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Dethrow v. St. Louis City Metropolitan Police Department

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

February 22, 2017




         This matter is before the Court upon the motion of plaintiff Irving Dethrow, an inmate at the St. Louis City Justice Center, for leave to commence this action without prepayment of the filing fee. (Docket No. 2). The motion will be granted, and plaintiff will be given the opportunity to submit an amended complaint.

         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 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 average monthly deposits or the average monthly balance in the prisoner's account for the prior six-month period, whichever is greater. 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 his 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 $10.00, until the filing fee is fully paid. Id.

         In support of the instant motion, plaintiff submitted a resident funds inquiry statement detailing his institution account for the six-month period immediately preceding the filing of the complaint, showing an average monthly balance of $13.91. The Court will assess an initial partial filing fee of $2.78, twenty percent of plaintiff's average monthly balance.

         Legal Standard on Initial Review

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court is required to dismiss a complaint filed in forma pauperis if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To state a claim for relief under § 1983, a complaint must plead more than “legal conclusions” and “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action [that are] supported by mere conclusory statements.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A plaintiff must demonstrate a plausible claim for relief, which is more than a “mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. at 679. “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.” Id. at 678. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to, inter alia, draw upon judicial experience and common sense. Id. at 679.

         When conducting initial review pursuant to § 1915(e)(2), the Court must give the complaint the benefit of a liberal construction. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). However, this does not mean that pro se complaints may be merely conclusory. Even pro se complaints are required to allege facts which, if true, state a claim for relief as a matter of law. Martin v. Aubuchon, 623 F.2d 1282, 1286 (8th Cir. 1980); see also Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914-15 (8th Cir. 2004) (federal courts are not required to “assume facts that are not alleged, just because an additional factual allegation would have formed a stronger complaint”). In addition, affording a pro se complaint the benefit of a liberal construction does not mean that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation must be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel. See McNeil v. U.S., 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993).


         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking monetary damages against the St. Louis City Metropolitan Police Department, the St. Louis City Chief of Police, two police officers, and a detective. Plaintiff alleges that “the defendants” were indifferent to his medical needs. (Docket No. 1, Attch. 1, p. 1). Plaintiff also alleges that, during his arrest, defendant Jason Brandhorst tased him. Plaintiff alleges that defendants engaged in racial profiling and racial discrimination, that his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated, that the Chief of Police is responsible for “these defendants, ” that “these defendants” abused their power, and that defendants Craig Sayer and Mickey Christ “singled plaintiff out as a prime target by their stereotype racial profiling discriminatory acts and action of misconduct.” (Id. at p. 2). Plaintiff then describes an incident that occurred on April 19, 2016 in which he was tased, and alleges that Brandhorst left plaintiff unconscious on the scene, and “these defendants” tore tendons in his right shoulder, tried to remove the taser, and took him to the hospital. (Id.)

         The complaint is defective. With few exceptions, the complaint fails to allege what each defendant personally did to cause harm. Instead, the complaint refers to the defendants as a group and states, in conclusory fashion, that they committed wrongdoing. This is insufficient. “Liability under § 1983 requires a causal link to, and direct responsibility for, the alleged deprivation of rights.” Madewell v. Roberts, 909 F.2d 1203, 1208 (8th Cir. 1990). In addition, while plaintiff names multiple defendants, it is not entirely clear how his claims are related. Plaintiff alleges that defendants were indifferent to his medical needs. Then he alleges that Brandhorst tased him during an arrest, and other defendants engaged in racial profiling, and so forth as described above. It is not entirely clear when these events occurred. Later in the complaint, plaintiff alleges that various forms of wrongdoing occurred on April 19, 2016. Rule 20(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs joinder of defendants, and provides:

Persons . . . may be joined in one action as defendants if: (A) any right to relief is asserted against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and (B) any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.

         Therefore, a plaintiff cannot join, in a single lawsuit, a multitude of claims against different defendants that are related to events arising out of different occurrences or transactions. In other words, “Claim A against Defendant 1 should not be joined with unrelated Claim B against Defendant 2.” George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007). Rule 18(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs joinder of claims, and permits multiple claims against a single defendant. It provides:

A party asserting a claim to relief as an original claim, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third-party claim, may join, either as independent or as alternate claims, as many claims, legal, equitable, or ...

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