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Johnson v. Thomas

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

December 11, 2014


Samuel Johnson, Plaintiff, Pro se, Brent, AL.



Plaintiff, Samuel Johnson, 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 were abridged during his incarceration at Bibb County Correctional Facility in Brent, Alabama. (Doc. 8). The plaintiff names Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) Prison Commissioner Kim Thomas and Warden Willie Thomas as defendants and seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as court costs. (Id. at 6). 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, 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, requires a 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 it determines is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant 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). Nonetheless, 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

Bibb County Correctional Facility (BCCF) " has six housing units listed A-F." (Doc. 8 at 4). Each unit has " three dorms" housing " about 106 inmates, " and each dorm " has a closed 'segregation unit' [a]way from population[, ]" which consists of " four (4) cells" capable of housing eight inmates. (Id.).

Due to the large number of inmates with disciplinary infractions, " there is not enough space" in the " [c]losed segregation units[.]" (Id.). As such, when these " inmates receive [a] final copy of their disciplinary [infraction, t]hey do not get a chance to serve their segregation as soon as they go on restriction." (Id. at 4-5).[1]

On August 14, 2012, Warden Thomas began " utiliz[ing] two separate dormitory units, namely C-1 and D-4, for the purpose of housing inmates wit[h] back-up segregation time." (Id. at 5).[2] Inmates in open segregation dorms " C-1 and D-4" are unable " to secure their property [because] the administration deems that inmates having combination locks or key locks in their possession would cause a security safety hazard." (Id.) (internal punctuation omitted). They also " [c]annot utilize their right to personal hygiene products as needed." (Id.).

The plaintiff alleges " numerous . . . inmates" in C-1 and D-4 either " have clear records" or " have already served their restriction time" but are effectively being made " to serve their restriction again" because they are housed in these open segregation dorms. (Id. at 5). The plaintiff also complains that inmates found to have engaged in " inciting a riot or rioting" are placed in " segregation dorm C-1 or D-4." (Id.). On two separate occasions in 2012-2013, the Warden " had to employ the ALDOC Riot team" because of security problems in those dorms. (Id.).

The plaintiff claims the foregoing conditions of confinement violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. (Id.). For relief, the plaintiff demands due process under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, as well as court costs. (Id. at 6). He also " demand[s that] if 'any' criminal charges [are] found, let them be placed upon the defendants." (Id.).

III. Analysis

A. Criminal Charges

This court has no authority to act as a prosecutorial entity. As such, it is without jurisdiction to refer a defendant for criminal prosecution. See United States v. Smith, 231 F.3d 800, 807 (11th Cir. 2000) (" The decision as to which crimes and criminals to prosecute is entrusted by the Constitution not to the judiciary, but to the executive who is charged with seeing that laws are enforced.")

B. Prison Commissioner Kim Thomas

The plaintiff names prison commissioner Kim Thomas as a defendant but has not alleged Thomas was personally involved in the conditions about which he complains. Thomas is named as a defendant solely because of his position as prison commissioner. However, " [t]here is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983." Harris v. Ostrout, 65 F.3d 912, 917 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690-92, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978) and LaMarca v. Turner, 995 F.2d 1526, 1538 (11th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1164, 114 S.Ct. 1189, 127 L.Ed.2d 539 (1994)). Absent some allegation that Commissioner Thomas knew of, sanctioned, participated in, or was otherwise " affirmatively linked" to the acts complained of, the claim against him is insufficient to state a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Gilmere v. City of Atlanta, 774 F.2d 1495, 1504 (11th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1115, 106 S.Ct. 1970, 90 L.Ed.2d 654 (1986). Accordingly, any claims against Kim Thomas are due to be dismissed.

C. Standing to bring suit and authority to represent other inmates

While the plaintiff makes numerous complaints about Warden Thomas's decision to utilize dormitory units C-1 and D-4 as open segregation dormitories, he does not allege he was ever housed in either unit after the August 12, 2012 changes implemented by Warden Thomas.[3] A " [p]laintiff 'has standing to seek redress for injuries done to him, but may not seek redress or injuries done to others.'" Moose Lodge No. 107 v. Irvis, 407 U.S. 163, 92 S.Ct. 1965, 32 L.Ed.2d 627 (1972). Moreover, it would be clear error to allow the plaintiff to bring this suit on behalf of other prisoners. See Johns v. County of San Diego, 114 F.3d 874, 876 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting C.E. Pope Equity Trust v. United States, 818 F.2d 696, 697 (9th Cir. 1987) (" While a non-attorney may appear pro se on his own behalf, '[he] has no authority to appear as an attorney for others than himself.'")). The plaintiff has not alleged facts establishing that he has standing to bring the claims in this lawsuit, and he is not authorized to represent other inmates. Accordingly, this action is due to be dismissed for lack of standing.

