United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division
GLEN E. CONRAD SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Marie Wells, proceeding pro se, commenced this action by
filing a form "complaint for violation of civil
rights" against Ralph Northam, the Governor of Virginia.
Wells has not paid the filing fee but will be granted leave
to proceed in forma pauperis for purposes of initial
review of her complaint. For the following reasons, the court
concludes that the case must be dismissed for failure to
state a claim, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
complaint, Wells alleges that from March 2011 until September
2011, while housed at Fluvanna Correctional Facility for
Women, "[a] camera was used to view [her] in the
shower." Compl. 4, Docket No. 2. Wells indicates that
she subsequently received medical treatment for unspecified
injuries related to the video surveillance at Western State
Hospital in 2012 and 2014, and at Central State Hospital in
cites 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as the jurisdictional basis for
the action. She claims that the use of video surveillance
violated her rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth
Amendments to the United States Constitution. She seeks to
recover $70, 000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
28 U.S.C.- § 1915(e), which governs in forma
pauperis proceedings, the court has a mandatory duty
to screen initial filings. Eriline Co. S.A. v.
Johnson. 440 F.3d 648, 656-57 (4th Cir. 2006). The court
must dismiss a case "at any time" if the court
determines that the complaint "fails to state a claim on
which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. §
standards for reviewing a complaint for dismissal under
§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) are the same as those which apply
when a defendant moves for dismissal under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). De'Lonta v. Angelone.
330 F.3d 630, 633 (4th Cir. 2003). Thus, in reviewing a
complaint under this statute, the court must accept all
well-pleaded factual allegations as true and view the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
Philips v. Pitt Cty. Mem. Hosp.. 572 F.3d 176, 180
(4th Cir. 2009). To survive dismissal for failure to state a
claim, a complaint must contain sufficient factual
allegations "to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level" and "to state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twomblv. 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007).
1983 provides a cause of action against any
"person" who, under color of state law, causes the
deprivation of another person's rights under the
Constitution or laws of the United States. 42 U.S.C. §
1983. To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must
allege sufficient facts to establish two essential elements:
(1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the
United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged
violation was committed by a person acting under color of
state law. West v. Atkins. 487 U.S. 42.48 (1988).
For the following reasons, the court concludes that
Wells' complaint fails to state a plausible claim under
§ 1983 against Governor Northam.
extent Wells seeks to pursue her claim for damages against
Governor Northam in his official capacity, he is not a
"person" within the meaning of § 1983. The
Supreme Court has explained that while, "state officials
literally are persons, ... a suit against a state official in
his or her official capacity is not a suit against the
official but rather is a suit against the official's
office." Will v. Mich. Dep't of State
Police. 491 U.S. 58, . 71 (1989). Consequently, "it
is no different from a suit against the State itself."
Id. Because a state is not a "person"
under § 1983, it follows that state officials acting in
their official capacities cannot be sued for damages under
the statute. See id. ("We hold that neither a
State nor its officials acting in their official capacities
are 'persons' under § 1983."). Accordingly,
any claim for damages against Governor Northam in his
official capacity must be dismissed.
extent Wells seeks to hold Governor Northam liable in his
individual capacity, her complaint fares no better. Although
a suit for monetary damages can be maintained under §
1983 against a state official acting in his individual
capacity, such suits "seek to impose personal liability
upon a government official for actions he takes under color
of state law." Kentucky v. Graham. 473 U.S.
159, 165 (1985). Thus, "to establish personal
liability in a § 1983 action, " a plaintiff must
"show that the official, acting under color of state
law, caused the deprivation of a federal right."
Id. at 166 (emphasis in original); see also
Wright v. Collins. 766 F.2d 841, 850 (4th Cir. 1985). In
this case, the events in question occurred in 2011, seven
years before the defendant became governor. There are simply
no factual allegations from which the court can reasonably
infer that Governor Northam had "personal knowledge of
and involvement in" the alleged deprivation of the
plaintiffs constitutional rights." Wright 76
F.2d at 850. Accordingly, the complaint fails to state a
claim on which relief may be granted.
reasons stated, the court will grant Wells' motion for
leave to proceed in forma pauperis. However; her
complaint will be dismissed without ...