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Holt v. Givens

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

November 13, 2017

JOE DANIEL HOLT, JR., Plaintiff,
GWENDOLYN GIVENS, et al., Defendants.



         The magistrate judge filed a report on October 17, 2017, recommending this action be dismissed without prejudice for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). (Doc. 33). The plaintiff was notified of his right to file objections within fourteen (14) days of the report and recommendation (id., at 44-45), and on November 3, 2017, the court received the plaintiff's objections (doc. 35).

         The majority of the plaintiff's objections are based on disagreement with the law the court must apply under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. This court is bound by the Eleventh Circuit's rules for reviewing pro se prisoner complaints pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A and 1915(e).[1] The Eleventh Circuit requires a plaintiff demonstrate conduct taken under color of law, complained of in the civil rights suit, violated the plaintiff's rights, privileges, or immunities under the Constitution or laws of the United States. See e.g., Griffin v. City of Opa-Locka, 261 F.3d 1295, 1303 (11th Cir. 2001). The complaint must demonstrate that the facts as pled state a claim that is “plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).


[u]nder § 1915A, the district court must review a prisoner's § 1983 complaint “before docketing, if feasible, or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The district court must “identify cognizable claims, ” id. § 1915A(b), and dismiss any portion of the complaint that [] is “frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Id. § 1915A(b)(1).

Dollar v. Coweta County Sheriff Office, 446 F. App'x 248, 250 (11th Cir. 2011).

         Turning to the plaintiff's specific objections, he first complains that the magistrate judge failed to address whether the defendants acted under color of state law. (Doc. 35 at 1). Each of the named defendants is a prison official and the magistrate judge clearly recognized that each of the named defendants is a state actor for purposes of § 1983. Because each defendant's status as a state actor was accepted as fact, the magistrate's failure to discuss this is not error.

         The plaintiff also faults the magistrate judge for not addressing whether the defendants acted willfully, wantonly, in bad faith, and in dereliction of other legal standards of intent. (Doc. 35 at 1). The court is required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A to consider whether the facts, as alleged by the plaintiff, state any cause of action upon which relief may be granted, taking those facts as true and construing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See e.g., Timson v. Sampson, 518 F.3d 870, 872 (11th Cir. 2008). If those facts as pled do not state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face, the court must dismiss the complaint. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Thus, the magistrate judge took all of the plaintiff's allegations of fact, including those regarding the defendants' actions, as true. Whether the plaintiff can produce evidence supporting his allegations is not a proper consideration in § 1915A review.

         The plaintiff next asserts the magistrate judge failed to discuss that the defendants caused the plaintiff a variety of damages. (Doc. 35 at 1). The question of types of damages suffered by the plaintiff is not reached prior to a determination of whether the complaint, as amended, even states a cause of action upon which relief can be granted. See Franklin v. Curry, 738 F.3d 1246, 1251 (11th Cir. 2013) (holding that courts must follow the Supreme Court's “‘two-pronged approach' of first separating out the complaint's conclusory legal allegations and then determining whether the remaining well-pleaded factual allegations, accepted as true, ‘plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'”). Because the court cannot find any legal wrongdoing by a person acting under color of state law is alleged in the final amended complaint, the harm the plaintiff claims to have suffered is not relevant.

         The plaintiff also complains that the magistrate judge failed to discuss that the plaintiff had invoked his right to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment and Rule 38, Fed.R.Civ.P. (Doc. 35 at 1). The plaintiff is mistaken in his assertion that because he “invoked his Constitutional Right to a jury trial” the court must allow this case to proceed to trial. Because this action does not survive 28 U.S.C. § 1915A review, the fact the plaintiff wants his claims tried by a jury is of no consequence. Rule 38 simply does not require a court to hold a jury trial any time a demand for one is made. Rather, Rule 38 recognizes that a right to jury trial, for claims surviving various types of judicial review, exists. Because the plaintiff is a prisoner, the court is required to review his claims, as set forth in § 1915A(b)(1) (requiring screening of a complaint “as soon as practicable after docketing”). See e.g., Caldwell v. Warden, FCI Talladega, 748 F.3d 1090, 1096 n.11 (11th Cir. 2014) (“under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the district court may sua sponte dismiss a prisoner's complaint or any portion of the complaint for any of those four reasons [stated in § 1915A] prior to service of process”); Smith v. Hutchins, F. App'x 785, 787-88 (11th Cir. 2011); Thompson v. Hicks, 213 F. App'x 939, 942 (11th Cir. 2007). Where, as here, the plaintiff has failed to state a factually valid legal claim, dismissal of his claim is warranted.

