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Smith v. Mahlman

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

September 20, 2019

DONELL L. SMITH, JR., Plaintiff,
MRS. MAHLMAN, et al; Defendants.

          Dlott, J.



         Plaintiff, an inmate at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF), brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Mrs. Mahlman, Ms. Behn, and Mr, Distel. By separate Order issued this date, plaintiff has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. This matter is before the Court for a sua sponte review of the complaint to determine whether the complaint, or any portion of it, should be dismissed because it is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 § 804, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); § 805, 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         In enacting the original in forma pauperis statute, Congress recognized that a "litigant whose filing fees and court costs are assumed by the public, unlike a paying litigant, lacks an economic incentive to refrain from filing frivolous, malicious, or repetitive lawsuits." Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989)). To prevent such abusive litigation, Congress has authorized federal courts to dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint if they are satisfied that the action is frivolous or malicious. Id.; see also 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and 1915A(b)(1). A complaint may be dismissed as frivolous when the plaintiff cannot make any claim with a rational or arguable basis in fact or law. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 328-29 (1989); see also Lawler v. Marshall, 898 F.2d 1196, 1198 (6th Cir. 1990). An action has no arguable legal basis when the defendant is immune from suit or when plaintiff claims a violation of a legal interest which clearly does not exist. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. An action has no arguable factual basis when the allegations are delusional or rise to the level of the irrational or "wholly incredible." Denton, 504 U.S. at 32; Lawler, 898 F.2d at 1199. The Court need not accept as true factual allegations that are "fantastic or delusional" in reviewing a complaint for frivolousness. Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 471 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 328).

         Congress also has authorized the sua sponte dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief maybe granted. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 (e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b)(1). A complaint filed by a pro se plaintiff must be "liberally construed" and "held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). By the same token, however, the 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) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also Hill, 630 F.3d at 470-71 ("dismissal standard articulated in Iqbal and Twombly governs dismissals for failure to state a claim" under §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)).

         "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that 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). The Court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true, but need not "accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Attain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). Although a complaint need not contain "detailed factual allegations," it must provide "more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A pleading that offers "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders "naked assertion[s]" devoid of "further factual enhancement." Id. at 557. The complaint must "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93 (citations omitted).

         In the complaint, plaintiff alleges that members of the commissary staff stole his money and/or items. (Doc. 1 -1, Complaint at PageID 12). Plaintiff claims that he filed an informal complaint resolution (ICR), but that defendant Mahlman deprived him of his right to due process by denying him an appeal from the denial of his ICR. According to plaintiff, Mahlman based her decision denying his ICR on the credibility of defendant Behn, who plaintiff claims never responded to his ICR, and on defendant commissary staff member Distel's alleged fabricated story that plaintiff only reported his snack crackers missing. (Id. at PageID 12-13). Plaintiff claims that the named defendants acted in concert to "cover up the fact that the staff made a mistake or covering up that the staff are stealing peoples money." (Id. at PageID 13).

         Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief, as well as monetary damages. (Id. at PageID 14).

         The complaint is subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

         To the extent that plaintiff seeks to hold any defendant liable for taking his commissary items or money, he has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. In order to assert such a claim, plaintiff must first "plead . . . that state remedies for redressing the wrong are inadequate." Vicory v. Walton, 721 F.2d 1062, 1066 (6th Cir. 1983). See also Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517 (1984). "If satisfactory state procedures are provided in a procedural due process case, then no constitutional deprivation has occurred despite the injury." Jefferson v. Jefferson County Pub. Sch. Sys., 360 F.3d 583, 587-88 (6th Cir. 2004). Accordingly, in order to state a procedural due process claim under section 1983 "the plaintiff must attack the state's corrective procedure as well as the substantive wrong." Meyers v. City of Cincinnati, 934 F.2d 726, 731 (6th Cir. 1991) (quoting Vicory, 721 F.2d at 1066). A plaintiff "may not seek relief under Section 1983 without first pleading and proving the inadequacy of state or administrative processes and remedies to redress [his] due process violations." Jefferson, 360 F.3d at 588.

         Plaintiff has not alleged any facts even remotely indicating that his remedies under Ohio law to redress the wrong of which he complains are inadequate. Plaintiffs complaint fails to explain why a state tort remedy for conversion would not suffice to address his claim. See Fox v. Van Oosterum, 176 F.3d 342, 349 (6th Cir. 1999). Therefore, he fails to state a due process claim that is actionable in this § 1983 proceeding.

         To the extent that plaintiff seeks to hold defendants liable for their failure to adequately investigate his administrative grievances or for their role in the grievance process he also fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. "There is no statutory or common law right, much less a constitutional right, to an investigation." Mitchell v. McNeil, 487 F.3d 374, 378 (6th Cir. 2007); see also Daniels v. Lisath, No. 2:10-cv-968, 2011 WL 2710786, at *2 (S.D. Ohio July 13, 2011). Furthermore, to the extent that plaintiff claims that the grievance procedure failed to produce the correct outcome, this cannot give rise to a § 1983 claim because "[p]rison inmates do not have a constitutionally protected right to a grievance procedure." Miller v. Haines, No. 97-3416, 1998 WL 476247, at *1 (6th Cir. Aug.03, 1998) (citations omitted). Prison officials whose only roles "involve their denial of administrative grievances and their failure to remedy the alleged [unconstitutional] behavior"' cannot be liable under § 1983. Shehee v. Luttrell, 199 F.3d 295, 300 (6th Cir. 1999). Nor does a prison official's alleged failure to adequately investigate claims of misconduct rise to the level of "encouragement" that would make the official liable for such misconduct. Knop v. Johnson, 977 F.2d 996, 1014 (6th Cir. 1992); Bellamy v. Bradley, 729 F.2d 416, 421 (6th Cir. 1984). Therefore, plaintiffs claims that Mahlman improperly denied him an appeal, Behn failed to respond to his ICR, and Distel fabricated a story against him in the course of the investigation[1] should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

         Finally, plaintiffs conclusory conspiracy allegation should be dismissed. It is well-settled in the Sixth Circuit that conspiracy claims must be pleaded with "with some degree of specificity, and vague and conclusory allegations unsupported by material facts are not sufficient to state a claim." Hamilton v. City of Romulus, 409 Fed.Appx. 826, 835 (6th Cir. 2010). See also Boxill v. O'Grady, No. 18-3385, ___F.3d___, 2019 WL 3849559, at *4 (6th Cir. Aug. 16, 2019) ("The plaintiff must plead enough facts to support a reasonable inference that there was a single plan, that the alleged coconspirator shared in the general conspiratorial objective, and that an overt act was committed in furtherance of the conspiracy that caused injury to the complainant.") (internal quotation marks omitted); Moldowan v. City of Warren, 578 F.3d 351, 395 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gutierrez v. Lynch, 826 F.2d 1534 (6th Cir. 1987)) (affirming dismissal of conspiracy claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because the plaintiff failed to plead the claims with the "requisite specificity"). Here, construing the complaint liberally, plaintiffs factual allegations are insufficient to suggest that the defendants shared a conspiratorial objective or otherwise planned together to deprive him of a constitutionally-protected right. Therefore, plaintiffs vague, unsubstantiated and conclusory claim based on a conspiracy theory lacks the requisite specificity to state a cognizable claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[2]

         Accordingly, in sum, the undersigned finds that plaintiffs complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Therefore, the complaint should be dismissed pursuant to ...

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