Hines v. Graham

Decision Date08 June 2004
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 1:03-CV-152-C.
Citation320 F.Supp.2d 511
PartiesJohn J. HINES, Plaintiff, v. Kathy GRAHAM, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Texas

John J. Hines, Abilene, TX, Pro Se.


CUMMINGS, District Judge.

On August 15, 2003, Plaintiff John J. Hines, acting pro se, filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and was granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis. He named twenty-one (21) defendants and alleged that he had been "mentally and emotionally" abused, verbally harassed, retaliated against for filing grievances, denied equal protection, and denied the right to freely practice his religion. He requested injunctive relief, declaratory relief, and monetary damages. The Defendants have not been served.


On September 8, 2003, Plaintiff filed a motion to consolidate the instant civil rights complaint with Civil Action Nos. 1:03-CV-075-C and 1:03-CV-082-C and argued that the instant complaint "is a product" of those civil actions. Civil Action No. 1:03-CV-082-C was consolidated with Civil Action No. 1:03-CV-075-C by Order dated July 7, 2003, and Civil Action No. 1:03-CV-075-C was dismissed with prejudice as frivolous and for failure to state a claim by Order and Judgment dated October 17, 2003. Plaintiff did not file an appeal.

Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff's motion to consolidate should be denied in all things.


Plaintiff was granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis by Order dated August 25, 2003.

When a prisoner seeks to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court shall evaluate the complaint and dismiss it without service of process, if the Court finds the complaint frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) (providing that a court shall review an in forma pauperis complaint as soon as practicable and dismiss it if it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from an immune defendant). A claim is frivolous if it has no arguable basis in law or fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989). A claim has no arguable basis in law if it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, "such as if the complaint alleges the violation of a legal interest which clearly does not exist." Davis v. Scott, 157 F.3d 1003, 1005 (5th Cir.1998) (quotation omitted). A claim has no arguable basis in fact if "after providing the plaintiff the opportunity to present additional facts when necessary, the facts alleged are clearly baseless." Talib v. Gilley, 138 F.3d 211, 213 (5th Cir.1998).

"In analyzing the complaint, [the court] will accept all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 324 (5th Cir.1999). "The issue is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether he is entitled to offer evidence to support his claim. Thus, the court should not dismiss the claim unless the plaintiff would not be entitled to relief under any set of facts or any possible theory that he could prove consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Id. (citations omitted).

District courts must construe in forma pauperis complaints liberally, particularly in the context of dismissals under § 1915(e)(2)(B), but are given broad discretion in determining when such complaints are frivolous. Macias v. Raul A. (Unknown) Badge No. 153, 23 F.3d 94, 97 (5th Cir.1994). A complaint may not be dismissed under § 1915(d)(2)(B) "simply because the court finds the plaintiff's allegations unlikely." Jolly v. Klein, 923 F.Supp. 931, 942-43 (S.D.Tex.1996). A civil rights plaintiff must support his claim(s) with specific facts demonstrating a constitutional deprivation and may not simply rely on conclusory allegations. Schultea v. Wood, 47 F.3d 1427, 1433 (5th Cir.1995). Nevertheless, a district court is bound by the allegations in a plaintiff's complaint and is "not free to speculate that the plaintiff `might' be able to state a claim if given yet another opportunity to add more facts to the complaint." Macias v. Raul A. (Unknown) Badge No. 153, 23 F.3d at 97.

"Dismissals under the in forma pauperis statute are in a class of their own, acting not as dismissals on the merits but, rather, as denials of in forma pauperis status." Marts v. Hines, 117 F.3d 1504, 1505 (5th Cir.1997). "Exceptions include[ ] complaints containing claims which, on their face, [are] subject to an obvious meritorious defense, or instances in which the plaintiff was given an opportunity to expound on the factual allegations by a Watson questionnaire or a Spears hearing and could not assert a claim with an arguable factual basis, or claims without an arguable basis in law." Id. (footnotes omitted). See Watson v. Ault, 525 F.2d 886, 892 (1976) (holding that a questionnaire may be used to assist the court in determining whether cases should be dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915); Spears v. McCotter, 766 F.2d 179 (5th Cir.1985) (holding that an evidentiary hearing may be used to develop the factual basis of a prisoner complaint).

