Johnson v. Shelby County Jail et al
ORDER DISMISSING CLAIMS AND GRANTING LEAVE TO 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
SHELBY COUNTY and
ARAMARK FOOD SERVICE,
ORDER DISMISSING CLAIMS AND GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND
On July 11, 2016, Plaintiff Develle Johnson, who at the time of filing was incarcerated at
the Shelby County Criminal Justice Complex in Memphis, Tennessee, filed pro se a Complaint
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 accompanied by a motion to proceed in forma pauperis. On July
15, 2016, the Court granted Johnson 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).
The Clerk shall record the defendants as Shelby County1 and Aramark Food Service.
The Court construes claims against the jail as claims against Shelby County. The Clerk
is DIRECTED to remove Shelby County Jail as a defendant and add Shelby County.
Johnson alleges that Shelby County and Aramark Food Service (“Aramark”) served him
such poor food and drink that he became sick and began to suffer from headaches and dizziness.
Johnson seeks a court order directing the County and Aramark to improve the quality of the
nutrition served to inmates at the jail.
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 Court applies the standards for pleadings 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.”).
“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’”) (internal quotation omitted); 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.”).
I. Section 1983
Johnson 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
(1970). In this case Johnson alleges that Defendant failed to serve wholesome food or beverages
to inmates and detainees at the Shelby County Jail. The Eighth Amendment requires prison
officials to provide inmates with a diet that is nutritionally adequate for the maintenance of
normal health. Cunningham v. Jones, 567 F.2d 653, 656 (6th Cir. 1977); see also Clark-Murphy
v. Foreback, 439 F.3d 280, 292 (6th Cir. 2006).
The Court holds that Johnson’s Complaint has failed to state a claim. First, Johnson has
not asserted a valid claim against Aramark. Just as a private corporation carrying out other state
functions at a jail may act under color of law, Aramark’s act of providing food service at the jail
is state action for purposes of § 1983. “A private corporation that performs the traditional state
function of operating a prison acts under color of state law for purposes of § 1983.” Thomas v.
Coble, 55 F. App’x 748, 748 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Street v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810,
814 (6th Cir. 1996)). To hold Aramark liable under § 1983, Johnson “must show that a policy or
well-settled custom of the company was the ‘moving force’ behind the alleged deprivation” of
his rights. Braswell v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 419 F. App’x 622, 627 (6th Cir. 2011). A prisoner
cannot hold a private corporation liable for the violation of his constitutional rights “under a
theory of respondeat superior.” Thomas, 55 F. App’x at 748-49; Street, 102 F.3d at 817-18;
Johnson v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 26 F. App’x 386, 388 (6th Cir. 2001). In the absence of some
allegation that Aramark’s policy or custom was the moving force behind a constitutional injury,
Johnson has failed to state a claim against Aramark.
For the same reasons, Johnson has failed to state a claim against Shelby County. The
Complaint alleges no facts to show that Shelby County is liable for a violation of Johnson’s
Just like a private corporation acting under color of law, a local
government “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). The allegations of
Johnson’s Complaint fail to identify an official policy or custom which caused a constitutional
injury to Johnson. Instead, it appears that Johnson has named Shelby County as a party because
he was confined at the county jail. The Complaint does not, however, allege the existence of a
municipal policy or custom that caused the deprivation of any right. Therefore, the Complaint
fails to state a claim.
Even if Johnson had plausibly alleged that Defendants were responsible for poor nutrition
at the jail, the Complaint does not allege that Defendants had subjective knowledge of the poor
quality of the food or that the inadequate food posed a substantial risk to inmates and detainees.
An Eighth Amendment claim consists of both objective and subjective components. Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994).
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.” Id. Specifically, a plaintiff
must show that the prison officials acted with “deliberate indifference” to a substantial risk that
the prisoner would suffer serious harm. Id. Johnson has alleged no facts to show that either
Defendant served Johnson with poor quality food with deliberate indifference. The Complaint
does not plausibly allege a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Therefore, the Complaint must
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 concludes that Johnson could amend his pleadings to
cure the defects identified here. Therefore, the Court will grant Johnson leave to amend his
The Court DISMISSES Johnson’s Complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief
can be granted under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b(1). However, the Court
cannot conclude that any amendment to Johnson’s Complaint would be futile as a matter of law.
Therefore, Johnson is GRANTED leave to amend his complaint. Any amendment must be filed
within 30 days after the date of this order. Johnson 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.
Johnson may add additional defendants provided that the claims against the new parties arise
from the acts and omissions set forth in the original complaint. Each claim for relief must be
stated in a separate count and must identify each defendant sued in that count. If Johnson 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.
Johnson 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/ S. Thomas Anderson
S. THOMAS ANDERSON
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Date: July 20, 2017.
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