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Ford v. Mueller

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 22, 2017

JAMES E. FORD, # R-43353, Plaintiff,


          Nancy J. Rosenstengel United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Centralia Correctional Center ("Centralia"), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that he was wrongly subjected to discipline based on alleged gang membership and that he was singled out for a ticket because of his race. The Complaint is now before the Court for a preliminary review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Also before the Court is Plaintiffs motion for leave to file an amended Complaint (Doc. 8).

         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 maybe so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiffs 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).

         Applying these standards, the Court finds that some of Plaintiffs claims survive threshold review under § 1915A.

         The Complaint

         On May 10, 2016, Plaintiff was on the yard talking to his cousin (also an inmate) about family matters. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Three other inmates were standing about two feet away. C/O Bailey walked up to the other three inmates and asked to see their ID cards, then called Plaintiff and his cousin over to check their ID's as well. They complied. Bailey then told them, "He didn't know why but [they] should move around." (Doc. 1, p. 6).

         The next day, Plaintiff was called to the "gang intel office" and questioned about whether he was a member of the Gangster Disciples. Id. Plaintiff responded that he was not and had never been in a gang.

         On May 12, 2016, however, Plaintiff received a disciplinary ticket claiming he was a member of the Gangster Disciples. (Doc. 1-2, p. 2). Although Plaintiff asserts there is no evidence of gang activity in his background, he was found guilty of the offense. (Doc. 1-2, pp. 5-6). He was punished with the loss of two months telephone privileges, two months of outside recreation, and six months of visit restrictions. Because Plaintiff has now been labeled as a gang member, other gang member inmates have been questioning him He is concerned that this label will affect him upon his release.

         Plaintiff alleges that Bailey singled out Plaintiff and the other four nearby inmates for disciplinary action because of their race (African-American). Bailey has walked past "numerous" groups of whites and Hispanics gathered on the yard, in order to get to a group of Blacks. (Doc. l, p. 6).

         Plaintiff complained about the charge and discipline to Warden Mueller, who said he would "look into it, " but Plaintiff claims Mueller never did. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Plaintiff filed a grievance (Doc. 1-2, pp. 3-4, 8, 13-15), [1] talked to the administration, and had his family call about the matter. He was told to "let the administration look into it, " which Plaintiff did, but nothing was done. Id.

         About three months after the incident, C/O Bailey came to Plaintiffs cell for a compliance check. Bailey poured all the water out of Plaintiffs hot pot, then plugged it in and left it that way. When Plaintiff said something about this conduct, Bailey ordered him out of the cell. When Plaintiff returned, Bailey had confiscated a number of personal items, including a Sony Walkman, 24 tapes, and various dishes and toiletry items. Plaintiff wrote grievances about Bailey's "harassment" and "abuse of power." (Doc. 1, p. 6; Doc. 1-1, pp. 3-4, 8-9). Since then, Bailey has not been assigned to Plaintiffs housing unit, but when Bailey sees Plaintiff, he stops Plaintiff and searches him to continue the harassment.

         Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment, an order clearing the disciplinary charges from his record, and compensatory and punitive damages. (Doc. 1, p. 9).

         Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint (Doc. 8)

         In this motion, Plaintiff seeks permission to "file an Amended Complaint adding a party." (Doc. 8, p. 1). He explains that in the "bogus adjustment committee hearing, " C/O Mark Burton sided with staff and ignored prison rules, thus violating Plaintiffs rights. Id. Plaintiff wants to include Burton as a defendant. Along with the motion, Plaintiff tendered a two page proposed Amended Complaint. This document consists only of the first page of a complaint form, including the caption naming Burton along with the other defendants, and a second page listing all the defendants, including Burton. The proposed Amended Complaint does not contain a statement of claim, signature, or any other components.

         A plaintiff cannot amend a previous Complaint in a piecemeal fashion, as Plaintiff attempts to do here. Consistent with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), a cut-and-paste amendment like this (known as amendment by interlineation) is not permitted; instead, all claims against all defendants must be set forth in a single document. Furthermore, an amended complaint supersedes and replaces the original Complaint, rendering the original Complaint void. See Flannery v. Recording Indus. Ass 'n of Am., 354 F.3d 632, 638 n.l (7th Cir. 2004). For this reason, an amended complaint must contain all the relevant allegations in support of Plaintiffs claims and must stand on its own, without reference to any other pleading.

         Accordingly, Plaintiffs motion (Doc. 8) shall be denied, but without prejudice to seeking leave at a later date. The Court will proceed to review the original Complaint, as required under Section 1915A.

         Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. $ 1915A

         Based on the allegations of the Complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the prose action into the following counts. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as to their merit. Any other claim that is ...

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