Van-Aken v. Obion County Jail et al
ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND. Signed by Judge James D. Todd on 2/13/18. (mbm)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
PATRICK JON VANAKEN
OBION COUNTY, et.al.,
ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND
On January 19, 2016, Plaintiff Patrick Jon VanAken (“VanAken”), U.S. Bureau of
Prisons register number 27301-076, who at the time of filing was incarcerated at the Obion
County Jail (“Jail”), in Union City, Tennessee, filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 accompanied by a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF Nos. 1 & 2). In
an order issued January 21, 2016, the Court granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis and
assessed the civil filing fee pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1915(a)-(b). (ECF No. 4.) The Clerk shall record the Defendants as Obion County1 and
Captain Wayne Davis.
I. THE COMPLAINT
VanAken alleges that on December 10, 2015, he was assaulted by an unidentified guard
in a cell in the holding area of the Jail; the assault allegedly was caught on camera. (Compl. at 2,
The Court construes the allegations against the Obion County Jail as allegations against
ECF No. 1.) VanAken contends that he wanted to press charges but that “he”2 failed to protect
VanAken or file any charges against the guard. VanAken alleges that Defendant Davis did
nothing to help him and instead told him that officers assaulting inmates is okay. (Id.) VanAken
alleges he was assaulted by other inmates on two occasions prior to the assault by the guard and
that Davis also did nothing to help after those incidents. (Id.) One of the inmates who assaulted
VanAken was a state inmate, who should not have been placed with a federal inmate like
himself. (Id.) Davis allegedly stated that he was far too busy to be concerned with VanAken’s
VanAken alleges there are no cameras or emergency reponse buttons in any of the cells,
which resulted in VanAken having to wait over three hours for a guard after he had an accident.
(Id. at 3.) VanAken allegedly has been forced to sleep on the floor, spent four days in a cell with
no toilet paper and no shower, and was denied all outside recreation. (Id.) VanAken also alleges
that ‘they” violated his rights to his spouse and his counsel, would not let him call his counsel
after many requests, and refused him access to the law library. (Id.)
VanAken contends that he only received two warm meals a day during his stay at the Jail,
which were improperly handled, causing him to become ill. (Id.) VanAken allegedly was
refused medical attention for that illness. (Id.)
VanAken alleges numerous issues regarding his medical care. He alleges that medication
is improperly dispensed by guards who are not qualified or certified to handle medication,
causing him to receive the wrong medication. (Id.) Due to his medical history being taken by an
unqualified guard at booking, mistakes have been made in diagnosing VanAken’s medical
VanAken does not specifically identify who “he” is. However, the Court presumes the
allegations against “he” refer to Defendant Davis as he is the only individual Defendant named
problems. (Id.) They have refused to acquire his actual medical records, and VanAken was told
by Barbara Crowell, who is not a party to this complaint, that she had shared his medical tests
with people outside the facility without his consent. (Id.) On October 10, 2015, VanAken
contends that he was wakened in his cell by guard Corey Pinion, who is not a party to this
complaint, who had his hand over VanAken’s mouth while simultaneously administering
smelling salts, causing VanAken to have trouble breathing and become traumatized. (Id.) The
guard told VanAken that Barbara Cromwell said this was the way to administer smelling salts,
which VanAken contends is not safe and would not be recommended by a health professional.
VanAken alleges that the Jail has misplaced his personal property, including his wedding
ring and wallet. (Id,)
On January 13, 2016, VanAken alleges that inmate Michael Simpson was placed in his
cell even though VanAken told them that Simpson was incompatible and suffered from paranoid
schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. (Id.) On January 14, 2016, inmate Simpson flushed milk
cartons in the toilet causing it to overflow with human waste. (Id.) VanAken alleges that a
guard threw VanAken’s property into the waste and told him that he would have to sleep in the
waste. (Id.) However, a couple of hours later, VanAken was forced by the Captain (presumably
Defendant Davis) to clean up the mess. (Id.)
VanAken claims that he has been refused access to religious services, that the Jail has
been holding his non-legal incoming and outgoing, that he was being punished in solitary
confinement even though he had not done anything wrong, and that he is experiencing prejudice
because he is from another state. (Id. at 4.) These issues allegedly have caused VanAken to be
diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and emotional distress. (Id.)
