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Shirley v. White

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

January 29, 2018




         Plaintiff Elijah Shirley, a prisoner presently incarcerated at Northpoint Training Center (NTC), filed a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 regarding events that occurred while he was incarcerated at Kentucky State Penitentiary (KSP). This matter is before the Court for initial review of the complaint 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 that follow, this action will be dismissed.


         In the caption of his complaint, Plaintiff names the following eight Defendants: (1) Randy White, the Warden at KSP; (2) J. Palmer, a Correctional Officer at KSP; (3) Billy Price, a Correctional Officer at KSP; (4) Gibbs, a Captain at KSP; (5) Brian O'Dell, a Sergeant at KSP; (6) S. Hope, a Captain at KSP; (7) Seth Mitchell, with Internal Affairs at KSP; and (8) Dan Smith, the Grievance Coordinator at KSP. Plaintiff sues Defendants in their individual and official capacities. As requested relief, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages; “official dismissal of all defendants as correctional officers and reprimands for others”; and attorney fees.

         According to Plaintiff, on June 1, 2017, while working at his prison job in the KSP dining room, Plaintiff was harassed by Defendant Palmer. Plaintiff represents that Defendant Palmer referred to Plaintiff, an African American, as a monkey and told Plaintiff to get himself over with the other monkeys. Plaintiff states that others witnessed Defendant Palmer's statements and that a report was written up about the incident by Correctional Officer Hillyard and his wife. Plaintiff further states as follows:

This has been an on Going occurance with [Defendant Palmer] for some time, and I have filed Greivances, and written to the Warden, [Defendant White], as well as The Commissioner about this, and they keep telling me they will Monitor the problem and inform the officers to keep th[ei]r Opinions to themselves, which is to say, that nothing concrete will be done.

         According to Plaintiff, shortly after the incident, he was transferred to NTC and “was denied his Constitutional Right to redress of Grievances, He was denied the fundamental right to file an appeal to the transfer, and Did in fact file a Grievance against the Officer, but has as yet heard nothing.” Plaintiff states that “the warden has refused to contact him about the outcome of the grievance, and has also refused to hear the grievance, due to the Plaintiff no longer being at the Pentetiary.” According to Plaintiff, his “Constitutional, Due Process, And those fundamental rights afforded every person, regardless, of skin color or situation, has been grossly violated by the officers and staff at the Penitentiary.”


         Because Plaintiff is a prisoner seeking relief against governmental entities, officers, and/or employees, this Court must review the instant action under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under § 1915A, the trial court must review the complaint and dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the court determines that it 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. See § 1915A(b)(1), (2); McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d at 608.

         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 Nat. 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).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Official-Capacity Claims

         “Official-capacity suits . . . ‘generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.'” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985) (quoting Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 690 n.55 (1978)). Because Defendants are all employees or officers of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the claims brought against them in their official capacities are deemed claims against the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Id. at 166. State officials sued in their official capacities for money damages are not “persons” subject to suit under § 1983. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). Thus, the claims seeking money damages from state officers or employees in their official capacities are not cognizable claims under § 1983. Additionally, the Eleventh Amendment[1] acts as a bar to claims for monetary damages against Defendants in their official capacities. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. at 169; see also Boone v. Kentucky, 72 F. App'x 306, 307 (6th Cir. 2003) (“[Plaintiff's] request for monetary relief against the prosecutors in their official capacities is ...

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