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Counce v. Powell

United States District Court, D. Kansas

October 30, 2018

JESSE COUNCE, Plaintiff,
v.
SHAWANNA POWELL, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE

          SAM A. CROW U.S. SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jesse Counce, a pretrial detainee being held at the Allen County Jail in Iola, Kansas, brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff proceeds in forma pauperis. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff is ordered to show cause why his complaint should not be dismissed.

         I. Nature of the Matter before the Court

          Plaintiff's complaint (ECF No. 1) alleges he has been falsely accused, falsely imprisoned, defamed, and harassed.[1] He names Shawanna Powell and Detective B. Christian as defendants. Mr. Counce states he met Shawanna Powell through an online dating site, decided he did not wish to pursue a relationship after meeting her in person, and did not respond to subsequent calls and text messages from her. Plaintiff alleges she then made false accusations to the police and “got [him] arrested.” ECF No. 1 at 3. Mr. Counce further alleges Defendant Christian “didn't do any investigating” before arresting him, other than “running his name.” Id. Plaintiff claims he was in Atlanta, Georgia, on October 18, 2017 (apparently the date of the alleged battery).

         Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages and release from jail.

         II. 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 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) (citations omitted); Northington v. Jackson, 973 F.2d 1518, 1523 (10th Cir. 1992). A court liberally construes a pro se complaint and applies “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In addition, the court accepts all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true. Anderson v. Blake, 469 F.3d 910, 913 (10th Cir. 2006). On the other hand, “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief, ” dismissal is appropriate. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558 (2007).

         A pro se litigant's “conclusory allegations without supporting factual averments are insufficient to state a claim upon which relief can be based.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). “[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.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). The complaint's “factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 555, 570.

         The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained “that, to state a claim in federal court, a complaint must explain what each defendant did to [the pro se plaintiff]; when the defendant did it; how the defendant's action harmed [the plaintiff]; and, what specific legal right the plaintiff believes the defendant violated.” Nasious v. Two Unknown B.I.C.E. Agents, 492 F.3d 1158, 1163 (10th Cir. 2007). The court “will not supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiff's complaint or construct a legal theory on a plaintiff's behalf.” Whitney v. New Mexico, 113 F.3d 1170, 1173-74 (10th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).

         The Tenth Circuit has pointed out that the Supreme Court's decisions in Twombly and Erickson gave rise to a new standard of review for § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) dismissals. See Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1218 (10th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted); see also Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1098 (10th Cir. 2009). As a result, courts “look to the specific allegations in the complaint to determine whether they plausibly support a legal claim for relief.” Kay, 500 F.3d at 1218 (citation omitted). Under this new standard, “a plaintiff must ‘nudge his claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'” Smith, 561 F.3d at 1098 (citation omitted). “Plausible” in this context does not mean “likely to be true, ” but rather refers “to the scope of the allegations in a complaint: if they are so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct, much of it innocent, ” then the plaintiff has not “nudged [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1974).

         III. Discussion

         A. Abstention

         Mr. Counce asks this Court to order his release from jail and to award him damages for allegedly unconstitutional actions taken by law enforcement in connection with a pending state criminal prosecution. The Court is prohibited from doing so under Younger v. Harris,401 U.S. 37, 45 (1971).[2] The Younger abstention doctrine is based on “notions of comity and federalism, which require that federal courts respect state functions and the independent operation of state legal systems.” Phelps v. Hamilton,122 F.3d 885, 889 (10th Cir. 1997). Absent narrow exceptions for “bad faith or harassment, ” prosecution under a statute that is “flagrantly and patently” unconstitutional, or other “extraordinary circumstances” involving irreparable injury, Younger, 401 U.S. at 46-55, abstention is both appropriate and mandated when: (1) there is an ongoing state criminal, civil, or administrative proceeding, (2) the state court affords an adequate forum to hear the claims raised in the plaintiff's federal complaint, and (3) the state proceedings implicate important state interests. Weitzel v. Div. of Occupational & ...


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