Williams v. Horner
RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION recommending that the District Court dismiss 2 Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice, with the dismissal counting as a "strike" for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). The Court also recommends that the Distr ict Court certify that an in forma pauperis appeal taken from the order and judgment dismissing this action would be frivolous and would not be taken in good faith. Objections to R&R due by 7/7/2009. Signed by Magistrate Judge Beth Deere on 6/23/09. (hph)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT E A S T E R N DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS P I N E BLUFF DIVISION
D A V I D WILLIAMS A D C # 78730 V S. S C O T T HORNER R E C O M M E N D E D DISPOSITION I. P r o c e d u r e for Filing Objections: CASE NO. 5:09CV00163-JMM-BD
P L A IN T IF F
T h e following recommended disposition has been sent to United States District C o u rt Judge James M. Moody. Any party may serve and file written objections to this re c o m m e n d a tio n . Objections should be specific and should include the factual or legal b a s is for the objection. If the objection is to a factual finding, specifically identify that f in d in g and the evidence that supports your objection. An original and one copy of your o b je c tio n s must be received in the office of the United States District Court Clerk no later th a n eleven (11) days from the date you receive the Partial Recommended Disposition. A c o p y will be furnished to the opposing party. Failure to file timely objections may result in waiver of the right to appeal questions of fact. M a il your objections and "Statement of Necessity" to: C le rk , United States District Court E a s te rn District of Arkansas 6 0 0 West Capitol Avenue, Suite A149 L ittle Rock, AR 72201-3325
B ackground: P la in tif f , an inmate incarcerated at the Varner Unit of the Arkansas Department of
C o rre c tio n ("ADC"), filed this lawsuit pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (docket entry #2). Plaintiff also filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (#1), which was g ra n te d .1 In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Horner violated his c o n s titu tio n a l rights by failing to turn on the lights in his cell at 7:00 a.m. in accordance w ith ADC policy on five occasions.2 Plaintiff claims that Defendant Horner has violated h is first, eighth, and fourteenth amendment rights.3 Because Plaintiff's Complaint fails to s ta te a claim for relief, this Court recommends that the Complaint be DISMISSED, with p re ju d ic e .
Although Plaintiff is now incarcerated at the Varner Unit of the ADC, the events g iv in g rise to this lawsuit occurred while Plaintiff was housed at the Varner Super Max U n it of the ADC. Plaintiff claims that ADC officials failed to turn on the lights in his cell at 7:00 a .m . on at least twelve occasions, but Defendant Horner is identified as the individual re s p o n s ib le on only five dates: November 3, 2005, November 23, 2005, January 10, 2006, A p ril 23, 2006, and June 3, 2006. In his Complaint, Plaintiff states that he brings his retaliatory discipline claim u n d e r both the first amendment and the fourteenth amendment's due process clause. In a d d itio n , Plaintiff states that Defendant Horner placed him at a "substantial risk of serious h a rm " when he called Plaintiff a "snitch" in front of other inmates. To the extent that P la in tif f claims that Defendant Horner failed to protect him in violation of the Eighth A m e n d m e n t, this claim fails. Plaintiff fails to allege that he suffered any injury as a result o f Defendant Horner's alleged misconduct. See Irving v. Dormire, 519 F.3d 441 (8th Cir. 2 0 0 8 ) (stating that "[c]laims under the Eighth Amendment require a compensable injury to be greater than de minimis"). 2
D is c u s s io n : A. S c re e n in g of Prisoner Complaints:
F e d e ra l courts are required to screen prisoner complaints seeking relief against a g o v e rn m e n ta l entity, officer, or employee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The Court must dismiss a c o m p la in t or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that: (a) are legally frivolous o r malicious; (b) fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (c) seek m o n e ta ry relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. T h e Complaint in this case fails to state a claim for relief and should be dismissed. B. F e d e ra l Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6):
U n d e r Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court may dismiss a c o m p la in t that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Court must a c c e p t the factual allegations in the complaint as true and hold a plaintiff's pro se c o m p la in t "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 127 S. Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007). However, broad c o n c lu s o ry allegations, even in a pro se complaint are insufficient to state a claim under 4 2 U.S.C. § 1983. Grady v. Wilken, 735 F.2d 303, 305 (8th Cir. 1984). In deciding whether a plaintiff has stated a claim, the Court must determine w h e th e r the plaintiff has pleaded facts with enough specificity "to raise a right to relief a b o v e the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S .C t. 1955, 1965 (2007)(citations omitted). A complaint cannot simply "[leave] open the
possibility that a plaintiff might later establish some `set of undisclosed facts' to support re c o v e ry." Id. at 1968 (citation omitted). Rather, the facts set forth in the complaint must b e sufficient to "nudge the[ ] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Id. at 1974. C. F irs t Amendment Claim
In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Horner violated his first a m e n d m e n t right to meaningful access to the courts by failing to turn on the lights in P la in tif f 's cell at 7:00 a.m. on five occasions. He claims that Defendant Horner's conduct in te rf e re d with his ability to "do legal work." An allegation that prison officials have impeded access to the courts, standing a lo n e , is insufficient to establish a constitutional violation. To establish such a violation, a prisoner must prove that he was not given the opportunity to litigate a claim, which re s u lte d in actual injury. White v. Kautzky, 494 F.3d 677, 680 (8th Cir. 2007). To prove a c tu a l injury, the prisoner must "demonstrate that a non-frivolous legal claim [was] f ru s tra te d or . . . impeded." Id. Here, Plaintiff has failed to allege that he suffered any actual injury or prejudice as a result of Defendant Horner's conduct. Rather, Plaintiff simply claims that he was u n a b le to engage in legal work for a limited period of time on five occasions. These a lle g a tio n s are insufficient, as a matter of law, to state a first amendment claim.
