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Lewis v. Gardner

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

May 11, 2017

CHARLES C. LEWIS, Plaintiff,



         This matter is before the Court upon the motion of plaintiff Charles C. Lewis, an inmate at the St. Louis City Medium Security Institution, for leave to commence this action without prepayment of the filing fee. The motion will be granted, and plaintiff will be given the opportunity to file 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 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 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 an affidavit and an inmate account statement showing an average monthly balance of $33.02. The Court will therefore assess an initial partial filing fee of $6.60, 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 reviewing a pro se complaint under § 1915(e)(2), the Court must give it 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).

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Kimberly M. Gardner (the St. Louis Circuit Attorney), police officer Joseph Steiger, and Jeffrey Carson, whom plaintiff avers is the Superintendent of the St. Louis Medium Security Institution. Plaintiffs allegations stem from different events that occurred over a period of several months. Following is a brief summary. On February 7, 2016, "the Missouri state" improperly amended an indictment to label him as a prior and persistent offender; on April 26, 2016, Steiger and eight other officers subjected him to false arrest and an illegal search; the prosecutor presented an indictment bearing an illegible signature; his right to a speedy trial was violated; on August 18, 2016 the police department reported that he had resisted arrest, jumped from a window, and led police on a chase; the Circuit Attorney's Office had a practice of deleting information from police reports; Carson failed to provide him safety, medical care and decent living accommodations; corrections officers ridiculed and verbally abused him; he was assaulted by fellow inmates in November of 2016; and his public defender lacked experience and skill. He seeks $10, 000, 000 in damages.


         The complaint is defective for several reasons. Plaintiff failed to specify the capacity in which he intends to sue the defendants, he failed to allege the personal responsibility of Gardner and Carson, his claims against all defendants are stated in conclusory terms, and he includes a significant amount of extraneous information that purports to allege claims against parties not named as defendants. In addition, plaintiff presents a case involving multiple unrelated claims against not one but three defendants. This is impermissible. Rule 20(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs joinder of defendants, and provides as follows:

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). "Unrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits, ... [in part] to ensure that prisoners pay the required filing fees - for the Prison Litigation Reform Act limits to 3 the number of frivolous suits or appeals that any prisoner ...

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