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Shattuck-Knaebel v. Lewis

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

March 6, 2019

JASON LEWIS, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on review of plaintiff Charles D. Shattuck-Knaebel's amended complaint. For the reasons discussed below, the Court must dismiss this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) 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 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”). 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).


         Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point, Missouri. He brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The following individuals are named as defendants: Warden Jason Lewis; Assistant Warden Paula Reed; Functional Unit Manager Bruce Hannebrink; and Classification Case Managers Cliffton Cossey, Joshua Carter, April Samples, Unknown Price, and Unknown Peters. Defendants are sued in both their official and individual capacities.

         Plaintiff filed his complaint on August 24, 2018, along with a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, and a motion to appoint counsel. He did not provide a certified inmate account statement, and on August 28, 2018, the Court ordered him to provide one within thirty days. Plaintiff responded to the Court on September 13, 2018, and advised that the Southeast Correctional Center (SECC) was refusing to provide him a copy of his account statement. On September 27, 2018, plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint. Shortly thereafter, he also provided the Court with a copy of his inmate account statement.

         On November 26, 2018, the Court granted plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and ordered him to pay an initial partial filing fee of $1.50. The Court also granted his motion to amend, and directed him to file an amended complaint on a Court-provided form within thirty days. Plaintiff duly complied with this order and filed his amended complaint on December 26, 2018.

         The Amended Complaint

          Plaintiff's amended complaint is handwritten on a Court-provided form, and is sixty-eight pages long. He has integrated numerous exhibits into the complaint, which will be treated as part of the pleading. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c) (“A copy of a written instrument that is an exhibit to a pleading is part of the pleading for all purposes”). The “Statement of Claim” is divided into eight sections, one section for each defendant.

         Defendant Jason Lewis is the Warden of SECC. Doc. 16 at 2. Plaintiff states that on two separate occasions, he sent Warden Lewis “informal offender to staff correspondences, ” known as “kites.” Id. at 6. He alleges that these kites were either ignored by Warden Lewis or handed down to Assistant Warden Paula Reed.

         In the first kite, plaintiff complains to Warden Lewis that he was denied a copy of his certified inmate account statement, which had been requested by the Court in the instant case. Id. at 6, 11. He also states that he informed Lewis that he was not being allowed to pursue this matter through the grievance process, because he was not being given an informal resolution request (IRR) form. Id. at 16 at 7. He alleges that in ignoring his kite, Warden Lewis ignored the constitutional violations of his subordinates, specifically his right of access to the courts, his First Amendment right of free speech, and his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection.

         In the second kite, plaintiff states that he advised Warden Lewis that he was being unjustifiably held in administrative segregation. Id. at 7-8, 12. According to plaintiff, he was told his administrative segregation status was the result of his stepping down from the “security threat group” known as “Family Values.” Id. at 9. He states he was also advised that he was being held for his own safety pending transfer. Id. at 8. Plaintiff asserts that he told Warden Lewis he had no listed enemies at SECC, and that he was not allowed to list enemies housed at other correctional facilities. Plaintiff's second kite also stated his belief that the classification unit was retaliating against him for filing the instant case. Id. at 12. He claims that Warden Lewis failed to remedy these problems, thereby condoning the unconstitutional acts of his subordinates. Id. at 8.

         Defendant Paula Reed is the Assistant Warden at SECC. Id. at 3. Similar to Warden Lewis, plaintiff asserts that he sent kites to Assistant Warden Reed on two separate occasions. Id. at 13.

         In the first kite, plaintiff states that he informed Assistant Warden Reed that his caseworker, Cliffton Cossey, was ignoring his requests to obtain legal work pertaining to a pending post-conviction relief claim in Shattuck-Knaebel v. State of Missouri, No. 16MG- CC00035 (26th Judicial Cir., Morgan County). Due to Cossey's alleged failure to respond to plaintiff's requests, plaintiff claims that he “lost his ability to claim an ambiguity in his sentence” due to missing a filing deadline. Id. at 14. Furthermore, plaintiff asserts that he informed Assistant Warden Reed that Cossey was ignoring his requests for special unit legal request forms, and for status as an indigent offender “so that he wouldn't have to choose between required legal materials and necessary hygiene items.” Id. Plaintiff states this also caused him to lose his ability to bring forth a non-frivolous, arguable claim in Shattuck-Knaebel v. State of Missouri, No. 16MG-CC00035.

         In the second kite, sent on September 24, 2018, plaintiff again informed Assistant Warden Reed that he had made further attempts to obtain assistance in pursuing his post-conviction case and the instant civil case. This kite stated that his attempts to obtain IRR forms so that he could address his grievance concerns per SECC policy were ignored. Id. at 14-15. Plaintiff asserts that because he brought this to Assistant Warden Reed's attention, she is “just as guilty as her subordinate officers who were the actual, direct offending parties.” Id. at 15.

