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Greer v. Madison County Sheriff's Department

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

October 18, 2019

CHARLES E. GREER, Plaintiff,
v.
MADISON COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT and THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, Defendants.

          ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND

          JAMES D. TODD, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On January 14, 2019, Plaintiff Charles E. Greer, who at the time was an inmate at the Madison County Criminal Justice Complex (CJC) in Jackson, 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 the Court granted Greer leave to proceed in forma pauperis and assessed the civil filing fee pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a)-(b), Greer informed the Court that he was no longer incarcerated. (ECF No. 8.) The Court ordered Greer to renew his pauper status, (ECF No. 10), and Greer complied by submitting a non-prisoner in forma pauperis affidavit, (ECF No. 11). The Court again granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF No. 12.) Greer's complaint is now before the Court for screening. The Clerk shall record the Defendants as the Madison County Sheriff's Department and the State of Tennessee.

         Greer alleges that while he was at the CJC, he was forced to sleep on, and eat off, the floor in an overcrowded pod. (ECF No. 1 at PageID 2.) Greer describes the conditions as “animal like” and alleges he was “forced to breathe mold and mildew in a condemned building that has broken windows, cracks in the foundation with poor ventilation[, ] 1 phone 1 shower 1 toilet in an 8 bunk pod that has 16 inmates or more.” (Id.) He alleges he was allowed no recreation and exposed to a “contaminated food trap, ” tables with chipping paint, and “possible le[a]d and or asbestos.” (Id. at PageID 3.) Greer also asserts that he was discriminated against and not able to earn “the equal good time available to the trustee inmates because of the constant deliberate indifference.” (Id.) He requests that “the federal government . . . condemn the madison county jail, tear it down or take over the jail to either fix it according to federal guidelines [sic].” (Id.) He also seeks “to be examined by a hospital physician” and compensatory damages. (Id.)

         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))).

         Greer 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).

         Greer does not state a valid claim against the State of Tennessee. The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend. XI. The Eleventh Amendment has been construed to prohibit citizens from suing their own states in federal court. Welch v. Tex. Dep't of Highways & Pub. Transp., 483 U.S. 468, 472 (1987); Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984); see also Va. Office for Protection & Advocacy v. Stewart, 563 U.S. 247, 253-54 (2011) (“A State may waive its sovereign immunity at its pleasure, and in some circumstances Congress may abrogate it by appropriate legislation. But absent waiver or valid abrogation, federal courts may not entertain a private person's suit against a State.” (citations omitted)). Tennessee has not waived its sovereign immunity. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-13-102(a). Moreover, a state is not a person within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Lapides v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. Sys. of Ga., 535 U.S. 613, 617 (2002); Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989).

         Because the Madison County Sheriff's Department is not an entity subject to suit under § 1983, Greer's claim is construed as against Madison County. See Matthews v. Jones, 35 F.3d 1046, 1049 (6th Cir. 1994). The complaint, however, does not state a valid § 1983 claim against Madison County. When a § 1983 claim is made against a municipality or county, the court must analyze two distinct issues: (1) whether the plaintiff's harm was caused by a constitutional violation; and (2) if so, ...


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