VanAken further alleges that when he was assaulted in cell #15, he was punished by
“medical” and forced to sleep naked for seven days because they said he wanted to kill himself;
however, VanAken contends he would never try to kill himself. (Id.)
VanAken seeks to drug test all Jail employees and to receive damages for pain and
suffering. (Id. at 5.)
Screening and Standard
The Court is required to screen prisoner complaints and to dismiss any complaint, or any
portion thereof, if the complaint—
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.
28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
In assessing whether the complaint in this case states a claim on which relief may be
granted, the standards under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), as stated in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
677-79 (2009), and in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-57 (2007), are applied.
Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). “Accepting all well-pleaded allegations in
the complaint as true, the Court ‘consider[s] the factual allegations in [the] complaint to
determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.’” Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d 380,
383 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681) (alteration in original). “[P]leadings that . . .
are no more than conclusions . . . are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal
conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual
allegations.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 n.3 (“Rule 8(a)(2) still
requires a ‘showing,’ rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief. Without some
factual allegation in the complaint, it is hard to see how a claimant could satisfy the requirement
of providing not only ‘fair notice’ of the nature of the claim, but also ‘grounds’ on which the
“A complaint can be frivolous either factually or legally. Any complaint that is legally
frivolous would ipso facto fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Hill, 630 F.3d
at 470 (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325, 328-29 (1989)).
Whether a complaint is factually frivolous under §§ 1915A(b)(1) and
1915(e)(2)(B)(i) is a separate issue from whether it fails to state a claim for
relief. Statutes allowing a complaint to be dismissed as frivolous give “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.” Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327, 109 S. Ct. 1827 (interpreting 28
U.S.C. § 1915). Unlike a dismissal for failure to state a claim, where a judge
must accept all factual allegations as true, Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949-50, a judge
does not have to accept “fantastic or delusional” factual allegations as true in
prisoner complaints that are reviewed for frivolousness. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at
327-28, 109 S. Ct. 1827.
Id. at 471.
“Pro se complaints are to be held ‘to less stringent standards than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers,’ and should therefore be liberally construed.” Williams, 631 F.3d at 383
(quoting Martin v. Overton, 391 F.3d 710, 712 (6th Cir. 2004)). Pro se litigants and prisoners
are not exempt from the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. As the Sixth
Circuit has explained:
Before the recent onslaught of pro se prisoner suits, the Supreme Court
suggested that pro se complaints are to be held to a less stringent standard than
formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519
(1972) (per curiam). Neither that Court nor other courts, however, have been
willing to abrogate basic pleading essentials in pro se suits. See, e.g., id. at 521
(holding petitioner to standards of Conley v. Gibson); Merritt v. Faulkner, 697
F.2d 761 (7th Cir.) (duty to be less stringent with pro se complaint does not
require court to conjure up unplead allegations), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 986
(1983); McDonald v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16 (1st Cir.1979) (same); Jarrell v. Tisch,
656 F. Supp. 237 (D.D.C. 1987) (pro se plaintiffs should plead with requisite
specificity so as to give defendants notice); Holsey v. Collins, 90 F.R.D. 122
(D. Md. 1981) (even pro se litigants must meet some minimum standards).
Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989); see also Brown v. Matauszak, No. 09-2259,
2011 WL 285251, at *5 (6th Cir. Jan. 31, 2011) (affirming dismissal of pro se complaint for
failure to comply with “unique pleading requirements” and stating “a court cannot ‘create a
claim which [a plaintiff] has not spelled out in his pleading’”) (quoting Clark v. Nat’l Travelers
Life Ins. Co., 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir. 1975)) (alteration in original); Payne v. Sec’y of
Treas., 73 F. App’x 836, 837 (6th Cir. 2003) (affirming sua sponte dismissal of complaint
pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) and stating, “[n]either this court nor the district court is
required to create Payne’s claim for her”); cf. Pliler v. Ford, 542 U.S. 225, 231 (2004) (“District
judges have no obligation to act as counsel or paralegal to pro se litigants.”); Young Bok Song v.
Gipson, 423 F. App’x 506, 510 (6th Cir. 2011) (“[W]e decline to affirmatively require courts to
ferret out the strongest cause of action on behalf of pro se litigants. Not only would that duty be
overly burdensome, it would transform the courts from neutral arbiters of disputes into advocates
for a particular party. While courts are properly charged with protecting the rights of all who
come before it, that responsibility does not encompass advising litigants as to what legal theories
they should pursue.”).
