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Smith v. St. Louis County Department of Justice Services

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

December 17, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on the motion of plaintiff Jason Nickolas Smith for leave to commence this civil action without prepayment of the required filing fee. (Docket No. 3). Having reviewed the motion and the financial information submitted in support, the Court has determined that plaintiff lacks sufficient funds to pay the entire filing fee, and will assess an initial partial filing fee of $7.40. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). Additionally, for the reasons discussed below, the Court will order plaintiff to file an amended complaint.

         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 the Court each time the amount in the prisoner's account exceeds $10.00, until the filing fee is fully paid. Id.

         In support of his motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, plaintiff submitted an affidavit and a certified inmate account statement. (Docket No. 4). The inmate account statement shows an average monthly deposit of $37.00. The Court will therefore assess an initial partial filing fee of $7.40, which is 20 percent of plaintiff's average monthly deposit.

         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 a pro se litigant currently incarcerated at the Cape Girardeau County Jail in Jackson, Missouri. At the time relevant to this complaint, however, he was an inmate at the St. Louis County Justice Center (SLCJC). (Docket No. 1 at 2). He brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Named as defendants are the St. Louis County Department of Justice Services, Unknown Rideout, Unknown Thompson, and Unknown Rhodes. (Docket No. 1 at 2-3). The defendants are sued in their official capacities only.

         Plaintiff states that on June 12, 2019, when he was a pretrial detainee at the SLCJC, Correctional Officer Rhodes called him out of his cell while everyone else was locked down. (Docket No. 1 at 3). Officer Rhodes handed plaintiff an open legal letter and told him there was a “present inside.” Officer Rhodes also told plaintiff that she wanted to “get mine” upon plaintiff's release. When plaintiff returned to his cell, he discovered that the letter contained “gloves with meth and THC.” On June 14, 2019, a confidential informant alerted correctional officers to what had transpired. Plaintiff's cellmate, along with another inmate, were “taken out first” by correctional officers. Plaintiff then swallowed the gloves containing the methamphetamines and THC. He subsequently failed a drug test and was escorted to segregation. Plaintiff advised the lieutenant that he was dizzy, then passed out and was taken to the hospital.

         Plaintiff alleges that he has “nightmares” about the “sexual favors” Officer Rhodes wanted in return for the drugs. (Docket No. 1 at 4). He also states that he is “severely depressed and traumatized from the events” that took place on June 14, 2019.

         On June 15, 2019, plaintiff states that Officer Rideout and Officer Thompson picked him up from Barnes Jewish Hospital. He was wheelchaired to a car in front of the hospital, and then helped into the vehicle by Officer Rideout. Plaintiff alleges that Officer Rideout did not place him in a seatbelt.

         On the way back to the SLCJC, plaintiff began to feel dizzy again. He further states that his “rectum was burning.” When he reached down to touch his rectum, his hand was covered in blood. Officer Rideout instructed Officer Thompson to “turn on [the] lights and head to St. Mary's Hospital.” Officer Thompson “took a hard left turn, ” causing plaintiff to hit his head on the passenger-side window. Plaintiff states that he woke up at St. Mary's hospital. As a result of hitting his head, he claims that he had “a huge knot on [his] C6 vertebrae, ” “nerve damage or [a] torn tendon under [his] right shoulder blade, ...

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