Johnson v. Fitzgerald
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION as set forth in following order. Signed by Chief District Judge Thomas A Varlan on 2/3/17. (c/m)(ABF)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
CLEVEN J. JOHNSON,
The Court is in receipt of a pro se prisoner’s complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [Doc. 1],
a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis [Doc. 5], and a motion to reopen case [Doc. 4].
It appears from the motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis that Plaintiff lacks sufficient
financial resources to pay the filing fee. Accordingly, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, Plaintiff’s
motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis [Doc. 5] will be GRANTED.
Also, for good
cause set forth therein, Plaintiff’s motion to reopen this case [Doc. 4] will be GRANTED. For
the reasons set forth below, however, no process shall issue and this action will be DISMISSED
for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under § 1983.
Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), district courts must screen prisoner
complaints and shall, at any time, sua sponte dismiss any claims that are frivolous or malicious,
fail to state a claim for relief, or are against a defendant who is immune. See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. §§
1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A; Benson v. O’Brian, 179 F.3d 1014 (6th Cir. 1999).
standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and in Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554 (2007) “governs dismissals for failure state a claim
under [28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A] because the relevant statutory language tracks the
language in Rule 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470–71 (6th Cir. 2010). Thus, to
survive an initial review under the PLRA, a complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Courts liberally construe pro se pleadings filed in civil
rights cases and hold them to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).
In order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must establish that he was
deprived of a federal right by a person acting under color of state law. Black v. Barberton
Citizens Hosp., 134 F.3d 1265, 1267 (6th Cir. 1998); O’Brien v. City of Grand Rapids, 23 F.3d
990, 995 (6th Cir. 1994); Russo v. City of Cincinnati, 953 F.2d 1036, 1042 (6th Cir. 1992); see
also Braley v. City of Pontiac, 906 F.2d 220, 223 (6th Cir. 1990) (stating that “Section 1983 does
not itself create any constitutional rights; it creates a right of action for the vindication of
constitutional guarantees found elsewhere”).
In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that multiple violations of his constitutional rights
occurred during his 2009 criminal trial in Knoxville, Tennessee [Doc. 1 pp. 2–3]. Plaintiff
generally asserts that these violations included prosecutorial and judicial misconduct,
withholding of exculpatory materials, violations of due process, violations of Plaintiff’s rights
under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments, violations of Rule 11 and 18 of the Federal
Rules of Criminal Procedure, violations of the Tennessee constitution, and violations of several
Tennessee statutes [Id.]. As relief, Plaintiff seeks fifteen million dollars [Id. at 4].
First, Plaintiff sets forth no specific facts in support of his general allegations of
wrongdoing in his underlying criminal case.
Formulaic and conclusory recitations of the
elements of a claim which are not supported by specific facts are insufficient to state a plausible
claim for relief, however. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681. Accordingly, the complaint fails to state a
claim for relief as stated.
Further, even if Plaintiff had set forth more details regarding his claims, it is apparent
from Plaintiff’s complaint that, if the Court were to find in Plaintiff’s favor as to the claims
therein, Plaintiff’s criminal conviction would be rendered invalid. As such, Plaintiff’s claims are
barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), in which the Supreme Court held that an
action for damages for an alleged constitutional conviction or for “harm caused by actions whose
unlawfulness would render a state conviction or sentence invalid,” cannot be maintained unless
the prisoner “prove[s] that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal,
expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such
determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.”
Id. at 486–87. As Plaintiff states that the appellate process for his criminal conviction is still
ongoing [Doc. 1 p. 2], it is apparent that Plaintiff’s claims are barred by Heck.
For the reasons set forth above, even liberally construing the complaint in favor of
Plaintiff, it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under § 1983 and this action
will therefore be DISMISSED without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief
may be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A.
Because Plaintiff is an inmate in the Knox County Detention Center, he will be
ASSESSED the civil filing fee of $350.00. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1)(A) and (B), the
custodian of Plaintiff’s inmate trust account at the institution where he now resides will be
DIRECTED to submit to the Clerk, U.S. District Court, 800 Market Street, Suite 130,
Knoxville, Tennessee 37902, as an initial partial payment, whichever is greater of:
(a) twenty percent (20%) of the average monthly deposits to Plaintiff’s inmate trust
(b) twenty percent (20%) of the average monthly balance in Plaintiff’s
inmate trust account for the six-month period preceding the filing of the
Thereafter, the custodian shall submit twenty percent (20%) of Plaintiff’s preceding
monthly income (or income credited to Plaintiff’s trust account for the preceding month), but
only when such monthly income exceeds ten dollars ($10.00), until the full filing fee of three
hundred fifty dollars ($350.00) as authorized under 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a) has been paid to the
Clerk. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).
The Clerk will be DIRECTED to send a copy of this Memorandum and Order to the
Sheriff of Knox County to ensure that the custodian of Plaintiff’s inmate trust account complies
with that portion of the Prison Litigation Reform Act relating to payment of the filing fee. The
Clerk will also be DIRECTED to forward a copy of this Memorandum and Order to the Court’s
The Court CERTIFIES that any appeal from this action would not be taken in good faith
and would be totally frivolous. See Fed. R. App. P. 24.
AN APPROPRIATE ORDER WILL ENTER.
s/ Thomas A. Varlan
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?