E ig h th Amendment Claim
In order to establish that a prisoner's conditions of confinement violate the Eighth A m e n d m e n t, the prisoner must show: (1) that the alleged deprivation is, "objectively, s u f f ic ie n tly serious," resulting "in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's n e c e s s itie s," and (2) that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to "an excessive risk to inmate health or safety." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 1 9 7 7 , 1980 (1994). In this case, Plaintiff's allegations fall short of alleging such a claim. In his Complaint and the documents attached to his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges th a t Defendant Horner failed to turn on the lights in Plaintiff's cell at 7:00 a.m. on five o c c a s io n s . Plaintiff states that on November 3, 2005, Defendant Horner denied Plaintiff a d e q u a te lighting between 1:27 p.m. and 2:37 p.m. and that on November 23, 2005, D e f e n d a n t Horner did not turn on the lights in Plaintiff's cell until 8:42 a.m. On January 1 0 , 2006, and April 23, 2006, Defendant Horner allegedly failed to turn the lights on in P la in tif f 's cell until 9:00 a.m. On June 3, 2006, Defendant Horner allegedly refused to tu rn on Plaintiff's lights until 9:45.4 D e f e n d a n t Horner's alleged failure to turn on the lights in Plaintiff's cell for a total o f eight-and-one-half hours over a seven-month time period, assuming all allegations are
Although the Court is aware that these events took place more than three years b e f o re Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, in his Complaint, Plaintiff explains the ongoing p ro b le m s that he has experienced trying to exhaust his administrative remedies. As a re s u lt, the Court cannot find that Plaintiff's claims are time-barred. 5
true, does not constitute denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities. Further, based upon the attachments to Plaintiff's Complaint, it appears that Plaintiff had a cell window which allowed natural light into his cell (#2 at p. 22). Accordingly, this c la im fails. E. R e ta lia to ry Discipline Claim
" A n inmate may maintain a cause of action for retaliatory discipline under 42 U .S .C . § 1983 where a prison official files disciplinary charges in retaliation for an in m a te 's exercise of constitutional rights." Hartsfield v. Nichols, 511 F.3d 826, 829 (8th C ir. 2008). To establish a retaliatory discipline claim, a plaintiff must show that: "(1) the p riso n e r exercised a constitutionally protected right; (2) prison officials disciplined the p riso n e r; and (3) exercising the right was the motivation for the discipline." Meuir v. G r e e n e County Jail Employees, 487 F.3d 1115, 1119 (8th Cir. 2007). P la in tif f claims that Defendant Horner issued a disciplinary against him in re ta lia tio n for his filing multiple grievances complaining of Defendant Horner's alleged m isc o n d u c t. Plaintiff concedes that Warden Luckett dismissed the disciplinary issued by D e f e n d a n t Horner (#2 at p.13). As a result, Plaintiff was not disciplined and cannot e s ta b lis h the elements necessary to proceed on a retaliatory discipline claim. F. V io la tio n of ADC Policy
P la in tif f also claims that Defendant Horner violated his constitutional rights by f a ilin g to follow ADC procedure when he declined to turn on the lights in Plaintiff's cell
on time. However, "there is no federal constitutional liberty interest in having state o f f ic e rs follow state law or prison officials follow prison regulations." Phillips v. Norris, 3 2 0 F.3d 844, 847 (8th Cir. 2003) (citing Kennedy v. Blankenship, 100 F.3d 640, 643 (8th C ir. 1996)). Thus, even assuming that Defendant Horner violated ADC procedure, P la in tif f 's claim fails. IV . C o n c lu s io n : T h is Court recommends that the District Court DISMISS Plaintiff's Complaint (# 2 ) with prejudice, with the dismissal counting as a "strike" for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). The Court also recommends that the District Court certify that an in forma p a u p e ris appeal taken from the order and judgment dismissing this action would be f riv o lo u s and would not be taken in good faith. DATED this 23rd day of June, 2009.
____________________________________ U N IT E D STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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