LOUIS v. WALTZ et al
REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION re 1 Complaint filed by NIXON LOUIS. Objections to R&R due by 12/14/2017. By MAGISTRATE JUDGE JOHN C. NIVISON. (CWP)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MAINE
GARY WALTZ, et al.,
RECOMMENDED DECISION AFTER SCREENING COMPLAINT
PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e), 1915A
In this action, Plaintiff Nixon Louis, an inmate in the custody of the Maine
Department of Corrections, alleges that Defendant Gary Waltz, property officer for the
Maine State Prison, and Defendant David Allen deprived Plaintiff of due process, subjected
him to cruel and unusual punishment, and discriminated against him on the basis of race.
Plaintiff filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 6), which
application the Court granted. (ECF No. 8.)
In accordance with the in forma pauperis
statute, a preliminary review of Plaintiff’s complaint is appropriate.
28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2). Additionally, Plaintiff’s complaint is subject to screening “before docketing,
if feasible or … as soon as practicable after docketing,” because he is “a prisoner seek[ing]
redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.” 28
U.S.C. § 1915A(a).
Following a review of Plaintiff’s complaint, I recommend the Court dismiss the
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The federal in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, is designed to ensure
meaningful access to the federal courts for those persons unable to pay the costs of bringing
an action. When a party is proceeding in forma pauperis, however, “the court shall dismiss
the case at any time if the court determines,” inter alia, that the action is “frivolous or
malicious” or “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted” or “seeks monetary
relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
“Dismissals [under § 1915] are often made sua sponte prior to the issuance of process, so
as to spare prospective defendants the inconvenience and expense of answering such
complaints.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989).
In addition to the review contemplated by § 1915, Plaintiff’s complaint is subject to
screening under the Prison Litigation Reform Act because Plaintiff currently is incarcerated
and seeks redress from governmental entities or officers. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), (c).
The § 1915A screening requires courts to “identify cognizable claims or dismiss the
complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint (1) is frivolous, malicious, or
fails to state a claim …; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from
such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).
When considering whether a complaint states a claim for which relief may be
granted, courts must assume the truth of all well-plead facts and give the plaintiff the
benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom. Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640
F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
Although a pro se plaintiff’s complaint is subject to “less stringent standards than
formal pleadings drafted by lawyers,” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), this is
“not to say that pro se plaintiffs are not required to plead basic facts sufficient to state a
claim,” Ferranti v. Moran, 618 F.2d 888, 890 (1st Cir. 1980). To allege a civil action in
federal court, it is not enough for a plaintiff merely to allege that a defendant acted
unlawfully; a plaintiff must affirmatively allege facts that identify the manner by which the
defendant subjected the plaintiff to a harm for which the law affords a remedy. Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
Plaintiff alleges that following his transfer to the Maine State Prison, an inmate who
works in the property department of the prison1 informed Plaintiff that a package
containing some of Plaintiff’s personal property had arrived from the Maine Correctional
Center. Plaintiff told the inmate that the package should have been sent to Plaintiff’s
mother, but that, because the package had arrived at the Maine State Prison, he would like
to retrieve some items from the package. The inmate advised Plaintiff that the inmate had
arranged for the package to be shipped to Plaintiff’s mother, and that Plaintiff would need
to make a request with Defendant Waltz, the property officer, if he wanted to retrieve any
of the items.
For purposes of this Recommended Decision, I assume the inmate is “John Dillie property worker”
identified as an additional defendant in Plaintiff’s complaint. (Complaint at 3.)
According to Plaintiff, he made two requests of Defendant Waltz, but Defendant
Waltz did not respond. Plaintiff was subsequently informed that the package had been sent
to his mother. When Plaintiff consulted with his mother, he learned that the package did
not include certain items of jewelry Plaintiff placed in the package.
Plaintiff filed two grievances with Defendant Allen, who denied both grievances.
Plaintiff then wrote to the warden, but the warden did not respond.
Plaintiff asserts Defendants violated his right to due process because his “original
grievance was dismiss[ed] with no other remedy for appeal” (Complaint at 4), because
Defendants did not conduct an investigation, and because Defendants did not inventory
Plaintiff’s property in his presence when the property arrived.2
According to Plaintiff, Defendants deprived him of the following rights protected
by the United States Constitution: the right to due process of law; the right to be free from
unreasonable searches and seizures; the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment;
the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of race; and “retained rights” not
otherwise mentioned in the Constitution (based on Plaintiff’s reference to the Ninth
Plaintiff contends Defendants deprived him of due process because they did not
inventory his property when it arrived at the prison and because they did not address his
Plaintiff asserts that a Sergeant Teal is also responsible for the alleged constitutional deprivations, but
Plaintiff did not identify Sergeant Teal as a defendant.
grievances sufficiently. The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits state deprivation of property
or liberty without due process of law. “To establish a procedural due process claim under
§ 1983, a plaintiff must [demonstrate] that [he] was deprived of a property interest by
defendants acting under color of state law and without the availability of a constitutionally
adequate process.” Maymi v. P.R. Ports Auth., 515 F.3d 20, 29 (1st Cir. 2008). Ordinarily,
a procedural due process violation is complete when a deprivation is imposed through an
established state procedure that does not comply with constitutional procedural standards.
Godin v. Machiasport Sch. Dep’t Bd. of Directors, 831 F. Supp. 2d 380, 389 – 90 (D. Me.
2011); see also Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 132 (1990) (“In situations where the
State feasibly can provide a predeprivation hearing before taking property, it generally
must do so regardless of the adequacy of a postdeprivation tort remedy to compensate for
the taking.”). However, where, as here, a prisoner alleges that an individual deprived him
of property either through negligence or through intentional misconduct (sometimes
referred to as a “random, unauthorized act”), the Due Process Clause is only violated if the
state does not afford meaningful post-deprivation remedies. Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S.
