Taylor v. Pennington et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by District Judge Sharion Aycock on 11/7/17. (cr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
CHARLIE LEE TAYLOR
RICHARD PENNINGTON, ET AL.
This matter comes before the court on the pro se prisoner complaint of Charlie Lee Taylor,
who challenges the conditions of his confinement under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the purposes of the
Prison Litigation Reform Act, the court notes that the plaintiff was incarcerated when he filed this suit.
The plaintiff has brought the instant case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a federal cause of
action against “[e]very person” who under color of state authority causes the “deprivation of any
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The
plaintiff makes allegations ranging from unfair internal procedures by a prison religious organization
to unlawful lockdowns in his prison unit, to denial of adequate medical care. For the reasons set forth
below, all of the plaintiff’s claims, other than denial of adequate medical care, will be dismissed.
Charlie Lee Taylor’s History of Filing Meritless Cases and Claims
Before proceeding, the court must note Mr. Taylor’s lengthy history of abusing the judicial
process. Mr. Taylor is no stranger to this court, as he has filed many cases here – and is always a
litigant with, to say the least – a brisk motion practice. His filings are often lengthy and meandering.
As detailed below, he has been sanctioned by this court, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the
United States Supreme Court for filing a host of meritless suits and appeals of adverse rulings.
Charlie Taylor’s Strikes, Frivolous Dismissals, and Sanctions:
Twelve Strikes Accumulated
Cases Originating in the Northern District
Taylor v. Bryan, 1:98CV222-LTS – Dismissed, frivolous
Taylor v. Pennington, 4:01CV198-WAP-JAD – Dismissed, frivolous
Taylor v. Davidson, 1:02MC6-JAD – Dismissed, failure to state a claim. Sanction
imposed, pauper status denied, must seek permission to file future complaints.
Taylor v. Carlize, 4:04CV24-MPM-DAS – Dismissed, failure to state a claim
Taylor v. Milton, 4:04CV133-WAP-SAA – Dismissed, failure to state a claim
Fifth Circuit: Taylor v. Milton, 04-60569 – Dismissed, frivolous
Supreme Court: Taylor v. Milton – Imposed sanction, precluded from
proceeding as a pauper
Taylor v. Stanciel, 4:04CV339-WAP-SAA – Dismissed, failure to state a claim,
court imposed sanction requiring Taylor to submit proposed complaints to the
Chief Judge for screening
Fifth Circuit: Taylor v. Stanciel, 05-60428 – Dismissed, frivolous, $500
Fifth Circuit: Taylor v. Cabano, 05-60526 – Dismissed, frivolous
Taylor v. Sparkman, 4:11CV98-GHD-SAA – Complaint returned – did not seek
permission to proceed with complaint as required in previous sanction
Cases Originating in the Southern District
Taylor v. Waddle, 3:01CV183-WHB-AGN – Dismissed, counted as strike
Taylor v. Noblin, 3:01CV448-WHB-AGN – Dismissed, frivolous, counted as
Taylor v. Ezell, 2:01CV150-CWP-LG – Dismissed, counted as strike
(1) Charlie Taylor has filed many other federal cases which courts dismissed for reasons not
qualifying as strikes: failure to exhaust, failure to comply with an order of the court, failure to
pay the filing fee, etc.
(2) Also, Mr. Taylor has pursued relief in the Mississippi Supreme Court or Mississippi Court of
Appeals some 14 times, for various reasons.
(3) Finally, Mr. Taylor has also pursued habeas corpus relief five times in this court.
Charlie Taylor makes five basic allegations, which the court outlines below. Of these, only his
claim regarding denial of adequate medical care will proceed.
Internal Procedures of Religious Organization
First, Mr. Taylor alleges that the internal procedures of the Kairos Prison Ministry are unfair.
Taylor states that Kairos members are not permitted to elect a Rector each year, which deprives him of
his constitutional rights to due process and equal protection. He alleges that the current entrenched
Kairos leadership has formed a “holier-than-thou” clique, driving away other inmates participating in
the Kairos Ministry. Federal courts are, however, powerless to intervene in such matters:
[T]he First and Fourteenth Amendments permit hierarchical religious organizations to
establish their own rules and regulations for internal discipline and government, and to
create tribunals for adjudicating disputes over these matters. When this choice is
exercised and ecclesiastical tribunals are created to decide disputes over the
government and direction of subordinate bodies, the Constitution requires that civil
courts accept their decisions as binding upon them.
Serbian E. Orthodox Diocese for U. S. of Am. & Canada v. Milivojevich, 426 U.S. 696, 724–25,
96 S. Ct. 2372, 2387–88, 49 L. Ed. 2d 151 (1976). Indeed, “religious freedom encompasses the
“power (of religious bodies) to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of
church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.” Id., citing Kedroff v. St. Nicholas
Cathedral, 344 U.S. 94, 116, 73 S.Ct. 143, 154, 97 L.Ed. 120 (1952). Determining the frequency
of local Kairos elections certainly falls under the rubric of “matters of church government,” and
this court will not interfere in such decisions. This claim must be dismissed for failure to state a
claim upon which relief could be granted.
