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Straub v. Griffith

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

February 21, 2019

CINDY GRIFFITH, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on the motion of plaintiff Kevin Anthony Straub, a prisoner, for leave to commence this civil action without prepayment of the required filing fee. The Court will grant the motion, and will not assess an initial partial filing fee at this time. Additionally, 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 did not submit an inmate account statement in support of the instant motion. However, he avers that he receives no pay or wages, that he has had no other source of income in the past 12 months, and has no money in any account. The Court will therefore not require plaintiff to pay an initial partial filing fee at this time. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4).

         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. 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 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).

         "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." Ashcroft v. Igbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). 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 assume the veracity of well-pleaded facts, but need not accept as true "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); 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 "does not accept as true any legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation").

         Pro se complaints must be liberally construed. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). This means that if the essence of an allegation is discernible, the court should construe the complaint in a way that permits the plaintiffs claim to be construed within the proper legal framework. Solomon v. Petray, 795 F.3d 777, 787 (8th Cir. 2015). However, even pro se complaints 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). 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 brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against two Missouri Department of Corrections employees: Cindy Griffith (the Deputy Division Director of the Division of Adult Institutions), and Brad Rentfro (a Corrections Case Manager). Plaintiff sues the defendants in their individual capacities.

         Plaintiff sets forth his allegations in the form of a long and rambling narrative that is written in the third person. However, he can be understood to allege that he was wrongly charged with damaging a state-issued smock. He repeatedly alleges that a person who is held in a suicide cell should not be held responsible for his or her actions. For example, he writes: "any person being placed in a suicide cell is no longer competent to be held accountable for anything he or she has done so for any person to be still held in respect as a sane person would go against the law one cannot proceed with any person that is ruled as an incompetent subject to do so would be breaking the law ...", and "whatever happens in the suicide cell must not place him in violation of breaking any rules because such person's state of mind is not held and respect to understand what is truly right or wrong because he is not in the right frame of mind to be responsible of his actions." (Docket No. 1 at 2-3). Plaintiff can also be understood to allege that he was wrongly made to pay $250 in restitution to replace the smock, and given meal loaf and 20 days in disciplinary segregation.

         With the complaint, plaintiff filed six pages of written material. This material includes a Disciplinary Action Report demonstrating that plaintiff had a disciplinary hearing on January 23, 2018. A reporting officer's written report was introduced as evidence to show that, during a security check, plaintiff was observed to have made a noose out of his state-issued smock. It was recommended that plaintiff be given meal loaf, spend 20 days in disciplinary segregation, and reimburse the State $250 for the damaged smock. It is indicated that plaintiff understood his rights, did not request witnesses, pleaded guilty to the charges, and waived further hearing. The Report is signed by plaintiff, and by defendant Rentfro. The written materials also include documents demonstrating that plaintiff filed an Informal Resolution Request ("IRR"), a Grievance, and a Grievance Appeal to complain about the punishment and restitution imposed, all of which were considered and denied. The Court considers these documents as part of the complaint. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c).

         As relief, plaintiff seeks compensatory damages of $4, 500, punitive damages of $1, 100, and nominal damages of $1. He states that the smock did not cost $250. In support, he states that, after he paid that amount, the prison bought five more smocks and he only ripped ...

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