TPCA. (Id. at PageID 14, 15, 17, 18.) Morrow further alleges that attorney Holland and Criminal Court Clerks Key and DeSaussure “are complicit” in the alleged violations of his due process rights. (Id. at PageID 8.) Specifically, Morrow contends that Holland confiscated his legal documents, including a check meant to pay for the travel of an out-of-state witness, and refused to contact the witness to have her appear in state court. (Id. at PageID 9-10.)

         Morrow provides additional details about the alleged handling of his post-conviction matter by Judge Craft, who currently has jurisdiction over the matter. (Id. at PageID 19-24.) He alleges that Judge Craft has never issued a required preliminary order, violated his rights to file a timely appeal and to be heard as a pro se Defendant, misstated the law regarding effective assistance of post-conviction counsel, issued a false order, and ordered the Criminal Court Clerks to violate Tennessee law. (Id.)

         Morrow seeks this Court's intervention in his state post-conviction matter. (Id. at PageID 7.) Specifically, he seeks an order from the Court requiring the Defendants to take or cease certain actions, including to “[c]ease and desist obstructing the plaintiff's right to access the office of the criminal court clerk, ” allow Morrow access to the files from his criminal case, order the state court to issue a written preliminary order, order attorney Holland to return Morrow's legal documents and refer Holland for disciplinary action, provide Morrow with expert services, pay all of Morrow's legal expenses, and order “the trial court and the State to enter into negotiations with the plaintiff for the purpose of reaching an amicable resolution to this case.” (Id. at PageID 28.) He also wants a “Federal monitor in the courtroom to oversee the proceedings in this case.” (Id.)[4]

         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). 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))).

         Morrow's complaint is filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides:

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 ...

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