United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER DIRECTING PLAINTIFF TO FILE AMENDED COMPLAINT
BOYD N. BOLAND, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Shaun Eric Brown, currently is incarcerated at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Mr. Brown initiated this action by filing pro se a Prisoner Complaint (ECF No. 1) for money damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Mr. Brown has been granted leave to proceed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915.
Although Plaintiff identifies both § 1983 and Bivens as the jurisdictional bases for his claims, the Court construed the action against state officials as if it were brought under § 1983 only. Under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that the defendants have violated his or her rights under the Constitution and laws of the United States while they acted under color of state law. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150 (1970).
The Court must construe Mr. Brown's Prisoner Complaint liberally because he 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. Brown will be ordered to file an amended Prisoner Complaint if he wishes to pursue his claims in this action.
Mr. Brown contends that on December 10 and 11, 2012, while he was on parole, a traffic accident occurred at the intersection of Pikes Peak Avenue and Chelton Road in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He further alleges that, after investigation of the accident and the license plate of the vehicle that fled the scene, he was arrested on January 10, 2013, and criminal charges were brought against him in El Paso County District Court Case No. 13CR000156 for seven traffic offenses, including driving after revocation prohibited and reckless driving. He contends the charges were false. He also contends Defendants were negligent, improperly trained, conducted an improper investigation, and violated his constitutional rights because proper procedures were not followed, including at a photo lineup where he was falsely identified.
It is unclear which conviction underlies Mr. Brown's current incarceration. Mr. Brown will be directed to inform the Court in his amended Prisoner Complaint if he is challenging his conviction in No. 13CR000156 or a different conviction. Assuming he is challenging his conviction and sentence in No. 13CR000156, his claims for money damages were barred by the rule in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). In Heck, the Supreme Court held that if a judgment for damages favorable to a prisoner in a § 1983 action necessarily would imply the invalidity of his or her criminal conviction or sentence, the § 1983 action does not arise until the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by an authorized state tribunal, or called into question by the issuance of a federal habeas writ. See Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87. Mr. Brown does not allege that he has invalidated the conviction or sentence pertinent to the incident at issue. Therefore, any claims for damages challenging the validity of his criminal conviction were barred by Heck.
To the extent Mr. Brown seeks to challenge his criminal conviction or obtain his release from incarceration, his sole federal remedy was a writ of habeas corpus, after he has exhausted state court remedies. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 504 (1973). The Court will not consider the merits of any habeas corpus claims asserted in this civil rights action.
The amended Prisoner Complaint Mr. Brown will be directed to file must 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.
Mr. Brown fails to assert his claims in a manner that is clear and concise and allows the Court and each Respondent to understand and respond to each asserted claim. Generally, Mr. Brown fails to provide "a generalized statement of the facts from which the defendant may form a responsive pleading." New Home Appliance Ctr., Inc., v. Thompson, 250 F.2d 881, 883 (10th Cir. 1957). For the purposes of Rule 8(a), "[i]t is sufficient, and indeed all that is permissible, if the complaint concisely states facts upon which relief can be granted upon any legally sustainable basis." Id. 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).
Mr. Brown must present his claims in a manageable and readable format that allows the Court and the defendants to know what claims are being asserted and to be able to respond to those claims. Mr. Brown must allege, simply and concisely, his specific claims for relief, including the specific rights that allegedly have been violated and the specific acts of each defendant that allegedly violated his rights. A long, chronological recitation of facts is not required. Nor should the Court or defendants be required to sift through Mr. Brown's verbose allegations to determine the heart of each claim.
The Prisoner Complaint also is deficient because Mr. Brown fails to allege facts that demonstrate each of the named defendants personally participated in the asserted constitutional violations. In order to state a claim in federal court, Mr. Brown "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).
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. Brown 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). To establish personal participation, Mr. Brown 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). With respect to supervisory officials, a defendant 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 ...