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Williams v. Runion

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

May 30, 2018



          Susan O. Hickey United States District Judge.

         This is a civil rights action filed by Plaintiff James D. Williams pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff proceeds pro se and in forma pauperis. The case is before the Court for preservice screening under the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court has the obligation to screen any complaint in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed his initial Complaint on April 24, 2018. (ECF No. 1). That same day, the Court directed Plaintiff to file an Amended Complaint to clarify his claims against Defendants and submit an application to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”). (ECF No. 2). On May 14, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint and IFP application. (ECF Nos. 4, 5). The Court granted Plaintiff's application to proceed IFP the following day. (ECF No. 7).

         Plaintiff is currently incarcerated in the Miller County Detention Center (“MCDC”), serving a sentence as a result of a parole violation. (ECF No. 4, p. 3). Plaintiff has named Sheriff Jackie Runion, Warden Jeffie Wallker, Captain Golden Adams, Sergeant Allen Griffen, Lieutenant Miller, and Sergeant Gutherie as Defendants. According to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, Defendant Runion is the Sheriff of Miller County; Defendant Walker is the Warden at the MCDC; and Defendants Adams, Miller, Griffen, and Gutherie are employed as officers at the MCDC. He claims that mold in the shower has caused him to have a constant cold and a runny nose. Id. at 4. Plaintiff alleges he has informed Defendants about the mold but they have denied that the conditions exist and have refused to correct the unsanitary conditions. Id. Plaintiff also claims that Defendants opened his legal mail outside of his presence. Plaintiff is suing Defendants in their individual and official capacities, and seeks compensatory and punitive damages.


         Under the PLRA, the Court is obligated to screen the case prior to service of process being issued. The Court must dismiss a complaint, or any portion of it, if it contains claims that: (1) are frivolous, malicious, or fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         A claim is frivolous if “it lacks an arguable basis either in law or fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A claim fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted if it does not allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “In evaluating whether a pro se plaintiff has asserted sufficient facts to state a claim, we hold ‘a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded . . . to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Jackson v. Nixon, 747 F.3d 537, 541 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)). However, even a pro se plaintiff must allege specific facts sufficient to support a claim. Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d 1334, 1337 (8th Cir. 1985).


         Plaintiff alleges four distinct types of claims against Defendants: (1) official capacity claims; (2) conditions of confinement; (3) opening his confidential legal; and (4) inadequate grievance prodecure. The Court will separately address each type of claim to determine whether Plaintiff alleges sufficient facts to state a plausible claim upon which relief may be granted.

         A. Official Capacity Claims

         Under section 1983, a defendant may be sued in either his individual capacity, in his official capacity, or both. Gorman v. Bartch, 152 F.3d 907, 914 (8th Cir. 1998). With respect to official capacity claims, they are “functionally equivalent to a suit against the employing governmental entity.” Veatch v. Bartels Lutheran Home, 627 F.3d 1254, 1257 (8th Cir. 2010). In other words, Plaintiff's official capacity claims against Defendants are treated as claims against Miller County. See Murray v. Lene, 595 F.3d 868, 873 (8th Cir. 2010).

         “[I]t is well established that a municipality [or county] cannot be held liable on a respondeat superior theory, that is, solely because it employs a tortfeasor.” Atkinson v. City of Mountain View, Mo., 709 F.3d 1201, 1214 (8th Cir. 2013). To establish Miller County's liability under section 1983, “plaintiff must show that a constitutional violation was committed pursuant to an official custom, policy, or practice of the governmental entity.” Moyle v. Anderson, 571 F.3d 814, 817 (8th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted).

         Although Plaintiff asserts official capacity claims against Defendants, he has not alleged that any policy, custom, or practice of Miller County was the moving force behind his claims regarding the jail's conditions, grievances, or the opening of his legal mail. Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against Defendants in their official ...

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