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Cornelius v. Jenkins

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

March 7, 2018

MICHAEL ANTONIO CORNELIUS, Plaintiff,
v.
SGT. ANDREW JENKINS; and C/O II BERNARD JOINER, Defendants.

          ORDER and MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          R. STAN BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contesting certain events that occurred during his incarceration at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, Georgia. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff concurrently filed a Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. (Doc. 2.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis.[1] However, I RECOMMEND that the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's retaliation claims and claims against Defendant Joiner and DENY Plaintiff leave to appeal in forma pauperis as to his retaliation claims and his claims against Defendant Joiner.

         PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS [2]

         On December 23, 2014, Plaintiff was returning to his dorm when Defendant Joiner refused to let him pass through the entry. (Doc. 1, p. 5.) Instead, Defendant Joiner searched Plaintiff and seized his homework. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Joiner did so because Plaintiff filed a grievance against him. (Id.) Other officers arrived at the scene, cuffed Plaintiff, and escorted him to medical. (Id.) Sometime during this escort, Defendant Jenkins punched Plaintiff several times while he was down and still cuffed. (Id.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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 and 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); Dingler ex rel. Dingler v. Georgia, No. 17-13253, 2018 WL 1037005, at *3 (11th Cir. Feb. 23, 2018) (per curiam) (“[Section 1915(e)] plainly applies to anyone proceeding in forma pauperis, ‘prisoners and non-prisoners alike.'”) (citation omitted); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 113 n.19 (3d Cir. 2002) (non-prisoner indigent plaintiffs are “clearly within the scope of § 1915(e)(2)”).

         When reviewing a complaint on an application to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court is guided by the instructions for pleading contained in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 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)).

         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)). 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.

         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. Claims Against Defendants in Their Official Capacities

         Plaintiff cannot sustain a Section 1983 claim for monetary damages against Defendants in their official capacities. States are immune from private suits pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment and traditional principles of state sovereignty. Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 712- 13 (1999). Section 1983 does not abrogate the well-established immunities of a state from suit without its consent. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 67 (1989). Because a lawsuit against a state officer in his official capacity is “no different from a suit against the [s]tate itself, ” such a defendant is immune from suit under Section 1983. Id. at 71. Here, the State of Georgia would be the real party in interest in a suit against Defendants in their official capacities as employees of the Georgia Department of Corrections. Accordingly, the Eleventh Amendment immunizes these actors from suit in their official capacities. See Free v. Granger, 887 F.2d 1552, 1557 (11th Cir. 1989).

         Consequently, the Court should DISMISS Plaintiff's monetary claims against Defendants in their official capacities.

         II. Retaliation Claims

         “It is an established principle of constitutional law that an inmate is considered to be exercising his First Amendment right of freedom of speech when he complains to the prison's administrators about the conditions of his confinement.” O'Bryant v. Finch, 637 F.3d 1207, 1212 (11th Cir. 2011). It is also established that an inmate may maintain a cause of action against prison administrators who retaliate against him for making such complaints. Id. (quoting Smith v. Mosley, 532 F.3d 1270, 1276 (11th Cir. 2008) (internal citation and punctuation omitted)). “To establish a First Amendment retaliation claim, a prisoner need not allege the violation of an additional separate and distinct constitutional right; instead, the core of the claim is that the prisoner is being retaliated against for exercising his right to free speech.” O'Bryant, 637 F.3d at 1212. “To prevail, the inmate must establish these elements: (1) his speech was constitutionally protected; (2) the inmate suffered adverse action such that the administrator's allegedly retaliatory ...


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