Spaulding v. Sawyer et al
OPINION AND ORDER re: 14 Amended Complaint is DISMISSED with prejudice as to Defendant Judge Brewer and DISMISSED without prejudice as the remaining defendants. The Clerk is DIRECTED to enter judgment, terminate any pending motions and deadlines, and close the file. Signed by Judge Sheri Polster Chappell on 9/14/2020. (SLU)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
FORT MYERS DIVISION
ERIC W. SPAULDING,
Case No.: 2:20-cv-183-FtM-38MRM
Administrator, JON PAUL CARNER,
Facility Security Director, DANIELLE
L. BREWER, County Judge, MARK
DOTTY RIDDLE, Facility Grievance
Examiner, and GENNA MARX
Operations & Contract Administration,
OPINION AND ORDER1
Before the Court is Plaintiff Eric Spaulding’s pro se Amended Complaint filed under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 on July 1, 2020. (Doc. 14). The Amended Complaint attaches various
exhibits. (Doc. 14-1 to 14-12). Spaulding seeks to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 2).
The Court dismisses this action finding the Amended Complaint does not state a claim
upon which relief can be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).
Spaulding is civilly committed to the Florida Civil Commitment Center (“FCCC”)
under the Sexual Violent Predators Act, Fla. Stat. §§ 394.910–.913, by which a person
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determined to be a sexually violent predator must be housed in a secure facility “for
control, care, and treatment until such time as the person’s mental abnormality or
personality disorder has so changed that it is safe for the person to be at large.” §
394.917(2). The Amended Complaint names: Donald Sawyer, Facility Administrator of
the FCCC; Jon Paul Carner, Security Director of the FCCC; Danielle L. Brewer, County
Court Judge; Mark Snyder, Facility Investigator at the FCCC; Dotty Riddle, Grievance
Examiner at the FCCC; and Genna Marx Brisson, Vice President of Operations and
Contract Administration, as Defendants. The Amended Complaint generally alleges
violations of the First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S.
Constitution. (Doc. 14 at 6).
The Amended Complaint sets forth these facts, which the Court assumes are true
at this stage of the proceedings. On August 15, 2019, two unidentified “Custody Officers”
searched Spaulding’s bunk area and seized his X-Box 360 and Blu-Ray DVD player
because he had not obtained the appropriate “care level” to have the seized items.
Approximately two weeks later, Spaulding had a hearing on the violation and was found
guilty of possession of unauthorized items. On January 8, 2020, after obtaining the
appropriate “care level,” Spaulding sought the return of his X-Box but Defendant Snyder
told him he could not return the item because two prohibited games had been installed
on the device. Spaulding filed a grievance and, citing to Defendant Judge Brewer’s
previous ruling in favor of the FCCC’s electronic contraband policy (see Doc. 14-8),
Defendant Carner responded to the grievance and told Spaulding his failure to report the
contraband prevented the return of the X-Box. Spaulding filed a grievance with Defendant
Sawyer, who also denied the grievance based on Judge Brewer’s previous decision.
Spaulding’s appeal of Sawyer’s denial of his grievance was denied by Defendant Brisson.
As relief, Spaulding asks the Court to impose permanent injunctions against the
intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) and “unlawful Censorship/Viewpoint
Discrimination,” order Defendants to pay $1,000 each for their involvement, order Judge
Brewer to rescind her Order entered in a similar case (Doc. 14-8), and order the FCCC
to return his seized property.
Because Spaulding seeks to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court is to review the
complaint sua sponte to determine whether it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)–(iii). Although
Spaulding is considered a non-prisoner due to his civil commitment status, he is still
subject to § 1915(e)(2). See Troville v. Venz, 303 F.3d 1256, 1260 (11th Cir. 2002)
(finding “no error in the district court’s dismissal of [a non-prisoner’s] complaint” under §
The standard that governs dismissals under 12(b)(6) applies to dismissals under
§ 1915 (e)(2)(B)(ii). Alba v. Montford, 517 F.3d 1249, 1252 (11th Cir. 2008). However,
pro se complaints are held to “less stringent standards” than those drafted and filed by
attorneys. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S.
97, 106 (1976)). Under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint may be dismissed if the claim alleged
is not plausible. Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007). All pleaded facts
are deemed true for the purposes of Rule 12(b)(6), but a complaint is still insufficient
without adequate facts. Id. The plaintiff must assert enough facts to allow “the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The asserted facts must “raise a reasonable
expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” for the plaintiff’s claim. Twombly, 550
U.S. at 556. Setting forth “labels . . . conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action” is not enough to meet the plausibility standard. Id. at 555.
