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Payne-Bey v. Price

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

November 14, 2014

CHERYL PRICE, et al., Defendants

Darrow Payne-Bey, Plaintiff, Pro se, Bessemer, AL.



Plaintiff, Darrow Payne-Bey, has filed an amended pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that rights, privileges, or immunities afforded him under the Constitution or laws of the United States have been abridged during his incarceration. (Doc. 12). The complaint names Warden Cheryl Price and Commissioner Kim Thomas as defendants and seeks equitable relief. In accordance with the usual practices of this court and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the complaint was referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for a preliminary report and recommendation. See McCarthy v. Bronson, 500 U.S. 136, 111 S.Ct. 1737, 114 L.Ed.2d 194 (1991).

I. Standard of Review

The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, Pub. L. No. 104-134, § 804, 110 Stat. 1321, and 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, requires courts to screen complaints filed by prisoners against officers or employees of governmental entities and to dismiss the complaint or any portion of the complaint that it finds frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Where practicable, a court may sua sponte dismiss a prisoner's complaint prior to service. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a) .

A dismissal pursuant to § 1915A (b)(1) for failure to state a claim is governed by the same standards as dismissals for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215, 127 S.Ct. 910, 166 L.Ed.2d 798 (2007). To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, " a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (internal quotation omitted). A plaintiff must assert " more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not" suffice. Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Because " [p]ro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys[, ]" they are liberally construed. Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006).

II. Factual Allegations[1]

The plaintiff is an inmate in the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections and is currently incarcerated at the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility. (Doc. 12 at 2). The plaintiff complains about the conditions of his confinement, most notably the adequacy of the law library and the lack of special accommodations and programs for inmates over the age of fifty. (Doc. 12).

The plaintiff alleges Warden Price reconfigured the law library in August 2011. Prior to this change, there had been one law library for the general population; the reconfiguration resulted in the creation of two smaller libraries. (Doc. 12 at 3). The plaintiff states that each law library contains only two computers, two typewriters, one table, and space to seat two additional inmates. (Id.). Defendant Price " seized" all books from the original law library and reduced the seating space from sixteen to six. (Id.). Although the plaintiff has asked Price to provide the library with updates for the computers, as well as " relevant state and federal statutes and rules, " basic treaties on habeas corpus and civil rights, criminal law updates, and more tables and chairs, Price responded that there was no funding for such items. (Id. at 3-4).

The new law libraries do not have adequate ventilation, exposing plaintiff to extreme heat in the summer and extreme cold in the winter. (Doc. 12 at 4). The plaintiff asserts he has been deprived of meaningful access to basic research tools, space, and adequate ventilation to prepare his legal pleadings. (Id.). The plaintiff has complained to both defendant Price and defendant Thomas, but they have failed to correct the problem. (Id.).

The plaintiff asserts that Defendant Thomas, as Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, is responsible for assuring that the prisons receive adequate funding and are in compliance with standard operating procedures. (Doc. 12 at 4). Not only has Thomas failed to ensure that Defendant Price is provided with adequate funding for the law library, but Thomas stopped the program which had provided training to inmate law clerks. (Id. at 5). The plaintiff concedes that an inmate law clerk is still assigned to each law library in Donaldson but complains that these clerks no longer receive the training they once did and are not able to provide meaningful help. (Id.). This frustrates the plaintiff. (Id.).

With regard to the conditions of confinement for prisoners aged fifty and older, the plaintiff asserts that in February of 2013, defendant Price established two " geriatric dorms" for men aged fifty years and older. (Doc. 12 at 6). According to the plaintiff, there are 130 men in O-dorm and 126 men in K dorm. (Id.). Because of their ages, many of these inmates are on chronic care for age-related conditions.[2] (Id.). Each dorm contains 4 toilets and a five foot long urinal, but only one toilet has hand rails. (Doc. 12 at 7). There are no support rails in the shower or sink areas, and only one sink is outfitted for wheelchair access. (Id.). These dorms are furthest from the infirmary, gym, kitchen, and law library, and when there are heavy rains, the inmates must walk through deep puddles. (Id.). The plaintiff does not believe the exercise equipment is safe for this group of inmates and complains that relevant activities and reentry programs targeted for this age group are not provided. (Id. at 7-8). The plaintiff also complains that there is no testing or treatment for dementia, Alzheimer's disease, senility, or other " psycho-social mental health problems common to the Plaintiff's demographic designation." (Id. at 8).

