United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
ORDER OF DISMISSAL WITHOUT PREJUDICE
J. DAVIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Daniel Malcolm Pearson, an inmate of the Florida penal
system, initiated this action by filing a pro se civil rights
complaint (Doc. 1; Compl.) and a motion to proceed in forma
pauperis (Docs. 2, 3). Plaintiff names as Defendants two
corrections officers, each at a different correctional
facility: A. Gomez, a corrections officer at Sumter
Correctional Institution (SCI), and W. Rogers, a Sergeant at
Florida State Prison (FSP). In his Complaint, Plaintiff
asserts his personal property, including legal transcripts,
were lost or destroyed while he was at SCI. Compl. at 5-6.
Before his transfer to FSP, he was threatened to sign a
property slip and was told his property would be sent to FSP
when it was located. Id. at 6. At FSP, Plaintiff never
received his property, and Defendant Rogers coerced him into
signing a property slip indicating he had. Id.
Plaintiff asserts violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth
Amendments, alleging Defendants' conduct constitutes
cruel and unusual punishment, a denial of equal protection,
and a denial of access to the courts. Id. at 9. He
alleges no injuries. As relief, he seeks compensatory and
punitive damages. Id.
Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) requires a district court
to dismiss a complaint if the court determines the action is
frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which
relief can be granted. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
With respect to whether a complaint “fails to state a
claim on which relief may be granted, ” the language of
the PLRA mirrors the language of Rule 12(b)(6), Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure, so courts apply the same standard in both
contexts. Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d 1483, 1490
(11th Cir. 1997); see also Alba v. Montford, 517
F.3d 1249, 1252 (11th Cir. 2008). “To survive a motion
to dismiss, 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) (citing Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).
“Labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action” that
amount to “naked assertions” will not suffice.
Id. (quotations, alteration, and citation omitted).
a complaint must “contain either direct or inferential
allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to
sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory.”
Roe v. Aware Woman Ctr. for Choice, Inc., 253 F.3d
678, 683 (11th Cir. 2001) (quotations and citations omitted).
In reviewing a pro se plaintiff's pleadings, a court must
liberally construe the plaintiff's allegations. See
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972);
Bingham v. Thomas, 654 F.3d 1171, 1175 (11th Cir.
2011). However, the duty of a court to construe pro se
pleadings liberally does not require the court to serve as an
attorney for the plaintiff. Freeman v. Sec'y, Dept.
of Corr., 679 Fed.Appx. 982, 982 (11th Cir. 2017)
(citing GJR Invs., Inc. v. Cty. of Escambia, 132
F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998)).
Complaint is subject to dismissal under this Court's
screening obligation because he fails to “state a claim
to relief that is plausible on its face.” See
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. To state a claim under 42
U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege “(1) both
that the defendant deprived [him] of a right secured under
the Constitution or federal law and (2) that such a
deprivation occurred under color of state law.” See
Bingham, 654 F.3d at 1175 (alteration in original). In
the absence of a federal constitutional deprivation or
violation of a federal right, a plaintiff cannot sustain a
cause of action against a defendant.
Plaintiff fails to state a claim against Defendants for a
violation of the Eighth Amendment. A prisoner asserting an
Eighth Amendment violation must allege the prison official
“actually knew of ‘an excessive risk to inmate
health or safety' and disregarded that risk.”
Campbell v. Sikes, 169 F.3d 1353, 1364 (11th Cir.
1999) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837
(1994)). Plaintiff does not allege he faced a risk of serious
harm of which Defendants had knowledge. See Compl. at 10-13.
His allegations relate solely to the loss of personal
property. Id. To the extent Plaintiff premises his
Eighth Amendment claim on the threats Defendants made against
him, such allegations do not suffice. See Hernandez v.
Fla. Dep't of Corr., 281 Fed.Appx. 862, 866 (11th
Cir. 2008) (“[V]erbal abuse alone is insufficient to
state a constitutional claim.”).
Plaintiff fails to state an equal protection claim. “In
order to state an equal protection claim, [a] plaintiff must
[allege] that he was discriminated against by establishing
that other similarly-situated individuals outside of his
protected class were treated more favorably.”
Amnesty Int'l, USA v. Battle, 559 F.3d 1170,
1180 (11th Cir. 2009), abrogated on other grounds by
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662. As noted, Plaintiff's
allegations center around a loss of personal property. In no
way can his Complaint be liberally construed to suggest he is
a member of a protected class who was discriminated against.