But the Court must read a pro se plaintiff’s complaint in a liberal fashion. Hughes v. Lott,
350 F.3d 1157, 1160 (11th Cir. 2003).
To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege: (1) that the
defendant(s) deprived him of a right secured under the United States Constitution or
federal law, and (2) the deprivation occurred under color or state law. Arrington v. Cobb
County, 139 F.3d 865, 872 (11th Cir. 1998); U.S. Steel, LLC v. tieco, Inc., 261 F.3d 1275,
1288 (11th Cir. 2001). Plaintiff must establish an affirmative causal connection between
the defendant’s conduct and the constitutional deprivation. Swint v. City of Wadley, 51
F.3d 988 (11th Cir. 1995); Tittle v. Jefferson County Comm’n, 10 F.3d 1535, 1541 n.1
(11th Cir. 1994).
A. Named Defendants
Spaulding names the Honorable Danielle Brewer, a county judge in the Twelfth
Circuit, as a Defendant. (Doc. 14). Spaulding asks the Court to reverse Judge Brewer’s
ruling in a similar case (Doc. 14-8) and order Judge Brewer to pay him $1000.00 in
damages. (Doc. 14 at 9). Even assuming Plaintiff has standing to challenge Judge
Brewer’s ruling (not conceded), this Court does not sit as an appellate court over state
court rulings. Precedent also makes clear judges are generally immune from a suit for
money damages. See, e.g., Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219 (1988); Cleavinger v.
Saxner, 474 U.S. 193 (1985); Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U.S. 24 (1980); Supreme Court of
Va. v. Consumers Union of United States, Inc., 446 U.S. 719 (1980); Butz v. Economou,
438 U.S. 478 (1978); Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349 (1978); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S.
547 (1967). “It is a general principle of the highest importance to the proper administration
of justice that a judicial officer, in exercising the authority vested in him, shall be free to
act upon his own convictions, without apprehension of personal consequences to
himself.” Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. 335, 347 (1871).
Besides immunity from damages, judicial immunity cloaks a judge with immunity
from suit. Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511 (1985). Judicial immunity is only overcome
in two sets of circumstances. Judges are not immune from liability for nonjudicial actions.
Forrester, 484 U.S. at 227–29; Stump, 435 U.S. at 360. Judge are not immune for judicial
actions taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction. Stump, 435 U.S. at 356–57;
Bradley, 80 U.S. at 351. Neither circumstance is present here. The Amended Complaint
is dismissed with prejudice as to Judge Brewer.
Plaintiff appears to attribute liability to the remaining defendants because they
participated in the grievance process. Because Spaulding does not have constitutionallyprotected liberty interest in a grievance procedure, defendants involvement in the
grievance process do not rise to a constitutional claim. Thomas v. Warner, 237 F. App'x
435, 438 (11th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). Thus, the Court further finds the Amended
Complaint fails to allege an affirmative causal connection between the conduct of the
named FCCC officials and any alleged Constitutional deprivation. See, e.g., Rizzo v.
Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976).
B. Constitutional Claims
Liberally construing the Amended Complaint, it appears Spaulding is attempting to
claim a due process violation stemming from FCC’s officials’ seizure of his device and/or
the officials’ failure to return the device. Because Spaulding is civilly confined and not a
prisoner, his rights emanate from the Fourteenth Amendment and not the Eighth. See
Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 312 (1982). Under the Fourteenth Amendment, the
State may not “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of
law[.]” Thus, “a § 1983 claim alleging a denial of procedural due process, requires proof
of three elements: (1) a deprivation of a constitutionally-protected liberty or property
interest; (2) state action; and (3) constitutionally-inadequate process.” Grayden v.
Rhodes, 345 F.3d 1225, 1232 (11th Cir. 2003) (citing Cryder v. Oxendine, 24 F.3d 175,
177 (11th Cir. 1994)).
To have a property interest, Spaulding must demonstrate “more than an abstract
need or desire for it . . . . He must, instead, have a legitimate claim of entitlement to it”
under state or federal law.
Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972).
Spaulding does not dispute that the two prohibited games were installed on his X-Box.
And, because FCCC officials deemed the property contraband, Spaulding had no
property interest in the seized items. See Weems v. St. Lawrence, 2009 WL 2422795 *4,
n.6 (S.D. Ga. 2009); see also Steffey v. Orman, 461 F.3d 1218, 1221 (10th Cir.
2006); Lyon v. Ferrier, 730 F.2d 525 (8th Cir. 1984); Kimble v. Michigan Dep’t of Corr.,
411 F.2d. 990, 991 (6th Cir. 1969). Further, Spaulding’s Amended Complaint is unclear
as to whether he has been deprived of ownership or mere possession. Weems, 2009
WL 2422795 *4. Similar to Weems, Spaulding does not allege that FCCC officials
confiscated and destroyed his personal property under an established state procedure.
In fact, the exhibits attached to the Amended Complaint suggest Spaulding was provided
the opportunity to have his device sent out to someone. See (Doc. 14-5).