§ 1983 Claim
VanAken filed his complaint on the court-supplied form for actions under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. Section 1983 provides:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation,
custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects,
or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within
the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an
action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that
in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in
such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a
declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the
purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the
District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of
To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) a deprivation
of rights secured by the “Constitution and laws” of the United States (2) committed by a
defendant acting under color of state law. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150
Plaintiff has sued Obion County. When a § 1983 claim is made against a municipality,
the court must analyze two distinct issues: (1) whether plaintiff’s harm was caused by a
constitutional violation; and (2) if so, whether the municipality is responsible for that violation.
Collins v. City of Harker Heights, Tex., 503 U.S. 115, 120 (1992).
The second issue is
dispositive of plaintiff’s claim against Obion County.
A local government “cannot be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor—or, in
other words, a municipality cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory.”
Monell v. Dep’t. of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978) (emphasis in original); see also Searcy
v. City of Dayton, 38 F.3d 282, 286 (6th Cir. 1994); Berry v. City of Detroit, 25 F.3d 1342, 1345
(6th Cir. 1994). A municipality cannot be held responsible for a constitutional deprivation unless
there is a direct causal link between a municipal policy or custom and the alleged constitutional
deprivation. Monell, 436 U.S. at 691-92; Deaton v. Montgomery Co., Ohio, 989 F.2d 885, 889
(6th Cir. 1993). To demonstrate municipal liability, a plaintiff “must (1) identify the municipal
policy or custom, (2) connect the policy to the municipality, and (3) show that his particular
injury was incurred due to execution of that policy.” Alkire v. Irving, 330 F.3d 802, 815 (6th Cir.
2003) (citing Garner v. Memphis Police Dep’t, 8 F.3d 358, 364 (6th Cir. 1993)). “Where a
government ‘custom has not received formal approval through the body’s official
decisionmaking channels,’ such a custom may still be the subject of a § 1983 suit.” Alkire, 330
F.3d at 815 (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 690-91). The policy or custom “must be ‘the moving
force of the constitutional violation’ in order to establish the liability of a government body
under § 1983.” Searcy, 38 F.3d at 286 (quoting Polk Co. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. at 326 (citation
“[T]he touchstone of ‘official policy’ is designed ‘to distinguish acts of the
municipality from acts of employees of the municipality, and thereby make clear that municipal
liability is limited to action for which the municipality is actually responsible.’” City of St. Louis
v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 138 (1988) (quoting Pembaur v. Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 479-80
(1986)) (emphasis in original).
Although civil rights plaintiffs are not required to plead the facts demonstrating
municipal liability with particularity, Leatherman v. Tarrant Cnty Narcotics Intelligence &
Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168-69 (1993), the complaint must be sufficient to put the
municipality on notice of the plaintiff’s theory of liability, see, e.g., Fowler v. Campbell, No.
3:06CV-P610-H, 2007 WL 1035007, at *2 (W.D. Ky. Mar. 30, 2007); Yeackering v. Ankrom,
No. 4:05-CV-00018-M, 2005 WL 1877964, at *2 (W.D. Ky. Aug. 5, 2005); Oliver v. City of
Memphis, No. 04-2074-B, 2004 WL 3316242, at *4 (W.D. Tenn. Dec. 2, 2004); cf. Raub v.
Correctional Med. Servs., Inc., No. 06-13942, 2008 WL 160611, at *2 (E.D. Mich. Jan. 15,
2008) (denying motion to dismiss where complaint contained conclusory allegations of a custom
or practice); Cleary v. Cnty of Macomb, No. 06-15505, 2007 WL 2669102, at *20 (E.D. Mich.
Sept. 6, 2007) (same); Morningstar v. City of Detroit, No. 06-11073, 2007 WL 2669156, at *8
(E.D. Mich. Sept. 6, 2007) (same); Chidester v. City of Memphis, No. 02-2556 MA/A, 2006 WL
1421099, at *3 (W.D. Tenn. June 15, 2005). The allegations of the complaint fail to identify an
official policy or custom which caused injury to Plaintiff. Instead, it appears that Plaintiff is
suing Obion County because he was confined in a county institution and the County employed
persons who allegedly violated his rights.
