CLARKSON v. MCLAUGHLIN
ORDER Dismissing Plaintiff's complaint without prejudice. Ordered by US DISTRICT JUDGE C ASHLEY ROYAL on 8/18/2017. (lap)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
NICHOLAS C CLARKSON,
Warden GREGORY MCLAUGHLIN,:
This case is currently before the Court for preliminary screening as required by the
Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).
Clarkson, an inmate confined at Telfair State Prison, filed the above-captioned proceeding
seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF No. 1. At the time of filing, Plaintiff also
moved to proceed without prepayment of the district court’s filing fees under 28 U.S.C. §
1915. ECF No. 2. Plaintiff was granted in form pauperis status on April 14, 2017, and
ordered to pay an initial partial filing fee. ECF No. 6.
Plaintiff has now paid the fee and
filed a recast complaint as ordered, however, upon preliminary review, Plaintiff’s
complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice for failure to state a claim.
Motion to Proceed In Form Pauperis
Although Plaintiff is allowed to proceed in forma pauperis in this action, Plaintiff is
still obligated to pay the full balance of the filing fee, in installments, as set for in § 1915(b)
and explained below. It is thus requested that the CLERK forward a copy of this
ORDER to the business manager of the facility in which Plaintiff is incarcerated so that
withdrawals from his account may commence as payment towards the filing fee.
A. Directions to Plaintiff’s Custodian
It is hereby ORDERED the warden of the institution wherein Plaintiff is
incarcerated, or the Sheriff of any county wherein he is held in custody, and any successor
custodians, each month cause to be remitted to the Clerk of this court twenty percent (20%)
of the preceding month’s income credited to Plaintiff’s account at said institution until the
remaining portion of the filing fee ($308.00) has been paid in full. In accordance with
provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Plaintiff’s custodian is hereby authorized
to forward payments from the prisoner’s account to the Clerk of Court each month until the
filing fee is paid in full, provided the amount in the account exceeds $10.00. It is further
ORDERED that collection of monthly payments from Plaintiff’s trust fund account shall
continue until the remaining $3.08.00 has been collected, notwithstanding the dismissal of
Plaintiff’s lawsuit or the granting of judgment against him prior to the collection of the full
A. Plaintiff’s Obligations Upon Release
Pursuant to provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, in the event Plaintiff is
hereafter released from the custody of the State of Georgia or any county thereof, he shall
remain obligated to pay any balance due on the filing fee in this proceeding until said
amount has been paid in full; Plaintiff shall continue to remit monthly payments as
required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Collection from Plaintiff of any balance due
on the filing fee by any means permitted by law is hereby authorized in the event Plaintiff
is released from custody and fails to remit payments. Plaintiff’s complaint is subject to
dismissal if he has the ability to make monthly payments and fails to do so.
Preliminary Review of Plaintiff’s Complaint
A. Standard for Preliminary Review
Under the PLRA, the district courts are obligated to conduct a preliminary screening
of every complaint filed by a prisoner who seeks redress from a government entity, official,
or employee. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Screening is also required, under 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e), when the plaintiff is proceeding IFP. Both statutes apply in this case, and the
standard of review is the same. When conducting a preliminary review, the district court
must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and make all inferences in the
plaintiff’s favor. See Brown v. Johnson, 387 F.3d 1344, 1347 (11th Cir. 2004). Pro se
pleadings are also “held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys,”
and a pro se compliant is thus “liberally construed.” Tannenbaum v. United States, 148
F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998) (per curiam). The district court, however, cannot allow
a plaintiff to litigate frivolous, conclusory, or speculative claims.
As part of the
preliminary screening, the court shall dismiss a complaint, or any part thereof, prior to
service, if it is apparent that the plaintiff’s claims are frivolous or if his allegations fail to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted – i.e., that the plaintiff is not entitled to
relief based on the facts alleged. See § 1915A(b); § 1915(e).
B. Background and Discussion
The events underlying this complaint began in 2014 at Autry State Prison when
Plaintiff was informed by a classification committee that his institutional file indicated that
he was a member of the “westside gangster crips.” ECF No. 7 at 7. Plaintiff attempted,
without success, to contest the accusation to the committee and then filed a grievance. In
response, Plaintiff was told that he was validated as a westside gangster crip in 2009 while
confined in Valdosta State Prison. ECF No. 7 at 8. His appeal was denied for procedural
Plaintiff attempted to resolve the issue by speaking to the Deputy Warden of Care
and Treatment at Autry State Prison. He was referred to Sargent Bell, who appears to
have offered Plaintiff a procedural method of renouncing his alleged gang membership.
ECF No. 9. Plaintiff contends he was unable to complete the process because he would
have to (1) affirm that he was in a gang and (2) name high ranking gang members. ECF No.
