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Morrison v. Jones

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

September 14, 2017




         I. Status

         Plaintiff initiated this case by filing a Civil Rights Complaint Form (Complaint)[1] (Doc. 1), dated April 29, 2015, and filed with the Clerk on May 11, 2015.[2] He filed a typewritten Amended Complaint (Amended Complaint) (Doc. 37) on July 20, 2016, pursuant to the mailbox rule.[3] Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Motion) (Doc. 50) is before the Court. Plaintiff filed a Reply to the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Response) (Doc. 56).

         II. Standard of Review

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept the factual allegations set forth in the complaint as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In addition, all reasonable inferences should be drawn in favor of the plaintiff. See Omar ex. rel. Cannon v. Lindsey, 334 F.3d 1246, 1247 (11th Cir. 2003) (per curiam). Nonetheless, the plaintiff must still meet some minimal pleading requirements. Jackson v. BellSouth Telecomm., 372 F.3d 1250, 1262-63 (11th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). While "[s]pecific facts are not necessary[, ]" the complaint should "'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Further, the plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. "A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); see Miljkovic v. Shafritz & Dinkin, P.A., 791 F.3d 1291, 1297 (11th Cir. 2015) (citation and footnote omitted).

         A "plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do[.]" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotations omitted); see also Jackson, 372 F.3d at 1262 (explaining that "conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal") (internal citation and quotations omitted). Indeed, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions[, ]" which simply "are not entitled to [an] assumption of truth." See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 680. Thus, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must determine whether the complaint contains "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face[.]'" Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         III. Amended Complaint

         Plaintiff brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Defendants in their individual and official capacities, and he brings state tort claims against the Defendants for their negligent actions in their individual and official capacities. Amended Complaint at 2. The Defendants are Julie Jones, the Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections; Monroe Barns, Warden of Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI); Randy L. Polk, Assistant Warden of CCI, Keita Peterson, Lieutenant at CCI; Tavia Fyre, Mail Room Supervisor at CCI; Brenda Anderson, Mail Room employee at CCI; and J. J. Fields, Sergeant at CCI. Id. at 2-3. Although not a model of clarity, Plaintiff asserts that the Defendants are liable because of "actions of neglect to prevent the conspiracy to interfere with Plaintiff's rights to access the courts, due process, and equal protection of law in preforming [sic] their duties under the color of state law; retaliation; impeding Plaintiff's rights to access the courts; equal protection of law, and due process." Id. at 3.

         In his statement of Facts, Plaintiff alleges that in August 2012, he was an inmate in the care and custody of the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC), imprisoned at CCI. Id. at 4. He prepared a Missouri post conviction motion (Form 40), and it was due to be filed in Case No. 12-LF-CV-00885 by August 14, 2012. Id. The Missouri rules require that the Form 40 be notarized before mailing/filing. Id. Plaintiff completed and copied the Form 40 "on or before" Friday, August 3, 2012, and deemed it ready for mailing. Id.

         Per policy and procedure of the institution, inmates had access to a notary for preparing legal documents for mailing on Wednesdays.[4] I d . Plaintiff, on Friday, August 3, 2012, approached the center gate area at CCI, and requested permission to obtain notary and legal mail services, but he was informed by Defendant Fields that notary services were only provided on Wednesdays. Id. Defendant Fields advised Plaintiff that if he heard about or caught Plaintiff requesting notary services again before Wednesday, he would have Plaintiff locked in confinement for disobeying a verbal order. Id. Plaintiff told Defendant Fields that he had a pending legal deadline of August 14, 2012 in the Missouri courts. Id. at 4-5. Defendant Fields ordered Plaintiff to depart the center gate area, and threatened to have Plaintiff placed in confinement if he continued to seek notary services prior to Wednesday. Id. at 5. Defendant Fields told Plaintiff that he had discussed Plaintiff's "grievance writing ass" with Defendant Polk, and if they (Fields and Polk) had their way, they would see to it that Plaintiff's petition would never get notarized and mailed. Id.

         On Wednesday, August 8, 2012, Plaintiff handed his Form 40 over to Defendant Peterson for notary and legal mail services. Id. Plaintiff told her about Defendants Fields' actions and the August 14, 2012 deadline. Id. Pursuant to the Florida Administrative Code, Chapter 33-210.102(8)(h), the required time frame for the mail to be turned over to the United States Postal Service for mailing was twenty-four hours from receipt of the mail. Id.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Polk, Peterson, Frye, Anderson, and Fields, through a conspiracy and/or with deliberate indifference, failed to turn over the Form 40 to the Postal Service in a timely fashion.[5] Id. at 5-6. The mail was turned over five days after receipt, on Monday, August 13, 2012. Id. at 6. The Form 40 did not reach the Missouri Clerk's Office until Wednesday, August 15, 2012, a day past the filing deadline. Id. The Missouri court does not recognize the mailbox rule, and the Rule 40 was dismissed as untimely. Id. In the motion, Plaintiff attacked a Missouri criminal judgment and sentence. Id.

