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Winters v. Bascom

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

December 19, 2019

CEDRIC L. WINTERS, Plaintiff,
v.
RICHARD J. BASCOM, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court upon the motion of plaintiff Cedric L. Winters (registration no. 1016301), an inmate at Eastern, Reception and Diagnostic Center (“ERDCC”), for leave to commence this action without payment of the required filing fee. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that plaintiff does not have sufficient funds to pay the entire filing fee and will assess an initial partial filing fee of $.35. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). Furthermore, based upon a review of the complaint, the Court finds that the complaint should be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         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, until the filing fee is fully paid. Id.

         Plaintiff has submitted an affidavit and a certified copy of his prison account statement for the six-month period immediately preceding the submission of his complaint. A review of plaintiff's account indicates an average monthly deposit of $1.79. Plaintiff has insufficient funds to pay the entire filing fee. Accordingly, the Court will assess an initial partial filing fee of $.35.

         28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the Court may dismiss a complaint filed in forma pauperis if the action is frivolous, 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. An action is frivolous if “it lacks an arguable basis in either law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 328 (1989). An action is malicious when it is undertaken for the purpose of harassing litigants and not for the purpose of vindicating a cognizable right. Spencer v. Rhodes, 656 F.Supp. 458, 461-63 (E.D. N.C. 1987), aff'd 826 F.2d 1059 (4th Cir. 1987).

         To determine whether an action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court must engage in a two-step inquiry. First, the Court must identify the allegations in the complaint that are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950-51 (2009). These include “legal conclusions” and “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action [that are] supported by mere conclusory statements.” Id. at 1949. Second, the Court must determine whether the complaint states a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 1950-51. This is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 1950. The plaintiff is required to plead facts that show more than the “mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. The Court must review the factual allegations in the complaint “to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 1951. When faced with alternative explanations for the alleged misconduct, the Court may exercise its judgment in determining whether plaintiff's proffered conclusion is the most plausible or whether it is more likely that no misconduct occurred. Id. at 1950, 1951-52.

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff, an inmate at ERDCC, brings this action asserting violations of his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff brings this action against defendant Richard J. Bascom and The Bascom Law Firm.

         Plaintiff asserts that Attorney Richard Bascom and his law firm “showed unprofessional conduct” when representing him in a criminal matter in January of 2019. Plaintiff claims that he was an inmate in Pemiscot County Jail at the time. He asserts that Mr. Bascom indicated that he would no longer be able to render counsel to plaintiff in his criminal proceedings, and this made plaintiff's mental problems worsen. Plaintiff believes that Mr. Bascom's withdrawal as criminal counsel resulted in his wrongful conviction.

         Discussion

         Plaintiff cannot maintain an action against his attorney, Richard Bascom or his law firm, because a criminal defense attorney is not suable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Polk Cty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981) (stating that “a public defender does not act under color of state law when performing a lawyer's traditional functions as counsel to a defendant in a criminal proceeding”); Meyers v. Vogal, 960 F.2d 750, 750 (8th Cir. 1992) (stating that attorneys who represented plaintiff, “whether appointed or retained, did not act under color of state law and, thus, are not subject to suit under section 1983”); and Rogers v. Bruntrager, 841 F.2d 853, 856 (8th Cir. 1988) (“Public defenders do not act under color of state law for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 when performing the traditional functions of defense counsel”).

         This holds true even if the attorney works for the public defender's office or is appointed by the court. Therefore, plaintiff has failed to state a claim against Mr. Bascom and his law firm. See Zutz v. Nelson, 601 F.3d 842, 848 (8th Cir. 2010) (explaining that to state a § 1983 claim, “a plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to show (1) that the defendant(s) acted under color of state law, and ...


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