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Lane v. Cochran

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

June 23, 2014

THOMAS LANE, Plaintiff,


WILLIAM E. CASSADY, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, a Mobile County Metro Jail inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This action was referred to the undersigned for appropriate action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72.2(c)(4). After careful review, it is recommended that the complaint be dismissed with prejudice as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), and the amended complaint be dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). It is further recommended that this action be dismissed in its entirety.

I. Complaint (Doc. 1) and Amended Complaint (Doc. 10).

In plaintiff's barely legible, brief complaint, he names one defendant, Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran. (Doc. 1 at 5). Plaintiff alleges that he does not have access to a law library, stamps, envelopes, paper, and carbon paper ("litigation supplies"), which he needs in order to communicate with the court and to defend himself. ( Id. at 4-5). He advises that the provided postcards cannot be used to contact the court on a confidential (illegible) matter. ( Id. at 4).[1] For relief, he wants a law library installed and indigents to be given kits to communicate with the court. ( Id. at 7). The remainder of the request is indecipherable.

In a self-styled amended complaint, plaintiff wants to add a claim that the jail did not allow him to see his "legal workers." (Doc. 10 at 1). No new defendant is identified in the amended complaint. For his claim, plaintiff alleges that on February 7, 2014, the jail would not allow him to see Lauren Donaldson, a law student at Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, who accompanied his attorney, because she was not on his visitors list. ( Id. ). Then, on March 7, 2014, he asked Captain Sadie Stallworth if Miss Donaldson could see him now. ( Id. ). Stallworth responded that people who are a part of the legal team must have a card from the bar stating that they are attorneys. ( Id. ). Plaintiff then asked why Jody (illegible) who is his "(illegible) expert" could see him without a bar card. ( Id. ). Stallworth responded that he would not be visiting any more. ( Id. ). Plaintiff countered that he is facing a death sentence and the courts are paying the expert for a report. ( Id. ). Stallworth replied that plaintiff would not be seeing him any more and would need to get a court order. ( Id. ). For relief, plaintiff wants an "order [for] the Mobile County Jail to allow my legal workers to see [him]." ( Id. ).

II. Standards of Review Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

Because plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court is reviewing his complaint (Doc. 1) and amended complaint (Doc. 10) under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), a claim may be dismissed as "frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 1831-32, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989).[2] A claim is frivolous as a matter of law where, inter alia, the defendants are immune from suit, id. at 327, 109 S.Ct. at 1833, or the claim seeks to enforce a right that clearly does not exist. Id.

Moreover, a complaint may be dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d 1483, 1490 (11th Cir. 1997). To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the allegations must show plausibility. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1966, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). That is, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and must be a "plain statement' possess[ing] enough heft to sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 1966 (second brackets in original). However, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.

When considering a pro se litigant's allegations, a court holds them to a more lenient standard than those of an attorney, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 595-596, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972), but it does not have "license... to rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading [by a pro se litigant] in order to sustain an action." GJR Investments v. County of Escambia, Fla., 132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998), overruled on other grounds by Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701, 710 (11th Cir. 2010) (relying on Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937). The court treats factual allegations as true, but it does not treat conclusory assertions or a recitation of a cause of action's elements as true. Iqbal, 566 U.S. at 681, 129 S.Ct. at 1951. Furthermore, a pro se litigant "is subject to the relevant law and rules of court including the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure." Moon v. Newsome, 863 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 863 (1989).

III. Analysis.

A. Complaint.

Plaintiff's claim in his complaint (Doc. 1) is properly characterized as one for denial of access to the courts. Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 415 n.12, 122 S.Ct. 2179, 2187 n.12, 153 L.Ed.2d 413 (2002) (recognizing that a right of access to courts arises from the First, Fourth, or Fourteenth Amendments). In the pivotal case of Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 52 L.Ed.2d 72 (1977), the Court held that "the 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." Id. at 828, 97 S.Ct. at 1498. Later, in Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 354, 116 S.Ct. 2174, 2181-82, 135 L.Ed.2d 606 (1996), the Court observed that an inmate's right of access to the courts can be fulfill in different ways, for example, access to law libraries, a system of court-provided forms, or minimal access to legal advice. Id. at 352, 116 S.Ct. at 2180. The Lewis Court also clarified that the Bounds decision "did not create an abstract, freestanding right to a law library or legal assistance[.]" Id. at 351, 116 S.Ct. at 2180. The Lewis Court noted "law libraries and legal assistance programs are not ends in themselves, but only the means for ensuring a reasonably adequate opportunity to present claimed violations of fundamental constitutional rights to the courts." Id. (quotation marks omitted).

Because there is not a freestanding right to a law library or legal assistance, "an inmate cannot establish relevant actual injury simply by establishing that his prison's law library or legal assistance program is subpar in some theoretical sense." Id. at 351, 116 S.Ct. at 2180. The Lewis Court held that "the inmate therefore must go one step further and demonstrate that the alleged shortcomings in the library or legal assistance program hindered his efforts to pursue a legal claim." Id. The inmate must show that he sustained an actual injury by showing that he was frustrated or impeded in attacking his conviction, directly or collaterally, or in a civil rights action seeking to vindicate basic constitutional rights. Id. at 354, 355, 116 S.Ct. at 2181-82; see Cunningham v. District Attorney's Office for Escambia Cnty., 592 F.3d 1237, 1271 (11th Cir. 2010) ("The injury requirement means that the plaintiff must have an underlying cause of action the vindication of which is prevented by the denial of access to the courts."). The inmate must further show that the claim that he was advancing was a nonfrivolous claim. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 353, 116 S.Ct. at 2181. This underlying claim "must be described well enough to apply the nonfrivolous' test and to show that the arguable' nature of the underlying claim is more than hope." Christopher, 536 U.S. at 415-16, 122 S.Ct. at 2187. "Impairment of any other litigating capacity is simply one of the incidental (and perfectly constitutional) consequences of conviction and incarceration." Lewis, 518 U.S. at 355, 116 S.Ct. at 2182.

In the present action, plaintiff alleges that he does not have access to a law library and litigation supplies to facilitate his legal efforts. He does not identify the legal action for which he needs access to a law library and to litigation supplies. Due to lack of information about any other legal proceedings, the Court deduces that his request relates to the criminal proceeding that could result in a death sentence. See Doc. 10 at 1. Plaintiff identifies no specific claim, much less one that is a nonfrivolous claim. He only states that he cannot defend his rights without a law library or litigation supplies. See ...

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