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Jordan v. Fewell

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Tallahassee Division

September 26, 2019

JOHNNIE LEE JORDAN, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
SERGEANT KAREN FEWELL, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          CHARLES A. STAMPELOS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The pro se Plaintiff filed an amended complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF No. 40. Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Fewell falsified a disciplinary report against him in retaliation for a grievance Plaintiff wrote against her. Id. As relief, Plaintiff sought nominal damages, but he expressly stated that the amount should be “more than a dollar, ” and suggested the “small sum of nine hundred dollars.” Id. at 14. Plaintiff also requested that he be awarded “a higher amount of money, ” and stated that his belief that “thirty five hundred [dollars] is a fair amount.” Id.

         Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, ECF No. 43, arguing that Plaintiff's request for relief must be limited to nominal damages because Plaintiff did not suffer physical injury. Id. at 4-6. Defendant requests that Plaintiff be limited to “nominal damages of $1.00” should Plaintiff be successful, and that his request for nine hundred dollars be dismissed. Id. at 6.

         Plaintiff has responded to the motion to dismiss and contends that he has suffered “actual injury” due to Defendant's retaliatory actions. ECF No. 46. He claims that because of Defendant's retaliation, his efforts to pursue a habeas petition were “frustrated and impeded.” Id. at 2. Plaintiff further argues that “nine hundred dollars is a small sum of money.” Id. at 3.

         Defendant is correct that Plaintiff's relief, should he be successful, must be limited to nominal damages because of the bar imposed by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e). That statute provides: “No Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e). The statute is applicable in this case as Plaintiff is an incarcerated prisoner who seeks monetary damages, but has not suffered a physical injury. Having alleged that he suffered “actual injury, ” provides a basis for this case, but it does not provide a basis for compensatory damages. See Harris v. Garner, 216 F.3d 970, 972 (11th Cir. 2000); Hughes v. Lott, 350 F.3d 1157, 1162 (11th Cir. 2003). Without physical injury, Plaintiff's relief is unquestionably limited to “nominal damages.” The only issue is what constitutes “nominal” damages?

         In a fairly recent case, the Eleventh Circuit expressed that an award of “nominal damages” was “a trivial sum awarded for symbolic, rather than compensatory, purposes.” Flanigan's Enterprises, Inc. of Georgia v. City of Sandy Springs, Georgia, 868 F.3d 1248, 1268 (11th Cir. 2017), cert. denied sub nom. Davenport v. City of Sandy Springs, Ga., 138 S.Ct. 1326 (2018). The amount may vary, from one dollar to one hundred dollars. Compare Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 116, 113 S.Ct. 566, 576, 121 L.Ed.2d 494 (1992) (O'Connor, J., concurring) (stating that plaintiff “obtained an enforceable judgment for one dollar in nominal damages. One dollar is not exactly a bonanza, but it constitutes relief on the merits.”), with KH Outdoor, LLC v. City of Trussville, 465 F.3d 1256, 1262 (11th Cir. 2006) (affirming an “award of nominal damages in the amount of $100”). What is clear is that such an award must be of a trivial or nominal amount.

         What is trivial to one person may not be trivial to another. Yet, considering Plaintiff's status as an in forma pauperis litigant who had a zero balance in his inmate bank account when this case was filed, see ECF No. 9, the amount of nominal damages cannot be between nine hundred and thirty-five hundred dollars. Such an amount would be a significant award. At this point in the litigation, the Court need not determine the precise amount Plaintiff should be awarded should he prevail in this litigation. It is enough to conclude that Plaintiff is only entitled to an award of nominal damages which may not exceed one hundred dollars.

         It is respectfully RECOMMENDED that Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's request of a monetary award of nine hundred dollars or more, ECF No. 43, be GRANTED, and Plaintiff must necessarily be limited to “nominal damages” pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e). ...


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