United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division
GREGORY L. GAITER, Plaintiff,
SGT. LILLY WILLIFORD, and WARDEN FREDDIE BUTLER, Defendants
Gregory L Gaiter, Plaintiff, Pro se, Hamilton, AL.
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
T. MICHAEL PUTNAM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Gregory L. Gaiter, hereinafter referred to as the plaintiff, has filed a 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 at the Hamilton Aged and Infirmed Facility in Hamilton, Alabama. Named as defendants in the complaint are Sgt. Lilly Williford and Warden Freddie Butler. The plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive 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).
The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, Pub. L. No. 104-134, § 804, 110 Stat. 1321, and 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, requires this court 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. Thus, under § 1915A, the court may sua sponte dismiss a prisoner's complaint prior to service. Nevertheless, in order to protect a pro se prisoner's right of access to the courts, these complaints are read by less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972); Harmon v. Berry, 728 F.2d 1407, 1409 (11th Cir. 1984); Watson v. Ault, 525 F.2d 886, 891 (5th Cir. 1976).
PLAINTIFF'S FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS
The plaintiff is an inmate at the Alabama Department of Corrections' Hamilton Aged and Infirmed Facility in Hamilton, Alabama. He alleges that on April 6, 2014, his mother, who is black, was not allowed into the facility to visit him, purportedly because she was wearing her nurse's uniform. (Doc. 1, p. 4). He states he was told that officers didn't want to " get her confused" with other nurses who worked there, despite the fact that there are no black nurses who work at that facility. (Id.). According to the plaintiff, Sgt. Williford made his mother wait out in the car for three hours while he visited with his female " companion." (Id. at 4). He now contends that these actions were the result of " racial discrimination" and seeks to have the defendants terminated from their employment with the ADOC, in addition to a demand for monetary damages. (Id. at 4).
To the extent the plaintiff's complaint can be construed as alleging a violation of his equal protection rights, he fails to state a claim. In order to assert a valid equal protection claim, the plaintiff must demonstrate that he is similarly situated with other prisoners who received more favorable treatment and that the alleged discriminatory treatment was based on some constitutionally protected interest such as race. Jones v. Ray, 279 F.3d 944 (11th Cir. 2001); Smith v. Governor for Alabama, 562 Fed.Appx. 806, 814 (11th Cir. 2014). In this case, the plaintiff has alleged no facts that would support an equal protection challenge to his treatment by prison officials. The mere allegation that his mother was denied visitation does not alone demonstrate that he was subjected to discriminatory treatment. Additionally, he asserts other facts in the complaint which belie a claim that he was personally discriminated against because of his race. Not only does he acknowledge that officers communicated a valid security reason for denying his mother access, but he also admits that another individual was allowed an extended visit with him that same day. Plaintiff's own allegations reveal that his mother was denied access to the visit not because of her race, but because she was wearing a nurse's uniform, which could create a security hazard due to confusion with nurses employed at the facility.
In that regard, the plaintiff's complaint does not pass the plausibility test outlined by the Supreme Court in the Twombly and Iqbal decisions. Although courts are required to construe pro se complaints liberally, the complaint must nevertheless allege facts from which the inference of a constitutional violation is " plausible, " not merely speculative. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). In other words, " the 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); see also Edwards v. Prime, Inc., 602 F.3d 1276, 1291 (11th Cir. 2010). For the court to speculate about the possibility of claim not only fails to comport with Rule 8(a) pleading standards, but also would prematurely vitiate the defendant's qualified immunity. In this instance, the plaintiff has done little more than assert the conclusory allegation that the defendants acted in a racially discriminatory manner. For purposes of this review, conclusory allegations are not entitled to an assumption of truth. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681.
Furthermore, as Iqbal points out, in assessing the " plausibility" of a claim for relief, the court is entitled to take into account reasonable inferences supporting the lawfulness of the conduct at issue. If, based on the factual allegations set out in the complaint, it is equally reasonable to conclude that the defendant acted lawfully, it cannot be said that the complaint has set forth a " plausible" claim for relief. See American Dental Association v Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1290 (11th Cir. 2010) (" Importantly, the Court held in Iqbal, as it had in Twombly, that courts may infer from the factual allegations in the complaint 'obvious alternative explanation[s], ' which suggest lawful conduct rather than the unlawful conduct the plaintiff would ask the court to infer"); citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681-84. In this case, despite the plaintiff's assertions to the contrary, the facts presented in the complaint lead to the obvious explanation that prison officials were rightly concerned about a uniformed individual presenting a security concern within the facility. Therefore, the plaintiff has presented facts which fall short of the line " between possibility and plausibility." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
Finally, to the extent the plaintiff asserts that a constitutional right to visitation has been violated, his complaint fails to state a claim. Although the caselaw is unsettled, it appears that prisoners do enjoy some fundamental right to visitation for purposes of their rehabilitation, albeit subject to reasonable restrictions based upon institutional security concerns. See Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 827, 94 S.Ct. 2800, 41 L.Ed.2d 495 (1974). However, the Eleventh Circuit has concluded that convicted prisoners do not have an absolute right to visitation. Evans v. Johnson, 808 F.2d 1427 (11th Cir. 1987); Caraballo-Sandoval v. Honsted, 35 F.3d 521 (11th Cir. 1994). Visiting privileges are " subject to prison authorities' discretion provided that the visitation policies meet legitimate penological objectives." Caraballo-Sandoval at 525. In this instance, there are no plausible facts before the court which demonstrate that prison officials denied visitation to the plaintiff's mother for discriminatory or other illegitimate reasons. Therefore, no claim is stated for a violation of the plaintiff's limited right to visitation.
RECOMMENDATION AND NOTICE OF RIGHT TO OBJECT
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 can be granted, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).
NOTICE OF RIGHT TO OBJECT
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 contention raised in the motion also must be included. Failure to do so will bar any later challenge or review of the factual findings or legal conclusions ...