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Helfrich v. Jackson

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

November 22, 2017

DOUGLAS HELFRICH, Plaintiff,
v.
SGT. K. JACKSON, Defendant.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          R. STAN BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Smith State Prison in Glennville, Georgia, filed a Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contesting certain conditions of his confinement. (Doc. 1.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. (Doc. 3.) In addition, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS without prejudice Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to follow this Court's Order, DIRECT the Clerk of Court to CLOSE this case and enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal, and DENY Plaintiff leave to appeal in forma pauperis.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint on September 15, 2017, and a Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis shortly thereafter. (Docs. 1, 3.) On October 16, 2017, the Court deferred ruling on Plaintiff's in forma pauperis Motion and directed Plaintiff to file an Amended Complaint and to re-file his Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis using the correct form. (Doc. 4.) The Court warned Plaintiff that a failure to properly amend or file an appropriate in forma pauperis Motion would result in dismissal. (Id.) Despite these warnings, Plaintiff failed to file any amendment to his Complaint or submit an appropriate application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Plaintiff seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1), the Court may authorize the filing of a civil lawsuit without the prepayment of fees if the plaintiff submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all of his assets, shows an inability to pay the filing fee, and also includes a statement of the nature of the action which shows that he is entitled to redress. Even if the plaintiff proves indigence, the Court must dismiss the action if it is frivolous or malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(ii). Additionally, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review a complaint in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity. Upon such screening, the Court must dismiss a complaint, or any portion thereof, that is frivolous or malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted or which seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         The Court looks to the instructions for pleading contained in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when reviewing a Complaint on an application to proceed in forma pauperis. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 (“A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain [among other things] . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”); Fed.R.Civ.P. 10 (requiring that claims be set forth in numbered paragraphs, each limited to a single set of circumstances). Further, a claim is frivolous under Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) “if it is ‘without arguable merit either in law or fact.'” Napier v. Preslicka, 314 F.3d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting Bilal v. Driver, 251 F.3d 1346, 1349 (11th Cir. 2001)).

         Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Thompson v. Rundle, 393 F. App'x 675, 678 (11th Cir. 2010). Under that standard, this Court must determine whether the complaint contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A plaintiff must assert “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not” suffice. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Section 1915 also “accords judges not only the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless.” Bilal, 251 F.3d at 1349 (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)).

         In its analysis, the Court will abide by the long-standing principle that the pleadings of unrepresented parties are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys and, therefore, must be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006) (“Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys. . . .”) (quoting Hughes v. Lott, 350 F.3d 1157, 1160 (11th Cir. 2003)). However, Plaintiff's unrepresented status will not excuse mistakes regarding procedural rules. McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) (“We have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel.”).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Dismissal for Failure to Follow this Court's Orders

         A district court may dismiss a plaintiff's claims sua sponte pursuant to either Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) (“Rule 41(b)”) or the court's inherent authority to manage its docket. Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630-31 (1962);[1] Coleman v. St. Lucie Cty. Jail, 433 F. App'x 716, 718 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b) and Betty K Agencies, Ltd. v. M/V MONADA, 432 F.3d 1333, 1337 (11th Cir. 2005)). In particular, Rule 41(b) allows for the involuntary dismissal of a plaintiff's claims where he has failed to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court order, or local rules. Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b); see Coleman, 433 F. App'x at 718; Sanders v. Barrett, No. 05-12660, 2005 WL 2640979, at *1 (11th Cir. Oct. 17, 2005) (citing Kilgo v. Ricks, 983 F.2d 189, 192 (11th Cir. 1993)); cf. Local R. 41.1(b) (“[T]he assigned Judge may, after notice to counsel of record, sua sponte . . . dismiss any action . . . with or without prejudice [for] willful disobedience or neglect of any order of the Court.”). Additionally, a district court's “power to dismiss is an inherent aspect of its authority to enforce its orders and ensure prompt disposition of lawsuits.” Brown v. Tallahassee Police Dep't, 205 F. App'x 802, 802 (11th Cir. 2006) (quoting Jones v. Graham, 709 F.2d 1457, 1458 (11th Cir. 1983)).

         It is true that dismissal with prejudice for failure to follow court orders is a “sanction . . . applicable only in extreme circumstances” and requires that a court “(1) [make] a clear record of willful conduct and (2) a finding that lesser sanctions are inadequate.” Baltimore v. Jim Burke Motors, Auto., 300 F. App'x 703, 707 (11th Cir. 2008) (per curiam) (citing Betty K Agencies, Ltd., 432 F.3d at 1339, and quoting Goforth v. Owens, 766 F.2d 1533, 1535 (11th Cir. 1985)). see also McIntosh v. Gauthier, 182 F. App'x 884, 886-87 (11th Cir. 2006) (same) (citing McKelvey v. AT&T Techs., Inc., 789 F.2d 1518, 1520 (11th Cir. 2008)). By contrast, dismissal without prejudice for failure to follow a court order is not an adjudication on the merits, and, therefore, courts are afforded greater discretion in dismissing claims in this manner. See Taylor v. Spaziano, 251 F. App'x 616, 619 (11th Cir. 2007); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b) (providing that an involuntary dismissal for failure to comply with a court order is an adjudication on the merits, unless the district court “states otherwise”); Brown, 205 F. App'x at 802 (noting that dismissal without prejudice under Rule 41(b) is generally not an abuse of discretion).

         While the Court exercises its discretion to dismiss cases with caution, dismissal of this action without prejudice is warranted. See Brown, 205 F. App'x at 802-03 (upholding dismissal without prejudice for failure to prosecute Section 1983 claims, where plaintiff failed to follow court order to file amended complaint and court had informed plaintiff that noncompliance could lead to dismissal), see also Taylor, 251 F. App'x at 620-21 (upholding dismissal without prejudice for failure to follow a court order and for failure to prosecute, where plaintiffs failed to follow the court's specific instructions on how to amend their deficient complaint, instead submitting an amended complaint that contained the same deficiencies as the original); cf. Moon v. Newsome, 863 F.2d 835, 837-39 (11th Cir. 1989) (upholding dismissal with ...


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