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Elliott v. Causey

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green

March 5, 2014

MISSE CAUSEY et al., Defendants.


JOSEPH H. McKINLEY, Jr., Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff, Keenan Elliott, proceeding pro se, in forma pauperis filed an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (DN 1). He subsequently amended the complaint (DN 12). This matter is before the Court for screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and McGore v. Wrigglesworth , 114 F.3d 601, 608 (6th Cir. 1997), overruled on other grounds by Jones v. Bock , 549 U.S. 199 (2007).[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Court will allow the official-capacity claim for monetary damages alleging that Plaintiff's photos contained in a piece of incoming mail were destroyed pursuant to a municipal policy or custom to proceed. All other claims will be dismissed.


Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex [LLCC]. The allegations in his complaint, however, concern his detention while incarcerated in the Warren County Regional Jail [WCRJ]. Plaintiff names five Defendants in this action. He lists them as follows: 1) Misse Causey, a Major at WCRJ; 2) John Sanders, a Correctional Officer at WCRJ; 3) Jackie Strode, Jailer at WCRJ; 4) William Baker, a Major at WCRJ; and 5) Pat Wyatt, an employee of WCRJ. Plaintiff states that he sues each Defendant in his or her official and individual capacities. As relief, Plaintiff seeks monetary and punitive damages. He also requests as follows: "And Have a better Search and procedure inforced/When it comes to Pictures Have Them put in your property Like other Jails, Let Inmates View the Pictures and Decide Which Ones They Want in their possession not the mail Room Decide what he Whants you To Have. Have a Certain Time Set for Notary Service." Further, Plaintiff requests that "A full investigaton Be done on the Mail Room."

In his complaint, Plaintiff states as follows:

[T]he Mail Room Staff listed goes tru our out Going mail, on one instant I've Had To Mail Federal Mail Home in another Envelope in order to get my law suit on the Jail Processed, this mail once Home Had been opened and parts of the Federal 1983 form was gone, this 1983 was on the Jail about my shoe incident.... the Mail Room Not only opens my Mail They've also Returned my my mail to New York on or about 10-10-12 Back to New York and other Important mail with out Me Viewing it or Signing the Income Mail Log. Theyve destroyed pictures I Had Sent in with out Me viewing them. Other Jails let us see our property W.C.R.J Throws our property away and not put in the Property Room with our belongings. Upon Cell Searches this still ties in toe mail and the mail Room. On Search the Guards are allowed to take our legal mail if its hand written also our pictures and Etc. The Guards Have no documents in Hand describing what we are over the limit of so they take our mail and property and throw away. I've also Encountered John Sanders in the Mail Room Notarizing my legal work and spilling coffee on my work and at that point He told me to rewrite it, and I asked for a grevience on 7-9-13 @ 1:30 John said I should be quiet before He puts me in the Hole. and then I said Ill. Just Report it to a Capt. He said so Misse already knows. 7-15-13 I Just went ahead and sent my Springfield legal work home. Couldn't get it notarized This Hindered my due process. My Mail is still At Home. Even After Misse Had Told Me I didn't Have money on my books SHE claims that was stopping me Lillie Mason on 7/16 - put 5.00 on my Books To get this done. Then Misse said She didn't Have Enough Staff to Run around for me on 8-30-13 and 7-17-13 @ 7A. I've Also Witnessed and Heard from Federal inmate Robert Taylor That his Mail Had been opened going Home and their was some one Else's Hand Writting on His Mail Once His Family Received it. On Search 8-4 2nd Shift My Cell Mates Pictures to be mailed out (it was Sealed up His Name is Kwame Herron Fed inmate. His Mail was opened By C.O. Laura. I'm not the only one that has been violated....


