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Brunner v. Bell

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

September 23, 2019

NATHANIEL BRUNNER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAPTAIN H. BELL, et al., Defendants.

          Barrett, J.

          ORDER AND REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Stephanie K. Bowman United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff, an inmate at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF), brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Captain H. Bell and Inspector Linnea Mahlman. 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 may be 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. Allain, 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 defendant Bell has deprived him of his mail and phone privileges since arriving at SOCF. (See Doc. 1-1, Complaint at PageID 5-6). He further alleges that defendant institutional inspector Linnea Mahlman failed to send him a decision on his grievance and improperly denied him his right to appeal. (Id. at PageID 6). Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief and monetary damages. (Id. at PageID 7).

         At this stage in the proceedings, without the benefit of briefing by the parties to this action, the undersigned concludes that plaintiff may proceed with his First Amendment claim against defendant Bell based on his allegation that Bell deprived him of his mail and phone access. Plaintiff's remaining claims should be dismissed. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) & 1915A(b).

         The complaint should be dismissed against defendant Mahlman. As noted above plaintiff alleges that Mahlman failed to respond to his grievance and otherwise deprived him of his right to appeal. These claims should be dismissed for failure 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, plaintiff's claims that Mahlman improperly denied him an appeal or failed to respond to his grievances should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

         Accordingly, in sum, plaintiff may proceed with his First Amendment claim against defendant Bell in his individual capacity. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) & 1915A(b). Having found that the remaining allegations in the complaint fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, plaintiff's remaining claims should be dismissed.

         IT IS THEREFORE RECOMMENDED THAT: The complaint be DISMISSED with prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b)(1), with the exception of plaintiff's First Amendment claim against defendant Bell.

         IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED THAT:

         1. The United States Marshal shall serve a copy of the complaint, summons, the Order granting plaintiff in forma pauperis status, and this Order and Report and Recommendation upon defendant Bell as directed by plaintiff, with costs of service to be advanced by the United States.

         2. Plaintiff shall serve upon defendant or, if appearance has been entered by counsel, upon defendant's attorney, a copy of every further pleading or other document submitted for consideration by the Court. Plaintiff shall include with the original paper to be filed with the Clerk of Court a certificate stating the date a true and correct copy of any document was mailed to defendant or defendant's counsel. Any paper received by a district judge or magistrate judge ...


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