517, 532 – 33 (1984) (“[W]here a loss of property is occasioned by a random, unauthorized
act by a state employee, rather than by an established state procedure ... it is difficult to
conceive of how the State could provide a meaningful hearing before the deprivation takes
place.”) (internal quotations omitted); see also Parrat v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 543 (1981)
(affirming dismissal of due process claim where “the deprivation occurred as a result of
the unauthorized failure of agents of the State to follow established state procedure” related
to the receipt of prisoner packages by mail); Watson v. Caton, 984 F.2d 537, 541 (1st Cir.
1993) (affirming dismissal of due process claim based on defendant’s alleged destruction
of “non-allowable” property that arrived at prison by mail, without providing prisoner
notice and an opportunity to mail the property elsewhere).
The Maine Law Court has recognized that prisoners can appeal to the state courts
from administrative rulings made by the Department of Corrections on prisoner grievances.
Fleming v. Comm’r Dep’t of Corr., 2002 ME 74, ¶ 9, 795 A.2d 692, 695 (Maine Rule of
Civil Procedure 80C(i) allows not only a review of final agency action, but also an
independent claim for damages where appropriate). In addition, under the Maine Tort
Claims Act, governmental entities are liable for property losses arising from the operation
or maintenance of any public building. 14 M.R.S. § 8104-A(2). Maine law thus affords
an individual an adequate remedy for the negligent or intentional destruction of personal
property in the form of a common law conversion claim. Withers v. Hackett, 1998 ME
164, ¶ 7, 714 A.2d 798, 800.
In essence, Plaintiff alleges the deprivation of personal property through the
unauthorized act of someone within the Maine State Prison. Because the circumstances do
not involve the deprivation of property as the result of an established state procedure, such
as a disciplinary proceeding, and because meaningful state remedies are available if
Defendants were responsible for the deprivation, Plaintiff has failed to state an actionable
due process claim.
Search and Seizure
Plaintiff’s complaint might also be construed to assert that the deprivation of his
property was an unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The United
States Supreme Court has held that prisoners have no reasonable expectation of privacy
with respect to searches and seizures of their effects. Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526
(1984); see also id. at 527–28 (“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.”). Because the Fourth
Amendment neither guarantees prisoners the right to possess or retain property free from
interference by prison administrators, nor requires a reasonable basis for the seizure of
prisoner’s possessions, Plaintiff has failed to state an actionable claim for violation of the
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Plaintiff alleges that the combination of the loss of his property and the lack of an
adequate administrative response constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. “It is
undisputed that the treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which
[the prisoner] is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment.” Helling v.
McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993). “Undue suffering, unrelated to any legitimate
penological purpose, is considered a form of punishment proscribed by the Eighth
Amendment.” Kosilek v. Spencer, 774 F.3d 63, 82 (1st Cir. 2014) (citing Estelle v. Gamble,
429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976)). Cruel and unusual punishment consists of the denial of “the
minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities” assessed based on “the contemporary
standard of decency.” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981).
Plaintiff’s alleged loss of certain jewelry items and an inadequate administrative
response to his grievances do not constitute “the denial of the minimal civilized measure
of life’s necessities.” Id. Plaintiff, therefore, has not asserted an actionable claim under
the Eighth Amendment.
Plaintiff alleges Defendants’ conduct was motivated by discrimination. The Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits racial discrimination. AponteRamos v. Alvarez-Rubio, 783 F.3d 905, 908 (1st Cir. 2015). To prove his case, Plaintiff
must demonstrate that Defendants’ conduct was motivated by “racially discriminatory
intent or purpose.” Vill. of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252,
265 (1977). “Determining whether invidious discriminatory purpose was a motivating
factor demands a sensitive inquiry into such circumstantial and direct evidence of intent as
may be available.” Id. at 266. Plaintiff must “tender competent evidence that a state actor
intentionally discriminated against [him] because [he] belonged to a protected class.”
Alexis v. McDonald’s Rest. of Mass., Inc., 67 F.3d 341, 354 (1st Cir. 1995).
Plaintiff has not alleged any facts that would support a finding that Defendants’
conduct was motivated by a discriminatory purpose. Because Plaintiff’s allegations are
entirely conclusory, Plaintiff has failed to state an actionable claim of discrimination.
The Ninth Amendment states: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain
rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” U.S.
Const. amend. IX. Simply stated, the Ninth Amendment “does not create substantive rights
beyond those conferred by governing law.” Martinez-Rivera v. Sanchez Ramos, 498 F.3d
3, 9 (1st Cir. 2007) (quoting Vega–Rodriguez v. Puerto Rico Tel. Co., 110 F.3d 174, 182
(1st Cir. 1997), and affirming the dismissal of any Ninth Amendment claim). Plaintiff’s
mere reference to the Ninth Amendment thus fails to state an actionable federal claim.
Based on the foregoing analysis, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A(a), I recommend the Court dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint.3
A party may file objections to those specified portions of a magistrate
judge's report or proposed findings or recommended decisions entered
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) for which de novo review by the district
court is sought, together with a supporting memorandum, within fourteen
(14) days of being served with a copy thereof.
Failure to file a timely objection shall constitute a waiver of the right
to de novo review by the district court and to appeal the district court's order.
/s/ John C. Nivison
U.S. Magistrate Judge
Dated this 30th day of November, 2017.
To the extent Plaintiff attempted to assert a claim against another inmate (i.e., “John Dillie property
worker” identified as an additional defendant in the complaint), Plaintiff has failed to allege any facts that
would support an actionable federal claim against the inmate.
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