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Martin v. Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department

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

September 13, 2017




         This matter is before the Court upon the motion of pro se plaintiff Matthew Dallas Martin, Jr.'s motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Docket No. 2). Having reviewed the financial information plaintiff submitted in support, the Court determines that he is unable to pay the full amount of the filing fee. The motion will therefore be granted. In addition, for the reasons explained below, plaintiff will be allowed 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 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 $10.00, until the filing fee is fully paid. Id.

         In support of the instant motion, plaintiff submitted an affidavit and an inmate account statement from the Cape Girardeau County Jail, where plaintiff was incarcerated at the time he filed the complaint. According to the statement, plaintiff has no funds in his prison inmate account available to pay the fee, and actually has a negative balance. For this reason, the Court will waive the initial partial filing fee. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4) ("In no event shall a prisoner be prohibited from bringing a civil action or appealing a civil or criminal judgment or the reason that the prisoner has no assets and no means by which to pay the initial partial filing fee.").

         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 brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He names nine defendants: the Cape Girardeau County Sheriffs Department, the Cape Girardeau County Detention Center, Lieutenant T.C. Stevens, Sheriff John Jordan, Captain J.P. Mulcahy, Captain David James, Captain Ruth Ann Dickerson, Sergeant Unknown Davis, and his attorney, Andy Morris. He sues all defendants in their individual and official capacities.

         The complaint is long and rambling, and includes a variety of allegations arising from different occurrences. For example, plaintiff alleges that Stevens told him he could not use the services of a notary public unless he had funds in his inmate account. Plaintiff also alleges that he has not received responses to grievances he has filed. Plaintiff writes "THERE IS NO WAY TO EXHAUST ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDY BECAUSE THERE IS NO ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDY TO EXHAUST!!!" (Docket No. 1 at 5) (emphasis in original). Plaintiff claims "this is causing me injury to my person" in that it is preventing him from avoiding warrants and potential loss of liberty. Plaintiff claims "the denial of meaningful access to the courts and a 'law library' is a reckless abandonment of an obligation of the state to provide indigent inmates with items necessary to enforce their rights, " and that Stevens told him the only access to the courts he is entitled to is through an attorney, and that the only means to obtain an appointed attorney is to complete an affidavit, which is a "unilateral adhesion contract" that will trick him into incurring debt for attorney services. (Id. at 6). Plaintiff complains about the services his appointed attorney provided, and claims that the Cape Girardeau County Detention Center subjects inmates to harsh treatment, fails to provide them with various supplies, and overcharges for commissary items. He seeks injunctive and monetary relief.


         The complaint is subject to dismissal. It is long and rambling, and it contains so much extraneous information that it is difficult to discern exactly what claims plaintiff intends to bring against which defendant. It fails to comply with Rules 8 and 10 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and it purports to bring multiple unrelated claims against not one but nine defendants, an impermissible pleading practice.[1] In addition, plaintiff merely lists the defendants' names in the caption of the complaint without specifying what each defendant personally did to violate his constitutional rights. "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); see Ashcroft v. lqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009) ("Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to Bivens and § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.").

         Because plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court will give him an opportunity to file an amended complaint. In so doing, plaintiff should select the transaction or occurrence he wishes to pursue, and limit the facts and allegations to the defendant(s) involved therein. Plaintiff should only include claims that arise out of the same transaction or occurrence, or simply put, claims that are related to each other. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(2). Alternatively, ...

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