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Wilson v. Phelps County Jail Administration

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

August 21, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on the motion of pro se plaintiff Anthony Russell Wilson, II for leave to commence this action without prepayment of the required filing fee. Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee when he filed his complaint on May 6, 2019. However, plaintiff filed a change of address notice with the Court on July 30, 2019, indicating he has been released from prison. Because plaintiff was released from confinement shortly after filing the instant action, the Court will grant his request to proceed in forma pauperis and will not assess an initial partial filing fee at this time. Furthermore, for the reasons discussed below, the Court will direct plaintiff to file an amended complaint on a court-provided form.

         Payment of Filing Fee

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), when a prisoner brings a civil action in forma pauperis, the prisoner must pay the full amount of the filing fee. This is usually done in the form of an initial partial payment and then installment payments over time. However, a non-prisoner plaintiff can litigate without payment of any fees if he qualifies under the general in forma pauperis provision of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1).

         “Federal circuit authority is split on the question of whether the PLRA prison litigation provisions of § 1915 continue to govern if and after the prisoner is released pendente lite (that is, during the litigation). The Fifth, Seventh and District of Columbia Circuits have held that the full payment requirement is triggered upon the filing of the (as applicable) complaint or notice of appeal. . . . The Second, Fourth, Sixth and Tenth Circuits have concluded to the contrary, that the requirements of the PLRA do not continue to apply after the plaintiff is released.” Putzer v. Attal, No. 2:13-cv-00165-APG-CWH, 2013 WL 4519351, at *1 (D. Nev. Aug. 23, 2013) (internal citations omitted).

         The Eighth Circuit has not ruled on this issue. However, in this case, plaintiff was released shortly after filing this case and before the Court ruled his motion to proceed in forma pauperis. No. initial partial payment was assessed while plaintiff was detained. Therefore, the Court will consider plaintiff as he currently stands at the time of the review of his motion - as a non-prisoner plaintiff under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). Based on the financial information submitted, the Court finds that plaintiff does not have sufficient funds to pay the filing fee and will grant his motion.

         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

         Plaintiff was a federal pretrial detainee when he brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff names six defendants associated with the Phelps County Jail, in both their individual and official capacities: (1) Phelps County Jail Administration; (2) Sergeant Unknown Lorts; (3) Sergeant Unknown Dowdi; (4) Correctional Officer Unknown Jones; (5) Correctional Officer Unknown Reed; and (6) Lieutenant Unknown Shultz.

         In the Statement of Claim section VI of the complaint, plaintiff summarizes his case as follows: “While in Phelps County Jail in C-Pod I was segregated and suffered atypical and significant hardship. See attached: 3 pages of Statement of Claim and 24 pages of evidence (grievances); 27 pages in total.” Doc. 1 at 5. Twenty-four (24) pages of grievance-filing exhibits were attached to the complaint. See Doc. 1-1. However, the three-page ‘Statement of Claim' was included and docketed with the separately filed Motion for Appointment of Counsel. See Doc. 4 at 2-4. Because plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court will liberally construe the ‘Statement of Claim,' attached to the motion for counsel, as part of the complaint.

         Plaintiff alleges that on or around May 3, 2018, Sergeant Lorts found plaintiff guilty of a disciplinary violation without “any fair evaluation of the facts, ” based on accusations of Correctional Officer Jones. Doc. 4 at 2. After the finding, plaintiff was locked in a suicide cell “with no bedding, no property (other than the clothing [he] was wearing), no hygiene, no toilet, no sink, no shower, no food and 24 hour lighting.” Id. Sergeant Dowdi, Sergeant Lorts, and Correctional Officer Reed were present when plaintiff was declared guilty by Lorts and locked in the cell. Three days later, Lorts removed plaintiff from the cell to be questioned by Jones. Plaintiff made Jones aware of the conditions of his confinement. Plaintiff was put back in the suicide cell for two more days. On the fifth day, plaintiff was taken from the cell to shower and moved to a regular cell. Plaintiff alleges that Lieutenant Shultz, the supervisor of the other individual defendants, was “made aware” of the way plaintiff was treated and he “condones the shocking actions and policies of [the] facility.” Id. at 3.

         Plaintiff also asserts that while confined at Phelps County Jail, he was “treated differently than the other inmates and taunted and threatened by Sergeant Dowdi [and] Sergeant Lorts.” Id. For example, plaintiff claims he was denied personal mail; his legal mail was opened outside his presence; his visitors were only allowed to stay 10 minutes; on one occasion his attorney was not allowed to see him; he was refused recreation, medical and psychiatric treatment; he was denied access to the law library; and commissary items were taken from him without explanation. Plaintiff believes his five-day suicide cell placement was in retaliation for the many grievances he had previously filed about the conditions at Phelps County Jail. ...

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