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Holt v. Domec

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

July 11, 2018

JOE DANIEL HOLT, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
TERESA DOMEC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the court on the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (Doc. # 17), filed on May 17, 2018. In his Report and Recommendation, the Magistrate Judge screened Plaintiff's Complaint, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, and recommended that the court dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. # 17 at 2, 37). Plaintiff timely filed objections to the Report and Recommendation. (Doc. # 18).

         I. Standard of Review

         The court reviews objected-to factual and legal rulings in a Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation de novo. Heath v. Jones, 863 F.2d 815, 822 (11th Cir. 1989). The court reviews those portions that are not specifically objected to under the plain error standard. See 11th Cir. R. 3-1. (See also Doc. # 17 at 37) (warning Plaintiff that his failure to object would bar further review, except for plain error). Objections must identify the portions of the Report and Recommendation being challenged and the specific basis for the objections. Heath, 863 F.2d at 822.

         II. Analysis of Objections

         After careful review, the court concludes that Plaintiff's objections all are due to be overruled.[1]

         First, Plaintiff argues that the Magistrate Judge overstepped his authority under § 1915A because he addressed arguments against Plaintiff's claims that were not raised by the Defendants themselves. (Doc. # 18 at 1-2, 6, 8). These objections misapprehend the court's statutory obligations when screening a prisoner's complaint before service on a governmental entity, officer, or employee. The Prison Litigation Reform Act directs the court to identify cognizable claims in a prisoner's complaint and to dismiss all claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or seek monetary relief from an immune defendant. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). The Act also “gives courts greater liberty in dismissing prisoner lawsuits asserted against governmental entities or employees” than the court possesses in other contexts. Anderson v. Singletary, 111 F.3d 801, 805 (11th Cir. 1997). To be sure, the court cannot dismiss a claim sua sponte based on an affirmative defense unless the affirmative defense appears on the face of the complaint. Bingham v. Thomas, 654 F.3d 1171, 1175 (11th Cir. 2011). But, the Magistrate Judge properly analyzed Plaintiff's claims to determine whether any of them stated a plausible claim for relief that is not moot or barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity. Thus, the court will overrule Plaintiff's objections to the Magistrate Judge's identification of deficiencies sua sponte during the screening process.

         Second, Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's failure to acknowledge that his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims are being brought against individual defendants in their individual capacities. (Doc. # 18 at 1, 5). That argument is off the mark. The Magistrate Judge thoroughly discussed the reasons why Plaintiff's individual-capacity claims fail as a matter of law after recommending the dismissal of his official-capacity claims under the Eleventh Amendment. And, the Magistrate Judge limited his immunity recommendation to official-capacity claims. (See Doc. # 17 at 17) (applying Eleventh Amendment immunity “to the extent the plaintiff sues the corrections personnel in their official capacities”).[2] Therefore, these objections are due to be overruled.

         Third, Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's purported lack of neutrality in describing Defendant Teresa Domec's investigation of a Facebook account. (Doc. # 18 at 3). The court finds that the Magistrate Judge fairly laid out Plaintiff's factual allegations about the investigation and his assertions of innocence. (See Doc. # 17 at 5-6). And, the Magistrate Judge correctly determined that Plaintiff's allegations regarding Domec's purported identity fraud are nothing more than conclusory allegations lacking any reasonable support. Cf. Franklin v. Curry, 738 F.3d 1246, 1250-51 (11th Cir. 2013). Therefore, this factual objection is due to be overruled.

         Fourth, Plaintiff summarily references 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) three times in his objections. (Doc. # 18 at 3, 6, 9). Under 28 U.S.C. § 455(a), a district judge or magistrate judge must recuse in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned. Generally, “judicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion.” Draper v. Reynolds, 369 F.3d 1270, 1279 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555 (1994)). Unsupported and conclusory allegations also do not warrant a judge's disqualification. Giles v. Garwood, 853 F.2d 876, 878 (11th Cir. 1988). Plaintiff's conclusory allegations that the Magistrate Judge acted improperly in making his recommendations present no basis for disqualification. Therefore, all objections that rely upon § 455(a) are due to be overruled. Moreover, to the extent Plaintiff's objections liberally can be construed as a motion to disqualify, that motion is due to be denied.

         Fifth, Plaintiff claims that the Report and Recommendation misconstrues a prior complaint he filed with this court. (Doc. # 18 at 4) (discussing Doc. # 17 at 6 n. 2). To the extent Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's reference to another complaint Plaintiff filed with this court, the Magistrate Judge's discussion of that complaint is not material to the claims here because Plaintiff's procedural and substantive due process fail for the reasons stated in the Report and Recommendation, which have nothing to do with the discrepancies between Plaintiff's current complaint and his earlier complaint. (See Doc. # 17 at 20-24). The Report and Recommendation accurately recounts Plaintiff's current allegation that no one confiscated a phone from him at the Bibb County Correctional Facility (“BCCF”). (Doc. # 17 at 6). Therefore, this objection is due to be overruled.

         Sixth, Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's characterization of minimum-community custody as a status “he desired.” (Docs. # 17 at 9; 18 at 4). Rather, Plaintiff argues that he was eligible for the minimum custody status. (Doc. # 18 at 4). Plaintiff cites no authority for his contention that he was eligible for community custody at the time Defendant Angela Baggett denied it to him. (See id.). Additionally, although Plaintiff alleges in an amendment to the Complaint that Baggett abused her authority, he has not alleged in a pleading that he was eligible for community custody in March 2018. (See Docs. # 12 at 1-2, 14 at 1-2). In any event, Plaintiff has not explained how this mischaracterization affected the Magistrate Judge's review of any of the constitutional claims. As the Magistrate Judge correctly explained, a violation of a state policy or procedure, standing alone, usually does not amount to a constitutional violation actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. # 17 at 18). For these reasons, Plaintiff's objection to the Magistrate Judge's description of the events in March 2018 is due to be overruled.

         Seventh, Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation that all injunctive claims are moot because the Alabama Department of Corrections has transferred Plaintiff from the BCCF to the Hamilton Aged & Infirm Correctional Facility. (Docs. # 17 at 14-15; 18 at 4-5). Plaintiff contends his transfer did not moot his injunctive claims because he previously has been transferred from other prisons to the BCCF and could be transferred back to the BCCF again. (Doc. # 18 at 4-5). Essentially, Plaintiff argues that his claims are capable of repetition, yet evade review. This exception to the mootness doctrine applies where (1) the challenged action is too short in duration to be litigated fully before it ceases, and (2) there is a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party will be subject to the same action again. Arcia v. Fla. Sec'y of State, 772 F.3d 1335, 1343 (11th Cir 2014). This exception “requires a ‘demonstrated probability' that the same controversy will recur involving the same complaining party.” Watkins v. Broward Cty. Sheriff, 677 Fed.Appx. 622, 623 (11th Cir. 2017) (quoting Murphy v. Hunt, 455 U.S. 478, 482 (1982)).

         Here, Plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief center on conditions at the BCCF and actions committed by BCCF employees. (See Doc. # 1 at 17-19). Plaintiff's transfer to a different facility deprives this court of any ability to give him meaningful relief on those claims for injunctive relief. Watkins, 677 Fed.Appx. at 623. While Plaintiff states that he has been transferred to the BCCF twice in the last twelve years, this averment is insufficient to show a “demonstrated probability, ” as opposed to a mere possibility, that he will be incarcerated in the BCCF again. See Id. Therefore, Plaintiff's injunctive claims are moot and ...


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