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Washington v. Chatham County Police Department

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

April 28, 2015



G. R. SMITH, Magistrate Judge.

Matthew Washington is a serial litigator enjoined by this Court from filing any more civil lawsuits absent "a $1, 500 contempt bond." Washington v. Alaimo, 934 F.Supp. 1395, 1400 (S.D. Ga. 1996) (imposing Fed.R.Civ.P. 11 sanctions, including the litigation bond, in response to Washington's vexatious filings and his infamous "motion to kiss my ass"). Last year, this Court dismissed one of Washington's complaints for violating that injunction. Washington v. West, CV614-024, doc. 5 (S.D. Ga. May 6, 2014).[1] Washington has now filed yet another 42 U.S.C. § 1983 case without satisfying the bond requirement. Doc. 1. This time, he sues the very police department that he victimized in 1976 by murdering one of its officers, Alex Hodgson. Alaimo, 934 F.Supp. at 1396-97 (noting that the state court sentenced Washington to life imprisonment for murdering a police officer and three ten-year terms for the aggravated assault of other officers, with all sentences to run concurrently). In his latest suit, he cites no valid legal grounds for relief and otherwise advances mere conclusions.[2]

Alaimo enjoined Washington from "filing a lawsuit in this or any other federal district court unless" he first posted a $1, 500 "contempt bond, " which would be returned to him at the conclusion of the case if he complied with Fed.R.Civ.P. 11. Alaimo, 934 F.Supp. at 1400. At that time, Washington had an inmate account balance of $17, 017.80 and continued to receive large disability checks from the Treasury. Id. at n. 2. The Court noted that Washington could move "to alter the bond requirements if his disability checks permanently cease." Id. While Washington has not sought relief from the bond requirement here, he has furnished a statement from prison officials certifying that he had no deposits to his inmate account during the prior 6 months and had a "0" average monthly balance for that period. Doc. 4. The Court granted him leave to proceed in forma pauperis based on his zero prison account balance and his insistence that he has no funds on deposit with any bank or financial institution (even though he admitted to receiving monthly "VA" payments of $184.49 at some time within the past year). Doc 2 at 2.

As this Court is not empowered to impose any prospective filing restriction that completely closes the courthouse door to a vexatious litigant, Miller v. Donald, 541 F.3d 1091, 1097-99 (11th Cir. 2008), the contempt bond may not be enforced if Washington is penniless and without any means to pay it. The Court assumes, based on his IFP application, that Washington's financial circumstances have changed and that he now has insufficient funds to pay either the filing fee or the contempt bond. Because Washington is subject to the strictures of 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e whether or not he is a pauper, the Court finds it unnecessary to expend any further time and resources on the question of whether he has some secret cash hoard and, therefore, is in fact capable of paying the $1, 500 contempt bond. See Alaimo, 934 F.Supp. at 1400 n. 5 (noting that the (then) recently enacted Prison Litigation Reform Act would soon require that courts conduct a frivolity review of all prisoner complaints, not just IFP complaints); see infra at 8, n. 6.

Although Washington's latest suit may not be subject to the Alaimo injunction if he is a pauper, it nevertheless must be dismissed. The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), enacted in 1996, includes the "three strikes" provision in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). Under that provision a prisoner may not proceed with a civil action (or appeal) under § 1915 if he "has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) (emphasis added); Wright v. Polk County, 556 F.Appx. 873, 874-75 (11th Cir. 2014) (upholding § 1915(g) dismissal upon three strikes and plaintiffs failure to pay the fee when he initiated his lawsuit). Washington had two post-PLRA strikes before he even filed this latest case (which, by the way, also counts as a strike). See West, CV614-024 doc. 6 (dismissal with prejudice); doc. 11 (appellate dismissal of that case on abandonment grounds). And he had already racked up more than three strike-level cases by 1996.[3] Alaimo, 934 F.Supp. at 1397-99 (collecting cases). Nor does he plead any "imminent danger" facts to overcome the § 1915(g) bar. See Medberry v. Butler, 185 F.3d 1189, 1193 (11th Cir. 1999). Hence, this case is barred by § 1915(g).

His suit against the "Chatham County Police Department" is also legally insufficient and, therefore, subject to dismissal under § 1915A. As the Eleventh Circuit has held, a Georgia county police department is not a "legal entity" subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Lovelace v. DeKalb Cent. Probation, 144 F.Appx. 793, 795 (11th Cir. 2005). Because Washington has not named a proper party defendant, and because his conclusory allegations do not meet the pleading standard of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, [4] his complaint fails to state a claim for relief.

Washington is clearly an abusive litigant who has consumed a disproportionate share of this Court's resources. In addition to his prior litigation abuse (and the instant vexatious complaint), Washington has recently launched a frivolously successive 28 U.S.C. § 2254 filing, Washington v. Holt, CV415-019, doc. 4 (S.D. Ga. Mar. 23, 2015), and another demonstrably frivolous § 1983 case against a sitting state court judge and Georgia's Board of Pardons and Paroles. Washington v. Karpf, CV415-068, doc. 1 at 6 (S.D. Ga. Mar. 16, 2015) (he sues them for "racial hate and discriminations" exhibited by their failure to release him on parole). The Court therefore should apply to his future filings the following post- Miller remedy, as recently imposed against other vexatious filers, to curb further abuse, conserve judicial resources needed for other litigants, and yet still provide meaningful court access:

1. First, Washington is enjoined from bringing any civil actions in forma pauperis ("IFP") under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 in this or any other federal district court, except he may bring a civil action asserting that he "is under imminent danger of serious physical injury." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

2. As to any civil actions sought to be commenced IFP by Washington after this date, the Clerk shall receive the papers, open a miscellaneous file for tracking purposes, and forward the papers to the presiding judge in this case for screening under § 1915(g).[5] Only if the complaint alleges a plausible claim that he is in imminent danger of serious physical harm will the court allow the complaint to be filed. IFP complaints that fail to assert an imminent danger claim, or that merely incant the phrase "imminent danger" without making a colorable showing that plaintiff faces an actual threat of such harm, will be dismissed without any further judicial action after 30 days from the date the complaint is received by the Clerk unless the Court orders otherwise. This automatic dismissal of claims that do not pass muster under § 1915(g) "will reduce the burden of paper-moving and explanation-writing, conserving a little judicial time for litigants who deserve attention." Alexander v. United States, 121 F.3d 312, 315 (7th Cir. 1997) (Easterbrook, J.).

Thus, although the Court will read and consider any future complaint that Washington endeavors to file IFP, it will not necessarily enter an order addressing that complaint. If no order is forthcoming, then 30 days after the complaint's receipt the Clerk shall, without awaiting any further direction, notify Washington that his request for IFP status has been denied and that his case has been dismissed without prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).[6] The Clerk shall not docket any further motions or papers in that case except for a notice of appeal.[7] If a notice of appeal is filed, the Clerk shall forward a copy of this Order, the notice of appeal, and the dismissed complaint to the Court of Appeals.

3. To ensure that all future Washington pleadings are properly consolidated for review, the Clerk shall personally advise each deputy clerk of the Court's ruling in this case and develop a procedure for ensuring that all future Washington complaints are immediately assigned and forwarded to the presiding district judge in this case, regardless of which divisional clerk's office received and docketed the papers.

4. Washington may file a motion to modify or rescind the order imposing these restrictions no earlier than two years from the date of its entry.

5. These filing restrictions do not apply to any criminal case in which Washington is named as a defendant, or to any proper ...

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