United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee
JONATHON C. HOOD, 1, 000, 000 JOHN DOES, and 1, 000, 000 JANE DOES, Plaintiffs,
ROBERT BAGGETT, et al., Defendants.
S. MATTICE, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
September 21, 2018, Johnathon C. Hood, an inmate at Trousdale
Turner Correctional Center (“TTCC”), filed a pro
se Complaint on behalf of himself, as well as on behalf of
“the People of Tennessee, 1, 000, 000 John Does, [and]
1, 000, 000 Jane Does” [Doc. 1]. Plaintiff indicates
that he intends the filing to be a “preemptive,
retroactive, liability, class-action, civil criminal law
suit” to vindicate the rights of a class of plaintiffs:
(1) who were assessed a fine as a part of a criminal
sentence(s) and/or judgments of conviction in the State of
Tennessee; (2) whose sentences have expired; (3) whose
criminal fines were not converted or reassessed as a civil
debt pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-24-105; and (4)
whose debts are still being held for collection by the state,
a county clerk, or an appointed or affiliated collection
agency [Id. at 1-3]. He names as Defendants Robert
Baggett, then-Governor Bill Haslam, the State of Tennessee,
and 10, 000 John and Jane Does, to include every county
criminal court clerk, attorney general, district attorney,
and judge involved in one of the disputed judgments, and
“all employees of the Tenn. Department of Safety and
Homeland Security.” [Id. at 1, 3].
allegations thereafter are difficult to discern. Plaintiff
argues that Defendants “are attempting to discharge the
fines of all the above potential plaintiffs and expire the
statute of limitations that would hold them liable, ”
but also argues that this action should be “retroactive
back to the 1970s or as far back as records are kept”
[Id. at 4]. He requests that the Court classify the
offenses he has alleged as “federal offenses” and
assign a special prosecutor “because the Defendants
receive federal funds and have used the funds that they have
allegedly collected legally in federal petitions and grants,
thus defrauding the American people and the federal
government” [Id. at 4-5].
expressly states that this case is premised upon “a
victory in Hood v. Baggett, No. 4:18-cv-9-HSM-SKL,
” and that this action “will remain a clear and
present viable action until dismissed by Mr. Hood, pending
and pursuant to the Defendants coming forth with an
out-of-court settlement (OOCS) agreement ver 3.0, previously
filed and arbitrated by the Honorable Magistrate Judge Susan
K. Lee” in that action [Id. at 4-5]. According
to Plaintiff, success in his individual action will turn this
“potential class-action liability suit into a
reality” [Id. at 6-7]. As such, he requests
the appointment of counsel “the very instant that . . .
he has won his individual complaint” [Id. at
the Court's docket refutes Plaintiff's allegations
regarding that action, as it reflects that no settlement
agreement was reached between the parties, nor was any
settlement or other merit-based issue arbitrated by
Magistrate Judge Lee [E.D. Tenn. No. 4:18-cv-9-HSM-SKL].
Quite to the contrary, the Defendant in that action was never
even served with process, as the Court dismissed the action
in its entirety on December 18, 2018 after screening the
complaint pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act
(“PLRA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)
and 1915(A) [Docs. 66-67].
October of 2018 through February of 2019, Plaintiff filed
over a dozen motions, briefs, notices, and letters in the
instant action, including his motion for leave to proceed
in forma pauperis on February 24, 2019 [Docs. 6, 7,
8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23,
24, 25, 26, 27]. On February 22, 2019, the Court entered an
Order granting Plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed
in forma pauperis, but denying as premature and/or
unnecessary all other motions and notices filed by Plaintiff,
citing its obligation to first screen the original Complaint
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915(A).
The Court further advised Plaintiff that it would
automatically deny any new amendments, supplements, or other
motions for relief until such time as the Court had
opportunity to conduct this screening.
Plaintiff continued with his prior pattern, submitting
numerous letters and motions in the next month, including a
“petition for a state-wide class action
injunction” [Doc. 30; see also Docs. 29, 32,
33]. On February 22, 2019, another inmate at TTCC, Jim
Cullop, filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma
pauperis in this action [Doc. 31]. In his most recent
filing, Plaintiff requests that the Court postpone screening
of his Complaint until after the resolution of his petition
for writ of habeas corpus in the Middle District of Tennessee
[Doc. 34; see also Doc. 35].
the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”),
district courts must screen prisoner complaints and sua
sponte dismiss any claims that are frivolous or
malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or are against a
defendant who is immune. See, e.g., 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915(A); Jones v.
Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 213 (2007); Benson v.
O'Brian, 179 F.3d 1014 (6th Cir. 1999). Courts must
liberally construe pro se pleadings filed in civil rights
cases and hold them to a less stringent standard than formal
pleadings drafted by lawyers. See, e.g., Haines
v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); but see Leeds
v. City of Muldraugh, 174 Fed.Appx. 251, 255 (6th Cir.
2006) (noting that, despite the leniency afforded to pro
se plaintiffs, the Court is “not require[d] to
either guess the nature of or create a litigant's
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. 554 (2007),
“governs dismissals for failure to state a claim under
[28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A] because the
relevant statutory language tracks the language in [Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure] 12(b)(6).” Hill v.
Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). When
reviewing a complaint for failure to state a claim under Rule
12(b)(6), the Court must take all of the factual allegations
in the complaint as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678;
see Flanory v. Bonn, 604 F.3d 249, 252 (6th Cir.
2010) (“A motion to dismiss for failure to state a
claim [under Rule 12(b)(6)] is a test of the plaintiff's
cause of action as stated in the complaint, not a challenge
to the plaintiff's factual allegations.”). While
“detailed factual allegations” are not required,
a complaint must contain “more than an unadorned,
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Therefore, to survive
dismissal for failure to state a claim, plaintiff's
“factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all
the allegations in the complaint are true.”
Ass'n of Cleveland Fire Fighters v. City of
Cleveland, Ohio, 502 F.3d 545, 548 (6th Cir. 2007)
(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
perplexing and varied issues and motions that have arisen in
this action make a straightforward application of the PLRA
screening standard challenging, if not impossible. And yet,
it is that disorder and confusion that lead the Court to the
firm and clear conclusion that Plaintiff has stated no claim
for relief which can withstand PLRA screening.
and foremost, in the Complaint, Plaintiff clearly states that
his victory in his individual action asserting these claims
is a necessary prerequisite for the claims that he seeks to
assert on behalf of a class of current or former inmates with
similar claims. But Plaintiff did not succeed in his
individual action. Despite his hopes for success in obtaining
a settlement from Defendant Baggett in that action, the Court
dismissed all of his claims pursuant to the PLRA for failure
to state a claim. Accordingly, by Plaintiff's own
admission a necessary condition-precedent to pursuing this
action has not been met, and the basis for Plaintiff's
Complaint is now moot.
Plaintiff had succeeded in his individual action, however, he
would still not be entitled to pursue this action to assert
the constitutional rights of other prisoners and criminal
defendants. Pro se prisoners are generally limited to legal
actions in which they seek to vindicate violation of their
own constitutional rights. Dodson v. Wilkinson, 304
Fed.Appx. 434, 438 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Newsom v.
Norris, 888 F.2d 371, 381 (6th Cir. 1989); Dean v.
Blanchard, 865 F.2d 257 (6th Cir. 1988) (table)). Absent
a request for class certification pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 23, a pro se prisoner lacks standing to
assert the constitutional rights of other prisoners.
Newsom, 888 F.2d at 381. And even when a pro se
prisoner requests class certification, federal courts
routinely conclude that pro se prisoners are not able to
fairly and adequately represent the interests of a class.
Palasty v. Hawk, 15 Fed.Appx. 197, 200 (6th Cir.
2001); see also Montague v. Schofield, 2015 WL
1879590, at *2 (E.D. Tenn. Apr. 22, 2015); Ziegler v.
Michigan, 90 Fed.Appx. 808, 810 (6th Cir. 2004)
(“[N]on-attorneys proceeding pro se cannot adequately
represent a class”); Hammond v. O'Dea, 932
F.2d 968 (6th Cir. 1991) (table); Oxendine v.
Williams, 509 F.2d 1405, 1407 (4th Cir. 1975) (holding
that it was plain error to permit a pro se prisoner to
represent his fellow inmates in a class action).
these reasons, Plaintiff has simply stated no plausible claim
for relief in his Complaint. Accordingly, the Court
DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for a
state-wide class action [Doc. 30] and hereby
DISMISSES this action in its entirety for
failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915(A).
such, there is no reason to delay the screening of this
Complaint pending the resolution of his habeas petition in
the Middle District of Tennessee, as the success or failure
of that petition would not alter the grounds for the
Court's dismissal of this action - that is,
Plaintiff's lack of standing and inadequacy as a