         The next objections concern the procedural background and standard of review. (Doc. 35 at 2). The plaintiff complains that the magistrate judge stated the May 4, 2017, motion to amend the complaint sought to add a claim for “seizure of [the plaintiff's] cell phone and ten self-addressed stamped manila envelopes” instead of a “cell phone, cell phone box, ten self-addressed stamped envelopes and a self-addressed stamped manila envelope.” (Id.). As the plaintiff filed additional amended complaints on June 8, 2017, July 7, 2017, and August 7, 2017 (docs. 15, 25, and 30), any misstatement concerning the number or size of self-addressed stamped envelopes referenced in the May 4, 2017, amended complaint had no impact on recommendations in the magistrate judge's report. The plaintiff's assertion that his final amended complaint only concerned multiple defendants at two rather than four institutions (doc. 35 at 2) is contradicted by the content of that complaint: The plaintiff's August 7, 2017, final amended complaint asserted claims for a frivolous write up at Childersberg Work Release (doc. 30 at 3-4); frivolous disciplinary actions and wrongful confiscation of property while at Hamilton Work Release (id., at 4-7); wrongful disciplinary actions, violations of his Fourth and Eighth Amendment rights, and denial of privileges at Hamilton A&I (id., at 7-8; doc. 30-1 at 4); and violation of his right to a classification review and violations of state procedures in his move to and retention at Bibb Correctional Facility (doc. 30 at 8; doc. 31 at 1-2). Moreover, the magistrate judge specifically stated that, given that the plaintiff could sincerely believe his plethora of claims all arose from a continuous tort, the report and recommendation would consider each of the claims raised in the plaintiff's final amended complaint. (Doc. 33 at 4 and n.3).

         The plaintiff objects to the standard of review required under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. (Doc. 35 at 2). Specifically, he asserts the court must have evidentiary material before it can find whether genuine issues of material fact exist. (Id.). The plaintiff is correct in that evidentiary material is necessary before the court can rule on a summary judgment motion under Rule 56, and that the standard for summary judgment is, in part, whether any genuine issues of material fact remain. However, the report and recommendation did not reach this issue. Unlike the summary judgment standard, § 1915A review requires the court to consider whether the facts stated in the plaintiff's complaint, taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, state a cause of action upon which relief may be granted. See e.g., Hernandez v. Florida Dept. of Corrections, 281 F. App'x 862, 864 n.1 (11th Cir. 2008) (“To the extent that Hernandez challenges the sua sponte dismissal on a procedural basis, we note that a district court may screen all complaints filed in forma pauperis and all prisoner suits seeking redress from governmental entities or government employees …. Because Hernandez was proceeding in forma pauperis as a prisoner and suing a state prison and prison officers, we reject his procedural challenge to the sua sponte dismissal prior to service of process on the defendants and prior to discovery.”).

         The plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge taking judicial notice of why the plaintiff is serving a life sentence. (Doc. 35 at 3). The plaintiff does not assert that any of the factual statements are incorrect, or were used improperly, but only that it is irrelevant to his current claims. (Id.). As stated in the very footnote to which the plaintiff objects, this court may take judicial notice of state court proceedings. (Doc. 33 at 6 n.5, citing Grider v. Cook, 522 F. App'x 544, 545 n.2 (11th Cir. 2013)). See Tabb v. Brown, 2013 WL 2446288, *1 n.1 (N.D.Ga. June 4, 2013) (“The Court may take judicial notice of publicly available information about jail inmates on government websites.”).

         In the report and recommendation, the magistrate judge noted the plaintiff's claim that when he was transferred to Hamilton Work Release in October 2016 he was told in orientation that the Job Placement Officers, including Thomas Black, knew that prisoners were using cell phones at their places of employment and were not worried about it. (Doc. 33 at 8). The plaintiff asserts the report and recommendation failed to name defendant William Morrison in the same paragraph, as the final amended complaint did. (Doc. 35 at 3). However, the plaintiff does not allege that referring to “the Job Placement Officers, including Thomas Black, ” as opposed ...

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