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Martin v. Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department

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

November 3, 2017

MATTHEW DALLAS MARTIN, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
CAPE GIRARDEAU COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RONNIE L. WHITE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court upon review of the amended complaint filed by plaintiff Matthew Dallas Martin, Jr. This case will be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         Background

         On July 13, 2017, plaintiff filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his civil rights were violated while he was a pretrial detainee at the Cape Girardeau County Detention Center. He sought and was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Upon initial review, the Court noted that the complaint violated Rules 8 and 10 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, purported to bring multiple unrelated claims against not one but nine defendants, and failed to allege facts showing how each defendant was responsible for violating plaintiffs rights. In consideration of plaintiff s pro se status, the Court permitted plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint. In so doing, the Court explained the deficiencies in the complaint, and gave clear instructions about how to cure them. When plaintiff filed other motions and documents instead of filing an amended complaint, the Court sua sponte granted him additional time to file an amended complaint. On October 5, 2017, plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which the Court now reviews pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         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 Amended Complaint

         The amended complaint is long and rambling, and fiill of legalese and conclusory statements. However, it is clear that plaintiff intends to assert an access-to-courts claim. Plaintiff alleges that Stevens told him he was not entitled to free notary public services, and he also claims he was deprived of an adequate law library. He cites the Supreme Court's decision in Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817 (1977), and alleges that Stevens told him that the jail's obligations pursuant thereto did not apply when a person was represented by counsel. Plaintiff alleges that "[t]he compounded and combined effects of the policies and agents of the defendant is producing troublesome and irritating interferences in the free exercise and assertion of my 1 st amendment right to freedom of expression." (Docket No. 15 at 8). Plaintiff also claims that he did not receive responses to grievances he filed concerning the lack of free notary services.

         Discussion

         Under the First Amendment, the freedom to petition includes the right of access to courts. See BE & K Const. Co. v. N.L.R.B., 536 U.S. 516, 525 (2002). The Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment makes the First Amendment applicable to the states. Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 416 F.3d 738, 748 (8th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted).

         In Bounds v. Smith, the Supreme Court held that the right of access to the courts requires that inmates be provided adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law. 430 U.S. 817. Following Bounds, the Supreme Court held, based on principles of standing, that an inmate alleging a Bounds violation must show an actual injury:

Because Bounds did not create an abstract, freestanding right to a law library or legal assistance, an inmate cannot establish relevant actual injury simply by establishing that his prison's law library or legal assistance program is subpar in some theoretical sense. That would be the precise analog of the healthy inmate claiming constitutional violation because of the inadequacy of the prison infirmary. Insofar as the right vindicated by Bounds is concerned, "meaningful access to the courts is the touchstone, " and the inmate therefore must go one step further and ...

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