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Taylor v. Pelton

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

May 8, 2018

COREY D. TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
STEVE PELTON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RONNIE L. WHITE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the motion of plaintiff Corey D. Taylor 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 will grant the motion, and assess an initial partial filing fee of $1.00. 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 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.

         Plaintiff has not submitted a prison account statement. As a result, the Court will require plaintiff to pay an initial partial filing fee of $1.00. See Henderson v. Norris, 129 F.3d 481, 484 (8th Cir. 1997) (when a prisoner is unable to provide the Court with a certified copy of his prison account statement, the Court should assess an amount "that is reasonable, based on whatever information the court has about the prisoner's finances"). If plaintiff is unable to pay the initial partial filing fee, he must submit a copy of his prison account statement in support of his claim.

         Legal Standard on Initial Review

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the Court is required to dismiss a complaint filed in forma pauperis if it is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. An action is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis in either law or fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 328 (1989). An action is malicious if it is undertaken for the purpose of harassing the named defendants and not for the purpose of vindicating a cognizable right. Spencer v. Rhodes, 656 F.Supp. 458, 461-63 (E.D. N.C. 1987), aff'd 826 F.2d 1059 (4th Cir. 1987). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         To determine whether an action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court must engage in a two-step inquiry. First, the Court must identify the allegations in the complaint that are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). These include "legal conclusions" and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action [that are] supported by mere conclusory statements." Id. at 678. Second, the Court must determine whether the complaint states a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 679. This is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

         The plaintiff is required to plead facts that show more than the "mere possibility of misconduct." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The Court must review the factual allegations in the complaint "to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief." Id. at 681. When faced with alternative explanations for the alleged misconduct, the Court may exercise its judgment in determining whether plaintiffs proffered conclusion is the most plausible or whether it is more likely that no misconduct occurred. Id. at 680-82.

         Pro se complaints are to be liberally construed, Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976), but they still must 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). The Court must weigh all factual allegations in favor of the plaintiff, unless the facts alleged are clearly baseless. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32 (1992). 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 v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914-15 (8th Cir. 2004).

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff is an inmate at the Franklin County Adult Detention Facility, in Union, Missouri. He brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 against Sheriff Steve Pelton and the Franklin County Jail. Plaintiff is suing both the sheriff and the jail in their official capacities.

         Plaintiffs complaint brings forth a number of alleged violations of his constitutional rights. With three exceptions, the claims are not numbered, but are given in a narrative fashion. Plaintiff first alleges that a grand jury has found the Franklin County Jail noncompliant with industry standards, and that it houses more prisoners than it was designed to hold. (Docket No. 1 at 4). He claims that inmates are housed in dorm-style housing, with individual cells designed to hold only one inmate. Id. However, two to three inmates are being housed in the single-person cells. Id. Moreover, in cells designed to hold six inmates on bunk beds, the cells have been "maxed out" with inmates sleeping on the floor and "even [b]y the toilet and under the [b]unks." Id. Plaintiff states that he is being made to share a one-person cell with a second inmate. (Docket No. 8 at 1). Plaintiff also claims that the security system used to "operate doors is out of date and parts are no longer manufactured." (Docket No. 1 at 4). Further, plaintiff states there is only one room for attorney/clergy visits, and that when it is occupied, others are turned away. Id.

         Next, plaintiff alleges that the language used by deputies is "very [n]egative and [disrespectful." (Docket No. 1 at 5). He states that the jail is very unsanitary. Id. He claims that the food quantity is below the average amount required. Id. He alleges that he has been served "cold trays" for dinner, consisting of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or two-meat sandwiches. (Docket No. 8 at 2). He also alleges that the medical care is very poor, and the price to receive that care is too high. (Docket No. 1 at 5; Docket No. 9 at 2).

         Plaintiff further claims that inmates are strip searched and "[d]uring the process you are told to squat and [g]rab your [b]uttocks and cough." (Docket No. 1 at 5). He states that African-Americans are discriminated against in the facility. Id. He also alleges that the grievance process is inadequate in that it is conducted by the deputies themselves and always goes against the inmates; that there is no proper administrative remedy procedure; and that there's "[n]o actual way to file any complaint against any [m]isconduct against any Deputy at this facility." Id. Further, plaintiff claims that the law library is twenty years out-of-date. Id.

         Plaintiff also makes allegations regarding improper use of force against him. Id. Plaintiff alleges that a white inmate called him racist names, but that nothing was done to him. Id. However, when plaintiff "hollered [b]ack" at him, he was "attacked" by a sergeant identified as Sergeant Ashkar. Id. Plaintiff says he was choked, struck with a closed fist, pepper sprayed, and had a Taser used against him. Id. Moreover, a week later, plaintiff states that Sergeant Ashkar "harassed" him by coming to his cell at midnight, fingerprinting him, and informing plaintiff he was being charged with aggravated assault, even though plaintiff says that Sergeant Ashkar admitted that plaintiff did not assault anyone. Id. Plaintiff further claims that he was illegally forced to give a DNA sample against his will. Id. He states that he was informed that he would not be released from custody, even if allowed by the judge, if he did not provide the sample. Id.

         In a separate letter included with the complaint, plaintiff makes a number of other allegations, mostly concerning the performance Judge David L. Hoven and plaintiffs attorney Zachary Rennick. (Docket No. 1 at 6). Specifically, plaintiff states that Judge Hoven has been biased by holding him in custody and not reducing his bond. Id. Judge Hoven ordered plaintiff to undergo a pretrial assessment, but plaintiff insists that this assessment has not been take into consideration at his bond reviews. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Judge Hoven's rulings are based on racial animus, and that other inmates, mainly whites, receive more favorable rulings. Id. Plaintiff also states that police in St. Clair "[b]rutalized" him. Id. He alleges that the police slammed him to the floor when he refused to get off the phone with his attorney. (Docket No. 1 at 6-7). Finally, plaintiff claims that his attorney has been "very [ineffective and [i]nadequate." Id.

         Discussion

         As discussed above, plaintiffs complaint brings forth a number of different claims. Having carefully reviewed and liberally construed plaintiffs allegations, the Court must dismiss plaintiffs claims without prejudice for failure to state a claim or frivolity under § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         A. Defendant Steve Pelton, Sheriff of Franklin County, Missouri

         Plaintiffs claims against Sheriff Pelton acting in his official capacity must be dismissed. A suit brought against a state official in his or her official capacity pursuant to § 1983 is not a suit against the official, but rather a suit against the official's office. Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). Accordingly, an official-capacity suit generally represents a "way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985). In other words, the real party in interest in an official-capacity suit is not the named official, but the governmental entity. Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991). Under § 1983, a governmental entity is only liable when it is the "moving force" behind the deprivation. Kentucky, 473 U.S. at 166. Further, "the entity's policy or custom must have played a part in the violation." Hafer, 502 U.S. at 25.

         Plaintiffs official-capacity claim against Sheriff Pelton must be treated as a claim against the Franklin County Sheriffs Office. A sheriffs office, as a department or subdivision of local government, is not an entity subject to suit. See Ketchum v. City of West Memphis, Ark,974 F.2d 81, 82 (1992) (departments or subdivisions of local government are "not juridical entities suable as such"). Even if the Court were to construe the complaint as brought against the municipality and substitute it as defendant, the complaint still fails to state a claim of municipal liability because plaintiff has not alleged any facts linking the ...


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