Alternatively, and in light of the leniency afforded pro se prisoner pleadings, the remainder of this report and recommendation assumes the plaintiff was housed in either C-1 or D-4 sometime between August 12, 2012, and May 17, 2013.

D. Warden Willie Thomas

1. Fourth Amendment

The plaintiff cannot rely on the Fourth Amendment as grounds for his due process demand. The Fourth Amendment provides protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. See Riley v. California, __ U.S. __, __, 134 S.Ct. 2473, 189 L.Ed.2d 430 (2014) (" The Fourth Amendment provides: 'The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.'").

The plaintiff does not allege his property was searched or seized by corrections officials. He does contend the prohibition against combination locks and keys left him unable to secure his property and he was unable to use his personal hygiene items as needed. (Doc. 8 at 5). However, as the Supreme Court has noted:

A prison " shares none of the attributes of privacy of a home, an automobile, an office, or a hotel room." Lanza v. New York, 370 U.S. 139, 143-144, 82 S.Ct. 1218, 8 L.Ed.2d 384 (1962). . . . A right of privacy in traditional Fourth Amendment terms is fundamentally incompatible with the close and continual surveillance of inmates and their cells required to ensure institutional security and internal order.

Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 527-28, 104 S.Ct. 3194, 82 L.Ed.2d 393 (1984) (parallel citations omitted). Therefore, as a convicted prisoner, the plaintiff has no Fourth Amendment legitimate expectation of privacy or protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Fourth Amendment claim is due to be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

2. Fifth Amendment

The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment limits the authority of federal agencies, while the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment limits the authority of state agencies. See Buxton v. City of Plant City, Fla., 871 F.2d 1037, 1041 (11th Cir. 1989) (" The fifth amendment to the United States Constitution restrains the federal government, and the fourteenth amendment, section 1, restrains the states, from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law."). The plaintiff, a state prisoner, is demanding due process from state officials. As such, he cannot rely on the Fifth Amendment to support his demand. This claim is due to be dismissed.

3. Eighth Amendment Cruel and Unusual Punishment

In order to establish an Eighth Amendment violation, a plaintiff " must prove three elements: (1) a condition of confinement that inflicted unnecessary pain or suffering [constituting cruel and unusual punishment], Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 69 L.Ed.2d 59 (1981), (2) the defendant[s'] 'deliberate indifference' to that condition, Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 303, 111 S.Ct. 2321, 115 L.Ed.2d 271 (1991), and (3) causation, Williams v. Bennett, 689 F.2d 1370, 1389-90 (11th Cir. 1982)." LaMarca v. Turner, 995 F.2d 1526, 1535 (11th Cir. 1993). Whether a particular condition of confinement constitutes cruel and unusual punishment is an objective inquiry; whether jail officials were deliberately indifferent to that condition is a subjective inquiry. See Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. at 294.

Beginning with the first prong, 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 v. Chapman, 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 the plaintiff's allegations do not state an Eighth Amendment claim. The plaintiff was not subjected to an unquestioned and serious deprivation of his basic human needs simply because he was housed in an open segregation dormitory rather than another dorm. Further, the fact that inmates who have been found guilty of rioting or attempting to riot are also housed in the open segregation dorms also does not constitute an extreme deprivation. Even if the ADOC Riot Team was utilized twice from 2012 to 2013 because of security problems in dorms C-1 and D-4, the plaintiff has presented no specific facts establishing he faced an unreasonable risk of serious damage to his future health or safety by being housed in those dorms. Although the plaintiff alleges he was unable to use his hygiene items as needed, he does not contend he was deprived of showers, soap, shaving equipment, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and the like, such that he could not keep himself reasonably clean and groomed.

