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Smith v. Smith

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

November 27, 2017

JIMMY SMITH, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on the motion of plaintiff Christopher Gerald Smith for leave to commence this civil action without prepayment of the required filing fee. Having reviewed the motion and the financial information submitted in support, the Court has determined to grant the motion and assess an initial partial filing fee of $26.16. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). In addition, for the reasons discussed below, the Court will dismiss the complaint, without prejudice.

         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 inmate account statement showing an average monthly deposit of $130.83, and an average monthly balance of $81.08. The Court will therefore assess an initial partial filing fee of $26.16, which is twenty percent of plaintiff s average monthly deposit.

         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.

         Pro se complaints are to be liberally construed. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). However, they still must allege sufficient facts to support the claims alleged. Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914-15 (8th Cir. 2004); see also Martin v. Aubuchon, 623 F.2d 1282, 1286 (8th Cir. 1980) (even pro se complaints are required to allege facts which, if true, state a claim for relief as a matter of law). Federal courts are not required to "assume facts that are not alleged, just because an additional factual allegation would have formed a stronger complaint." Stone, 364 F.3d at 914-15. In addition, giving 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 is a pretrial detainee at the Dunklin County Justice Center in Kennett, Missouri. He brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Jimmy Smith, Nicole Green, Bob Holder, and the Dunklin County Justice Center. He alleges that "Holder, Smith and Green all violated his First Amendment right of access to the courts by refusing to install an electronic law library, thereby frustrating plaintiffs ability to litigate his pending case and bring a new case." (Docket No. 1 at 3). He states that he "brings a 'Monell' damages policy claim against Dunklin County Justice Center since this is a policy of the jail." Id. Plaintiff claims that the jail does not provide the books '"Prisoner's Self Help Litigation Manual, ' 'Jailhouse Lawyer's Manual, ' etc." Id. He states he is proceeding pro se in the case Smith v. Holder, et ah, Case No. 1:17-cv-l 17-RWS (E.D. Mo. Jul. 24, 2017), and "wants to file an Amended Complaint" but "needs access to an electronic law library to conduct the necessary legal research." Id. He also states that he "wants to file another lawsuit to challenge the conditions of his confinement, but is being 'frustrated and impeded from doing so because he has no legal materials, case law, etc." (Docket No. 1 at 3).


         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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