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Kershaw v. White

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

July 18, 2018

SHERIFF BRAD WHITE, et al., Defendants.



         This case is currently before the Court for screening as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Plaintiff Lance Kershaw, an inmate confined at the Lamar County Jail, filed the above-captioned proceeding seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and requested to proceed without the prepayment of filing fees. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Complaint is hereby DISMISSED without prejudice

         I. Preliminary Review of Plaintiff's Complaint

         A. Standard of Review

         Because Plaintiff is a pretrial detainee proceeding under Section 1983 and seeks to proceed in forma pauperis in this action, his Complaint is subject to screening under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) & 1915A which require a district court to dismiss any complaint that is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.[1] When conducting a preliminary review, the district court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and make all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Brown v. Johnson, 387 F.3d 1344, 1347 (11th Cir. 2004) (stating that allegations in the complaint must be viewed as true). Pro se pleadings are also “held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys, ” and a pro se complaint is thus “liberally construed.” Tannenbaum v. United States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998) (per curiam). The district court, however, cannot allow a plaintiff to litigate frivolous, conclusory, or speculative claims. As part of the preliminary screening, the court shall dismiss a complaint, or any part thereof, prior to service, if it is apparent that the plaintiff's claims are frivolous or if his allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted - i.e., that the plaintiff is not entitled to relief based on the facts alleged. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         To state a viable claim, the complaint must include “enough factual matter” to “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (alteration in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). There must also be “enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” to prove the claim. Id. at 556. The claims cannot be speculative or based solely on beliefs or suspicions; each must be supported by allegations of relevant and discoverable fact. Id. Thus, neither legal conclusions nor a recitation of legally relevant terms, standing alone, is sufficient to survive preliminary review. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'”) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Claims without an arguable basis in law or fact will be dismissed as frivolous. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); accord Bilal v. Driver, 251 F.3d 1346, 1349 (11th Cir. 2001) (noting that claims are frivolous if “clearly baseless” or based upon “indisputably meritless” legal theories).

         B. Plaintiff's Allegations and Claims

         The events underlying this Complaint occurred at the Lamar County Jail. Plaintiff states that he was recently “served process with divorce proceedings from his wife of 17 years.” Amended Compl. 6, ECF No. 7. Due to deficiencies in the Lamar County Jail's law library and limitations to Plaintiff's ability to access the library, he was unable to properly research and respond to the pleadings filed in the divorce proceedings. Id. Plaintiff is permitted only 3 hours of legal research per week, and the jail employees are not trained in how to use the electronic law library. According to Plaintiff, this caused him to inadvertently “waive[] the statutory mediation hearing” because he was unable to “respond in a timely manner to the complaint for divorce filed by his wife.” Id. Plaintiff further complains that the judge presiding over the divorce proceedings has failed to rule on Plaintiff's motion to secure his own appearance at the divorce proceedings, and his wife's attorney has filed for a “final hearing upon the complaint for divorce.” Id.

         Plaintiff additionally complains that the Lamar County Jail does not have a “formal grivance procedure for dispute resolution.” Id. As a result, Plaintiff's grievances and “disputes” go unanswered and unresolved. Id. at 7. Also, the “water for inmate consumption and food preparation in the kitchen facility has a brown-orange tint to it with odor coming out of all facilities plumbing fixtures.” Id.

         i. First Amendment Access to Courts

         Plaintiff complains that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was denied adequate access to the prison law library and legal services. The Supreme Court has long recognized that “prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts.” Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977). The states have a burden to ensure that this right remains unfettered and that the access be meaningful such that prisoners must have “reasonably adequate opportunity to present claimed violations of fundamental constitutional rights to the courts.” Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 350 (1996) (quoting Bounds, 430 U.S. at 825). In order to successfully allege a constitutional violation based on a denial of access to the courts, however, a plaintiff must show actual harm or prejudice to that right. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 349 - 50. To satisfy the actual harm element of an access to courts claim, the complained of actions of the prison officials “must have frustrated or impeded the inmate's efforts to pursue a nonfrivolous legal claim.” Bass v. Singletary, 143 F.3d 1442, 1444 (11th Cir. 1998) (citing Lewis, 518 U.S. at 352-54). “This essential standing requirement means that prison officials' actions that allegedly violate an inmate's right to access the courts must have impeded the inmate's pursuit of a nonfrivolous, post- conviction claim or civil rights action.” Wilson v. Blankenship, 163 F.3d 1284, 1291 (11th Cir. 1998) (citing Bass, 143 F.3d at 1554). The legal claim must relate to a direct appeal, habeas petition, or civil rights action. Bass, 143 F.3d at 1444.

         Plaintiff complains that he is prevented from crafting “meaningful legal papers to respond in a timely manner” in his ongoing divorce proceedings. According to Plaintiff, he lost or waived the opportunity to “statutory mediation hearing” because he failed to file a timely response. Amended Compl. 6, ECF No. 7. Plaintiff's ability to secure mediation and draft better pleadings in his ongoing divorce proceedings does not concern a direct appeal, a habeas petition, or his civil rights. Plaintiff's allegations also do not suggest that Plaintiff's divorce proceedings implicate a fundamental human interest. Therefore, without more, Plaintiff's inability to litigate his divorce proceedings more effectively without additional library access does not plausibly state an actual injury. See Sirbaugh v. Young, 25 Fed.Appx. 266 (6th Cir. 2001) (affirming dismissal of access to courts claim because inability to appeal division of property in divorce proceedings did not violate constitutional rights); Loden v. Hayes, 208 Fed.Appx. 356 (5th Cir. 2006) (holding that there is no constitutional right to legal material to help with divorce proceedings); Dopp v. W. Dist. Of Okla., 105 Fed.Appx. 259, 260 (10th Cir. 2004) (holding that injury only with respect to civil divorce proceedings was not the kind of injury that meets the constitution's standing requirements). Rather, impairment of his litigation capacity “is simply one of the incidental (and perfectly constitutional) consequences of conviction and incarceration.” Lewis, 518 U.S. at 355.

         Moreover, Plaintiff has failed to connect the named Defendants to his alleged inadequate access to legal resources. Plaintiff named Sheriff Brad White, Major Leslie, Holmes, Captain Ron Buchanan, and the Lamar County Sheriff's Office as Defendants in this action. Plaintiff, however, does not allege that any Defendant was personally involved in denying Plaintiff access to legal resources, and his well plead factual allegations do not connect them to the alleged violation. Instead, Plaintiff alleges that these Defendants are charged with the day-to-day operations of Lamar County Detention Center, and that they either enforce or “set down” rules and procedures which govern the jail. Amended Compl. 6, ECF No. 7.

         “It is well established in this Circuit that supervisory officials are not liable under § 1983 for the unconstitutional acts of their subordinates on the basis of respondeat superior or vicarious liability.” Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1360 (quoting Hartley v. Parnell, 193 F.3d 1263, 1269 (11th Cir. 1999)). Instead, supervisory liability under § 1983 may be established “either when the supervisor personally participates in the allege unconstitutional conduct or when there is a causal connection between the ...

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