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Sullivan v. Burd

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

March 5, 2019

JOHN J. SULLIVAN, Plaintiff,
BRADLEY BURD, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on pro se plaintiff John J. Sullivan's amended complaint. After reviewing the amended complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the Court finds that the amended complaint again fails to state a legally cognizable claim. The Court will require plaintiff to file a second amended complaint on a court-provided form. Plaintiff's failure to state a cognizable claim in his second amended complaint will result in dismissal of this action without prejudice.

         Legal Standard

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court is required to dismiss a complaint filed in forma pauperis if the action 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. Tabor, 820 F.3d 958, 964 (8th Cir. 2016).

         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 plaintiff's 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”).


         Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Farmington Correctional Center (“FCC”), brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff's initial complaint focused on four main alleged incidents or issues: (1) his treatment upon arriving at FCC; (2) his treatment by guards when he had to go to hospital in August 2018; (3) a threat from a FCC case worker; and (4) a belief that his legal mail was being held by FCC. It was not clear exactly who plaintiff intended to name as defendants in his initial complaint or in what capacity the defendants were being sued. Following the filing of his complaint, plaintiff filed five additional letters which elaborated on the same allegations raised in the complaint.

         The Court attempted to review plaintiff's complaint and supplements pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1915. However, given the unconnected nature of the allegations and the confusion on who plaintiff intended to name as defendants, on January 16, 2019, the Court ordered plaintiff to file an amended complaint. The Court stated that it would review the amended complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 for frivolousness, maliciousness and/or failure to state a claim. On January 24, 2019, plaintiff filed another supplement and on January 31, 2019, he filed an amended complaint.

         The Amended Complaint

         Plaintiff names only one defendant in his amended complaint, Jenkins, a correctional officer at FCC. He brings this suit against Jenkins in both his individual and official capacities. Plaintiff's amended complaint only mentions one of the four incidents raised in his original complaint - the method in which he was restrained for transport when he went to the hospital in August 2018. Plaintiff describes how he was transported to the hospital via ambulance with his left hand chained to a rail and his feet chained together. At the hospital he had an X-ray, some shots in his stomach, and was put in a round tube (likely an MRI) with his hands chained together over his head. When it was time to leave the hospital “a man” arrived with a “Black Box.”[1] Plaintiff's hands and feet were restrained with handcuffs, the black box, and a waist chain. According to plaintiff, there was no handle or foot stool to help him get into the van for transport back to FCC. Plaintiff asserts that he fell two or three times and it took him five to six tries to get into the van. He was finally able to crawl in on his knees and elbows.

         As a result of his difficulties getting into the van due to the black box, plaintiff suffered injuries to his right hand and left wrist. As of January 2019 (approximately five months after the incident), plaintiff alleges that his left wrist is still bruised and painful. He says that he had an x-ray of his wrist in December that showed results within “acceptable limits.” However, plaintiff says the pain is getting worse and he wants to see a specialist.

         According to plaintiff, correctional officer Jenkins was at the prison gate upon his return to FCC from the hospital. He alleges Jenkins wanted to “make sure [he] was in the Black Box.” Plaintiff asserts that Jenkins ordered that the Black Box be used on him. Plaintiff seeks two million dollars in damages.


         Plaintiff brings his amended complaint against defendant Jenkins in both his official and individual capacities. To state a claim against a prison employee like Jenkins in his official capacity, plaintiff must allege that a policy or custom of Jenkins' employer was responsible for the alleged constitutional violation. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978). Plaintiff's amended complaint does not specifically mention a policy or custom. Liberally construing plaintiff's pro se complaint, however, the Court discerns that plaintiff complains about an alleged prison policy of using a black box restraint when transporting prisoners outside the prison. ...

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