Shelton v. Bartlett et al
ORDER DISMISSING CLAIMS AND GRANTING LEAVE AMEND. Signed by Chief Judge S. Thomas Anderson on 7/20/17. (Anderson, S. Thomas)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
RASHEED DARNELL SHELTON,
SGT. JONATHAN BARTLETT,
SHARON ROSE, CO TIDWELL,
CO BEASLEY, SHEILA AGNEW,
CO JOHNSON, KRISTI PARKER,
SGT. JEFFREY PERKINS, JOHN DOES,
and JANE DOES,
ORDER DISMISSING CLAIMS AND GRANTING LEAVE AMEND
On May 5, 2016, Plaintiff Rasheed Darnell Shelton, an inmate at the West Tennessee
State Penitentiary (“WTSP”) in Henning, Tennessee, filed pro se a Complaint pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 accompanied by a motion to proceed in forma pauperis. On May 23, 2016,
Shelton provided additional documentation for his motion to proceed in forma pauperis. On
June 2, 2016, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee granted
Shelton leave to proceed in forma pauperis, assessed the civil filing fee pursuant to the Prison
Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a)-(b), and transferred this matter to the
United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Memphis. The Clerk shall
record the Defendants as Sergeant Johnathan Bartlett, Unit 6 Manager Sharon Rose, C/O First
Name Unknown (“FNU”) Tidwell, C/O FNU Beasley, IRC Shelia Agnew, C/O Ms. FNU
Johnson, IRC Kristi Parker, Case Manager Evelyn Binkley, and Sergeant Jeffery Perkins.1
Shelton alleges that Defendants have put his life and the lives of his family members in
imminent danger because “these officers and staff in the unit” have given inmates Shelton’s
family members’ phone numbers and addresses as well as told other inmates that Shelton is a
snitch and in prison for rape charges. (Compl. at 3-4.) Shelton further contends that “they” tell
inmates that Shelton should be raped and killed. (Id. at 2.) Defendants have also given inmates
Shelton’s legal mail. (Id.) Defendants have laughed about leaving the door to Shelton’s cell as
well as the doors of other inmates’ cells unsecured so other inmates can harm Shelton. (Id.)
Shelton fears that other inmates will rape him or kill him if he is not put in protective custody.
(Id.) Shelton seeks $6 million in damages or a transfer back to the county jail from which he
came. (Id. at 5.)
The Court is required to screen prisoner complaints and to dismiss any complaint, or any
portion thereof, if the complaint—
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
The Complaint purports to sue “John and Jane Doe” defendants. Service of process
cannot be made on a fictitious party. The filing of a complaint against a “John Doe” defendant
does not toll the running of the statute of limitation against that party. See Cox v. Treadway, 75
F.3d 230, 240 (6th Cir. 1996); Bufalino v. Mich. Bell Tel. Co., 404 F.2d 1023, 1028 (6th Cir.
1968). The Clerk is directed to terminate the reference to the John Doe and Jane Doe defendants
on the docket.
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 Court applies the pleadings standards under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6), announced in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-79 (2009) and Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-57 (2007). 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 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. Wells v. Brown,
891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989); see also Brown v. Matauszak, 415 F. App’x 608, 612-13 (6th
Cir. 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.”).
I. Section 1983
Shelton 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
The Court holds that the Complaint fails to state a claim for relief. First, Shelton’s
pleadings contain no specific, factual allegations against any Defendant. The gravamen of the
Complaint is that Defendants have failed to protect him from other inmates. However, Shelton
has essentially alleged that Defendants have acted collectively. When a complaint fails to allege
any action by a defendant, it necessarily fails to “state a claim for relief that is plausible on its
face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. The Complaint would be subject to dismissal for this reason
Shelton’s claim regarding the failure to place him in protective custody and thereby
protect him from potential assault arises under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and
unusual punishments. See 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). The objective component requires that the deprivation be “sufficiently serious.” Id. 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,” id., 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)). “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
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. “[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, 768 (“[W]e must focus on whether each individual Deputy had the
personal involvement necessary to permit a finding of subjective knowledge.”).
Applying these principles to this case, the Court holds that Shelton’s allegations do not
sufficiently state a claim for failure to protect against any of the Defendants.
allegations are against a general “they” with no specific allegations against any named defendant.
Additionally, Shelton alleges a general threat of harm with no specific indication that any real
harm will occur. Thus, Shelton fails to meet the objective and subjective component of an
Eighth Amendment allegation. Additionally, Shelton does not allege that he has suffered any
physical injury to his health, thereby making the Complaint subject to dismissal under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1997e(e). That paragraph provides as follows: “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.” Therefore, the Complaint as alleged fails to state a claim for relief.
With regard to Shelton’s request to transfer him out of WTSP, the Court does not have
the authority to supervise classification and assignment of inmates. An inmate does not have a
protected right to be assigned to a particular prison, security classification, or housing
assignment. Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238 (1983); Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215 (1976);
Montanye v. Haymes, 427 U.S. 236 (1976); see also Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484-87
(1995) (confinement in particular part of prison or jail does not implicate due process absent
“atypical and significant hardship” “in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life”). As
such, Shelton’s request for a transfer must be DISMISSED.
II. 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). In this case, the Court cannot conclude that any amendment to Shelton’s
complaint would be futile as a matter of law. Therefore, the Court will grant Shelton an
opportunity to amend his pleadings.
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, leave to amend
is GRANTED. Any amendment must be filed within thirty (30) days of the date of entry of this
order. Shelton 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 amended 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 amended 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
Shelton 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.
Shelton is reminded that he must promptly notify the Clerk, in writing, of any change of
address or extended absence.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/ S. Thomas Anderson
S. THOMAS ANDERSON
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Date: July 20, 2017.
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