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Jones v. Mooney

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 12, 2017

CORBIN D. JONES, # 01-30-1989-46, Plaintiff,


          Phil Gilbert United States District Judge.

         This matter is now before the Court for a merits review of Plaintiff Jones' claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Jones and former co-Plaintiff Lekedreion Russell jointly filed this pro se action on April 6, 2017. On May 31, 2017, the Court severed Russell's claims (designated as Counts 1-4) into a separate action (Russell v. Mooney, et al., Case No. 17-cv-570- JPG). (Doc. 10). The only claims remaining in the present case are those brought by Jones, designated by the Court as Counts 5-11. Most of Jones' claims involve events and conditions at the Jefferson County Justice Center (“the jail”), where Jones is currently incarcerated. He also includes an excessive force claim that arose during his arrest. The Complaint consists of 90 pages, 70 of which pertain only to Jones' claims. Jones names 20 individuals as Defendants, in addition to naming the Mt. Vernon Justice Center County Jail.

         Under § 1915A, the Court is required to screen prisoner complaints to filter out non-meritorious claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss any portion of the complaint that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         An action or claim is frivolous if “it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers to a claim that “no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit.” Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 2000). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The claim of entitlement to relief must cross “the line between possibility and plausibility.” Id. at 557. Conversely, a complaint is plausible on its face “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 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, Courts “should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements.” Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751 (7th Cir. 2011); Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         In addition to the screening requirements of § 1915A, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 sets rules for preparing an acceptable pleading. Rule 8(a)(2) requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Rule 8(d)(1) further states: “Each allegation must be simple, concise, and direct.” The purpose of these provisions is to giver fair notice of the claims:

Under Rule 8, a complaint “must be presented with intelligibility sufficient for a court or opposing party to understand whether a valid claim is alleged and if so what it is.” Wade v. Hopper, 993 F.2d 1246, 1249 (7th Cir.) (citations omitted), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 868, 114 S.Ct. 193, 126 L.Ed.2d 151 (1993); see also Jennings v. Emry, 910 F.2d 1434, 1436 (7th Cir. 1990) (stating that a complaint “must be presented with clarity sufficient to avoid requiring a district court or opposing party to forever sift through its pages in search” of what it is the plaintiff asserts). A complaint that is prolix and/or confusing makes it difficult for the defendant to file a responsive pleading and makes it difficult for the trial court to conduct orderly litigation.

Vicom, Inc. v. Harbridge Merch. Serv., Inc., 20 F.3d 771, 775-76 (7th Cir. 1994). See also Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 48 (1957); Dausch v. Rykse, 52 F.3d 1425, 1430 (7th Cir. 1994).

         The disjointed, piecemeal presentation of Jones' Complaint, as well as its length, results in a pleading that is largely unintelligible, and forces the Court to “forever sift through its pages” in order to parse out the claims that Jones apparently seeks to assert. For these reasons, the Complaint shall be dismissed without prejudice. However, Jones shall have an opportunity to amend his pleading in order to correct these problems.

         The Complaint

         The Complaint was submitted in two parts. The first section (filed as Doc. 1) consists of 20 pages. On separate pages, the Complaint lists both Jones and his former co-Plaintiff Russell as Plaintiffs; Jones and Russell each include overlapping lists of Defendants. (Jones: Doc. 1, pp. 2-3, 5-6; Russell: Doc. 1, pp. 9). Both Jones and Russell signed the Complaint below the prayer for relief on page 7, which states that they seek monetary damages. Two pages in Doc. 1 contain cursory references to Jones' claims for deliberate indifference to a medical condition, interference with legal mail, and denial of recreation (Doc. 1, pp. 5, 7), but the remainder of this section does not contain any factual allegations set forth by Jones. (Doc. 1, pp. 10-20). The entire factual narrative beginning on page 10 of Doc. 1 is identified with former co-Plaintiff Russell's name, for example: “I as Lekedrieon Russell pressed the intercom multiple times to get a C/O in my as Lekedrieon Russell['s] room to help a[n] inmate that tried to commit suicide[.]” (Doc. 1, p. 10). Russell's only mention of Jones is on page 14, where Russell states that he asked for himself, Jones, and another cellmate to be allowed out of the cell for recreation, and mentions that Jones requested cleaning supplies for the cell they shared. (Doc. 1, p. 14). Other than those references, Jones' name does not appear in the statement of claim contained in Doc. 1. (Doc. 1, pp. 10-20).

         As background information to some of Jones' potential claims, Russell's section of the Complaint (Doc. 1) explains that another inmate (Joshua Heart) who shared the jail cell with Russell and Jones attempted to commit suicide by cutting his wrists on March 29, 2017. (Doc. 1, pp. 13, 16, 18). Heart was an admitted drug user. The cell was contaminated with Heart's blood, which was not cleaned up for 4 days, during which time Russell and presumably Jones were exposed to it. (Doc. 1, pp. 5, 16). For several days after that incident, Russell asked to be allowed out of the cell for recreation, but was refused. (Doc. 1, pp. 14, 18).

         The second section of the Complaint (filed as Doc. 1-1) contains 70 pages, starting with a cover page bearing Jones' name and address. The remainder of this second document relates only to Jones' claims. The second page of Doc. 1-1 consists of a copy of a photograph of purported drug evidence seized from Jones' home, with handwritten commentary and allegations surrounding the photo (such as “false report, ” “cruel and unusual punishments, ” and claims that officers lied about the testing of the substance). (Doc. 1-1, p. 2). This page is identical to a page contained in another Complaint filed by Jones in a different action pending in this Court, Jones v. Mooney, Case No. 17-cv-337-JPG (filed April 3, 2017) (Doc. 1, p. 6 in that case).[1] Jones continues on pages 3-4 with a narrative describing the search of his room by Officers Mooney and Greenwood on February 13, 2017, which culminated in his arrest. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 3-4). Many of these allegations overlap with matters raised in Case No. 17-337. However, in the present case, Jones raises a new and distinct allegation that after Mooney ordered another unidentified officer to put Jones in handcuffs, that officer applied the handcuffs so tightly that Jones' hands became badly swollen, preventing jail officials from taking his fingerprints for 3 days after the arrest. (Doc. 1-1, p. 4). Jones also includes another list of the Defendants. (Doc. 1-1, p. 7).

         The remainder of the 70 pages in Doc. 1-1 consists of many piecemeal handwritten statements, presented in no discernible order, interspersed with copies of documents such as police reports from Jones' arrest, excerpts from the Illinois Constitution, receipts from purchases at the jail, jail menus, the state court order setting bond after Jones' arrest, and pages from a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis.

         Jones' narrative portions include some description of Jones being exposed to blood from the cellmate's suicide attempt and his inability to get cleaning supplies from unidentified jail staff. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 9, 12, 70). Jones also alleges that Edwards, McKensley, [2] Jeff, Spartegues, and/or Roberts opened his incoming legal mail and read his outgoing legal mail, and/or mishandled forms relating to Jones' legal work and his attempts to sign over mail to his mother or receive mail from her. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 11, 14, 20-21, 44-45, 59). He claims that jail officials (possibly Scott, Mount, Haynes, and/or Shirley) delayed and denied medical care for acid burns Jones had sustained before his arrest. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 23, 25, 42-43, 47, 50-51, 63). ...

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