To the extent the conditions in the open segregation dormitories were restrictive or even harsh, " they [were] part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society." Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347. Furthermore, " the Constitution does not require that prisoners be provided any and every amenity which some person may think is needed to avoid mental, physical, and emotional deterioration." Newman, 559 F.2d at 291. " Inmates cannot expect the amenities, conveniences and services of a good hotel." Harris v. Fleming, 839 F.2d 1232, 1235 (7th Cir.1988).

The plaintiff also has failed to allege facts showing Warden Thomas's deliberate indifference to any constitutional deprivation. " To be deliberately indifferent, a [jail] official must knowingly or recklessly disregard an inmate's basic needs." LaMarca v. Turner, 995 F.2d at 1535. Therefore, " a plaintiff must prove that the official possessed knowledge both of the infirm condition and of the means to cure that condition, 'so that a conscious, culpable refusal to prevent the harm can be inferred from the defendant's failure to prevent it.'" Id. at 1535 ( quoting Duckworth v. Franzen, 780 F.2d 645, 653 (7th Cir. 1985)), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 816, 107 S.Ct. 71, 93 L.Ed.2d 28 (1986); accord Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 835, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994).

The plaintiff has failed to allege any facts establishing that conditions in the open segregation dormitories deprived him of basic human needs and necessities or that Warden Thomas was deliberately indifferent to those needs. This claim is due to be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

3. Fourteenth Amendment Due Process

The plaintiff demands " due process" under the Fourteenth Amendment but provides no information regarding his disciplinary status while he was housed in an open segregation dormitory. Therefore, it is unknown whether the plaintiff had a " clean record" because he had no disciplinary infraction or because he believes he would have to serve his restriction twice. Regardless of the reason the plaintiff was placed in an open segregation dormitory, he has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

It is well established that the due process clause is only triggered by the deprivation of a protected [liberty] interest." Pierce v. King, 918 F.Supp. 932, 943 (E.D. N.C. 1996). In almost all instances, a determination that the plaintiff has a liberty interest in the deprivation about which he complains is a threshold question which must be answered in the affirmative before a procedural due process claim becomes viable. If this question is answered in the negative, no further inquiry is required.

" [T]he Due Process Clause in and of itself [does not] protect a duly convicted prisoner against transfer from one institution to another within the state prison system[, ]" nor does [it] in itself signify that a Fourteenth Amendment liberty interest is implicated." Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 225, 96 S.Ct. 2532, 49 L.Ed.2d 451 (1976). If transfer from one prison to another implicates no liberty interest, then confinement in the type of dormitory described by the plaintiff--as opposed to another type of dormitory--certainly implicates no liberty interest. Indeed, confinement in an open segregation dorm, as described by the plaintiff, is " within the normal limits or range of custody which the [plaintiff's] conviction has authorized the State to impose." Id. The fact that there were " more severe rules" regarding the ability to lock up one's personal property and access to personal hygiene items in the open segregation dorms than in the closed dorms does not change this conclusion. Id.; see Fulwood v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 568 Fed.Appx. 753, 757 (11th Cir. 2014) (" moving [an inmate] to a particular cell or packing [his] things did not amount to constitutional violations because an inmate has no liberty interest in a particular classification, prison assignment, or transfer even if the inmate experiences more burdensome conditions than before.").

Additionally, even if the plaintiff's inability to possess a locking device and restricted access to hygiene items were punitive in nature, he still cannot establish a liberty interest because there is no authority for finding a freestanding constitutional liberty interest in an inmate's privileges. Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 485, 115 S.Ct. 2293, 132 L.Ed.2d 418 (1995). Under certain circumstances,

States may . . . create liberty interests which are protected by the Due Process Clause. . . . But these interests will be generally limited to freedom from restraint which, while not exceeding the sentence in such an unexpected manner as to give rise to protection by the Due Process Clause of its own force, . . . nonetheless imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life."

Sandin, 515 U.S. at 483-484 (internal citations omitted). The plaintiff's complaints about locking devices and hygiene items " do[] not present a dramatic departure from the basic conditions of" his confinement. Id. at 486.

For the foregoing reasons, the plaintiff has not met the threshold requirements necessary to invoke the protection of the due process clause and, as such, has failed to state a Fourteenth Amendment claim upon which relief can be granted.

IV. Recommendation

Accordingly, for the reasons stated above, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that this action be DISMISSED for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) and/or (2).

V. 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 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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