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Tripp v. Thomas

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

October 4, 2019

JOSHUA TRIPP, Plaintiff,
PAUL THOMAS, Defendant.



         On August 4, 2017, Joshua Tripp and Gilberto Canales, Jr., proceeding pro se, brought an action against Paul Thomas, Sheriff of Gibson County, Tennessee (the “County”). (No. 1:17-cv-01148-JDB-cgc, Docket Entry (“D.E.”) 1.) When the complaint was filed, Tripp and Canales were incarcerated at the Gibson County Correctional Complex (“GCCC”) in Trenton, Tennessee.[1] In an order entered November 19, 2018, the Court severed the inmates' claims and directed the Clerk to open a separate case for Tripp. (Id., D.E. 8-9.) The instant case, with Tripp as the only Plaintiff, was opened pursuant to the Court's order. On January 16, 2019, the Court granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in this matter in forma pauperis (“IFP”) and assessed the civil filing fee pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)-(b) (the “PLRA”). (D.E. 7.) This matter is now before the Court for screening.[2]

         Tripp, a sex offender, alleges that, on January 19, 2017, while incarcerated at GCCC, he was barred from working a prison job because of his sex offender status. He seeks a policy change permitting such offenders to earn good time credit, as well as damages “for time lost, that, if given a job in a timely manner, would have had the Plaintiff's release day considerably sooner.” (D.E. 1 at PageID 3.)

         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 states a claim on which relief may be granted, the standards under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as articulated in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (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). 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 (some 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, 631 F.3d at 383 (quoting Martin v. Overton, 391 F.3d 710, 712 (6th Cir. 2004)). Such 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, 612-13 (6th Cir. 2011) (affirming dismissal of pro se complaint for failure to comply with “unique pleading requirements” and noting that “a court cannot create a claim which a plaintiff has not spelled out in his pleading.”).

         The Plaintiff filed his complaint 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 injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

         “Section 1983 does not create any substantive rights; rather, it is a statutory vehicle through which plaintiffs may seek redress for violations of a right secured by the Constitution or federal laws.” Rayfield v. City of Grand Rapids, Mich., 768 Fed.Appx. 495, 503 (6th Cir. 2019). To state a claim, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) “the defendant acted under color of state law”; and (2) “the defendant's conduct deprived the plaintiff of rights secured under federal law.” King v. United States, 917 F.3d 409, 432 (6th Cir. 2019), reh'g en banc denied (May 29, 2019).

         Tripp does not specify whether he seeks to sue Thomas in his official or individual capacity. To the extent he intended the former, his claim is in actuality against the County itself. See Arsan v. Keller, __ F. App'x__, 2019 WL 3494330, at *5 (6th Cir. Aug. 1, 2019). “To prevail in a § 1983 suit against a municipality, a plaintiff must show that the alleged violation occurred because of a municipal policy, practice, or custom; a municipality may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents.” Rayfield, 768 Fed.Appx. at 510 (quoting Brown v. Chapman, 814 F.3d 447, 462 (6th Cir. 2016)) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Along with identifying the conduct properly attributable to the municipality, a plaintiff must also demonstrate that, through its deliberate conduct, the municipality was the moving force behind the injury alleged.” Id. (citing Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997)) (internal emphasis & quotation marks omitted).

         The inmate alleges he was told by a GCCC staff member that the County had a policy of prohibiting sex offenders from obtaining prison jobs. The question, therefore, is whether the ...

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