Even if Spaulding could demonstrate a property interest in the seized items, he
cannot show the third element required for a procedural due process claim because the
Supreme Court has held that “an unauthorized intentional deprivation of property by a
state employee does not constitute a violation of the procedural requirements of the Due
Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment if a post-deprivation remedy for the loss
is available.” Hudson, 468 U.S. at 533. Spaulding cannot allege an inadequate postdeprivation process because he was notified of the charges against him, had a hearing,
filed a grievance, and appealed the response to his grievance. (Doc. 14 at 6–7; Doc. 141, 14-2, 14-5, 14-6 and 14-11). Furthermore, a claim regarding any loss or destruction of
his personal property may be raised in a tort action under Florida state law. See Fla. Stat,
Section 768.28 (1987). The Court finds that Spaulding has failed to state a claim under
the Fourteenth Amendment.
Nor does the Amended Complaint articulate a Fourth Amendment claim because
the FCCC may search the bunk areas of its residents to enforce compliance with the
electronic media policy. The United States Supreme Court has determined that “[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 (1984). Although
not a “prisoner,” Spaulding has been involuntarily confined to a “secure facility” under the
SVP Act upon a probable cause determination he meets the statutory definition of a
sexually violent predator, due to his previous state conviction for a sexually violent
offense. See Fla. Stat. § 394.910. The same concerns raised in Hudson are at issue
here. See generally Hudson, 468 U.S. at 526–28 (discussing security concerns in place
of involuntary confinement); Pesci, 730 F.3d at 1299 (comparing civil commitment
detention center facilities to the prison context and recognizing FCCC officials are better
equipped than the courts to operate the facility). Thus, the dormitory room to which
Spaulding is assigned at the FCCC, albeit not a cell, is not protected by the Fourth
Amendment. Id. at 517. Spaulding cannot reasonably argue that he has a legitimate
“expectation of privacy” in his FCCC dormitory. Therefore, it is not a constitutional
violation for the defendants to search Spaulding’s dormitory. Shaarbay v. Palm Beach
County Jail, 350 F. App'x 359, 362 (11th Cir. 2009) (citing Padgett v. Donald, 401 F.3d
1273, 1278 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing Hudson, 468 U.S. at 525–26); see also Pesci v. Budz,
Case No. 2:12–cv–227–FtM–29SPC, 2012 WL 4856746, *6 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 12, 2012)
(dismissing claim stemming from search in dormitory at FCCC sua sponte).
This Court has determined that a blanket prohibition against searches of a FCCC
resident's living area inherently contradicts the facility's needs of ensuring security and
implementing rules and regulations. See Marsh v. Dep't of Children & Families, Case No.
2:03–cv–162–FtM–29SPC, 2006 WL 2644917 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 14, 2006), aff'd other
grounds, 259 F. App'x. 201 (11th Cir. 2007) (finding FCCC resident has no Fourth
Amendment right to protections from searches in his FCCC room); see also Block v.
Rutherford, 468 U.S. 576 (1984). Other courts confronted with the same issue have
agreed with this Court. Belton v. Singer, Case No. 10–6462, 2011 WL 2690595 (D.N.J.
July 8, 2011); Banda v. Corzine, Case No. 07–4508–(WJM), 2007 WL 3243917 (D.N.J.
Nov. 1, 2007); Riley v. Doyle, Case No. 06–C–574–C, 2006 WL 2947453 (W.D. Wis. Oct.
Finally, the Amended Complaint does not challenge the FCCC policy governing
contraband on electronic devices. Even if it did, the Amended Complaint fails to allege
sufficient facts to establish a causal connection between the FCCC’s conduct and the
deprivation of a First Amendment right, or otherwise demonstrate that the Turner2 factors
weigh in his favor. See Pesci v. Budz, 730 F.3d 1291, 1297 (11th Cir. 2013) (applying a
“modified Turner” standard by which to analyze First Amendment claims arising at the
FCCC and noting minor modifications in the Turner test because FCCC residents are not
“criminally” confined but encounter similar security concerns).
Accordingly, it is now ORDERED:
(1) Plaintiff Spaulding’s Amended Complaint (Doc. 14) is DISMISSED with
prejudice as to Defendant Judge Brewer and DISMISSED without
prejudice as the remaining defendants.
(2) The Clerk is DIRECTED to enter judgment, terminate any pending motions and
deadlines, and close the file.
DONE and ORDERED in Fort Myers, Florida on this 14th day of September 2020.
Copies: All parties of record
Under the Turner test, courts evaluating a claim should consider the following factors: (1) whether there
is a “valid, rational connection” between the regulation and a legitimate governmental interest put forward
to justify it; (2) whether there are alternative means of exercising the asserted constitutional right that remain
open to the residents; (3) whether, and the extent to which, accommodation of the asserted right will have
an impact on facility staff, other residents, and the allocation of the facility’s resources generally; and, (4)
whether the regulation represents an “exaggerated response” to the facility’s concerns. Turner v. Safley,
482 U.S. 78, 89–91 (1987).
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