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Lam v. Finn

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

July 17, 2019

JAMES LAM, III, Plaintiff,
RALPH E. FINN, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court upon the multiple recent filings of pro se plaintiff James Lam III, a pretrial detainee at Cape Girardeau County Jail. On July 11, 2019, plaintiff filed a civil complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against thirty-two (32) defendants[1] in both their individual and official capacities. At the time of the complaint filing, plaintiff also filed motions for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, appointment of counsel, temporary restraining order, and preliminary injunction. Having reviewed plaintiffs motion to proceed in forma pauperis and the information submitted in support, the Court will grant the motion and will not assess an initial partial filing fee at this time. Furthermore, for the reasons discussed below, plaintiffs other motions will be denied and the Court will require plaintiff to file an amended complaint on a court-provided form, in accordance with the Court's instructions.

         Initial Partial Filing Fee

         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, until the filing fee is fully paid. Id.

         In his signed and sworn motion, plaintiff states that he is not employed, has no income, but that until recently, he received money from his mother. ECF No. 2. However, plaintiff filed a non-certified account statement and stated that he has a negative account balance. ECF No. 3. Based on this financial information, the Court will not assess an initial partial filing fee at this time. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4) ("In no event shall a prisoner be prohibited from bringing a civil action ... for the reason that the prisoner has no assets and no means by which to pay the initial partial filing fee.").

         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, 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 apro 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. Kemer, 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 plaintiffs 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. Aubtichon, 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).

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging various forms of misconduct against thirty-two (32) defendants which occurred from January 2016 through the date of the complaint. Plaintiff divides the allegations of his complaint into eight (8) legal claims. Condensed and summarized, Claims 1 and 2 relate to an unknown person impersonating plaintiff in order to open a bank account in plaintiffs name, fraudulently cashing a check in plaintiffs name, and then using the proceeds to make purchases at a cellular store. Claim 3 relates to the arrest of the individual who was impersonating plaintiff and the subsequent negligent release of that individual by the police without any realization that the person was not in fact the plaintiff - who was incarcerated at the time. Claims 4 and 5 relate to an allegedly false charge of forgery against plaintiff which resulted from the arrest of the impersonator, and plaintiffs arrest and imprisonment for those acts that were committed by the impersonator. Claim 6 relates to the allegedly insufficient legal representation plaintiff received from the Public Defender's office after being arrested. Claim 7 is for unlawful prosecution relating to a possession charge that plaintiff was falsely accused of while incarcerated. Finally, Claim 8 is against Cape Girardeau County Jail and five of its correctional officers for failing to provide a sufficient law library and respond adequately to plaintiffs twenty (20) grievances filed about such. Plaintiff seeks money damages and injunctive relief.

         After review of plaintiff s sixty-four (64) page complaint, the Court finds that plaintiffs complaint does not comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. First, plaintiff cannot assert in a single lawsuit, claims against different defendants that are related to events arising out of different occurrences or transactions. Rule 20(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs joinder of defendants, and provides:

Persons ... may be joined in one action as defendants if: (A) any right to relief is asserted against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and (B) any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.

         In other words, "Claim A against Defendant 1 should not be joined with unrelated Claim B against Defendant 2." George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007). "Unrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits, ... [in part] to ensure that prisoners pay the required filing fees - for the Prison Litigation Reform Act limits to 3 the number of frivolous suits or appeals that any prisoner may file without prepayment of the required fees." Id.

         Plaintiff may, however, name a single defendant, and assert as many claims as he has against him or her. Rule 18(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil ...

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