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Stewart v. Loughran

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

June 13, 2019

TYQUAN STEWART, Plaintiff,
v.
MATTHEW LOUGHRAN, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          HOLLY A. BRADY, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Tyquan Stewart, proceeding without counsel, seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis [ECF No. 2]. He has filed a Complaint [ECF No. 1], naming Matthew Loughran, Brian Broderick, and Bloomberg BNA. According to the Complaint, Loughran, who is employed by Bloomberg, wrote an article that included a statement about Plaintiff that was false and misleading, and constitutes defamation of character and false light. Broderick is identified as the editor of the article.

         For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion is denied, and Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed without prejudice under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         DISCUSSION

         Ordinarily, a plaintiff must pay a statutory filing fee to bring an action in federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). However, the federal in forma pauperis (IFP) statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, provides indigent litigants an opportunity for meaningful access to the federal courts despite their inability to pay the costs and fees associated with that access. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989). To authorize a litigant to proceed IFP, a court must make two determinations: first, whether the litigant is unable to pay the costs of commencing the action, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1); and second, whether the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         Under the first inquiry, an indigent party may commence an action in federal court, without prepayment of costs and fees, upon submission of an affidavit asserting an inability “to pay such fees or give security therefor.” Id. § 1915(a). Here, the Plaintiff's Motion establishes that he is unable to prepay the filing fee.

         But the inquiry does not end there. District courts have the power under § 1915(e)(2)(B) to screen complaints even before service of the complaint on the defendants, and must dismiss the complaint if it fails to state a claim. Rowe v. Shake, 196 F.3d 778, 783 (7th Cir. 1999). Courts apply the same standard under § 1915(e)(2)(B) as when addressing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Luevano v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 722 F.3d 1014, 1018, 1027 (7th Cir. 2013).

         To state a claim under the federal notice pleading standards, a complaint must set forth a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Factual allegations are accepted as true and must provide “sufficient detail to give the defendant ‘fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” EEOC v. Concentra Health Serv., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). However, a plaintiff's allegations must show that his entitlement to relief is plausible, rather than merely speculative. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th Cir. 2008).

         A. Complaint Allegations

         Plaintiff alleges that in October 2017, his lawyer, David Frank, gave an interview to Loughran concerning litigation that Plaintiff was pursuing against a local hospital. Plaintiff had sued the hospital for violating the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). Loughran wrote an article for Bloomberg BNA titled “Psychiatric Hospital Can't Shake Emergency Treatment Claims.” The article included Frank's statements:

“This was someone who the hospital knew had a long history of mental illness, ” Frank said. “He had PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], he had literally almost been shot to death earlier, he had been treated at the hospital before and here he was, driving up to the door of the mental health hospital, notifying them that he was suicidal and that he planned on using his car to commit suicide, and they told him to go away and use his car to go to another hospital a mile away.”

(Compl. 2.) Plaintiff alleges that this quote, attributed to his lawyer, “makes [him] look like a person who was almost shot to death earlier and now [he] was attempting suicide because of it.” (Id. at 3.) It would thus cause a reader to “assume that [he] was scared from being shot earlier and [he] tried to kill [him]self because of it like [he's] some coward.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that “Loughran wrote, and or published these false and or misleading statement[s] in reckless disregard to ...


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