Ra-El v. Shelby County Correction Center et al
ORDER DENYING 18 MOTION TO ALLOW ACCESS TO LIBRARY, DISMISSING COMPLAINT AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND. Signed by Judge James D. Todd on 3/17/17. (Todd, James)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
SHELBY COUNTY, et.al.,
ORDER DENYING MOTION TO ALLOW ACCESS TO LIBRARY,
DISMISSING COMPLAINT AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND
On January 7, 2016, Plaintiff Khaliq Ra-El (“Ra-El”), who is incarcerated at the Shelby
County Correctional Center (“SCCC”) in Memphis, Tennessee, filed a complaint pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 in the Circuit Court for the Thirtieth Judicial District of Tennessee at Memphis.
(ECF No. 1-1 at 7-9.) On February 4, 2016, Defendants filed a notice of removal pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1441. (ECF No. 1.) The Clerk shall record the Defendants as Shelby County,1 SCCC
Director Bill Gupton, SCCC Administrator Bill Spears, SCCC Administrator Dennis Tillman,
and SCCC Supervisor over Inmates Stephen Craig. All Defendants except Tillman were served
with process prior to removal (id. at 2-3) and filed an answer in this Court on April 8, 2016 (ECF
Ra-El alleges that inmates at the SCCC are constantly being denied gym and outdoor
recreation and are housed in dorms the entire day with absolutely no “out-of-dorm” activities.
(ECF No. 1-1 at 9.) Ra-El alleges there are forty inmates housed in each dorm, many with
The Court construes allegations against the SCCC as allegations against Shelby County.
mental illnesses. He states that tension is high in the dorms due to idleness and lack of privacy,
resulting in frequent assaults between inmates, sometimes requiring medical attention. (Id.)
Inmates plead with staff daily for recreation without any success. (Id.) Staff often responds
sarcastically saying, “file a grievance,” knowing they will not be held accountable, and some
staff allegedly claim they are not there to do work, but rather to watch movies on computers.
(Id.) Ra-El states that SCCC staff act like recreation is not important and that inmates receive
only two hours a month for recreation. (Id.)
Ra-El contends there is no penological justification for not allowing daily recreation and
that SCCC has no policy regarding recreation. (Id.) Ra-El alleges that he has filed numerous
grievances, but all of the Defendants have failed to act. (Id.) Specifically, Ra-El alleges that
Defendant Craig claimed that two hours a month for recreation is adequate. (Id.)
contends he has been housed under these conditions since April 2013 and has sustained
psychological injury as a result. (Id.)
Notwithstanding the fact that this case was removed from state court, the Court is
required to screen prisoner complaints and to dismiss any complaint, or any portion thereof, if
is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief
may be granted; or
seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such
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 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 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 wellpleaded 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 claim rests.”).
“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.”).
Ra-El filed his complaint 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 Shelby 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 Shelby 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 Shelby County because he was confined in a county institution and the County employed
persons who allegedly violated his rights.
With regard to the individual Defendants, Ra-El alleges only that they failed in their
supervisory capacities to remedy the situation regarding lack of recreation. Section 1983 will not
support a claim based upon a theory of respondeat superior alone. Polk County v. Dodson, 454
U.S. 312, 325 (1981); Bellamy v. Bradley, 729 F.2d 416, 421 (6th Cir. 1984). A plaintiff must
allege that a defendant official was personally involved in the unconstitutional activity of a
subordinate in order to state a claim against such a defendant. Dunn v. State of Tennessee, 697
F.2d 121, 128 (6th Cir. 1982). A failure to supervise, control or train an individual is not
actionable “unless the supervisor ‘either encouraged the specific incident of misconduct or in
some other way directly participated in it.’” Shehee v. Luttrell, 199 F.3d 295, 300 (6th Cir.
1999). “At a minimum a plaintiff must show that the official least implicitly authorized,
approved, or knowingly acquiesced in the unconstitutional conduct of the offending officers.”
Hays v. Jefferson Co., Ky, 668 F.2d 869, 874 (6th Cir. 1982). Plaintiff’s allegations do not
sufficiently allege that the Defendants, through their own actions, violated his constitutional
Furthermore, Ra-El does not allege that he suffered any physical injury as a result of the
lack of recreation.
Therefore, the complaint is also subject to dismissal under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1997e(e), which provides: “No Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a
jail, prison, or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in
custody without a prior showing of physical injury or the commission of a sexual act.”
For the foregoing reasons, Ra-El’s complaint is subject to dismissal in its entirety for
failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
On August 12 2016, Ra-El filed a motion for the court to grant him library access to
pursue his complaint. (ECF No. 18.) Because the complaint is being dismissed, Ra-El’s motion
is DENIED as moot.
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 Ra-El’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, Ra-El is
GRANTED leave to amend his complaint. Any amendment must be filed within thirty (30) days
after the date of this order. Ra-El 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 Ra-El
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.
Ra-El shall promptly notify the Clerk in writing of any change of address or extended
absence. Failure to comply with these requirements, or any other order of the Court, may result
in the dismissal of this case without further notice.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/ James D. Todd
JAMES D. TODD
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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