When a prisoner initiates a civil action seeking redress from a governmental entity, officer, or employee, the trial court must review the complaint and dismiss the complaint, or any portion of it, if it determines that the complaint is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A; McGore v. Wrigglesworth , 114 F.3d at 604. A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). The trial court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Id. at 327. In order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, "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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

"[A] district court must (1) view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and (2) take all well-pleaded factual allegations as true." Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC , 561 F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gunasekera v. Irwin , 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)). "But the district court need not accept a bare assertion of legal conclusions.'" Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC , 561 F.3d at 488 (quoting Columbia Natural Res., Inc. v. Tatum , 58 F.3d 1101, 1109 (6th Cir. 1995)). The court's duty "does not require [it] to conjure up unpled allegations, " McDonald v. Hall , 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 1979), or to create a claim for a plaintiff. Clark v. Nat'l Travelers Life Ins. Co. , 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir. 1975). To command otherwise would require the Court "to explore exhaustively all potential claims of a pro se plaintiff, [and] would also transform the district court from its legitimate advisory role to the improper role of an advocate seeking out the strongest arguments and most successful strategies for a party." Beaudett v. City of Hampton , 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).


A. Individual-Capacity Claims

To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that 1) a right secured by the Constitution or a federal statute has been violated, and 2) the violation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins , 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Flanory v. Bonn , 604 F.3d 249, 253 (6th Cir. 2010). A complaint filed under § 1983 must show a causal connection between each of the named Defendants and the alleged constitutional deprivation. A § 1983 complaint must allege that specific conduct by each Defendant was the proximate cause of the constitutional injury. King v. Massarweh , 782 F.2d 825, 828-29 (9th Cir. 1986). "Congress did not intend § 1983 liability to attach where causation is absent." Deaton v. Montgomery Cnty. Ohio , 989 F.2d 885, 889 (6th Cir. 1993). To establish causation, Plaintiff must adduce "an affirmative link... [a] moving force that animated the behavior... that resulted in the constitutional violations alleged." Id. When the theory of causation is a matter of pure speculation and is nothing more than an hypothetical argument, the pleadings are insufficient to sustain a compensable § 1983 claim. Horn v. Madison Cnty. Fiscal Court , 22 F.3d 653, 659 (6th Cir. 1994).

While the Court is aware of its duty to construe pro se complaints liberally, Plaintiff is not absolved of his duty to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by providing Defendants with "fair notice of the basis for [his] claims." Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A. , 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002). To state a claim for relief, Plaintiff must show how each Defendant is accountable because the Defendant was personally involved in the acts about which Plaintiff complains. Rizzo v. Goode , 423 U.S. 362, 375-77 (1976); see Colvin v. Caruso , 605 F.3d 282, 292 (6th Cir. 2010) (stating "officials are personally liable for damages under [§ 1983] only for their own unconstitutional behavior'") (quoting Leach v. Shelby Cnty. Sheriff , 891 F.2d 1241, 1246 (6th Cir. 1989)).

Plaintiff makes claims involving inspection of his outgoing mail, mail being returned without him seeing it, destruction of photos sent to him while at WCRJ, and cell searches in which legal documents were confiscated. He refers to "they, " "mailroom, " "mailroom staff, " and "The Guards" as perpetrators of the alleged violations. Plaintiff connects none of the allegations to any of the named Defendants. Having failed to causally connect these allegations to any of the named Defendants, these claims must be dismissed.

Plaintiff does set forth two instances which he connects to two of the named Defendants in this case. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Sanders spilled coffee on a document he notarized for Plaintiff and when Plaintiff complained about this, Defendant Sanders allegedly told Plaintiff to re-write the document. Plaintiff fails to state what constitutional or statutory right he alleges was violated by these actions of Defendant Sanders, nor is the Court aware of any such right. Plaintiff also sets forth allegations against Defendant Causey. As to Defendant Causey, Plaintiff alleges she informed him at some point that he had no money in his account. Further, he alleges that after money was sent to his account, Defendant Causey told him she did not have enough staff to run around for him. Again, Plaintiff fails to state what Constitutional or statutory right he alleges was violated by these actions, nor is the Court aware of any such right. Having failed to set forth a right secured by the Constitution or a federal statute which has been violated, Plaintiff fails to state a claim under § 1983.

Accordingly, the individual-capacity claims against all Defendants will be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) for failure to state a ...

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