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Thomas v. Polk County

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 12, 2016

ELROY JAMES THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
POLK COUNTY, MINNESOTA; BARB ERH, Sheriff of Polk County, Minnesota, in her individual and official capacities; CHARLES RYAN CURTIS, Assistant Polk County Attorney, in his individual and official capacities; JESSENR. ALEXANDER, Assistant Public Defender, in his individual and official capacities; PHILLIP K. JUVE, Sheriff Sergeant of Polk County, Minnesota, in his individual and official capacities; ARIELLE SUNDBERG, Probation Agent of Polk County, Minnesota, in her individual and official capacities; and LARAYNE Surname Unknown, N.W.R.C.C. staff of Polk County, Minnesota, in her individual and official capacities, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Steven E. Rau U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Elroy James Thomas[1] filed a complaint alleging several constitutional improprieties during his prosecution in Polk County, Minnesota for domestic assault. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thomas filed an application seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP"). See ECF No. 2. Thomas's IFP application is before the Court.

         Because Thomas is a prisoner, his IFP application is subject to the requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b). This statute provides that:

(1) Notwithstanding subsection (a), if a prisoner brings a civil action . . . in forma pauperis, the prisoner shall be required to pay the full amount of a filing fee. The court shall assess and, when funds exist, collect, as a partial payment of any court fees required by law, an initial partial filing fee of 20 percent of the greater of -
(A) the average monthly deposits to the prisoner's account; or
(B) the average monthly balance in the prisoner's account for the 6-month period immediately preceding the filing of the complaint . . . .
(2) After payment of the initial partial filing fee, the prisoner shall be required to make monthly payments of 20 percent of the preceding month's income credited to the prisoner's account. The agency having custody of the prisoner shall forward payments from the prisoner's account to the clerk of the court each time the amount in the account exceeds $10 until the filing fees are paid.
(3) In no event shall the filing fee collected exceed the amount of fees permitted by statute for the commencement of a civil action . . . .
(4) In no event shall a prisoner be prohibited from bringing a civil action . . . for the reason that the prisoner has no assets and no means by which to pay the initial partial filing fee.

         According to this statute - which is part of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”) - prisoners who are granted IFP status are not excused from paying the court filing fee altogether, as is the case for non-prisoner IFP litigants. Instead, a prisoner who is granted IFP status is granted permission to pay the filing fee in installments, rather than paying the entire amount in advance. Ashley v. Dilworth, 147 F.3d 715, 716 (8th Cir. 1998) (“The purpose of the [PLRA] was to require all prisoner-litigants to pay filing fees in full, with the only issue being whether the inmate pays the entire filing fee at the initiation of the proceeding or in installments over a period of time.”). Section 1915(b)(1) requires prisoner IFP applicants to pay an initial partial filing fee at the outset of the case, and § 1915(b)(2) requires that the remaining balance be paid in installments through regular deductions from the prisoner's trust account.

         In this case, the “Certificate” section of Thomas's IFP application provides information derived from his inmate trust account - as required by § 1915(a)(2) - and shows that the amount of his average monthly deposits during the preceding six-month period was approximately $0.85, while his average monthly balance during the same period was approximately $0.25.[2] See ECF No. 2 at 6, 8. Thomas had no spending money in his prison trust account at the time he filed this action. Id. at 6. Based on that information, this Court concludes that Thomas has “no assets and no means” to pay an initial partial filing fee in this action. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4). Accordingly, Thomas will not be required to pay an initial partial filing fee. That said, Thomas is required to pay the unpaid balance of the statutory filing fee - specifically, $350.00 - in installments pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).[3] The Clerk of Court is directed to provide notice of this requirement to the authorities at the institution where Thomas is confined.

         Because Thomas will not be required to pay an initial partial filing fee, the complaint is subject to screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under that provision, this Court must “review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity” and must recommend dismissal of the complaint if that complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. In reviewing whether a complaint states a claim on which relief may be granted, this Court must accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Aten v. Scottsdale Ins. Co., 511 F.3d 818, 820 (8th Cir. 2008). Although the factual allegations in the complaint need not be detailed, they must be sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. In assessing the sufficiency of the complaint, the court may disregard legal conclusions that are couched as factual allegations. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Pro se complaints are to be construed liberally, but they still must allege sufficient facts to support the claims advanced. See Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004).

         Thomas alleges state officials committed several improprieties during his prosecution for domestic assault in Polk County, Minnesota that began in February 2015. These alleged improprieties include the following: (1) defendant Barb Erh failed to adequately supervise officers of the Polk County Sheriff's Department, who arrested Thomas on an allegedly deficient warrant;[4] (2) defendant LaRayne (no first name provided) forced Thomas to sign documents allowing information from previous offenses to be turned over to the Polk County Attorney's Office; (3) defendant Charles Ryan Curtis, as assistant Polk County prosecutor, allowed Thomas to be kept in jail without charges pending against him and later submitted a criminal complaint raising an assault charge for which there was no probable cause and which had already been dismissed; (4) defendant Jessen R. Alexander, his public defender, acted in concert with state officials by concealing these improprieties and allowing Thomas to appear in court without having taken his prescribed medication; and (5) defendant Arielle Sundberg, a probation agent, knew about these alleged improprieties and did nothing to stop or correct them. Thomas seeks monetary damages as well as injunctive relief in the form of an “audit on previous cases that Charles Ryan Curtis prosecuted” and a restraint on Curtis from future harassment and abuse of legal process in the future. See Compl. at 7 [ECF No. 1].

         These claims are squarely barred by the principles discussed in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). ...


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