VanAken claims that Defendant Davis failed to protect him against multiple assaults
from other inmates. For a convicted prisoner, such a claim arises under the Eighth Amendment,
which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments. See generally Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294
For pre-trial detainees such as VanAken, “the ‘cruel and unusual punishment’
proscription of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution does not apply,” because “as a pretrial detainee [the plaintiff is] not being ‘punished,’” Cuoco v. Moritsugu, 222 F.3d 99, 106 (2d
Instead, a person detained prior to conviction receives protection against
mistreatment at the hands of prison officials under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment if held in state custody. Caiozzo v. Koreman, 581 F.3d 63, 69 (2d Cir. 2009); Liscio
v. Warren, 901 F.2d 274, 275–76 (2d Cir.1990). However, even though VanAken appears to
have been a pre-trial detainee during the events at issue, the court will analyze the claims
regarding jail conditions under Eighth Amendment principles because the rights of pre-trial
detainees are equivalent to those of convicted prisoners. Thompson v. Cnty. of Medina, 29 F.3d
238, 242 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing Roberts v. City of Troy, 773 F.2d 720, 723 (6th Cir. 1985).3The
On June 22, 2015, the Supreme Court held, in Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S. Ct. 2466
(2015), that excessive force claims brought by pre-trial detainees must be analyzed under a
Fourteenth Amendment standard of objective reasonableness, rejecting a subjective standard that
takes into account a defendant’s state of mind. Id. at 2472-73. It is unclear whether or to what
extent the holding in Kingsley may affect the deliberate indifference standard for claims
concerning an inmate’s health or safety, which the Sixth Circuit applies to both pre-trial
detainees and convicted prisoners. See Morabito v. Holmes, 628 F. App’x 353, 356-58 (6th Cir.
2015) (applying, even after the decision in Kingsley, the objective reasonableness standard to
pre-trial detainee’s excessive force claims and the Eighth Amendment’s deliberate indifference
standard to denial of medical care claim). Absent further guidance, the Court will continue to
apply the deliberate indifference analysis to claims concerning a pre-trial detainee’s health and
Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
See generally Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294 (1991).
An Eighth Amendment claim consists of both objective and subjective components.
Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994); Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8 (1992);
Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298; Williams v. Curtin, 633 F.3d at 383; Mingus v. Butler, 591 F.3d 474,
479-80 (6th Cir. 2010). The objective component requires that the deprivation be “sufficiently
serious.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; Hudson, 503 U.S. at 8; Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298. To satisfy
the objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim, a prisoner must show that he “is
incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm,” Farmer, 511 U.S. at
834; see also Miller v. Calhoun Cnty., 408 F.3d 803, 812 (6th Cir. 2005), or that he has been
deprived of the “minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities,” Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298
(quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)); see also Hadix v. Johnson, 367 F.3d
513, 525 (6th Cir. 2004). “The Supreme Court has held that ‘prison officials have a duty . . . to
protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.’” Bishop v. Hackel, 636 F.3d 757,
766 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834).
To establish the subjective component of an Eighth Amendment violation, a prisoner
must demonstrate that the official acted with the requisite intent, that is, that he had a
“sufficiently culpable state of mind.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; see also Wilson, 501 U.S. at 297,
302-03. The plaintiff must show that the prison officials acted with “deliberate indifference” to a
substantial risk that the prisoner would suffer serious harm. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; Wilson,
501 U.S. at 303; Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. at 32; Woods v. Lecureux, 110 F.3d 1215,1222
(6th Cir. 1997); Street, 102 F.3d at 814; Taylor v. Mich. Dep’t of Corr., 69 F.3d 76, 79 (6th Cir.
1995). “[D]eliberate indifference describes a state of mind more blameworthy than negligence.”
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835. Thus,
[a] prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for
denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of
and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both
be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk
of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference. This approach
comports best with the text of the Eighth Amendment as our cases have
interpreted it. The Eighth Amendment does not outlaw cruel and unusual
“conditions”; it outlaws cruel and unusual “punishments.” An act or omission
unaccompanied by knowledge of a significant risk of harm might well be
something society wishes to discourage, and if harm does result society might
well wish to assure compensation. The common law reflects such concerns when
it imposes tort liability on a purely objective basis. . . . But an official’s failure to
alleviate a significant risk that he should have perceived but did not, while no
cause for commendation, cannot under our cases be condemned as the infliction
Id. at 837-38 (emphasis added; citations omitted); see also Garretson v. City of Madison Heights,
407 F.3d 789, 796 (6th Cir. 2005) (“If the officers failed to act in the face of an obvious risk of
which they should have known but did not, then they did not violate the Fourteenth
Amendment.”). The subjective component must be evaluated for each defendant individually.
