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Campbell v. Othoff

United States District Court, D. North Dakota

February 17, 2016

Anthony Leon Campbell, Plaintiff,
Paul Othoff, Commander Ward County Jail Operations and Manager for Turnkey Corrections at Ward County Jail; Turnkey Correction, Inc.; Steve Kukowski, Sheriff of Ward County Jail Facility; Leann Bertsch, Director of Department of Corrections, Defendants.


CHARLES S. MILLER, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

This matter is now before the court for screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Also, there is a pending motion to dismiss by defendant Bertsch that has been fully briefed by the parties.


At least as the time of the filing of the complaint, plaintiff was incarcerated at the Ward County Jail in Minot. In his complaint, plaintiff claims that the prices being charged in the Jail's commissary are excessive because, according to him, they are greater than what persons outside the facility would have to pay for the same items on the open market. Plaintiff contends that the excessive pricing, as well as the acts of defendants causing it, violated federal antitrust laws[1] and his right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. The only relief that plaintiff seeks is damages. (Doc. No. 7).

One of the defendants that plaintiff wants to sue is Turnkey Correction, Inc. ("Turnkey"). Plaintiff contends that the excessive pricing is the result of Turnkey being involved with the Jail's commissary but is unclear in terms of its alleged role. For purposes of what follows, it will be assumed plaintiff is claiming that Turnkey is both operating the Jail's commissary and is the supplier of the items sold within it, rather than just being a supplier.

The other persons named as defendants are: Paul Othoff, who is alleged to be the Ward County Jail's commander of operations; Steve Kukowski, the Ward County Sheriff; and Leann Bertsch, the Direct of the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("NDDOCR"). There is no mention in the complaint of any of these individuals being sued in their individual as opposed to official capacities; but, in terms of the final outcome here, it does not make a difference.


A. Screening requirements

When a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis seeks to sue a governmental entity, officer, or employee, the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA") requires the court to conduct an early screening of the complaint to weed out claims that clearly lack merit with the hope this will help to lessen the burdens imposed by the ever-rising number of prisoner suits, which too often are frivolous and without merit. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 202-03 (2007); Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 83-84 (2006). In conducting the screening required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the court is required to identify any cognizable claims and to dismiss the complaint, or any part of it, that is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks monetary relief from an immune defendant.

Neither 42 U.S.C. § 1983 nor the PLRA imposes any heightened pleading requirements. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. at 211-12. Consequently, in order to state a cognizable claim, the complaint need only meet the minimum requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), which are that it contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam).

The court is obligated to construe a pro se complaint liberally and hold it to a less stringent standard than what normally would be required of attorneys. Id .; see also Federal Express Corp. v. Holowecki, 552 U.S. 389, 402 (2008); Solomon v. Petray, 795 F.3d 777, 787 (8th Cir. 2015). This does not mean that the court must accept everything or anything that is filed by pro se prisoners, however. In enacting the screening requirement, Congress obviously expected it to be more than a ritualistic exercise and that courts would only allow to go forward those claims that are cognizable, that seek relief from a non-immune party, and that are not obviously frivolous or malicious.

To meet the minimal pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2) for stating a cognizable claim, something more is required than simply expressing a desire for relief and declaring an entitlement to it. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 n.3 (2007) ("Bell Atlantic"). The complaint must state enough to "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 93 (quoting Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555). And, even though a pro se complaint is to be liberally construed, it must also contain enough to satisfy Bell Atlantic's "plausibility standard." E.g., Ventura-Vera v. Dewitt, 417 Fed.Appx. 591, 592, 2011 WL 2184269, *1 (8th Cir. 2011) (unpublished per curiam) (citing Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2007) for the appropriate post-Bell Atlantic standard); see also Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004) ( pro se complaints must allege sufficient facts to state a claim). Complaints that offer nothing more than labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements are not sufficient. See id. Frivolous claims are those that are clearly baseless, fanciful, fantastic, or delusional. See Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32-34 (1992).


A. Antitrust ...

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