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Graves v. Mays

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

October 10, 2019

MARCUS D. GRAVES, Plaintiff,
OFFICER MAYS, ET AL., Defendants.



         On October 9, 2018, Plaintiff Marcus D. Graves, currently in custody at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in Pikeville, 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.) On October 11, 2018, the Court ordered Graves to submit a signed copy of his complaint and to comply with 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2) or pay the full $400 civil filing fee. (ECF No. 4.) Graves complied by filing a signed complaint, (ECF No. 5), and an in forma pauperis application that included a copy of his inmate trust account statement, (ECF No. 6). The Court issued an order on October 17, 2018, 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. 7.) Graves sues Officer First Name Unknown (FNU) Mays and Officer FNU Lee, both of whom are Deputies at the Madison County Criminal Justice Complex (CJC) in Jackson, Tennessee, where Graves previously was confined.

         Graves alleges that on January 13, 2018, he was yelling for help from his cell door when Officer Lee “became upset and popped the cell door and mased [sic] me.” (ECF No. 5 at PageID 15.) Graves “told him if he did it again it would be trouble, ” to which Officer Lee allegedly responded by again opening Graves's cell door and spraying him with mace a second time. (Id.) Graves “tried to block” the mace, and Officer Lee allegedly “tazed [Graves] in the neck, back, and butt after he slammed my face in the floor knocking my front tooth out.” (Id.) Officer Mays allegedly then “explained to Officer Lee he was wrong and told [Graves] to get legal help.” (Id.) Graves asks “the court for justice” and seeks unspecified compensation for “pain and suffering for my teeth.” (Id. at PageID 16.)

         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))).

         Graves 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 . . . .

         To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) a deprivation of rights secured by the “Constitution and laws” of the United States (2) committed by a defendant acting under color of state law. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150 (1970).

         Graves's only allegation pertaining to Officer Mays is that he told Officer Lee that “he was wrong” and told Graves “to get legal help.” These allegations do not state a claim against Officer Mays. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570 (explaining that when a complaint fails to allege any action by a Defendant, it necessarily fails to “state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face”).

         Graves's allegations against Officer Lee amount to a claim of excessive force. It is unclear whether, at the time of the alleged incident, Graves was a pretrial detainee or a convicted inmate. His status at the time of the incident determines the analysis the Court must apply to his claim of excessive force. See Phelps v. Coy, 286 F.3d 295, 299 (6th Cir. 2002). If Graves was a convicted inmate, his claim arises under the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). If, however, Graves was a pretrial detainee at the time of the alleged assault, then his protection against excessive force is provided by the Fourteenth Amendment. See Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466, ...

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