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Richburg v. State of Alabama Dpt. of Corr.

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

November 8, 2019

RANDY J. RICHBURG, #240 472, Plaintiff,
STATE OF ALABAMA DPT. OF CORR., et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, an inmate incarcerated at the Limestone Correctional Facility in Harvest, Alabama, brings this pro se 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the Alabama Department of Corrections, Commissioner Dunn, Captain Howard, and Captain McCee. Plaintiff alleges that while incarcerated at the Staton Correctional Facility Defendant Howard subjected him to unconstitutional conditions of confinement and excessive force. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant McCee subjected him to verbal abuse during his incarceration the Elmore Correctional Facility. Upon review, the court concludes that dismissal of Plaintiff complaint against the Alabama Department of Corrections and Captain McCee prior to service of process is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).


         The Prison Litigation Reform Act, as partially codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, requires this court to screen complaints filed by prisoners against government officers or employees as early as possible in the litigation. The court must dismiss the complaint or any portion thereof that it finds frivolous, malicious, seeks monetary damages from a defendant immune from monetary relief, or which states no claim upon which relief can be granted. 28 U.S.C. §1915A(b)(1) & (2). The court may sua sponte dismiss a prisoner's complaint prior to service. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).

         Under § 1915A(b)(1) the court may dismiss a claim as “frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact.” See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A claim is frivolous when it “has little or no chance of success, ” that is, when it appears “from the face of the complaint that the factual allegations are clearly baseless or that the legal theories are indisputably meritless.” Carroll v. Gross, 984 F.2d 392, 393 (11th Cir. 1993). A claim is frivolous as a matter of law where the defendants are immune from suit, id. at 327, the claim seeks to enforce a right that clearly does not exist, id., or there is an affirmative defense that would defeat the claim, such as the statute of limitations, Clark v. Georgia Pardons & Paroles Board, 915 F.2d 636, 640 n.2 (11th Cir. 1990). Courts are accorded “not only the authority to dismiss [as frivolous] a claim based on 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.

         The court may dismiss a complaint, or any portion thereof, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Dismissal under § 1915A(b)(1) may be granted “only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations.” Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). A review on this ground is governed by the same standards as dismissals for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007). To state a claim upon which relief may be granted, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). To state a claim to relief that is plausible, the plaintiff must plead factual content that “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The allegations should present a “‘plain statement' possess[ing] enough heft to ‘show that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. When a successful affirmative defense, such as a statute of limitations, appears on the face of a complaint, dismissal for failure to state a claim is also warranted. Jones, 549 U.S. at 215.

         Pro se pleadings “are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys” and are liberally construed. Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006). However, they “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.


         A. The Alabama Department of Corrections

         Plaintiff names the Alabama Department of Corrections as a defendant. The Eleventh Amendment bars suit directly against a state or its agencies, regardless of relief sought. Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984); Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265 (1986) (Unless the State of Alabama consents to suit or Congress rescinds its immunity, a plaintiff cannot proceed against the State or its agencies as the action is proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment and “[t]his bar exists whether the relief sought is legal or equitable.”).

“[T]he Eleventh Amendment prohibits federal courts from entertaining suits by private parties against States and their agencies [or employees].” Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 781, 98 S.Ct. 3057, 57 L.Ed.2d 1114 (1978). There are two exceptions to this prohibition: where the state has waived its immunity or where Congress has abrogated that immunity. Virginia Office for Prot. & Advocacy v. Stewart, 563 U.S. 247, 131 S.Ct. 1632, 1637-38, 179 L.Ed.2d 675 (2011). “A State's consent to suit must be ‘unequivocally expressed' in the text of [a] relevant statute.” Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277, 131 S.Ct. 1651, 1658, 179 L.Ed.2d 700 (2011) (quoting Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98, 104 S.Ct. 900, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984)). “Waiver may not be implied.” Id. Likewise, “Congress' intent to abrogate the States' immunity from suit must be obvious from ‘a clear legislative statement.'” Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 55, 116 S.Ct. 1114, 134 L.Ed.2d 252 (1996) (quoting Blatchford v. Native Vill. of Noatak, 501 U.S. 775, 786, 111 S.Ct. 2578, 115 L.Ed.2d 686 (1991)).

Selensky v. Alabama, 619 Fed.Appx. 846, 848-49 (11th Cir. 2015). Thus, neither the State of Alabama or its agencies may be sued unless the State has waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity, see Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984), or Congress has abrogated the State's immunity, see Seminole Tribe v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 59 (1996).

Neither waiver nor abrogation applies here. The Alabama Constitution states that “the State of Alabama shall never be made a defendant in any court of law or equity.” Ala. Const. art. I, § 14. The Supreme Court has recognized that this prohibits Alabama from waiving its immunity from suit. Pugh, 438 U.S. at 782, 98 S.Ct. 3057 (citing Ala. Const. art. I, § 14.)

Selensky, 619 Fed. App'x at 849. “Alabama has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity in § 1983 cases, nor has Congress abated it.” Holmes v. Hale, 701 Fed.Appx. 751, 753 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Carr v. City of Florence, Ala., 916 F.2d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir. 1990)). Consequently, any claims lodged against the State of Alabama or its agencies are frivolous as these claims ...

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