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Allen v. The Geo Group Inc.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 10, 2019

SHAWN ALLEN, Plaintiff,
v.
THE GEO GROUP INC., and CHEYENNE MT. RE-ENTRY CENTER, Medical Staff, Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION REGARDING DISMISSAL

          Gordon P. Gallagher, United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on the Complaint (ECF No. 1)[1] filed pro se by Plaintiff Shawn Allen on January 16, 2019. The matter has been referred to this Magistrate Judge for recommendation[2]. See ECF No. 9. The Court has reviewed the filings to date. The Court has considered the entire case file, the applicable law, and is sufficiently advised in the premises. This Magistrate Judge respectfully recommends that the Complaint be dismissed without prejudice for failure to comply with Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff is a resident of Denver, Colorado. On January 16, 2019, he submitted pro se a Complaint (ECF No. 1) asserting federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and an Application to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs (Long Form) (ECF No. 3). The Court granted him leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. See ECF No. 6.

         Due to legal deficiencies in the Complaint, the Court entered on January 16, 2019, an Order Directing Plaintiff to File Amended Complaint (ECF No. 5). The Court provided Plaintiff with thirty days to file an amended pleading and warned him that failure to do so would result in the dismissal of this action without further notice. To date, Plaintiff has not filed an amended complaint or otherwise communicated with the Court. See docket. Therefore, the Court will review the original Complaint filed on January 16, 2019.

         II. The Complaint

         The Court must construe the Complaint liberally because Plaintiff is a pro se litigant. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). If a complaint reasonably can be read “to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, [a court] should do so despite the plaintiff's failure to cite proper legal authority, his confusion of various legal theories, his poor syntax and sentence construction, or his unfamiliarity with pleading requirements.” Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110. However, a court should not act as a pro se litigant's advocate. See id.

         In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on January 21, 2018, Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights when “a prisoner crashed through the ceilings ventilation system onto my head.” ECF No. 1 at 4-5. He further alleges that “Defendants knew of the unsecured vent system in the prison and failed to have the vents properly secured.” Id. Plaintiff also asserts that he was denied adequate medical treatment after the injury occurred, and now suffers from “major brain damage” and “vision impairment.” Id. at 5. As relief, he requests compensatory and punitive damages. Id. at 6.

         As set forth in the Order Directing Plaintiff to File Amended Complaint (ECF No. 5), the Court explained that Plaintiff's pleading was deficient because he failed to provide a clear statement of what each defendant did or failed to do that allegedly violated his constitutional rights in compliance with federal pleading standards under 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). 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.

         Moreover, vague and conclusory allegations that Plaintiff's 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. To state a cognizable claim in federal court, Plaintiff must identify, clearly and concisely, the specific claims he is asserting, the factual allegations that support each claim, and what each of the named 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”).

         The Court also explained that municipal entities, such as Defendants GEO Group and Cheyenne Mountain Re-Entry Center are not liable under 42 U.S.C. § 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 assert a § 1983 claim against these defendants, Plaintiff must allege specific facts that demonstrate the existence of an injury caused by official policy or custom. See City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989) (holding that plaintiff must show that a municipal policy or custom exists and that there is a direct causal link between the policy or custom and the injury alleged); see also Dubbs v. Head Start, Inc., 336 F.3d 1194, 1216 (10th Cir. 2003) (holding that traditional municipal liability principles apply to claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against private corporations); Smedley v. Corrections Corp. of America, 175 Fed.Appx. 943, 946 (10th Cir. 2005) (“in order to hold CCA liable for the alleged tortious acts of its agents, [Plaintiff] must show that CCA directly caused the constitutional violation by instituting an official policy of some nature that was the direct cause or moving force behind the constitutional violations”) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). As such, Plaintiff cannot state a claim for relief under § 1983 against a municipality merely by pointing to isolated incidents. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 694.

         The Court finally noted that Plaintiff may use fictitious names, such as “John Doe” or “Jane Doe, ” if he does not know the real names of the individuals who allegedly violated his federal rights. However, he must provide sufficient information about each John Doe or Jane Doe defendant so that the defendant can be identified for service. Sufficient information may include the date and time of the alleged violation, the job description of the defendant, and exactly what actions the defendant took.

         Despite the Court's direction to clarify his claims in an amended pleading, Plaintiff has failed to correct the legal deficiencies identified above and in the order to amend. The Complaint does not provide fair notice of the basis for the claims against Defendants and does not allow the Court to conclude that the allegations, if proven, show that Plaintiff is entitled to relief. Therefore, the Court recommends that the Complaint be dismissed without prejudice for failure to comply with Rule 8. See e.g., Nasious, 492 F.3d at 1162 (dismissal without prejudice on basis of failure to comply with Rule 8 is within district court's discretion).

         III. ...


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