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Shuler v. Hall

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

December 23, 2019

LEWIS CLAY SHULER, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
DARON HALL, ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELI RICHARDSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a pro se complaint for alleged violation of civil rights (Doc. No. 1), filed by Lewis Clay Shuler, Jr., who was a pretrial detainee in the custody of the Davidson County Sheriff's Office at the time the complaint was filed. Less than a month after filing his complaint, Plaintiff was transferred to the custody of the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC). (See Doc. No. 4.) He is now incarcerated at the Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, Tennessee. (See Doc. No. 7.) After initially filing an application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) that was deficient, Plaintiff has now refiled his IFP application. (Doc. No. 6.)

         This matter is now before the Court for a determination of Plaintiff's pauper status and an initial review of the complaint pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A, and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e.

         APPLICATION TO PROCEED AS A PAUPER

         Under the PLRA, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a), a prisoner bringing a civil action may apply for permission to file suit without prepaying the filing fee of $350.00 required by 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). Plaintiff has now filed an affidavit of poverty and a copy of his inmate trust fund account statement for the period since his transfer to TDOC, accompanied by a form signed by a prison official on the date that Plaintiff's account statement was printed. (Doc. No. 6.) The Court finds this showing sufficient to meet the statutory requirements for obtaining IFP status under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Because it is apparent from Plaintiff's IFP application that he lacks the funds to pay the entire filing fee in advance, his application (Doc. No. 6) will be granted by separate Order.

         INITIAL REVIEW OF THE COMPLAINT

         I. PLRA SCREENING STANDARD

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the Court must dismiss any IFP complaint that is facially frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. Similarly, Section 1915A provides that the Court shall conduct an initial review of any prisoner complaint against a governmental entity, officer, or employee, and shall dismiss the complaint or any portion thereof if the defects listed in Section 1915(e)(2)(B) are identified. Under both statutes, this initial review of whether the complaint states a claim upon which relief may be granted asks whether it contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” such that it would survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).

         “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Applying this standard, the Court must view the complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiff and, again, must take all well-pleaded factual allegations as true. Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561 F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gunasekera v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)). Furthermore, pro se pleadings must be liberally construed and “held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). However, pro se litigants are not exempt from the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989), nor can the Court “create a claim which [a plaintiff] has not spelled out in his pleading.” Brown v. Matauszak, 415 Fed.Appx. 608, 613 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Clark v. Nat'l Travelers Life Ins. Co., 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir. 1975)).

         II. SECTION 1983 STANDARD

         Plaintiff seeks to vindicate alleged violations of his federal constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 creates a cause of action against any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives an individual of any right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or federal laws. Wurzelbacher v. Jones-Kelley, 675 F.3d 580, 583 (6th Cir. 2012). Thus, to state a Section 1983 claim, Plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) a deprivation of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) that the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color of state law. Carl v. Muskegon Cty., 763 F.3d 592, 595 (6th Cir. 2014).

         III. ALLEGATIONS AND CLAIMS

         Plaintiff alleges that on the night of November 24, 2018, Cpl. Timothy Sturgeon, Jr., entered Plaintiff's cell and propositioned him. (Doc. No. 1 at 5, 16.) Plaintiff declined Sturgeon's sexual advances, whereupon Sturgeon winked and left his cell. (Id. at 16.) The following morning, Plaintiff complained to Lt. Cole, who stated that he would “file a [Prison Rape Elimination Act claim] and notify the Chief Jamie Johnson and Administrator Ruby Joyner.” (Id. at 5, 15.) On the evening of November 25, 2018, Sturgeon returned to work his assigned shift on the pod where Plaintiff resided and unlocked the pod door for recreation time. (Id. at 16.) Plaintiff complained that, due to the PREA complaint, he and Sturgeon should not be in the same pod. (Id. at 5.) He begged Sturgeon to call the Sergeant or Lieutenant. (Id.)

         Sturgeon escorted Plaintiff to the hallway exit, and Plaintiff “immediately walked through the exit and went to the [lieutenant's] office and knocked on the door.” (Id. at 16.) Sturgeon pursued Plaintiff “in [an] attempt to persuade Plaintiff in a provocative manner, ” stating that he did not return to Plaintiff's cell while Plaintiff was asleep and was sorry because he “did not know [Plaintiff] was not like that.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that at that point, “because of the emotional distress caused from [Sturgeon's] prior harassment [the night before], then given [Sturgeon's] present and persistent action of provocation within the proximity of the plaintiff, Plaintiff then winced to shun [Sturgeon].” (Id. at 17.) Sturgeon ‚Äúthen back[ed] away and reached for his pepper spray[, ] then paused as Plaintiff took off his shirt ...


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