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Wright v. Lakewood Police Chief

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

January 10, 2014

ANTHONY T. WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
LAKEWOOD POLICE CHIEF, LAKEWOOD POLICE AGENT STRUCK, and LAKEWOOD, COLORADO, Defendants.

ORDER DIRECTING PLAINTIFF TO FILE AMENDED COMPLAINT

BOYD N. BOLAND, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Anthony T. Wright, currently is incarcerated at the Jefferson County Detention Facility in Golden, Colorado. He has submitted pro se a Prisoner Complaint (ECF No. 10) for money damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He has been granted leave to proceed pursuant to § 1915.

The Court must construe the Prisoner Complaint liberally because Mr. Wright is not represented by an attorney. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). However, the Court should not be an advocate for a pro se litigant. See Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110. For the reasons stated below, Mr. Wright will be ordered to file an amended Prisoner Complaint if he wishes to pursue his claims in this action.

Mr. Wright appears to be suing an improper party. Municipalities, such as the City of Lakewood, Colorado, and municipal entities are not liable under § 1983 solely because their employees inflict injury on a plaintiff. Monell v. New York City Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978); Hinton v. City of Elwood, Kan., 997 F.2d 774, 782 (10th Cir. 1993). To establish liability, a plaintiff must show that a policy or custom exists and that there is a direct causal link between the policy or custom and the injury alleged. City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989). Plaintiff cannot state a claim for relief against the City of Lakewood under § 1983 merely by pointing to isolated incidents. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 694.

The Court has reviewed the substance of the Prisoner Complaint and finds that it does not comply with the pleading requirements of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The twin purposes of a complaint are to give the opposing parties fair notice of the basis for the claims against them so that they may respond and to allow the court to conclude that the allegations, if proven, show that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See Monument Builders of Greater Kansas City, Inc. v. American Cemetery Ass'n of Kansas, 891 F.2d 1473, 1480 (10th Cir. 1989). The requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8 are designed to meet these purposes. See TV Communications Network, Inc. v. ESPN, Inc., 767 F.Supp. 1062, 1069 (D. Colo. 1991), aff'd, 964 F.2d 1022 (10th Cir. 1992). Specifically, Rule 8(a) provides that a complaint "must contain (1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction, ... (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and (3) a demand for the relief sought." The philosophy of Rule 8(a) is reinforced by Rule 8(d)(1), which provides that "[e]ach allegation must be simple, concise, and direct." Taken together, Rules 8(a) and (d)(1) underscore the emphasis placed on clarity and brevity by the federal pleading rules. Prolix, vague, or unintelligible pleadings violate Rule 8.

In the Prisoner Complaint, Mr. Wright alleges that when he resided at the Denver West Motel in Lakewood Police Agent Struck would verbally harass him and his companions whenever he patrolled the Lakewood motels and hotels on Colfax Avenue. He contends his life is in danger because Agent Struck keeps people from liking him by telling them they are friends who "go way back." ECF No. 10 at 3.

Mr. Wright cannot state a constitutional claim for verbal harassment. Verbal harassment does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Williams v. Levansailor, 153 F.3d 730, *1 (10th Cir. 1998) (collecting cases finding verbal abuse alone is not actionable) (unpublished). Further, the Tenth Circuit has found that "[v]erbal harassment or abuse... is not sufficient to state a constitutional deprivation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983." Collins v. Cundy, 603 F.2d 825, 827 (10th Cir. 1979) (citations omitted). Merely making vague and conclusory allegations that his federal constitutional rights have been violated does not entitle a pro se pleader to a day in court, regardless of how liberally the court construes such pleadings. See Ketchum v. Cruz, 775 F.Supp. 1399, 1403 (D. Colo. 1991), aff'd, 961 F.2d 916 (10th Cir. 1992). "[I]n analyzing the sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint, the court need accept as true only the plaintiff's well-pleaded factual contentions, not his conclusory allegations." Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110.

Mr. Wright fails to allege facts to support a claim of an actual or threatened injury. The United States Constitution requires that a party seeking to invoke the jurisdiction of the federal courts must demonstrate that he has suffered some actual or threatened injury, that the injury was caused by the defendants, and that a favorable judicial decision is likely to redress the injury. Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church & State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 472 (1982); Hackford v. Babbitt, 14 F.3d 1457, 1464 (10th Cir. 1994).