III. Discussion

A. Law Library

The plaintiff asserts that he has been denied adequate and meaningful access to the courts because of the inadequacies of the law library and ineffectiveness of the inmate law clerk program. The United States Supreme Court has held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment assures inmates of a right to meaningful access to the courts, which may include providing indigent inmates with access to a law library. See Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 52 L.Ed.2d 72 (1977). However, there is no free-standing right to a law library, litigation tools, or legal assistance. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 349, 116 S.Ct. 2174, 135 L.Ed.2d 606 (1996), vacated on other grounds by Hust v. Phillips, 555 U.S. 1150, 129 S.Ct. 1036, 173 L.Ed.2d 466 (2009). To state a viable claim for interference with access to the courts, a plaintiff must show " actual injury, " that the prison officials' actions frustrated or impeded the inmate's efforts to pursue a " nonfrivolous, " " arguable" underlying legal claim. Id, at 351-54. The injury requirement is not satisfied by " just any type of frustrated legal claim; " the plaintiff must show he was prejudiced in a criminal appeal, in a post-conviction proceeding, or in a civil rights action in which he sought " to vindicate 'basic constitutional rights.'" Id. at 354 (quoting Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 579, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974)).

The plaintiff makes the conclusory allegation that he has been denied adequate and meaningful access to the courts. However, the plaintiff does not elaborate, and he fails to identify any underlying claim he was prevented from pursuing because of the alleged deficiencies in the law libraries, much less any " nonfrivolous" or " arguable" claims. The plaintiff has failed to state a claim with regard to the law library. Therefore, his claims against the defendants based on the allegedly inadequate law library are due to be dismissed.

B. Conditions of Confinement

The plaintiff asserts that the conditions of confinement for the " aged and infirm" inmates at Donaldson are dangerous, deplorable, and violate the Eighth Amendment. (Doc. 12 at 8). Prison conditions amount to cruel and unusual punishment only when they result in " unquestioned and serious deprivation of basic human needs." Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 69 L.Ed.2d 59 (1981). While it is the duty of prison officials to furnish prisoners with " reasonably adequate" food, clothing, shelter, and sanitation, Newman v. Alabama, 559 F.2d 283, 286 (5th Cir. 1977), rev'd in part on other grounds, 438 U.S. 781, 98 S.Ct. 3057, 57 L.Ed.2d 1114 (1978), the Constitution " does not mandate comfortable prisons, " Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 349. Accordingly, extreme deprivations are required to make out a conditions-of-confinement claim under the Eighth Amendment. Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278, 1298 (11th Cir. 2004). The plaintiff must " at the very least show that a condition of his confinement poses an unreasonable risk of serious damage to his future health or safety." Id. at 1289.

When viewed in light of these parameters, it is clear that the generalized claims asserted by the plaintiff with respect to the living conditions in the " geriatrics dorm" do not adequately state an Eighth Amendment claim. Although the plaintiff complains that conditions are uncomfortable, he does not present specific facts which show he is being subjected to an unquestioned and serious deprivation of his basic human needs or is faced with an unreasonable risk of serious damage to his future health or safety. To the extent the conditions within his unit are unpleasant or even harsh, " they are part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society." Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347. Although the plaintiff may have some suggestions for improving the living conditions of the geriatric dorms, the defendants' failure to implement those suggestions does not result in a constitutional violation. Accordingly, the plaintiff's claim regarding the conditions in the geriatric dorms is due to be dismissed.

IV. Recommendation

Accordingly, for the reasons stated above, the magistrate judge RECOMMENDS that this action be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE for failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) and/or (2).


Any party who objects to this report and recommendation must, within fourteen (14) days of the date on which it is entered, file specific written objections with the clerk of this court. Any objections to the failure of the magistrate judge to address any facts or legal arguments also must be included. Failure to do so will bar any later challenge or review of the magistrate judge's factual findings or legal conclusions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 106 S.Ct. 466, 88 L.Ed.2d 435(1985), reh'g denied, 474 U.S. 1111, 106 S.Ct. 899, 88 L.Ed.2d 933 (1986); Nettles v. Wainwright, 677 F.2d 404 (5th Cir. 1982) ( en banc ).

To challenge the magistrate judge's factual findings or legal conclusions, a party must file with the clerk of the court written objections specifically identifying the factual findings or legal conclusions to which objection is made and the specific basis for objection. The filing of objections is not a proper vehicle through which to make new allegations or present additional evidence. Furthermore, it is not necessary for a party to repeat legal arguments in objections. A copy of the objections must be served on all other parties to the action.

On receipt of objections meeting the foregoing specificity requirement, a district judge shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report and recommendation to which objection is made and may accept, reject, or modify in whole or in part, the magistrate judge's factual findings or legal conclusions. The district judge, however, need conduct a hearing only in his or her discretion or if required by law, and may consider the record developed before the magistrate judge, making his or her own determination on the basis of that record. The district judge may also receive further evidence, recall witnesses, or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions. Objections not meeting the foregoing specificity requirement will not be considered by a district judge.

A party may not appeal a magistrate judge's report and recommendation directly to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Appeals may be made only from a final judgment entered by or at the direction of a district judge.

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