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Johnson v. Stanley

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

April 17, 2018

DENNIS JAMES JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
SHAUN STANLEY, Defendant.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          R. STAN BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Estill, South Carolina, filed a cause of action pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), to contest certain events that occurred while he was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Jesup, Georgia (“FCI Jesup”). (Doc. 1.) For the reasons set forth below, I RECOMMEND that the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's Complaint, DIRECT the Clerk of Court to CLOSE this case and enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal, and DENY Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal.[1] The Court DISMISSES as moot Plaintiff's Motion for Court Filings. (Doc. 7.)

         PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS[2]

         This case arises out of a tragic accident suffered by Plaintiff while on a prison work detail.[3] Plaintiff asserts Defendant violated his Fifth Amendment procedural due process rights by misadvising him and destroying evidence relevant to his putative accident compensation claim. (Doc. 1.) On April 21, 2015, while recovering in Wayne Memorial Hospital from an accident involving an EZ-GO Cart, Plaintiff spoke to Defendant, the Institutional Safety Manager at FCI Jesup, about the accident and possible compensation for his injury. (Id. at pp. 3, 4.) Defendant informed Plaintiff that he had already filed Plaintiff's claim for compensation. (Id. at p. 4.) When Plaintiff later followed up with his claim, Defendant confirmed it had been filed and that Plaintiff would soon have a response from the prison Board of Directors.

         In May 2015, Plaintiff again spoke with Defendant after not hearing back from the Board and was informed that, while his claim had been filed with the Central Office, Plaintiff would also need to file an “administrative tort claim” to be compensated for his disfigurement. Plaintiff filed this claim and also received a copy of the injury report. Thereafter, the Central Office informed Plaintiff that his work detail injury claim was not covered by the Federal Tort Claims Act and that his sole remedy was through the Inmate Accident Compensation Program, [4] a conclusion echoed by this Court in Johnson I. Upon learning the legal status of his claim, Plaintiff approached Defendant “about the misinformation that he gave me about the accident compensation claim.” (Id.)

         Defendant admitted that no file of Plaintiff's accident had been made, and when pressed by Plaintiff about his “lie, ” Defendant replied that the injurious EZ-GO Cart was not meant to be loaded with sheet metal on its roof and that doing so violated safety standards. (Id. at p. 5.) Plaintiff filed two administrative grievances against Defendant in response; one alleging Defendant falsified official documents and the other alleging due process and regulatory violations. In September 2016, Plaintiff sought photos from the day of his accident that were supposed to be kept on file by Defendant. The assistant safety manager, Mr. Fredricks, informed Plaintiff that Defendant had copies of the photos, which were sent to the Safety Office by Lieutenants Novak and Clemons. Mr. Fredricks also told Plaintiff that he was entitled to copies of the photos pursuant to policy.

         After also speaking with the lieutenants, who confirmed the photos they took were sent to the Safety Office, [5] Plaintiff confronted Defendant about the missing accident photos. Defendant relayed that no one sent him any photos from the day in question and that everyone Plaintiff had spoken with was mistaken about the photos. Plaintiff then filed another administrative grievance against Defendant and eventually exhausted those remedies. Plaintiff argues that, as a “direct result” of Defendant's destruction of photographic evidence and failure to follow the accident compensation procedures, he has not received any monetary compensation for the harm he suffered. (Id.) As relief for Defendant's alleged due process violations, Plaintiff requests $7 million in compensatory damages and $11 million in punitive damages. (Id. at p. 6.)

         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 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). 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).

         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)).

         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 Fed.Appx. 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. Article III Standing

         Article III of the United States Constitution limits the power of federal courts to adjudicating actual “cases” and “controversies.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 1. The most significant case-or-controversy doctrine is the requirement of standing. See Georgia State Conference of NAACP Branches v. Cox, 183 F.3d 1259, 1262 (11th Cir. 1999). “In essence the question of standing is whether the litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute or of particular issues.” Nat'l Alliance for Mentally Ill. St. Johns Inc. v. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs of St. Johns Cty., 376 F.3d 1292, 1294 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975)). A plaintiff seeking to invoke federal jurisdiction carries the burden to establish that he has standing to assert his claim. See Lujan v. ...


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