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Mitchell v. Griffith

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

March 15, 2019

CINDY GRIFFITH, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on the motion of plaintiff Michael L. Mitchell, a prisoner, 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 has determined to grant the motion, and assess an initial partial filing fee of $1.70. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). 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 his 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.

         In support of the instant motion, plaintiff submitted an inmate account statement showing an average monthly deposit of $8.50, and an average monthly balance of $4.99. The Court will therefore assess an initial partial filing fee of $1.70, which is twenty percent of plaintiffs average monthly deposit.

         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. Iqbal, 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).

         This Court must liberally construe complaints filed by laypeople. 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 layperson's claim to be considered within the proper legal framework." Solomon v. Petray, 795 F.3d 777, 787 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004)). 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, Stone, 364 F.3d at 914-15, nor are they required to interpret procedural rules 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 brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against eight defendants, all of whom are Missouri Department of Corrections ("MODOC") employees. The defendants are: Cindy Griffith (the Deputy Division Director of the Division of Adult Institutions), Unknown Witte (Acting Warden), Tim Woods (Function Unit Manager), and corrections officers Michelle Thompson, Amber Stubenrauch, Ronald Crum, Jonathan Lewis, and S. Daniels. Plaintiff sues the defendants in their official and individual capacities.

         Plaintiff describes his claim as: "MDOC Agents listed denied me 'Due Process' of law, by a finding of guilt for violation of having a intoxicating substance in possession where the substance was in fact 'Kinikinik,' a Native American prayer blend." (Docket No. 1 at 5). In support of his claim, plaintiff alleges as follows. In April of 2018, defendant Daniels searched plaintiffs cell and found a substance plaintiff states was "Kinikinik." Id. Plaintiff does not allege that Daniels performed the search for any wrongful purpose. An investigator conducted field testing, and determined the substance was a synthetic cannabinoid. As a result, plaintiff was charged with "11.1, which is 'Possession of Intoxicating Substance.'" Id. at 6. Defendant Lewis read the violation to plaintiff. The substance was not sent to an authorized toxicology laboratory for confirmation, even though MODOC policy provides that offenders will not be found guilty of a conduct violation until a positive result is received from a toxicology laboratory. Plaintiff states he was "teamed on violation" by defendants Woods and Crum. Id. Plaintiff was sanctioned with 30 days in disciplinary segregation, and his visiting privileges were restricted for six months. Plaintiff does not describe the conditions under which he was held during that 30-day period, nor does he describe the visitation restriction or how it affected him.

         Following his release from disciplinary segregation, plaintiff filed an Informal Resolution Request ("IRR"), a Grievance, and a Grievance Appeal. Therein, plaintiff complained that MODOC refused to send the substance to the toxicology laboratory, and refused to remove the conduct violation from his record. His IRR was denied by defendants Stubenrauch, Thompson, and another person who plaintiff believes was the Function Unit Manager. His Grievance was denied by defendant Witte, and his appeal was denied by defendant Griffith. Plaintiff alleges that "all of the individuals that signed off on all of the grievance procedure knowingly violated my rights of Due Process by not sending substance to a toxicology laboratory to have substance tested." Id.

         With the complaint, plaintiff filed eleven pages of written material, including Daniels's April 15, 2018 Conduct Violation Report. This report documents that Daniels searched plaintiffs cell on April 8, 2018 and recovered a lighter, two items of clothing made from a state blanket, and a green leafy substance that plaintiff identified as sage. The substance was placed in an evidence bag and then placed in the evidence box for the investigator. The substance tested positive for synthetic cannabinoid. Plaintiff was ...

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