9. Plaintiff then brought the issue to Deputy Warden of Security Terrell who advised
Plaintiff being labeled a gang member, or a Security Threat Group, “greatly impacts
security” level assignment of an inmate. ECF No. 7 at 10. Plaintiff was subsequently
transferred to Macon State Prison, “a level five security prison where gang violence is
more apparent.” ECF No. 7 at 10. Plaintiff ultimately filed a state civil action which was
denied for failure to state a claim.
Plaintiff now seeks redress in federal court through a Section 1983 action and
contends that his false designation as a gang member has deprived him of a liberty interest
without due process of law. Plaintiff complains that as a result of the label he is being
discriminated against, his character has been defamed, and he has essentially been
convicted of a crime without being indicted or being able to exercise his right to a trial.
ECF No. 7 at 11. His “life’s major activities” have also been adversely impacted as his his
relationship with his family has been strained.
Finally, Plaintiff has been denied
vocational programs available to inmates with a lower security designation which will
prevent Plaintiff from learning a trade or skill and in turn adversely impact his ability to
reintegrate into society.
Fourteenth Amendment Due Process
“To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right
secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged
deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487
U.S. 42, 47 (1988) (citations omitted). Plaintiff’s classification as a gang member and
transfer to a less accommodating prison are insufficient to constitute a constitutional
deprivation by themselves. It is has long been recognized that the Constitution does not
“guarantee that the convicted prisoner will be placed in any particular prison.” Meachum v.
Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 223 (1976).
The assignment to a particular prison and a transfer
from one prison to another “is not subject to an audit under the Due Process Clause,
although the degree of confinement in one prison may be quite different from that in
another.” Id. 223-24. This is true even when the transfer visits a “’grievous loss’ upon
the inmate” and extends to a prisoner’s “classification and eligibility for rehabilitative
programs.” See Moody v. Daggett, 429 U.S. 78, 88 n.9 (1976).
Although it is recognized that confinement in a restrictive environment does not by
implicate an interest created by the Due Process clause itself, a prisoner may be able to
invoke due process protections because “States may under certain circumstances create
liberty interests which are protected by the Due Process Clause.” Sandin v. Conner, 515
U.S. 472, 483, 487 (1995) (citing Board of Pardons v. Allen, 482 U.S. 369 (1987)). The
Eleventh Circuit has recognized two scenarios in which a prisoner has a liberty interest
protected by due process: (1) when the conditions of confinement are “so severe that [they]
essentially exceeds the sentence imposed by the court” and (2) “where the state has
consistently provided a benefit to a prisoner and deprivation of that benefit imposes an
‘atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of
prison life.’” Woodson v. Whitehead, 673 F. App’x 931, 933 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting
Kirby v. Siegelman, 195 F.3d 1285, 1290-91 (11th Cir. 1999)). The “touchstone” of
whether inmates have a state-created liberty interest in avoiding restrictive conditions of
confinement is “the nature of those conditions themselves ‘in relation to the ordinary
incidents of prison life.’” Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 223 (quoting Sandin, 515
U.S. at 484).
Taking Plaintiff’s allegations as true and drawing inferences in his favor, he alleges
that his conditions of confinement differ from the “ordinary incidents of prison life”
because he is being deprived of vocational and other opportunities.
State created liberty
interests, however, are generally limited to freedom from restraint as they must be atypical
and constitute a significant hardship. It is an ordinary incident of prison life for a prisoner
to be transferred to another facility and lose “access to vocational, educational,
recreational, and rehabilitative programs.’” McKune v. Lile, 636 U.S. 24, 39 (2002)
(quoting Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 467, n. 4 (1983)). Even when a prisoner has
become accustomed to a more comfortable facility, his expectation to remain there “is too
ephemeral and insubstantial to trigger a procedural due process protection as long as prison
official have discretion to transfer him for whatever reason or for no reason at all.”
McKune, 536 U.S. at 38 (quoting Meachum, 427 U.S. at 255).
The Eleventh Circuit has routinely recognized that prison officials in Georgia have
discretion to transfer inmates and that “[a]n inmate has no [state created] liberty interest
in a particular classification, prison assignment, or transfer even if the inmate . . .
experiences more burdensome conditions than before.” West v. Higgins, 346 F. App’x 423,
426 (11th Cir. 2009); Kramer v. Donald, 286 F. Appx’ 674 (11th Cir. 2008) (no liberty
interest in prison classification); Slocum v. Ga. State Bd. Of Pardons and Paroles, 678 F.2d
940, 941 (11th Cir. 1982) (no liberty interest in parole). Rather, “[i]t is plain that the
transfer of an inmate to less amenable and more restrictive quarters for non-punitive
reasons is well within the terms of confinement ordinarily contemplated by a prison
sentence.” Al-Amin v. Donald, 165 F. App’x 733, 738-39 (11th Cir. 2006) (per curiam)
(alteration in original) (quoting Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 468 (1983)). Accordingly,
Plaintiff’s classification as a gang member, transfer, and loss of favorable prison
conditions do not implicate a liberty interest. Nor do Plaintiff’s allegations that his
classification has caused strains on his family relationship and unneeded stress.
