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Joseph v. Wheeler

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

July 24, 2019

CRAIG WHEELER, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court upon the motion of pro se plaintiff Jeffrey L. Joseph for leave to commence this action without prepayment of the required filing fee. Having reviewed the motion and the financial information submitted in support, the Court grants the motion, and assesses an initial partial filing fee of $1.70. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). Furthermore, for the reasons discussed below, the Court orders plaintiff to submit an amended complaint.

         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 support of the instant motion, plaintiff submitted an inmate account statement showing average monthly deposits of $8.50 since plaintiff lost his employment in the metal processing plant. The Court finds that plaintiff has insufficient funds in his prison account to pay the entire fee and will therefore assess an initial partial filing fee of $1.70.

         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 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).

         The Complaint

         Pro se plaintiff is an inmate with the Missouri Department of Corrections (“MDOC”), confined at Moberly Correctional Center (“MCC”). During his incarceration at MCC, plaintiff has worked for Missouri Vocational Enterprises (“MVE”) in the Metal Plant. Plaintiff brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his civil rights against five defendants: (1) Craig Wheeler (Assistant Director at MVE Metal Plant); (2) Dennis Shepard (Director at MVE Metal Plant); (3) Kurt Schmiedeskamp (Supervisor of Press-Brake Line at MVE Metal Plant); (4) Dean Minor (Warden at MCC); and (5) Ann Precythe (MDOC Director of Adult Institutions). Plaintiff brings suit against all these individuals in their official capacities only.

         Plaintiff alleges that his Eighth Amendment right to reasonable protection from injury was violated by defendants when they acted with deliberate indifference to his physical safety. On July 20, 2018, plaintiff was being trained by another inmate on how to use the press-brake machine at the MVE Metal Plant. At the time of his training, the “hand restraint safety system was not operable.” ECF No. 1 at 5. Plaintiff was informed that the safety system was not used because it slows production. Due to parts sticking on the machine, plaintiff's trainer sprayed the machine with WD 40. After the spraying, when plaintiff stepped forward to activate the foot switch on the machine, his hand slipped on the “oily” surface and came under the press as it came down. Id. Plaintiff's left thumb was crushed with 350 pounds of force.

         According to plaintiff, the “MVE staff” disabled the hand safety restraint system on the press-brake machine, knowing that this created a “great degree of risk of physical harm” to plaintiff and other workers. Plaintiff alleges that MVE staff had actual knowledge of this risk because “they continued to operate in this manner even after numerous injuries to offenders” and they “covered it up.” ECF No. 1 at 5.

         Plaintiff asserts that his direct supervisor at the Metal Plant, defendant Schmiedeskamp, failed to train him on use of the machines and never provided any safety instructions or warnings. Plaintiff states that he was injured because of the lack of proper training and complete lack of managerial oversight by Schmiedeskamp. Similarly, the assistant director of the Metal Plant, defendant Wheeler, who is responsible for the day-to-day operations and for training the four plant supervisors under him, “is also effectively at fault for [plaintiff's] injury” because of his “managerial oversight” and “lack of properly training Kurt Schmiedeskamp in operational safety of the press-brake as well as proper management of inmate workers.” ECF No. 1 at 9. Plaintiff also specifically asserts that Wheeler was aware that the safety system had been deactivated. Id. at 6. Plaintiff describes defendant Shepard, the director of operations at the Metal Plaint, as being responsible for the training of management staff and for ensuring that all proper safety procedures are followed. Plaintiff alleges that Dean Minor, the Warden of MCC, failed in his responsibility of ensuring the safety of all MCC inmates. Plaintiff states that there was another injury at the Metal Plant on the same day as his injury, and that this establishes a pattern or practice of a lack of safety training and unwillingness to follow safety procedures.

         Plaintiff alleges that following the “90% crush amputation” injury of his left thumb, he received deliberately indifferent medical care at MCC. ECF No. 1 at 7. Plaintiff asserts that a hospital surgeon advised that he needed pins put in his thumb, but that Corizon, the medical care provider for MDOC inmates, refused to pay for the surgery. Eight months after the injury, plaintiff states that he still has three fractures in his thumb, he suffers from thumb pain on a daily ...

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