In his original complaint, Plaintiff stated in part that

[i]n May 2003, when I filed my first lawsuit things started to happen between myself and staff, they all started picking on me, then I filed another lawsuit because Seevers along with staff started really harassing me and mentally abusing me. [T]hen I submitted my next lawsuit on medical.... I started having officers named as deliberately calling me names, they started picking on me because I'm gay. I[am] locked in a solitary confinement cell. My door is beat on all hours of the nite [sic]. I have the defendants pulling me out of my cell, making me stand naked in the outside rec yard at 3 AM in the morning....

Plaintiff filled two and one-half pages with these vague, conclusory allegations. He requested that this Court order an injunction to stay all his disciplinary proceedings, stay all the behind-the-door punishments, force the Taylor County Jail to develop a better policy for treating mentally ill inmates, force the Taylor County Jail Medical Unit to change policies, force the Taylor County Jail to post all policies in the law library, and refrain from retaliating against inmates who file grievances and civil actions. He also requested monetary damages of $20,000.00 against each defendant and "1 million" in punitive damages against each defendant "or whatever the court deems proper to give." Finally, Plaintiff requested that Taylor County Jail take him to see a "mental health doctor" and a medical doctor as soon as possible because his needs were not being met at the Taylor County Jail.

Although pro se litigants are entitled to have their complaints liberally construed, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972), the Supreme Court has determined that the "[p]rocedural requirements established by Congress for gaining access to the federal courts are not to be disregarded by courts out of vague sympathy for particular litigants," Baldwin County Welcome Center v. Brown, 466 U.S. 147, 152, 104 S.Ct. 1723, 80 L.Ed.2d 196 (1984). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a pleading in a federal civil case set forth a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Gordon v. Green, 602 F.2d 743, 744 (5th Cir.1979). Recognizing that "[p]risoner complaints, more often than not, are difficult to decipher," the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals "has insisted that when it is not apparent from the face of the complaint whether the prisoner's contentions are frivolous or not, the district court should make an effort to develop the known facts until satisfied that either the claims have merit or they do not." Parker v. Carpenter, 978 F.2d 190, 191 (5th Cir.1992). "The difficult task is `winnowing out the wheat from the unusual amount of chaff necessarily presented in a system which fosters pro se litigation.' "Green v. McKaskle, 788 F.2d 1116, 1120 (5th Cir.1986).

By Order dated September 4, 2003, this Court determined that Plaintiff had failed to provide "specific information about each named defendant" and ordered Plaintiff to answer a questionnaire. See id. ("A district court should be able to dismiss as frivolous a significant number of prisoner suits on the complaint alone or the complaint together with the Watson questionnaire."). Plaintiff was instructed to "answer the ... questions completely." Plaintiff signed his answers "under penalty of perjury," dated his answers to the questionnaire "September 10, 2003," and filed his answers on September 12, 2003.

In Question 1 of the questionnaire, Plaintiff was instructed to provide "the date, time, and place of the alleged unconstitutional acts committed by [each] defendant; a specific description of the acts; and a specific description of how [he was] harmed by each act." In his answer to Question 1, however, Plaintiff provided no dates, times, and places; no specific descriptions of each defendant's allegedly unconstitutional act(s); and only general allegations of mental and emotional injuries. Indeed, Plaintiff provided only the following conclusory information:

(1) Defendants Seevers, Galloway, Griffin, Coleman, and Nurse Janet "do not bother me [any]more";

(2) Defendant Graham neither followed the jail rules nor insured that other jailers followed the rules, and she retaliated against Plaintiff because he filed a grievance against her;

(3) Defendant Jack Dieken, who is the final policymaker for Taylor County, denied all Plaintiff's grievances, and allowed his staff to mentally abuse Plaintiff;

(4) Defendant...

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