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Powell v. Laurie

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 6, 2017

JACK LAURIE, et al., Defendants.


          David J. Waxse U.S. Magistrate Judge

         On February 27, 2017, Plaintiff, a prisoner appearing pro se, filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights complaint. For the reasons discussed below, the Court has determined that some of Plaintiff's claims in his Complaint are subject to dismissal without prejudice, while others may proceed. However, the Court will provide Plaintiff an opportunity to correct the deficient claims by filing an Amended Complaint within twenty-one days of this Memorandum and Order.

         I. Statutory Screening of Prisoner Complaints

         The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of such entity to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Additionally, with any litigant, such as Plaintiff, who is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court has a duty to screen the complaint to determine its sufficiency. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Upon completion of this screening, the Court must dismiss any claim that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary damages from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b), 1915(e)(2)(B).

         To survive this review, the plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In applying the Twombly standard, the Court must assume the truth of all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Leverington v. City of Colo. Springs, 643 F.3d 719, 723 (10th Cir. 2011).

         While a pro se plaintiff's complaint must be liberally construed, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), pro se status does not relieve the plaintiff of “the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). The Court need not accept “mere conclusions characterizing pleaded facts.” Bryson v. City of Edmond, 905 F.2d 1386, 1390 (10th Cir. 1990). “[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Northington v. Jackson, 973 F.2d 1518, 1523 (10th Cir. 1992). In addressing a claim brought under § 1983, the analysis begins by identifying the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989). The validity of the claim then must be judged by reference to the specific constitutional standard which governs that right. Id.

         II. Complaint

         In accordance with the standards outlined above, the Court assumes the truth of the factual allegations made in Plaintiff's complaint for purposes of conducting the initial screening. Plaintiff is an inmate at the Atchison County Jail (“ACJ”). He has been pursuing a separate federal civil rights action in this Court against AJC officials related to medical care (Case No. 16-3251-SAC-DJW). In furtherance of that action, he made several requests to access a law library. Defendant Jack Laurie, Sheriff of Atchison County, in a letter responding to requests filed by Plaintiff, told Plaintiff there is no law library at the jail, and that inmates have access to the courts through the U.S. Mail, free notary service, their attorneys, the phone system, and the internal mail system at the Atchison County District Court. Defendant Travis Wright, Captain at ACJ, told Plaintiff that he needs to write to the court to use a law library. At some point, Defendant Wright posted a memo in the jail, which stated that “there is no law library because this is a county jail and one isn't required.”

         Also in furtherance of his other federal civil rights lawsuit, Plaintiff ordered a soft-bound copy of the Jailhouse Lawyer's Manual. ACJ staff did not notify him of the receipt of the book, then Defendant Amber Martin, Sergeant at ACJ, told him he could not have the book in the jail because it was too thick, and he would have to use the multipurpose room in order to read it. In addition, Defendant Martin read legal documents Plaintiff gave to her for copying, refused to make copies because Plaintiff is “suing the jail, ” and retained the documents for six days so Defendant Wright could review them. In response to a request from Plaintiff asking how to get copies of legal documents, Defendant Wright wrote, “You use a pen and paper and make copies. The Sheriff's office will not make copies for you.” Plaintiff filed grievances related to all of these complaints.

         Finally, Plaintiff alleges that on December 7, 2016, Defendant Wright asked him why he was filing so many grievances, then told Plaintiff he would not be allowed a trustee job, copies, or “anything other than the minimal.” Defendant Wright further told Plaintiff he would not get a sentence modification since he was filing suit against ACJ. Plaintiff had a hearing in state court on January 20, 2017, to consider his request for sentence modification, and Defendant Wright testified that Plaintiff was a behavior problem. The state court denied Plaintiff's request to modify his sentence.

         Plaintiff's request for relief seeks compensatory damages in the amount of $300, 000.

         III. Analysis

         After reviewing Plaintiff's complaint with the standards set out above in mind, the Court finds that some of the complaint is subject to summary dismissal under 28 U.S.C. ...

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