Bishop, 636 F.3d at 767; see also id. at 768 (“[W]e must focus on whether each individual
Deputy had the personal involvement necessary to permit a finding of subjective knowledge.”).
VanAken alleges that two inmates assaulted him and that he was also assaulted by a
guard. However, he does not allege that Defendant Davis knew there was a substantial risk that
the other inmates or a guard would attack VanAken, yet deliberately disregarded that risk. The
allegation that Defendant Davis stated, after the fact, that he was too busy to be concerned with
VanAken’s safety are insufficient to establish such knowledge.
Additionally, VanAken cannot compel a criminal prosecution of any person. As a private
citizen, VanAken has no authority to initiate a federal criminal prosecution of any defendant for
alleged unlawful acts. Kafele v. Frank & Wooldridge Co., 108 Fed. App’x 307, 308-09 (6th Cir.
2004) (citing Diamond v. Charles, 476 U.S. 54, 64-65 (1986); Lopez v. Robinson, 914 F.2d 486,
494 (4th Cir. 1990); Cok v. Cosentino, 876 F.2d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 1989); Hamilton v. Reed, 29 Fed.
App’x 202, 204 (6th Cir. 2002) (same). The decision of whether to institute state or federal
criminal proceedings is a decision committed wholly to the discretion of the State District
Attorney or the United States Attorney. This Court cannot order that Defendant Davis file
charges against an inmate or guard or that an inmate or guard be charged with a crime.
The Eighth Amendment also applies to VanAken’s various claims regarding living
conditions. However, VanAken does not allege that any named Defendant was responsible for
the various conditions or deliberately disregarded a serious risk to his health or safety arising
from those conditions.
Additionally, the Eighth Amendment also applies to VanAken’s claims regarding his
medical care. Under Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976), “deliberate indifference to
serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the ‘unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain,’. . .
proscribed by the Eighth Amendment.” However, not “every claim by a prisoner that he has not
received adequate medical treatment states a violation of the Eighth Amendment.” Estelle, 429
U.S. at 105. “In order to state a cognizable claim, a prisoner must allege acts or omissions
sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. It is only such
indifference that can offend ‘evolving standards of decency’ in violation of the Eighth
Amendment.” Id. at 106.
Within the context of Estelle claims, the objective component requires that the medical
need be sufficiently serious. Hunt v. Reynolds, 974 F.2d 734, 735 (6th Cir. 1992). “A medical
need is serious if it is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one
that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor’s
attention.” Ramos v. Lamm, 639 F.2d 559, 575 (10th Cir. 1980) (quoting Laaman v. Helgemoe,
437 F. Supp. 269, 311 (D.N.H. 1977)).
To make out a claim of an Eighth Amendment Estelle violation, a prisoner must plead
facts showing that “prison authorities have denied reasonable requests for medical treatment in
the face of an obvious need for such attention where the inmate is thereby exposed to undue
suffering or the threat of tangible residual injury.” Westlake v. Lucas, 537 F.2d 857, 860 (6th
Cir. 1976). The Court clarified the meaning of deliberate indifference in Farmer v. Brennan, as
the reckless disregard of a substantial risk of serious harm; mere negligence will not suffice. Id.
511 U.S. at 835-36.
VanAken’s claims about a lack of medical care also are not asserted against any named
Defendant. He does not allege that Defendant Davis had anything to do with his medical care,
and he has sued no medical personnel. Thus, VanAken has not sufficiently stated a claim that
the Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs.
VanAken alleges that the Jail has misplaced some of his personal property. Claims for
deprivation of property are not actionable under § 1983 if adequate state remedies are available
to redress the deprivation. See, e.g., Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981), partially overruled
on other grounds by Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-31 (1986); Hudson v. Palmer, 468
U.S. 517 (1984); Smith v. Rose, 760 F.2d 102, 106 (6th Cir. 1985); Brooks v. Dutton, 751 F.2d
197 (6th Cir. 1985). Plaintiff is entitled to sue the Defendants, or any other responsible person,
in state court.
The complaint does not adequately allege a First Amendment claim arising from the
alleged denial of Plaintiff’s right to practice his religion. While VanAken states that he has been
refused access to his religion or any religious services, he fails to provide any details or to allege
that any named Defendant was responsible for that denial.
