Simmers v. Harrison et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Richard G. Andrews on 4/16/2018. (nms)
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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
: Civil Action No. 17-1861-RGA
MRS. HARRISON, et al.,
James Simmers, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution, Wilmington, Delaware.
Pro Se Plaintiff.
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Plaintiff James Simmers, an inmate at the Howard R. Young Correctional
Institution in Wilmington, Delaware, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
alleging violations of his constitutional rights. 1 (D.I. 1, 6). He appears prose and has
been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (D.I. 7). The Court screens and
reviews the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and§ 1915A(a).
In October 2014, a Delaware Superior Court jury convicted Plaintiff of two counts
of rape in the fourth degree and one count of indecent exposure in the second degree.
Simmers v. State, 171 A.3d 1115 (Del. 2017) (table). The Superior Court sentenced
Plaintiff to a total period of twenty years and thirty days at Level V incarceration, to be
suspended after serving six years and thirty days in prison for decreasing levels of
supervision. Id. On September 25, 2017, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the
trial court's denial of Plaintiff's first motion for post-conviction relief. Id. Plaintiff
commenced this action in December 2017.
Plaintiff alleges that he was "going to education class for over 60 weeks for the
first part" of the class. (D.I. 1). During this time Plaintiff worked at the commissary.
Plaintiff asked his counselor to inquire why he was in the class when the court knew that
his case was still on appeal. The counselor told Plaintiff not to worry. Part II of the
class required Plaintiff to admit his guilt, but he refused. Plaintiff told his counselor that
When bringing a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must allege that some person has deprived
him of a federal right, and the person who caused the deprivation acted under color of
state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
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he did not want a "write-up." Plaintiff alleges his placement in the class was illegal
because his case was on appeal.
The class was taught by Defendant Mrs. Harrison. When Plaintiff refused to say
he was guilty, Mrs. Harrison stated that Plaintiff refused to participate in the transition
group. While not clear, it appears Plaintiff received a disciplinary ticket on June 27,
2017, because of this. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Matthew Hoover took action.
Plaintiff saw the warden and wrote to his counselor and Defendant Mrs. Fields asking if
the action was legal since his criminal case was still on appeal. Plaintiff alleges that
Defendant Captain Dych had his disciplinary ticket for this matter that occurred over five
months ago. Also, it seems that Plaintiff was transferred to a different housing unit and
housed in a three-man cell.
Plaintiff was called back to the class on July 6, 2017. On July 12, 2017, Plaintiff
submitted a grievance complaining that he should not be placed in the class because
his case is on appeal. He asked that the disciplinary ticket be dropped and for a
transfer to a different housing unit until the appeal was decided. The grievance was
returned advising Plaintiff that classification is non-grievable. The Complaint does not
contain a prayer for relief.
SCREENING OF COMPLAINT
A federal court may properly dismiss an action sua sponte under the screening
provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and§ 1915A(b) if "the action is frivolous or
malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary
relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448,
452 (3d Cir. 2013). See also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (in forma pauperis actions); 28
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U.S.C. § 1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress from a governmental
defendant). The Court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true and
take them in the light most favorable to a pro se plaintiff. Phillips v. County of
Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93
(2007). Because Plaintiff proceeds pro se, his pleading is liberally construed and his
complaint, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than
formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 94.
An action is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact."
Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and
§ 1915A(b )( 1), a court may dismiss a complaint as frivolous if it is "based on an
indisputably meritless legal theory" or a "clearly baseless" or "fantastic or delusional"
factual scenario. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327-28; Wilson v. Rackmil/, 878 F.2d 772, 774
(3d Cir. 1989).
The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant
to§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and§ 1915A(b)(1) is identical to the legal standard used when
ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions. Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir.
1999). However, before dismissing a complaint or claims for failure to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted pursuant to the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C.
§§1915 and 1915A, the Court must grant Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint unless
amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293
F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002).
A well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere labels and conclusions.
See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009); Bell At/. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544
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(2007). A plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to show that a claim has substantive
plausibility. See Johnson v. City of Shelby, _U.S._, 135 S.Ct. 346, 347 (2014). A
complaint may not dismissed, however, for imperfect statements of the legal theory
supporting the claim asserted. See id. at 346.
A court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint must take three steps: (1) take
note of the elements the plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2) identify allegations that,
because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth;
and (3) when there are well-pleaded factual allegations, assume their veracity and then
determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Connelly v. Lane
Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780,787 (3d Cir. 2016). Elements are sufficiently alleged when
the facts in the complaint "show" that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
679 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). Deciding whether a claim is plausible will be a
"context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience
and common sense." Id.
To the extent Plaintiff alleges the change in his housing assignment and/or
classification violated his constitutional rights, the claims fail. It is well established that
an inmate does not possess a liberty interest arising from the Due Process Clause in
assignment to a particular custody level or security classification or a place of
confinement. See Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209 (2005); Olim v. Wakinekona, 461
U.S. 238, 245 (1983); Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 224-25 (1976). In addition, the
custody placement or classification of state prisoners within the State prison system is
among the "wide spectrum of discretionary actions that traditionally have been the
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business of prison administrators rather than of the federal courts." Meachum, 427 U.S.
at 225. The Complaint fails to state a claim of constitutional dimension with respect to
his custody level classification and housing.
To the extent Plaintiff alleges he was improperly placed in the education class
the claim fails because he has no constitutional right to any rehabilitative program and,
therefore, has no right to challenge his classification and placement in the education
class. See Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238, 245 (1983); Abdul-Akbar v. Department
of Corr., 910 F. Supp. 986, 1002 (D. Del.1995) (inmate has no right to rehabilitation,
education, or training programs in prison).
Finally, to the extent Plaintiff contends he received a false or unfounded
disciplinary ticket, the claim fails. The act of filing false or unfounded disciplinary
charges does not itself violate a prisoner's constitutional rights. See Freeman v.
Rideout, 808 F.2d 949, 952-53 (2d Cir. 1986) (mere filing of a false charge does not
constitute a cognizable claim under § 1983 so long as inmate is granted a hearing and
the opportunity to rebut the charges). Here, Plaintiff does not allege that he was denied
an institutional disciplinary hearing or an opportunity to present evidence to refute the
charges. Instead, he complains that six months have passed and he has received "not
one thing back." (D.I. 1, 6).
There are no factual allegations of wrongdoing that rise to the level of a
constitutional violation. Further, to the extent Plaintiff discusses his displeasure with the
charges brought against him, the process, and (it appears) the sanctions he received,
he cannot use §1983 as a basis to challenge the validity "of his confinement or its
duration." See Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005).
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There are no claims in the Complaint that rise to the level of constitutional
violations. Therefore, the Complaint will be dismissed as frivolous pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and§ 1915A(b)(1 ).
For the above reasons, the Court will dismiss the Complaint (D.I. 1, 6) as
frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and§ 1915A(b)(1 ). The Court finds
An appropriate Order will be entered.
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