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Dennison v. Ky. Dep't of Corr.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

April 29, 2015

KY. DEP'T OF CORR. et al., Defendants.


DAVID J. HALE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jimmie Lee Dennison, a prisoner proceeding pro se, in forma pauperis, filed an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (DN 17).[1] The amended complaint (DN 17) 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). For the reasons set forth below, this action will be dismissed.


Plaintiff Dennison brings his action against four Defendants: (1) the Kentucky Department of Corrections; (2) Rhonda Self, a "R.C.C. Postal Dept employee"; (3) Oldham County, Kentucky; and (4) Roederer Correctional Complex (RCC). Plaintiff sues Defendant Self in her individual and official capacities. As relief, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and punitive damages. In the "Statement of Claims" portion of the amended complaint, Plaintiff further states that he seeks "thier policys corrected."

According to the amended complaint (DN 17) and related grievance (DN 1-1, p. 2) filed by Plaintiff, on or about September 26, 2014, while Plaintiff was incarcerated at RCC, [2]he brought a piece of legal mail to the mail room at the institution with the intention of mailing it "certified mail with return reciept as proof of delivery." Plaintiff states that Defendant Self refused "to send sensitive legal mail as certified.'" The grievance indicates Defendant Self refused to send the mail as certified because Plaintiff was indigent. Plaintiff contends that Defendant Self's refusal violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Plaintiff contends that Defendant Oldham County is "directly at fault as well for not addressing this problem(s) sooner and is guilty of negligence and denial of [his] 5th and 14th ammendments as well." As for RCC, Plaintiff states that it "should have corrected this problem as well even if it hadn't been ordered to, ignorance of the laws and rules is no excuse." Plaintiff continues, "[s]o the Roederer Correctional Complex is also hereby named in this civil suit as the owner/operator of the mailroom and its employer Rhonda Self."


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, 90 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. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

Under the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, [3] a state and its agencies may not be sued in federal court, regardless of the relief sought, unless the state has waived its immunity or Congress has overridden it. See Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 144 (1993) ("This [Eleventh Amendment] withdrawal of jurisdiction effectively confers an immunity from suit. Thus, this Court has consistently held that an unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another State.'") (quoting Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 662-663 (1974)); Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 120 (1984) ("[I]f a lawsuit against state officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleges a constitutional claim, the federal court is barred from awarding damages against the state treasury even though the claim arises under the Constitution. Similarly, if a § 1983 action alleging a constitutional claim is brought directly against a State, the Eleventh Amendment bars a federal court from granting any relief on that claim.") (citation omitted); Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978) ("There can be no doubt, however, that suit against the State and [one of its departments] is barred by the Eleventh Amendment, unless [the State] has consented to the filing of such a suit."). The Commonwealth of Kentucky has not waived its immunity, see Adams v. Morris, 90 F.App'x 856, 857 (6th Cir. 2004), and in enacting § 1983, Congress did not intend to override the traditional sovereign immunity of the states. Whittington v. Milby, 928 F.2d 188, 193-94 (6th Cir. 1991) (citing Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 341 (1979)); see Ferritto v. Ohio Dep't of Highway Safety, No. 90-3475, 1991 WL 37824, at *2 (6th Cir. Mar. 19, 1991) ("The Eleventh Amendment prohibits actions against states and state agencies under section 1983 and section 1985.").

The Eleventh Amendment similarly bars damages claims against state officials sued in their official capacity. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 169 (1985) ("This [Eleventh Amendment] bar remains in effect when State officials are sued for damages in their official capacity."); McCrary v. Ohio Dep't of Human Servs., No. 99-3597, 2000 WL 1140750, at *3 (6th Cir. Aug. 8, 2000) (finding § 1983 and § 1985 claims against state agency and its employees in their official capacities for damages barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity).

Plaintiff not only seeks damages, but he also seeks prospective injunctive relief. Such relief is not barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity against individuals in their official capacities. See Green v. Mansour, 474 U.S. 64, 68 (1985) (recognizing that the Supreme Court has "held that the Eleventh Amendment does not prevent federal courts from granting prospective injunctive relief to prevent a continuing violation of federal law"); McKay v. Thompson, 226 F.3d 752, 757 (6th Cir. 2000) (finding that "[t]he district court correctly determined that the Eleventh Amendment permits prospective injunctive relief, but not damage awards, for suits against individuals in their official capacities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983"). Thus, the Eleventh Amendment would not bar the prospective injunctive relief claim against Defendant Self in her official capacity.

Accordingly, all of the claims against Defendant Kentucky Department of Corrections and Defendant RCC are barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity, and these claims and these Defendants will be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(2). Likewise, the claim against Defendant Self in her official-capacity seeking monetary damages is barred by ...

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