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Townsend v. Goodwin

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

September 18, 2019


          HICKS, JUDGE


          Mark L. Hornsby, U.S. Magistrate Judge


         James Townsend (“Plaintiff”) is an inmate housed at the David Wade Correctional Center (“DWCC”). Plaintiff alleges that he was forced to apply for a Pell Grant and participate in a class. He named as defendants three DWCC officials and the class instructor who was employed by an area college. Before the court is a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 13) filed by the DWCC officials. For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that the motion be granted and that the court sua sponte dismiss the claims against the college employee.

         Rule 12(b)(6); Section 1915

         The movants ask the court to dismiss the claims against them pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted. In assessing a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the complaint and view those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litigation, 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007). Those facts must state a claim that rises above the speculative level and is plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007); Amacker v. Renaissance Asset Mgmt., LLC, 657 F.3d 252, 254 (5th Cir. 2011). A complaint is not sufficient if it offers only “labels and conclusions, ” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965).

         Plaintiff is proceeding as a pauper, which gives the court an additional basis to review his complaint. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) & (ii), the district court shall dismiss an IFP complaint at any time if it determines that the complaint is frivolous or malicious or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. A complaint is frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact. It lacks an 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. The complaint lacks an arguable basis in fact if, after providing the plaintiff the opportunity to present additional facts when necessary, the facts alleged are clearly baseless. Rogers v. Boatright, 709 F.3rd 403, 407 (5th Cir. 2013).

         Relevant Allegations

         Plaintiff alleged in his complaint that he was put on callout in November 2018 for a Wiley College program, without his knowledge, and was told to fill out paperwork to see if he was eligible for a Pell Grant. A few weeks later, he was again put on callout and was “being made to take the class by DWCC.” Plaintiff alleged that he spoke to the facilitator, Tracy Andrus, and told him that he did not want to take the class at that time. Andrus allegedly responded that he understood, that Plaintiff did not have to take the class, and that Plaintiff would be dropped from the class before it began.

         Plaintiff alleged that DWCC nonetheless “kept putting me on mandatory callout with the threat of locking me up if I didn't show up.” Plaintiff alleged that he attended the class but did not complete any work because Mr. Andrus told him that he had been dropped from the course. Plaintiff alleged that it seemed to him as if DWCC was conspiring to commit some form of fraud or malfeasance. His complaint demanded that DWCC or Wiley College return any grant money to the federal student aid department, pay him for the cost of this suit, and not retaliate against him.

         Plaintiff listed as defendants DWCC Warden Jerry Goodwin, Assistant Warden Kayla Sherman, and Tammie Wynn. But the factual allegations in Plaintiff's complaint did not mention any of those officials or any other particular DWCC official. Those three defendants filed a motion to dismiss.

         Plaintiff responded to the motion to dismiss with an amended complaint (Doc. 19) that consisted of documents that allegedly support the original allegations. Those documents include purported affidavits from two fellow prisoners, but neither is executed by a notary. The written statements say that the inmates heard Mr. Andrus tell Plaintiff that he did not have to take the class and that he would be dropped from it before work began. Another document is a Student Aid Report Acknowledgment from the Department of Education to Plaintiff. The letter states that, based on an application, it appeared Plaintiff may be eligible for a Pell Grant of up to $5, 920. Another letter from the Department to Plaintiff states that it is unable to cancel his application for student aid, but he should inform the financial aid office at the school he planned to attend if he will not enroll and apply for federal student aid. The financial aid office would be responsible for cancelling any aid the school awarded.

         The amended complaint also included a letter that Plaintiff wrote to Mr. Andrus and Wiley College. The letter recounts Plaintiff's assertion that, before class started, he told Mr. Andrus that he wanted to be dropped from the class, and Mr. Andrus agreed to do so. DWCC nonetheless kept Plaintiff on the callout for the class, with the threat of a write-up if he did not attend. Plaintiff described how he had written to the Department of Education “to stop my Pell Grant money because I wasn't ...

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