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Coates v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 30, 2015

CHRISTOPHER COATES, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, CHARLES E. SAMUELS, JR., JOSE SANTANA, DAVID ALLRED, JESSICA SEATON, and OFFICER KELLER, Defendants.

ORDER DIRECTING PLAINTIFF TO FILE AMENDED COMPLAINT

GORDON P. GALLAGHER, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Christopher Coates, is a prisoner in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons at the United States Penitentiary, Florence High in Florence, Colorado. Mr. Coates has filed pro se a Prisoner Complaint (ECF No. 1) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1331 and Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). He seeks monetary damages and declaratory and injunctive relief.

The court must construe the Prisoner Complaint liberally because Mr. Coates 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. Coates will be ordered to file an amended complaint.

The Prisoner Complaint is deficient because 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.

Mr. Coates asserts four claims for relief in the Prisoner Complaint. He first claims a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights because he "does not have access to the necessary level of supervision by doctors, psychologists and specialists." Mr. Coates further alleges that he has been denied adequate medical care and mental health care. In his second claim, Mr. Coates alleges that prison officials violated his constitutional rights by failing to protect him from assaults from other inmates and have placed him in "BOP's most dangerous prisons." Thirdly, Mr. Coates claims a violation of the Eighth Amendment because he "has been in solitary confinement near continuously since 2013." Finally, Mr. Coates asserts a First Amendment retaliation claim.

Mr. Coates fails to set forth a short and plain statement of his claims showing he is entitled to relief because he does not specify against which Defendant or Defendants he is asserting his claims and he fails to allege specific facts that demonstrate his constitutional rights have been violated. Vague and conclusory allegations that his federal constitutional rights have been violated do 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). Furthermore, 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). Thus, "in 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.

In his amended complaint, Mr. Coates must identify the specific factual allegations that support each claim, against which Defendant or Defendants he is asserting each claim, and what each Defendant did that allegedly violated his rights. See Nasious v. Two Unknown B.I.C.E. Agents, 492 F.3d 1158, 1163 (10th Cir. 2007) (noting that, to state a claim in federal court, "a complaint 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"); see also Henry v. Storey, 658 F.3d 1235, 1241 (10th Cir. 2011) (allegations of "personal participation in the specific constitutional violation complained of [are] essential").

In addition, a defendant may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of his subordinates on a theory of respondeat superior. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009). Although a defendant can be liable based on his supervisory responsibilities, a claim of supervisory liability must be supported by allegations that demonstrate personal involvement, a causal connection to the constitutional violation, and a culpable state of mind. See Schneider v. City of Grand Junction Police Dept., 717 F.3d 760, 767-69 (10th Cir. 2013) (discussing standards for supervisory liability). Accordingly, it is

ORDERED that Mr. Coates file, within thirty (30) days from the date of this order, an amended complaint as directed in this order. It is

FURTHER ORDERED that Mr. Coates 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. It is

FURTHER ORDERED that, if Mr. Coates fails to file an amended complaint that complies with this order within the time allowed, the action may be dismissed without further notice.


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