Plaintiff fails to state a claim under the Fourteenth
Amendment for the loss of his personal property. A negligent
or intentional deprivation of personal property does not
constitute a Fourteenth Amendment due process violation
“if a meaningful postdeprivation remedy for the loss is
available.” Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517,
533 (1984). Plaintiff has an adequate postdeprivation remedy
available to him under state law: he can sue the officers for
theft or conversion. See Fla. Stat. § 772.11(1). See
also Case v. Eslinger, 555 F.3d 1317, 1331 (11th
Cir. 2009) (recognizing Florida's civil cause of action
for conversion provides an adequate postdeprivation remedy
when law enforcement officers seize or retain personal
Plaintiff fails to state an access-to-courts claim. To state
a claim for a denial of access to the courts, a plaintiff
must allege an “actual injury.” Lewis v.
Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 349 (1996); see also Barbour v.
Haley, 471 F.3d 1222, 1225 (11th Cir. 2006).
“Actual injury may be established by demonstrating that
an inmate's efforts to pursue a nonfrivolous claim were
frustrated or impeded by . . . an official's
action.” Barbour, 471 F.3d at 1225 (citations
omitted). The Eleventh Circuit has held an access-to-courts
violation arises in limited types of cases: nonfrivolous
appeals in a criminal case, petitions for habeas corpus, and
civil rights actions. Al-Amin v. Smith, 511 F.3d
1317, 1332 (11th Cir. 2008) (“[P]rison officials'
actions that allegedly violate an inmate's right of
access to the courts must have impeded the inmate's
pursuit of a nonfrivolous, post-conviction claim or civil
rights action.”) (quoting Wilson v.
Blankenship, 163 F.3d 1284, 1290 (11th Cir. 1998)).
closest Plaintiff comes to asserting an actual injury is his
suggestion that he has been unable to file a “federal
2254 habeas corpus [petition].” Compl. at 8, 11.
Plaintiff's allegations amount to no more than
‘[l]abels and conclusions” or “a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action.”
See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Plaintiff provides no
factual detail describing the circumstances of the alleged
interference with a federal habeas petition, nor does he
allege facts to demonstrate a causal connection between
Defendants' actions and the alleged injury. For instance,
Plaintiff does not allege either Defendant personally
destroyed his legal papers.
the Court takes judicial notice that Plaintiff filed a habeas
petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in 2015. See Doc. 1,
Case No. 6:15-cv-81-Orl-40DAB (“Habeas Case”).
The Court denied Plaintiff's habeas petition, dismissed
the case, and denied a certificate of appealability. See
Habeas Case (Doc. 49). The Eleventh Circuit denied a
certificate of appealability, Id. (Doc. 57), and a
motion for reconsideration. See Eleventh Circuit Case No.
17-10357-B. Given Plaintiff has already pursued state habeas
relief, and his case is no longer pending, he cannot
demonstrate his efforts to pursue a nonfrivolous claim have
been frustrated. See Barbour, 471 F.3d at 1225. As such,
Plaintiff fails to state a claim for a denial of access to
Plaintiff properly stated a claim for a denial of access to
the courts, he would be entitled only to nominal damages
under the PLRA. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) (“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 or the commission of a sexual
act.”). To be entitled to nominal damages, however, a
plaintiff must make such a request.
seeks only compensatory and punitive damages, each in the
amount of $10, 000. Even under a liberal interpretation,
Plaintiff's request for relief cannot be construed as one
for nominal damages. See, e.g., Williams v.
Langford, No. 2:13-cv-315-FtM-38CM, 2015 WL 163226, at
*7 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 12, 2015) (citing Carey v.
Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 266-67 (1978)) (finding a request
for $250, 000 could not be liberally construed as a request
for nominal damages, which generally do not exceed one
dollar); Honors v. Judd, No. 8:10-cv-22-T-33AEP,
2011 WL 3498287, at *6 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 10, 2011) (finding the
plaintiff's request for only punitive and compensatory
damages could not be considered a request for nominal damages
under the PLRA).
Plaintiff does not include a request for “other
relief” or similarly inclusive language that could be
liberally construed as a request for nominal damages. Cf.
Smith v. Barrow, No. CV 311-044, 2012 WL 6519541, at *5
(S.D. Ga. Nov. 9, 2012), report and recommendation adopted as
modified, 2012 WL 6522020 (S.D. Ga. Dec. 13, 2012) (liberally
construing the complaint to request ...