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Smith v. Armstrong

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

October 9, 2014

MICHAEL J. SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
TERRY ARMSTRONG, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, Jr., District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon the motion of Michael Smith, an inmate at Pemiscot County Jail, for leave to commence this action without payment of the required filing fee. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that plaintiff does not have sufficient funds to pay the entire filing fee and will assess an initial partial filing fee of $11.80. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). Furthermore, based upon a review of the complaint, the Court finds that the complaint should be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1)

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1), a prisoner bringing a civil action in forma pauperis is required to pay the full amount of the filing fee. If the prisoner has insufficient funds in his or her prison account to pay the entire fee, the Court must assess and, when funds exist, collect an initial partial filing fee of 20 percent of the greater of (1) the average monthly deposits in the prisoner's account, or (2) the average monthly balance in the prisoner's account for the prior six-month period. After payment of the initial partial filing fee, the prisoner is required to make monthly payments of 20 percent of the preceding month's income credited to the prisoner's account. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2). The agency having custody of the prisoner will forward these monthly payments to the Clerk of Court each time the amount in the prisoner's account exceeds $10, until the filing fee is fully paid. Id.

Plaintiff has submitted an affidavit and a certified copy of his prison account statement for the six-month period immediately preceding the submission of his complaint. A review of plaintiff's account indicates an average monthly deposit of $59.00, and an average monthly balance of less than $59.00. Plaintiff has insufficient funds to pay the entire filing fee. Accordingly, the Court will assess an initial partial filing fee of $11.80, which is 20 percent of plaintiff's average monthly deposit.

28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the Court must dismiss a complaint filed in forma pauperis if the action is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. An action is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis in either law or fact." Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 328 (1989); Denton v. Hernandez , 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992). An action is malicious if it is undertaken for the purpose of harassing the named defendants and not for the purpose of vindicating a cognizable right. Spencer v. Rhodes , 656 F.Supp. 458, 461-63 (E.D. N.C. 1987), aff'd 826 F.2d 1059 (4th Cir. 1987). A complaint fails to state a claim if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

The Complaint

Plaintiff brings this official-capacity suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against officials at Pemiscot County Jail (the "Jail"). Plaintiff alleges that the Jail charges inmates $100 to see a doctor or dentist for medical care, which is deducted from their prison accounts. Plaintiff says he saw defendant Dr. Fitzwater on September 17, 2014, who prescribed medication for his condition. Plaintiff claims that he refused to sign any consent forms but that he was still charged $100 for the visit. Plaintiff's account statement shows that he was not forced to prepay $100 before he was allowed to see Dr. Fitzwater. Rather, the $100 was marked down as "owed" by plaintiff. Plaintiff seeks monetary relief to compensate his "pain and suffering" caused by the charges to his account.

Discussion

Naming a government official in his or her official capacity is the equivalent of naming the government entity that employs the official. Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police , 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). To state a claim against a municipality or a government official in his or her official capacity, plaintiff must allege that a policy or custom of the government entity is responsible for the alleged constitutional violation. Monell v. Dep't of Social Services , 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978). The instant complaint does not contain any allegations that a policy or custom of a government entity was responsible for the alleged violations of plaintiff's constitutional rights. As a result, the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

To state a claim for medical mistreatment, plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to indicate a deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. Vaughn v. Greene County , 438 F.3d 845, 850 (8th Cir. 2006) ("Although this court has yet to establish a clear standard [for medical mistreatment] for pretrial detainees, we repeatedly have applied the same deliberate indifference' standard as is applied to Eighth Amendment claims made by convicted inmates."); Hartsfield v. Colburn , 371 F.3d 454, 457 (8th Cir. 2004) (applying the Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference analysis to a pretrial detainee's Fourteenth Amendment claim); see also Estelle v. Gamble , 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976) (Eighth Amendment); Camberos v. Branstad , 73 F.3d 174, 175 (8th Cir. 1995) (same). Allegations of mere negligence in giving or failing to supply medical treatment will not suffice. Estelle , 429 U.S. at 106. In order to show deliberate indifference, plaintiff must allege that he suffered objectively serious medical needs and that defendants actually knew of but deliberately disregarded those needs. Vaughn , 438 F.3d at 850. Plaintiff does not allege that defendants disregarded any of his medical needs. Therefore, his Fourteenth Amendment claim fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

"Qualified immunity protects state actors from civil liability when their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Maness v. Dist. Court , 495 F.3d 943, 944 (8th Cir. 2007) (analyzing qualified immunity on 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) review). Prisoners do not have a clearly established federal right to receive free medical care. See, e.g., Reynolds v. Wagner , 128 F.3d 166, 174 (3d Cir. 1997) ("Although the Supreme Court has held that a state must provide inmates with basic medical care, the Court has not tackled the question whether that care must be provided free of charge."); Fant v. Fisher , 414 F.Supp. 807, 808 (D. Okl. 1976) ("The court cannot accept plaintiff's claim that he is absolutely entitled to free medical services. So long as free medical services may not be demanded of the State as a right by its free citizens, it is unreasonable to suggest that such free services may be demanded by a convicted felon. Persons convicted of felonies do not acquire by virtue of their convictions a constitutional right to services and benefits that are not available as of right to persons never convicted of criminal offenses."). As a result, even if plaintiff's allegations were to have stated a claim under the constitution, defendants would be entitled to qualified immunity.

Accordingly,

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis [ECF No. 3] is GRANTED.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the plaintiff shall pay an initial filing fee of $11.80 within thirty (30) days of the date of this Order. Plaintiff is instructed to make his remittance payable to "Clerk, United States District Court, " and to include upon it: (1) his name; (2) his prison registration number; (3) the case number; and (4) that the remittance is for an original proceeding.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that this action is DISMISSED pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

An Order of Dismissal will accompany this Memorandum and Order.


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