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Jones v. Payne

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

February 11, 2019

STAN PAYNE, et al., Defendants.


          John A. Ross, Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on the motion of plaintiff Earlene Jones for leave to commence this civil action without prepayment of the required filing fee. (Docket No. 2). Having reviewed the motion and the financial information submitted in support, the Court has determined that plaintiff lacks sufficient funds to pay the filing fee, and will be granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Furthermore, for the reasons discussed below, plaintiffs complaint must be dismissed for failure to state a claim.

         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 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate a plausible claim for relief, which is more than a "mere possibility of misconduct." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). "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 draw upon judicial experience and common sense. Id. at 679. The court must "accept as true the facts alleged, but not legal conclusions or threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Barton v. Taber, 820 F.3d 958, 964 (8th Cir. 2016). See also Brown v. Green Tree Servicing LLC, 820 F.3d 371, 372-73 (8th Cir. 2016) (stating that court must accept factual allegations in complaint as true, but is not required to "accept as true any legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation").

         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). A "liberal construction" means that if the essence of an allegation is discernible, the district court should construe the plaintiffs complaint in a way that permits his or her claim to be considered within the proper legal framework. Solomon v. Petray, 795 F.3d 777, 787 (8th Cir. 2015). However, 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) (stating that 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. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993).

         The Complaint

          Plaintiff has filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, naming Warden Stan Payne and Investigator Bingham as defendants. She does not specify the capacity in which defendants are sued. s Plaintiff states that in June 2018, she went to visit her husband, inmate Elijah Jones, at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center (ERDCC) in Bonne Terre, Missouri. (Docket No. 1 at 5). While she was entering the prison's visiting room, she was approached by correctional officers who believed she had drugs on her person. Plaintiff states that she was asked to consent to a search. She claims she consented to the search "because of a veiled threat that her husband would suffer some repercussion" if she did not.

         No drugs or contraband was found on plaintiffs person. Nonetheless, plaintiff was removed from her husband's visiting list. She states she was later informed that her husband had been placed in administrative segregation and was under investigation for two months. He never spoke with anyone and was not charged. Plaintiff also asserts that her husband was unable to file a grievance because his informal resolution request was never answered.

         Plaintiff states that she "is seeking damages because of the humiliation and harassment she suffered on the day of the search when she came to the prison to visit her husband." (Docket No. 1 at 5-6). Specifically, she alleges that the search to which she was subjected violated her Fourth Amendment rights. (Docket No. 1 at 6). She requests $1, 000, 000 in actual and punitive damages, and an additional $1, 000, 000 in punitive damages. (Docket No. 1 at 7).


         Plaintiff has filed this § 1983 action alleging that defendants Payne and Bingham violated her Fourth Amendment rights when she was subjected to a search upon entering the ERDCC. For the reasons discussed below, this action must be dismissed pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B) for failure to state a claim.

         A. Plaintiffs Claims Regarding Her Husband

         In her complaint, plaintiff makes mention of her husband's treatment in the ERDCC. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that her husband was in administrative segregation for two months without any charges being filed and without him speaking with anyone concerning his confinement. She also states that he was unable to file a grievance. To the extent that plaintiff is attempting to bring a claim on her husband's behalf, such a claim must fail.

         Standing is a jurisdictional requirement that can be raised by the court sua sponte at any time during litigation. Delorme v. United States,354 F.3d 810, 815 (8th Gir. 2004). In general, to satisfy the standing requirement, a plaintiff "must assert his own legal rights and interests, and cannot rest his claim to relief on the legal rights or interests of third parties." Worth v. Seldin,422 U.S. 490, 499 (1975). Moreover, a non-attorney pro se litigant may not represent someone else in federal court. See 28 U.S.C. § 1654; Iannaccone v. Law,142 F.3d 553, 558 (2nd Cir. 1998) (stating that "because pro se means to appear ...

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