VanAken also claims that he has been refused access to his lawyer and to the law library.
However, the complaint does not assert a valid claim for denial of VanAken’s First Amendment
right of access to the courts. See Kensu v. Haigh, 87 F.3d 172, 175 (6th Cir. 1996); see also
Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977) (“It is now established beyond doubt that prisoners
have a constitutional right of access to the courts.”). The Supreme Court has held that
“[t]he fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts requires prison
authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal
papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance
from persons trained in the law.” Bounds, 430 U.S. at 828. However, Bounds
does not guarantee inmates the wherewithal to transform themselves into
litigating engines capable of filing everything from shareholder derivative actions
to slip-and-fall claims. The tools it requires to be provided are those that the
inmates need in order to attack their sentences, directly or collaterally, and in
order to challenge the conditions of their confinement. Impairment of any other
litigating capacity is simply one of the incidental (and perfectly constitutional)
consequences of conviction and incarceration.
Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 355 (1996); see also Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 391
(6th Cir. 1999) (en banc) (inmates’ First Amendment right of access to the courts “extends to
direct appeal, habeas corpus applications, and civil rights claims only”).
To have standing to pursue a First Amendment claim that he was denied access to the
courts, “a prisoner must show prison officials’ conduct inflicted an ‘actual injury,’ i.e., that the
conduct hindered his efforts to pursue a nonfrivolous legal claim.” Rodgers v. Hawley, 14 F.
App’x 403, 409 (6th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted); see also Hadix v. Johnson, 182 F.3d 400,
405-06 (6th Cir. 1999) (explaining how Lewis altered the “actual injury” requirement previously
articulated by the Sixth Circuit). “Actual injury” can be demonstrated by “the late filing of a
court document or the dismissal of an otherwise meritorious claim.” Pilgrim v. Littlefield, 92
F.3d 413, 416 (6th Cir. 1996). VanAken does not allege that he suffered any such actual injury.
For all of the foregoing reasons, the complaint is subject to dismissal in its entirety for
failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted.
III. LEAVE TO AMEND
The Sixth Circuit has held that a district court may allow a prisoner to amend his
complaint to avoid a sua sponte dismissal under the PLRA. LaFountain v. Harry, 716 F.3d 944,
951 (6th Cir. 2013); see also Brown v. R.I., No. 12-1403, 2013 WL 646489, at *1 (1st Cir. Feb.
22, 2013) (per curiam) (“Ordinarily, before dismissal for failure to state a claim is ordered, some
form of notice and an opportunity to cure the deficiencies in the complaint must be afforded.”).
Leave to amend is not required where a deficiency cannot be cured. Brown, 2013 WL 646489, at
*1; Gonzalez-Gonzalez v. United States, 257 F.3d 31, 37 (1st Cir. 2001) (“This does not mean, of
course, that every sua sponte dismissal entered without prior notice to the plaintiff automatically
must be reversed. If it is crystal clear that the plaintiff cannot prevail and that amending the
complaint would be futile, then a sua sponte dismissal may stand.”); Grayson v. Mayview State
Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002) (“in forma pauperis plaintiffs who file complaints
subject to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) should receive leave to amend unless amendment would
be inequitable or futile”); Curley v. Perry, 246 F.3d 1278, 1284 (10th Cir. 2001) (“We agree with
the majority view that sua sponte dismissal of a meritless complaint that cannot be salvaged by
amendment comports with due process and does not infringe the right of access to the courts.”).
In this case, the Court cannot conclude that any amendment to VanAken’s claims would be futile
as a matter of law.
The Court DISMISSES the complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief can be
granted, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b)(1). However, VanAken is
GRANTED leave to amend his complaint. Any amendment must be filed within thirty (30) days
after the date of this order. VanAken is advised that an amended complaint supersedes the
original complaint and must be complete in itself without reference to the prior pleadings. The
text of the complaint must allege sufficient facts to support each claim without reference to any
extraneous document. Any exhibits must be identified by number in the text of the amended
complaint and must be attached to the complaint. All claims alleged in an amended complaint
must arise from the facts alleged in the original complaint or the first amended complaint. Each
claim for relief must be stated in a separate count and must identify each defendant sued in that
count. If VanAken fails to file an amended complaint within the time specified, the Court will
assess a “strike” pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) and enter judgment.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/ James D. Todd
JAMES D. TODD
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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