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Collins v. Schubert

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

December 23, 2019

DOUGLAS COLLINS TDCJ # 00298978, Plaintiff,
v.
DEBORAH L. SCHUBERT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          George C. Hanks Jr. United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Douglas Collins, an inmate in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice- Correctional Institutions Division (“TDCJ”), proceeds pro se and in forma pauperis. Because the plaintiff is incarcerated, this case is governed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (the “PLRA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1915, which requires the Court to dismiss the complaint if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). After reviewing all of the pleadings as required, the Court concludes that this case must be DISMISSED for reasons that follow.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Collins is incarcerated at the Wallace Pack Unit. He brings suit against Deborah Schubert, the kitchen captain at the Pack Unit, for violation of his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws. Collins states that on June 11, 2019, Schubert “put on the schedule” that fried chicken would be served to inmates on June 12, 2019 (Dkt. 1, at 4). However, he alleges that on June 12, “only staff got to eat” the fried chicken. He states that Schubert told him that the fried chicken would be “moved to the next holiday, ” which was June 19, 2019 (id. at 4, 7).

         Collins alleges that on June 19, “we were locked down for shake-down and the staff [e]njoyed fried chicken and we got chicken patties” (id. at 7). He claims that as of the date he signed his complaint, October 8, 2019, no inmate at the Pack Unit had received fried chicken (id. at 4, 7, 9). He also alleges that “all the other inmates in TDCJ got fried chicken” and that his equal protection rights were violated (id. at 7). He references the Juneteenth holiday. See id. at 9 (“I have a right to what the other inmates got on the only black holiday in Texas. It took two and a half years for blacks in Texas to learn they were free and we on Wallace Pack still are waiting to get our meal”).

         Collins claims that the “government and taxpayers” gave TDCJ funds to feed inmates, not staff (id. at 4), and that TDCJ policy requires staff to eat what inmates eat (id. at 7). He appears to allege that someone is selling the food to the staff. See id. (“The government and taxpayer[s] pa[i]d for the food for us, that is being re-sold to staff and we can only dream about our food”). Finally, he alleges generally that officers at the Pack Unit are not truthful. See id. at 4 (“Judge Keith P. Ellison has just about impeached all the staff on this unit because they lie”). This statement apparently refers to Cole v. Collier, Civil Action No. 4:14-cv-1698, a separate lawsuit before Judge Ellison in which plaintiffs from the Pack Unit brought claims about excessive heat.

         Collins submits his administrative grievances against Schubert regarding the events relevant to his claim. At Step One of the process, prison officials denied his grievance on June 28, 2019, stating that the menu changed on June 12 because the chicken had been thawed out on and had to be cooked:

Your grievance has been received and investigated. Per Food Service on 6/12/19 the [officers' dining room] was served fried chicken due [to the fact that] it was already thawed out and had to be cooked. The general population menu was changed to chicken patties so that fried chicken could be served for the holiday meal on 6/19/19. No further action warranted at this time.

(id. at 13). Collins then submitted a Step Two grievance, protesting that “Schubert lied” and that the inmates had not received fried chicken on June 19 “because we were locked- down for shake-down and we got chicken on [] 6/28/2019 for the June 19 black holiday but it was not fried” (id. at 10). He claimed the right to be treated like other prisoners in TDCJ (id.). Prison officials denied the Step Two grievance (id. at 11).

         II.THE PLRA AND PRO SE PLEADINGS

         Plaintiff brings his claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court is required by the PLRA to scrutinize the claims and dismiss the complaint if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)); see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1).

         In reviewing the pleadings and litigation history, the Court is mindful of the fact that Plaintiff proceeds pro se. Complaints filed by pro se litigants are entitled to a liberal construction and, “however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Even under this lenient standard a pro se plaintiff must allege more than “‘labels and conclusions' or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citation omitted). Regardless of how well-pleaded the factual allegations may be, they must demonstrate that the plaintiff is entitled to relief under a valid legal theory. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989); McCormick v. Stalder, 105 F.3d 1059, 1061 (5th Cir. 1997).

         A claim is frivolous if it lacks any arguable basis in law or fact. Samford v. Dretke, 562 F.3d 674, 678 (5th Cir. 2009). It lacks an arguable basis in law “if it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory.” Rogers v. Boatright, 709 F.3d 403, 407 (5th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). It 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.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         A dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) for failure to state a claim is governed by the same standard under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Rogers, 709 F.3d at 407. When considering whether the plaintiff has adequately stated a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court examines whether the complaint contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. Under this standard, the Court “construes the complaint liberally in favor of the plaintiff, ” “takes all facts pleaded in the complaint as true, ” and considers whether “with every doubt resolved on [the plaintiff's] ...


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