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Criddle v. Lewis

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

May 23, 2019

JASON LEWIS, et al., Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on the motion of plaintiff Dante Criddle to commence this civil action without prepayment of the filing fee. (Docket No. 2). Having reviewed the motion and the financial information contained therein, the Court has determined that plaintiff lacks sufficient funds to pay the entire filing fee and will assess an initial partial filing fee of $1.00. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). Additionally, for the reasons discussed below, the Court will dismiss plaintiff's official capacity claim against defendant Megan Unknown. However, the Court will direct the Clerk of Court to issue process on defendants Jason Lewis, Benjamin Crass, Jason Wilson, Cole Hansen, and Megan Unknown in their individual capacities, as well as on defendants Lewis, Crass, Wilson, and Hansen in their official capacities, to the extent that plaintiff is seeking prospective injunctive relief. Finally, the Court will deny plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order.

         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 or her 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 has not submitted an inmate account statement. He states this is a result of his institution's refusal to supply him with one. (Docket No. 4 at 6). As such, the Court will require plaintiff to pay an initial partial filing fee of $1.00. See Henderson v. Norris, 129 F.3d 481, 484 (8th Cir. 1997) (when a prisoner is unable to provide the Court with a certified copy of his prison account statement, the Court should assess an amount “that is reasonable, based on whatever information the court has about the prisoner's finances”). If plaintiff is unable to pay the initial partial filing fee, he must provide documentation in support of his 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 (8thCir. 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).

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at the Southeast Correctional Center (SECC) in Charleston, Missouri. (Docket No. 1 at 5). He brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His complaint names Warden Jason Lewis, Correctional Officer Benjamin Crass, Correctional Officer Jason Wilson, Correctional Officer Cole Hansen, and Nurse Megan Unknown as defendants. (Docket No. 1 at 2-4). They are all sued in both their official and individual capacities.

         Plaintiff alleges that on January 29, 2019, he was housed in Housing Unit #2, B Wing, Cell #114 in administrative segregation. (Docket No. 1 at 5). Between 9:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., Officer Hansen approached plaintiff's cell and opened the food slot. Plaintiff states that Officer Hansen directed him to turn around and place his hands out of the food slot, so that he could be handcuffed. Plaintiff complied with this directive.

         After being handcuffed, plaintiff asked why he was being restrained. (Docket No. 1 at 5-6). He states that Officer Hansen told him not to ask questions and to do as directed. (Docket No. 1 at 6). Several minutes later, Officer Wilson escorted another prisoner, Inmate Joseph Harris, to plaintiff's cell. Officer Wilson advised plaintiff that Inmate Harris would be his new cellmate.

         Plaintiff states that he informed Officer Wilson and Officer Hansen that he had past issues with Inmate Harris. Specifically, he told Officer Wilson and Officer Hansen that Inmate Harris had alleged that plaintiff spit in his face. Furthermore, plaintiff told Officer Wilson and Officer Hansen that Inmate Harris was enrolled in the prison's mental health program and that he suffered from “multiple mental disabilities” that required him to take “psychotic medications.” (Docket No. 1 at 6-7). In short, plaintiff claims that he “clearly informed” Officer Wilson and Officer Hansen that if Inmate Harris was placed in his cell, he would be assaulted. (Docket No. 1 at 7).

         According to plaintiff, Officer Wilson responded by saying “that Prisoner Harris is a coward and that Prisoner Harris is not going to harm a fly.” Plaintiff states that Officer Wilson also told him that all Inmate Harris does is “talk tuff sh-t, ” and that Inmate Harris does whatever Officer Wilson tells him to do. He further claims that Officer Wilson promised Inmate Harris contraband items if he assaulted plaintiff. (Docket No. 1 at 17). In response Officer Hansen allegedly said that he was “putting his money” on plaintiff. (Docket No. 1 at 7). At this point, plaintiff requested protective custody. However, Officer Wilson and Officer Hansen denied this request.