Plaintiff has not alleged facts suggesting he faces risks to his safety or health due to
being labeled a gang member, and has not alleged that his confinement in Autry State
Prison is more restrictive than can be expected of the conditions found in any high security
level prison. Plaintiff asserts that the conditions he experiences are atypical, but legal
conclusions are insufficient, and Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can
Fifth and Sixth Amendment
Plaintiff also asserts that his classification as a gang member essentially amounts to
a conviction because of the consequences he faces as a result of the designation. “The
protections provided by the Sixth Amendment are explicitly confined to ‘criminal
prosecutions.’” Austin v. U.S., 509 U.S. 602, 607 (1993). The Georgia Department of
Corrections’ decision to classify Plaintiff as a gang member does not constitute a criminal
prosecution. See e.g. Sparks v. Foster, 241 F. App’x 467, 471 (10th Cir. 2007) (affirming
dismissal of sixth amendment claim because classification as a gang member is an
Consequently, Plaintiff has failed to state a Sixth Amendment
Claim. Plaintiff also raises a Fifth Amendment Claim, presumably based on due process.
“The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment prohibits the United States, as the Due
Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the States.” Dusenbery v. U.S. 534
U.S. 161, 166 (2002). Plaintiff’s claims concern state officials. Further, to the extent
that Plaintiff may be raising self-incrimination claims, he cannot succeed as he denied
membership in a gang, was not compelled, and no statements have been introduced in a
criminal case. Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to state a Fifth Amendment claim.
Plaintiff also asserts that his transfer to Macon State Prison and the concomitant
restrictions to his environment constitute a violation of his right to equal protection under
the law. The factual basis or theory behind this assertion is unclear as Plaintiff has only
baldly stated a violation of Equal Protection. “To survive a motion to dismiss his equal
protection claim, Jackson must plausibly allege two elements: (1) that “he is similarly
situated with other prisoners who received” more favorable treatment; and (2) that “his
discriminatory treatment was based on some constitutionally protected interest,” such as
race, religion, or national origin.” Jackson v. Brewton, 595 F. App’x 939, 943 (11th Cir.
2014) (percuriam) (citations omitted).
Plaintiff has not alleged facts—or even
conclusions—supportive of either element. Therefore, Plaintiff has failed to state an
equal protection claim.
Finally, Plaintiff asserts that labelling him as a gang member constitutes
defamation. “Defamation, by itself, is a tort actionable under the law of most State, but
not a constitutional deprivation.” Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 233 (1991); Garcia v.
Miami Police Dep't, 336 F. App'x 858, 860 (11th Cir. 2009) (per curiam) ("[A]llegations of
defamation, on their own, are insufficient to state a federal claim."). Rather, “a plaintiff
claiming a deprivation based on defamation by the government must establish the fact of
the defamation ‘plus’ the violation of some more tangle interest,” before such a claim
implicates a constitutionally protected interest. Cannon v. City of West Palm Beach, 250
F.3d 1299, 1302 (11th Cir. 2001) (citing Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 694 (1976)); Smith ex
rel. Smith v. Siegelman, 322 F.3d 1290, 1297 (11th Cir. 2003) (“A person’s interest in
reputation alone . . . is not a protected liberty interest within the meaning of the due process
clause.”). To establish such a liberty interest, “the individual must be not only stigmatized
but also stigmatized in connection with a denial of a right or status previously recognized
under state law.” Smith, 322 F.3d at 1296 (quoting Cannon, 250 F.3d at 1302).
The deprivation Plaintiff alleges does not amount to the denial of a relevant right or
status sufficient to state a constitutional claim. See e.g. Siegert, 500 U.S. 226 (explaining
that costs resulting from injury to reputation are not recoverable in a Section 1983 action).
With the dismissal of Plaintiff’s federal claims, “there remains no independent original
federal jurisdiction to support the Court’s exercise of supplemental jurisdiction over the
state claims.” Baggett v. First Nat. Bank of Gainesville, 117 F.3d 1342, 1352 (11th Cir.
1997). Accordingly, Plaintiff’s state law claims are dismissed without prejudice. See
Garcia v. Miami Beach Police Dept., 336 F. App’x 858, 860 (11th Cir. 2009) (dismissing
defamation claim for lack of jurisdiction in light of plaintiff to state a constitutional claim).
Pursuant to the above, Plaintiff has failed to state Fourteenth Amendment, Fifth
Amendment, Sixth Amendment, Equal Protection or constitutional defamation claim.
The court declines to exercise jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s remaining state law claims.
Accordingly, his complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice.
SO ORDERED, this 18th day of August, 2017
S/ C. Ashley Royal
C. ASHLEY ROYAL, SENIOR JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
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