         Defendant Bruce Hannebrink is the Functional Unit Manager (FUM) at SECC. Id. at 4. Plaintiff states that his original problem with FUM Hannebrink concerned the delivery of plaintiff's legal mail. Id. at 19. On April 20, 2018, plaintiff received legal mail postmarked April 5, 2018. He claims that this evidences the fact that his legal mail was held for fifteen days. He states that this “was just one event in a series of events that led to plaintiff losing his opportunity to bring forth a nonfrivolous, arguable claim of an ambiguity in his prison sentence.” Id. at 19-20. He further states that FUM Hannebrink did not provide a copy of his mail signature receipt, violating his right to due process. Id. at 20. Eventually, plaintiff did receive a response to his mail-related grievance stating that plaintiff's legal mail was received in the mailroom on April 17, 2018, and delivered to plaintiff on April 20, 2018. Id. at 25.

         Plaintiff's other complaint regarding FUM Hannebrink concerns plaintiff's inability to retrieve a copy of his certified inmate account statement, which plaintiff was directed to provide in the instant case. Id. at 18. Plaintiff states that FUM Hannebrink did nothing to remedy this situation. He further states that FUM Hannebrink's failure to respond to his kite was a retaliatory tactic to sabotage the instant case, because Hannebrink had been named as a defendant. Id. at 19.

         Defendant Cliffton Cossey is a Classification Case Manager (CCM) at SECC. Id. at 4. Plaintiff states that on December 23, 2017, plaintiff was assigned to administrative segregation for a major conduct violation. Id. at 27. At the time, he had a pending post-conviction action pending in Morgan County Circuit Court, docketed as Shattuck-Knaebel v. State of Missouri, No. 16MG-CC00035. On numerous occasions over a period of three weeks, plaintiff requested approval for a qualified legal claim. This would give plaintiff access to the library and also allow him to purchase extra materials and postage in order to maintain contact with his attorney. Plaintiff states that CCM Casey denied his ability to apply for a qualified legal claim, though he was eventually approved by FUM Lorene Armstrong.

         On July 20, 2018, plaintiff states that he was released from administrative segregation. Id. at 28. Shortly thereafter, on July 22, 2018, he was reassigned to administrative segregation after being assaulted by another inmate. Plaintiff claims that he asked the inmate why he had assaulted him, to which the inmate replied that plaintiff “had better stop filing all those complaints against classification.” Id. Plaintiff states that he “assumed the other inmate was talking about complaints he had filed against…[CCM] Cossey and…[CCM] Joshua Carter.” Id.

         During his time in administrative segregation, plaintiff alleges that he sent five kites to CCM Cossey asking for approval for a qualified legal claim; to be provided his legal work from property; to be provided special legal request forms; and for approval to be listed as an indigent offender. These requests were all ignored. Id. at 31. Plaintiff alleges that CCM Cossey also denied his requests for IRR forms to file grievances.

         Defendant Joshua Carter is a CCM at SECC. Id. at 4. On or about February 14, 2018, plaintiff states that he moved cells, and that CCM Carter became his caseworker. Id. at 33. On April 20, 2018, plaintiff states that CCM Carter “presented” him with a signature form to confirm the receipt of legal mail from plaintiff's post-conviction counsel. The envelope was marked “legal mail” and was postmarked April 5, 2018. Plaintiff claims that CCM Carter held plaintiff's legal mail for fifteen days before delivery.

         Plaintiff's allegedly-withheld legal mail contained correspondence from plaintiff's post-conviction attorney Arthur Allen. Plaintiff states that the letter advised him “that the deadline to raise the claim to his post-conviction relief claim of an ambiguity in his sentence was now expired.” Id. at 34. Despite admitting that his ambiguous-sentence claim was already untimely as of the time his attorney wrote the letter, plaintiff asserts that CCM Carter denied him access to the courts, and kept him from being able to timely raise a non-frivolous claim in Shattuck-Knaebel v. State of Missouri, No. 16MG-CC00035.

         On April 23, 2018, plaintiff filed an IRR alleging interference with his access to the courts and to his attorney. On June 1, 2018, after expiration of the forty-day deadline for IRR responses, plaintiff requested a grievance form to continue his claims. He alleges that CCM Carter hindered this process, and that he assumes it was because Carter was attempting to avoid being submitted to disciplinary measures.

         Plaintiff accuses CCM Carter of causing him to lose the ability to raise a non-frivolous, arguable post-conviction claim by withholding his legal mail. Id. at 35. He also alleges that CCM Carter's refusal to assist plaintiff in attaining indigent offender status and hindrance of the grievance ...

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