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Sullivan v. Burd

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

April 16, 2019

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



         This matter is before the Court on review of pro se plaintiff John J. Sullivan's second amended complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that the second amended complaint fails to state a claim for relief against the named defendants. However, because plaintiff does state a valid Eighth Amendment claim but names the wrong defendants, the Court will give plaintiff an opportunity to file a third amended complaint on the court-provided form and in accordance with the Court's instructions. Plaintiff's failure to state a cognizable claim in his third amended complaint will result in dismissal of this action without prejudice.

         Legal Standard for 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, is malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. To state a claim for relief, a complaint must plead more than “legal conclusions” and “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action [that are] supported by mere conclusory statements.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A plaintiff must demonstrate a plausible claim for relief, which is more than a “mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. at 679. “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 on its judicial experience and common sense. Id. at 679.

         When reviewing a pro se complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the Court accepts the well-pled facts as true, White v. Clark, 750 F.2d 721, 722 (8th Cir. 1984), and liberally construes the complaint. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); 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) (refusing to supply additional facts or to construct a legal theory for the pro se plaintiff that assumed facts that had not been pleaded).


         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.

         Plaintiff's amended complaint named one defendant, Jenkins, a guard/correctional officer at FCC. The amended complaint focused on only one of the four incidents raised in the original complaint - the method in which plaintiff was restrained with handcuffs, a waist chain, and a “Black Box”[1] when being transported between the hospital and FCC in August 2018. Despite the numerous restraints on his hands and legs, plaintiff was provided no assistance nor was there a handle or step stool to help him get into the transport van. As a result, he fell two or three times and it took him five to six tries to get into the van. Plaintiff suffered injuries to his right hand and left wrist that persisted five months later. Plaintiff asserted that Jenkins ordered that the black box be used on him during transport and that Jenkins was at the prison gate upon plaintiff's return to FCC from the hospital, in order to confirm its use.

         When the Court reviewed the amended complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, it found that plaintiff had not alleged how Jenkins was personally involved or directly responsible for the difficulties the black box caused when plaintiff entered the van without assistance, as required for liability under § 1983. On March 5, 2019, the Court gave plaintiff a second opportunity to file an amended complaint. The Court warned plaintiff that his second amended complaint would again be reviewed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, and that a failure to comply with the Court's instructions would result in the dismissal of this action without prejudice. Plaintiff filed his second amended complaint on March 25, 2019.

         The Second Amended Complaint

         Plaintiff brings his second amended complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against two defendants: Missouri Department of Corrections (“MDOC”) and FCC guard/correctional officer Jenkins. Like in his amended complaint, plaintiff's allegations relate to the black box restraint incident that occurred 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. For his return transport to FCC, plaintiff's hands and feet were chained and he had “that Black on” - the black box restraint. ECF No. 21 at 3, 21-1 at 2. Due to the restraints, it took plaintiff multiple attempts to get himself into the red MDOC van and the attempts resulted in injuries to his hands and wrists.[2] Plaintiff asserts that as of March 2018 (seven months later), his wrist is still bruised and sometimes feels numb. Plaintiff states that the van had no handle or step to help him get into it. Plaintiff asserts that MDOC is at fault for not providing an accessible van for someone restrained “with that Black Box.” ECF No. 21-1 at 4.

         Plaintiff does not mention defendant Jenkins in the statement of claim section of his second amended complaint, only in the attachments to the complaint. Plaintiff states that Jenkins was “not at medical or the hospital only at the gate” but that Jenkins “should not have sent a man with that black box to the hospital.” According to plaintiff, Jenkins told him that he was lucky “it was not him who put [the restraints, including the black box] on” plaintiff. ECF No. 21-1 at 2 & 4. Plaintiff alleges that Jenkins is at “fault for not giving [him] a way to get in that red van and for hurting” him. Id. at 4.

         Plaintiff seeks two million ...

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