         Officer Wilson then radioed the control center to open the door to plaintiff's cell. (Docket No. 1 at 8). Inmate Harris was placed in the cell with plaintiff. Once Inmate Harris was inside, Officer Wilson directed Harris to place his hands out of the food slot. Officer Wilson removed Inmate Harris's restraints. Plaintiff states that he was unable to place his own hands in the food slot to have his handcuffs removed, because Inmate Harris would not let him. Thus, plaintiff remained in his handcuffs.

         Plaintiff alleges that Inmate Harris began to physically assault him. He states that Inmate Harris struck him repeatedly in the head and face with a closed fist. He states that he was hit in both eyes, causing them to swell shut. He states that he was punched in the nose, causing it to bleed, and in the mouth, causing both lips to split open and bleed. While this occurred, plaintiff claims that he “begged and screamed” for Officer Wilson and Officer Hansen to stop Inmate Harris from attacking him. (Docket No. 1 at 8-9).

         Meanwhile, Inmate Harris's assault continued. (Docket No. 1 at 9). Plaintiff alleges that Inmate Harris banged his head against the cell's concrete wall, splitting his forehead, leaving “large contusions and knots, ” and eventually rendering him unconscious. Plaintiff states that while unconscious, Inmate Harris continued to stomp and kick him, placed him in a chokehold, and began to “choke [him] to death.”

         While the assault took place, other prisoners began screaming and yelling to get Officer Wilson and Officer Hansen to stop Inmate Harris's assault. Instead, plaintiff claims that Officer Wilson took out a can of mace and sprayed plaintiff directly in the eyes and face. (Docket No. 1 at 10).

         Plaintiff alleges that Inmate Harris was allowed to continually assault him for approximately fifteen minutes. During this time, plaintiff was in handcuffs and unable to protect himself. Plaintiff states that Officer Wilson and Officer Hansen stood outside and observed this assault without taking any action.

         Ultimately, Sergeant Crass arrived on scene with several unknown correctional officers. Inmate Harris was given a directive to submit to handcuff restraints and complied. Inmate Harris was thereupon removed from the cell by Officer Wilson and Sergeant Crass. Plaintiff states that both Officer Wilson and Sergeant Crass threatened him. He states that Officer Wilson specifically told him not to mention anything about Inmate Harris assaulting him.

         Plaintiff states that he remained in the same cell in which he had been assaulted. (Docket No. 1 at 11). He requested medical attention and Nurse Megan was called to treat him. However, plaintiff alleges that Nurse Megan “never fully examined” him. Rather, she merely looked through the cell door window and told him that there was “nothing seriously wrong with him” other than “a few bruises and bumps.” Plaintiff states, though, that both his eyes were swollen shut, his nose was “busted, ” both lips were split, his forehead was split, he had double vision, and he was suffering “extreme pain” in his back and ribs. (Docket No. 1 at 11, 18). He alleges that Nurse Megan did not treat him in order to cover up the actions of Officer Wilson and Officer Hansen. (Docket No. 1 at 18). Following the assault, plaintiff states that he submitted multiple sick call requests, but that these were destroyed by Nurse Megan. (Docket No. 1 at 11, 19). He also states that Nurse Megan was the head supervisor over the sick call process. (Docket No. 1 at 11).

         Plaintiff claims that he has attempted to address his complaint through SECC's administrative grievance process, but that he has been denied access. (Docket No. 1 at 12). He also asserts that he has written to Warden Lewis about the incident, advising Lewis that he has been denied access to the grievance process.

         According to plaintiff, Warden Lewis sent out a “memo” in December 2018, directing all correctional officers to inform prisoners that if they refused to move into a cell with another prisoner, physical force would be used to place that prisoner in the cell, and a major disciplinary action would be written. Plaintiff alleges that this policy was to be enforced no matter the circumstances. (Docket No. 1 at 13).

         Because of Inmate Harris's alleged assault, plaintiff states he sustained the following injuries: swollen eyes; bloody nose; split lips; split forehead; knots and contusions; blurry double vision; severe headaches; and soreness in his back and ribs. (Docket ...

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