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Washington v. Reliance Telephone Systems

United States District Court, D. North Dakota

October 29, 2019

Anthony M. Washington, Plaintiff,
Reliance Telephone Systems and McLean County Jail, Defendants.



         Plaintiff Anthony M. Washington (“Washington”) is a pretrial detainee at the McLean County Jail in Washburn, North Dakota. He initiated the above-captioned civil rights action pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 with the submission of an application to proceed in forma pauperis, which the court granted, and a complaint. (Doc. Nos. 1, 4 and 6). He subsequently filed notice of his consent to the Magistrate Judge's exercise of jurisiction. (Doc. No. 7). This matter is now before me for an initial review as mandated by 28 U.S.C. §1915A.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Washington complains about the lack of legal resources available to him at the McLean County Jail, his inability to have private telephone conversations with his attorney, and his struggles with PTSD. Specifically, he asserts:

While Detained @ McLean County Jail N.D.C.C. 12-44.14(7) as well as 28 C.F.R. 543.11 Lack of Law Library has hendered me from representing my self with the same defense as the States Attorney. Also phone calls between attorney and client has no privacy which is a violition to my 5th Amendment.
N.D.C.C. 28-04-04 action against domestic corporations and limited liability companies.
I have P.T.S.D. which causes Restless sleeps at night and loss of weight Due to loss. of apitite.

(Doc. No. 6) (errors in original).[1] He seeks, amongst other things, an award of $1, 200, 000 in damages.


         The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”) requires an initial court screening of all civil actions brought by prisoners that relate to prison conditions or that seek redress from a governmental entity, officer, or employee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The screening is required even when the prisoner has paid the filing fee. Lewis v. Estes, No. 00-1304, 242 F.3d 375 (table); 2000 WL 1673382, at *1 (8th Cir. Nov. 8, 2000) (unpublished per curiam). The purpose of the screening requirement is to weed out claims that clearly lack merit with the hope that this will help to lessen the burdens imposed by the ever-rising numbers 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, the court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if its claims are legally frivolous or malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (c)(1).

         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). 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). 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 the 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. Frivolous claims are those that are clearly baseless, fanciful, fantastic, or delusional. See Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32-34 (1992).

         To state a cognizable claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must normally allege a violation of a right secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States and that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Walker v. Reed, 104 F.3d 156, 157 (8th Cir. 1997). Even under liberal pleading standards, a pro se litigant, at the very least, must invoke ...

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