United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
R. WILHOIT. JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Wendell Leonard Cruse is an individual previously confined at
the Boyd County Detention Center ("BCDC") in
Catlettsburg, Kentucky. Proceeding without an attorney, Cruse
has filed a civil rights action against prison officials
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. [D.E. No. 1]
separate order, the Court has granted Cruse's motion to
proceed without prepayment of the filing fee. [D.E. No. 7]
Thus, the Court must conduct a preliminary review of
Cruse's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§
1915(e)(2), 1915A. A district court must dismiss any claim
that 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. McGore v.
Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 607-08 (6th Cir. 1997). A
complaint is subject to dismissal as "frivolous"
where "it lacks an arguable basis in either law or
fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325
Court evaluates Cruse's complaint under a more lenient
standard because he is not represented by an attorney.
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007);
Burton v. Jones, 321 F.3d 569, 573 (6th Cir. 2003).
At this stage, the Court accepts the plaintiffs factual
allegations as true, and his legal claims are liberally
construed in his favor. Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Even so, the
principles requiring generous construction of pro se
pleadings are not without limits. Wells v. Brown,
891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989); Wilson v. Lexington
Fayette Urban County Government, No. 07-cv-95-KSF, 2007
WL 1136743 (E.D. Ky. April 16, 2007). The Court is not
required to create a claim for the Plaintiff, nor to
"conjure up unpled allegations." Moorman v.
Herrington, No. CIV A 4:08-CV-P127-M, 2009 WL 2020669,
at *1 (W.D. Ky. July 9, 2OO9)(citations omitted).
complaint is somewhat illegible and alleges several unrelated
claims against different prison officials, thus his
allegations are difficult to parse. However, it appears that
Cruse seeks to assert: (1) constitutional claims against
Defendant Jailer Burchett and Sgt. Brad Roberts alleging
violations of Cruse's constitutional rights of access to
the Courts; (2) an Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference
claim against Burchett arising from allegations of various
poor jail conditions; (3) two separate excessive force claims
against Defendant Deputy Jailer "John" King (first
name unknown) and against Defendant "John Doe,"
C.E.R.T. Participant; and (5) an Eighth Amendment claim of
deliberate indifference to Cruse's medical needs against
Defendants Cristy "Doe" and the "Medical
Service Provider." [D.E. No. 1]
seeks to bring these claims in this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983. To establish a § 1983 claim, a
plaintiff must show that he was deprived of a constitutional
right and that the deprivation occurred at
the hands of defendant who was a "state actor," or
acted under color of state law. See Gomez v. Toledo,
446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980); Searcy v. City of Dayton,
38 F.3d 282, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). Thus, applying this
standard, each of Cruse's claims will be examined in
Denial of Access to the Courts
right of access to the courts guaranteed by the First
Amendment "requires prison authorities to assist inmates
in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by
providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate
assistance from persons trained in the law." Bounds
v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 828 (1977). However, the concern
is "a right of access to the courts, not
necessarily to a prison law library." Walker v.
Mintzes, 771 F.2d 920, 932 (1985) (emphasis in
original). See also Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343,
350 (1996) (noting that Bounds did not establish a
right to a law library). Moreover, "[b]ecause
Bounds did not create an abstract, freestanding
right to a law library or legal assistance, an inmate cannot
establish relevant actual injury simply by establishing that
his prison's law library or legal assistance program is
subpar in some theoretical sense." Lewis v.
Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351 (1996). Rather, to establish a
claim that the jail has interfered with his right of access
to the courts, a prisoner must show actual injury to a
nonfrivolous claim. Id. at 353-55.
complaint first alleges that, in 2016, he was informed by
Burchett that the BCDC does not have a law library or law
books for inmates and that any legal questions should be sent
to Cruse's attorney or public defender. Cruse then
alleges that, in January 2018, he was "forced" to
accept a plea agreement and a 90-day jail sentence after
consulting with his public defender, but without being able
to do his own independent legal research to ascertain if he
had a defense to the charges. [D. E. No. 1 at p. 3]
to the extent that Cruse alleges that the BCDC's lack of
a prison library harmed him in his criminal case, he concedes
that he was provided with counsel to represent him. The
United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has held
that, where counsel is appointed to represent the prisoner
plaintiff in his criminal action pending against him, as a
matter of law, the state has fulfilled its constitutional
obligation to provide him with full access to the courts.
Holt v. Pitts, 702 F.2d 639, 640 (6th Cir. 1983).
to the extent that Cruse suggests that he was harmed because
he could not conduct his own "independent research"
to ascertain if he had any viable defenses, Cruse does not
have any First Amendment right to meaningful access to the
courts with respect to efforts to represent himself in his
criminal case. By its terms, the right of access to the
courts extends only to an inmate's direct criminal
appeal, habeas corpus applications, and civil rights claims
related to the conditions of confinement. Lewis, 518
U.S. at 354-55. It does not apply to apro se
defendant's efforts to represent himself at his criminal
trial. United States v. Smith, 907 F.2d 42, 44 (6th
Cir. 1990) (rejecting contention that either the First or the
Sixth Amendment require that a criminal defendant who waives
his Sixth Amendment right to counsel is entitled to an
adequate law library to satisfy his constitutional right of
access to the courts); Smith v. Hutchins, 426
Fed.Appx. 785, 788 (11th Cir. 2011) ("... a criminal
defendant who seeks to proceed pro se has no right
to access a law library to aid him in his own defense at
trial where he has already been provided the option of legal
counsel.") (collecting cases); Degrate v.
Godwin, 84 F.3d 768, 769 (5th Cir. 1996) (affirming
dismissal of a § 1983 suit by a prisoner because he
"had no constitutional right to access a law library in
preparing the pro se defense of his criminal
Cruse alleges that, in January 2018, he requested that Sgt.
Roberts provide postage for legal mail so that Cruse could
file objections to a United States Magistrate Judge's
Report and Recommendation in a civil action pending in the
United States District Court for the Southern District of
West Virginia, Cruse v. Blackburn, 3:17-cv-485
(S.D.W.Va. 2017). According to Cruse, he gave legal documents
to Sgt. Roberts on January 29, 2018, for which Cruse had a
filing deadline of February 1, 2018. However, because Sgt.
Roberts placed Cruse's legal mail in the mail without
postage, Cruse's mail did not arrive at the Court until
February 13, 2018, thus depriving Cruse the opportunity to
object to the Magistrate Judge's Report and
Recommendation. [D.E. No. 1 at p. 3-4]
although Cruse claims that he was harmed because he lost the
opportunity to object to the Report and Recommendation, a
review of the record in Cruse's federal civil action
pending in West Virginia shows that, although Cruse did miss
the February 1, 2018 deadline for filing objections, the
District Court granted his motion to reconsider the
Court's acceptance of the Magistrate Judge's Proposed
Findings and Recommendations granting the defendants'
motion for summary judgment and returned the case to the
active docket so that Cruse's objections could be
considered. See Cruse v. Blackburn, 3:17-cv-485
(S.D.W.Va. 2017) at D.E. No. 92. Thus, contrary to
Cruse's allegations, he has not suffered any actual
injury to his claims in West Virginia through the loss of an
opportunity to file objections to the Report and
Recommendation because those objections are now being
considered by the District Court in that case. Because Cruse
was not prevented from asserting any particular legal claim
in his pending civil case, he suffered no actual injury from
the conduct about which he complains.
of these reasons, Cruse's allegations fail to state a
viable claim for denial of access to the Courts and,
accordingly, will be dismissed. As this is the only claim
alleging conduct by ...