Dismissed Pro Se Lawsuit Picked Up by High Court

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Supreme Court said Monday that it will consider whether a man arrested for making allegedly false 911 calls should have been given a chance to amend his civil rights claims.
     William Burnside’s 2010 complaint, which he filed pro se, alleged that police officers in Memphis, Tenn., wrongfully arrested him based on lies from a local YMCA and its director.
     U.S. District Judge James Todd dismissed the action sua sponte, however, after finding that Burnside failed demonstrate the existence of a conspiracy.
     “The affidavit of complaint reflects that the defendant officers responded to a 911 emergency call and after searching unsuccessfully for an hour for a 51-year-old male having a seizure or possible stroke, who was unable to get to his door, determined that the call back number belonged to plaintiff,” the ruling states. “Plaintiff was located and determined to have a history of false 911 calls. The affidavit of complaint is sufficient probable cause to support plaintiff’s arrest and transport to 201 Poplar [the address of the Memphis Police Department]. Plaintiff’s complaint contains no factual allegations to support his claims of malicious prosecution, indifference to medical needs, or slander. It appears Plaintiff was not prosecuted and it is settled Tennessee law that the decision whether to prosecute rests entirely within the discretion of the district attorney general. Any claim for slander is barred by the statute of limitations. In Tennessee, the statute of limitations for oral slander is six months. Plaintiff was arrested on November 9, 2008 and did not file this complaint until November 6, 2009.”
     An attorney with the Cleveland-based firm Kushner & Hamed represented Burnside on appeal, but the 6th Circuit affirmed dismissal without oral argument in April 2012.
     The court rejected Burnside’s claim that he should have been given a chance to cure the deficiencies in his claims by filing an amended complaint.
     “Burnside first argues that nothing in the language of the PLRA explicitly prohibits plaintiffs from amending their complaints before district courts sua sponte dismiss them,” according to the unsigned opinion, which abbreviates the Prison Litigation Reform Act. “But we have held to the contrary, stating that the statutory language of § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A(b) mandates that a district court ‘shall dismiss’ a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, which necessarily precludes amendment. We concluded that the PLRA gives district courts ‘no discretion in permitting a plaintiff to amend a complaint to avoid a sua sponte dismissal.'”
     Per its custom, the Supreme Court did not issue any comment in taking up Burnside’s case Monday. It noted only that Burnside can proceed in forma pauperis, and that it will accept an amici curaie brief from the American Friends Service Committee, et al.

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