In order to state a claim in federal court, Mr. Wright "must explain what each defendant did to him or her; when the defendant did it; how the defendant's action harmed him or her; and, what specific legal right the plaintiff believes the defendant violated." Nasious v. Two Unknown B.I.C.E. Agents, 492 F.3d 1158, 1163 (10th Cir. 2007). The general rule that pro se pleadings must be construed liberally has limits and "the court cannot take on the responsibility of serving as the litigant's attorney in constructing arguments and searching the record." Garrett v. Selby Connor Maddux & Janer, 425 F.3d 836, 840 (10th Cir. 2005).

Section 1983 "provides a federal cause of action against any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives another of his federal rights." Conn v. Gabbert, 526 U.S. 286, 290 (1999); see also Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 161 (1992) ("[T]he purpose of § 1983 is to deter state actors from using the badge of their authority to deprive individuals of their federally guaranteed rights and to provide relief to victims if such deterrence fails."). Therefore, Mr. Wright should name as defendants in his amended Prisoner Complaint only those persons that he contends actually violated his federal constitutional rights.

Personal participation is an essential allegation in a civil rights action. See Bennett v. Passic, 545 F.2d 1260, 1262-63 (10th Cir. 1976). Mr. Wright must show that each defendant caused the deprivation of a federal right. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). There must be an affirmative link between the alleged constitutional violation and each defendant's participation, control or direction, or failure to supervise. See Butler v. City of Norman, 992 F.2d 1053, 1055 (10th Cir. 1993). Supervisory officials, such as the Lakewood Police Chief, may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of his or her subordinates on a theory of respondeat superior. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009). Furthermore,

when a plaintiff sues an official under Bivens or § 1983 for conduct "arising from his or her superintendent responsibilities, " the plaintiff must plausibly plead and eventually prove not only that the official's subordinates violated the Constitution, but that the official by virtue of his own conduct and state of mind did so as well.

See Dodds v. Richardson, 614 F.3d 1185, 1198 (10th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677). Therefore, in order to succeed in a § 1983 suit against a government official for conduct that arises out of his or her supervisory responsibilities, a plaintiff must allege and demonstrate that: "(1) the defendant promulgated, created, implemented or possessed responsibility for the continued operation of a policy that (2) caused the complained of constitutional harm, and (3) acted with the state of mind required to establish the alleged constitutional deprivation." Id. at 1199.

Mr. Wright may use fictitious names, such as "John or Jane Doe, " if he does not know the real names of the individuals who allegedly violated his rights. However, if Mr. Wright uses fictitious names he must provide sufficient information about each defendant so that he or she can be identified for purposes of service.

A decision to dismiss a complaint pursuant to Rule 8 is within the trial court's sound discretion. See Atkins v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 967 F.2d 1197, 1203 (8th Cir. 1992); Gillibeau v. City of Richmond, 417 F.2d 426, 431 (9th Cir. 1969). The Court finds that the Prisoner Complaint does not meet the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8. Mr. Wright will be given an opportunity to cure the deficiencies in his Prisoner Complaint by submitting an amended Prisoner Complaint on the Court-approved Prisoner Complaint form that sues proper parties, states claims clearly and concisely in compliance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, and alleges specific facts that demonstrate how each named defendant personally participated in the asserted constitutional violations.

Accordingly, it is

ORDERED that Plaintiff, Anthony T. Wright, file within thirty (30) days from the date of this order an amended Prisoner Complaint on the Court-approved Prisoner Complaint form that complies with the pleading requirements of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as discussed in this order. It is

FURTHER ORDERED that Mr. Wright shall obtain the Court-approved Prisoner Complaint form (with the assistance of his case manager or the facility's legal assistant), along with the applicable instructions, at www.cod.uscourts.gov, and use that form in submitting the amended Prisoner Complaint. It is

FURTHER ORDERED that, if Mr. Wright fails to file an amended Prisoner Complaint that complies with this order within the time allowed, some claims and Defendants, or the entire Complaint and action, may be dismissed without further notice.


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