         Defendant Polk denied Plaintiff's grievance, although he admitted that the required mailing time frames were not met. Id. Plaintiff appealed this decision, and his appeal was approved. Id.

         Plaintiff completed his Florida prison sentence on November 30, 2015. Id. at 7. He notified the Florida Department of Financial Services, General Counsel's Office of his intent to litigate against the Defendants. Id. He did not receive a response. Id.

         IV. Counts

         Five Counts are presented in the Amended Complaint:

Count I: Defendants Jones, Barns and Polk for the Institutional Notary Rule (Plaintiff seeks compensatory, punitive and nominal damages);
Count II: Defendant Fields Deliberate Indifference and Retaliatory Actions (Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages);
Count III: Defendant's [sic] Polk, Peterson, Frye, Anderson, and Fields Collectively and Individually Conspired to Retaliate Against Plaintiff (Plaintiff seeks compensatory, punitive, and nominal damages);
Count IV: Defendant Polk's Deliberate Indifferencee [sic] in Denying FDOC Formal Grievance # 1209-251-096 (Plaintiff seeks compensatory, punitive, and nominal damages); and Count V: Defendants Jones and Barns Neglect to Prevent Conspiracy (Plaintiff seeks compensatory, punitive, and nominal damages).

         Amended Complaint at 7-13.

         V. Summary of the Arguments

         Defendants seek dismissal of the Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Motion at 4-5. In doing so, they contend Plaintiff: (1) failed to disclose his prior litigation and the action should be dismissed for abuse of the judicial process; (2) failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with regard to retaliation and conspiracy; (3) failed to state a claim of retaliation that is plausible on its face; (4) failed to state a claim of denial of access to the courts that is plausible on its face with regard to (A) deliberate indifference on the part of Defendant Fields, (B) Defendants' notary policy, and (C) the isolated, untimely mailing incident; (5) failed to state a claim as there is no constitutional right in the grievance procedure; (6) failed to state a claim of conspiracy to violate civil rights; (7) failed to state a viable claim of supervisory liability; and (8) is not entitled to compensatory or punitive damages against the Defendants in the absence of a physical injury. Defendants also contend they are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity to the extent they are sued in their official capacities for monetary damages.

         In response to Defendant's Motion, Plaintiff asserts that the Prison Litigation Reform Act (Act or PLRA) is inapplicable to his case because, prior to the filing of the Amended Complaint, he discharged his Florida prison sentence, and he is no longer a prisoner for purposes of the Act. Response at 2. Thus, Plaintiff reasons that he was not required to comply with the requirements of the Act as he was no longer a prisoner for purposes of the Act, and he was not prompted to address his previous filings because he filed a typewritten Amended Complaint rather than an amended civil rights complaint form. Id. at 2-3. He claims he exhausted his administrative remedies prior to the filing of his Complaint. Id. at 4-6. He opines that he has sufficiently alleged a retaliation claim. Id. at 6-10. He asserts that he has adequately alleged a claim of denial of access to the courts. Id. at 11-16. He concedes that he has no right to a grievance procedure. Id. at 16. He submits that he has adequately alleged a conspiracy claim that is plausible on its face. Id. at 17-19. Plaintiff contends that he has adequately raised a supervisory liability claim that is plausible on its face. Id. at 19-20. Finally, he asserts that he complied with pre-suit notification requirements, and that Defendants are not entitled to sovereign immunity with respect to Plaintiff's state tort claims. Id. at 20.

         VI. Law and Conclusions

         A. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

         Defendants raise the defense of sovereign immunity to the extent Plaintiff is seeking monetary damages against them in their official capacities. Motion at 23. In this regard, the Motion is due to be granted. An official capacity claim for monetary damages is barred by sovereign immunity. Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 97-102 (1984). Thus, insofar as Plaintiff seeks monetary damages for the violation of his constitutional rights from the Defendants in their official capacities, the Eleventh Amendment bars suit. Zatler v. Wainwright, 802 F.2d 397, 401 (11th Cir. 1986) (per curiam). Of note, "neither pendent jurisdiction nor any other basis of jurisdiction may override the Eleventh Amendment." Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp., 465 U.S. at 121 (finding the principle also applies to state-law claims brought into federal court under pendent jurisdiction).

         B. ...

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