Improperly Handled Grievances
Second, Mr. Taylor alleges that the defendant Richard Pennington has improperly applied the
Mississippi Department of Corrections grievance procedure. Doc. 1 at 4. A prisoner does not,
however, “have a federally protected liberty interest in having … grievances resolved to his
satisfaction.” Geiger v. Jowers, 404 F.3d 371, 374 (5th Cir. 2005). The United States District
Court for the Norther District of Texas explained this clearly:
[A]n inmate does not have a constitutional entitlement to an adequate grievance
procedure. See e.g., Adams v. Rice, 40 F.3d 72, 75 (4th Cir.1994) (there is no
constitutional right to participate in grievance procedures); Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81
F.3d 1422, 1430-31 (7th Cir.1996) (inmates do not have a constitutional right to an
adequate grievance procedure; any right to inmate grievance procedure is procedural,
not substantive, right and, thus, state's inmate grievance procedures do not give rise to
liberty interest protected by due process clause); Flick v. Alba, 932 F.2d 728, 729 (8th
Cir.1991) (per curiam) (inmates do not have a constitutional right to participate in
grievance procedures); Jenkins v. Henslee, 2002 WL 432948, *2 (N.D.Tex. Mar 15,
2002) (NO. 3-01-CV-1996-R). Although an adequate grievance procedure is a
condition precedent to filing a suit arising under § 1983, see 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a), its
ineffectiveness or altogether absence does not give rise to a constitutional claim.
Hence any alleged violation of the grievance procedure as alleged in Plaintiff's
complaint does not amount to a constitutional violation.
Giddings v. Valdez, No. 3:06-CV-2384-G, 2007 WL 1201577, at *3 (N.D. Tex. Apr. 24, 2007).
For this reason, the plaintiff’s claim regarding the adequacy of Mr. Pennington’s application of
the Mississippi Department of Corrections grievance procedure will be dismissed for failure to
state a claim upon which relief could be granted.
Denial of Adequate Medical Care
Third, Mr. Taylor alleges that the defendants have not provided him a proper cardiovascular
diet and have prevented him from receiving a previously-scheduled colonoscopy. It is unclear
whether these allegations state a valid claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; as such, they will proceed to a
hearing under Spears v. McCotter, 766 F.2d 179 (5th Cir. 1985) to give Taylor an opportunity explain
Fourth, Mr. Taylor alleges that Richard Pennington, Director of the Mississippi Department of
Corrections Administrative Remedy Program, has retaliated against him by refusing to process
Taylor’s grievances regarding denial of adequate medical treatment. Doc. 1 at 4. Mr. Taylor alleges
that the driving force behind Mr. Pennington’s actions is aggravation with Taylor over a 2001 lawsuit
in this court in which Pennington was a defendant: Taylor v. Pennington, 4:01CV198-WAP-JAD.
Prison officials may not retaliate against prisoners for exercising their constitutional rights.
Morris v. Powell, 449 F.3d 682, 684 (5th Cir. 2006). On the other hand, courts must view such claims
with skepticism to keep from getting bogged down in every act of discipline prison officials impose.
Id. The elements of a claim under a retaliation theory are the plaintiff’s invocation of “a specific
constitutional right,” the defendant’s intent to retaliate against the plaintiff for his or her exercise of
that right, a retaliatory adverse act, and causation, i.e., “but for the retaliatory motive the complained
of incident . . . would not have occurred.” Woods v. Smith, 60 F.3d 1161, 1166 (5th Cir.1995)
(citations omitted ), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1084, 116 S. Ct. 800, 133 L. Ed. 2d 747 (1996). A
prisoner seeking to establish a retaliation claim must also show that the prison official's conduct was
sufficiently adverse so that it would be capable of deterring a person of ordinary firmness from
exercising his constitutional rights in the future. Winding v. Grimes, 4:08CV99-FKB, 2010 WL
706515 at 3 (S.D. Miss. Feb. 22, 2010); citing Morris v. Powell, 449 F.3d 682, 684–85 (5th Cir. 2006)
at 685. A single incident involving a minor sanction is insufficient to prove retaliation. Davis v.
Kelly, 2:10CV271-KS-MTP (citing Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 325 (5th Cir. 1999),
2:10CV271-KS-MTP, 2012 WL 3544865 Id.). Similarly, inconsequential (de minimis) acts by prison
officials do not give rise to an actionable retaliation claim. See Morris at 685.
In this case, Mr. Taylor must prove that he engaged in constitutionally protected activity
(seeking redress for grievances), faced significant adverse consequences, and that such action was
taken “in an effort to chill [his] access to the courts or to punish [him]for having brought suit.”
Enplanar, Inc. v. Marsh, 11 F.3d 1284, 1296 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 926, 115 S. Ct. 312, 130
L. Ed. 2d 275 (1994); see also Serio v. Members of Louisiana State Board of Pardons, 821 F.2d 1112,
1114 (5th Cir.1987). The showing in such cases must be more than the prisoner’s “personal belief that
he is the victim of retaliation.” Woods v. Edwards, 51 F.3d 577, 580 (5th Cir. 1995). Johnson v.
Rodriguez, 110 F.3d 299, 310 (5th Cir. 1997).
The Fifth Circuit has made clear the dangers of permitting retaliation claims to proceed in the
absence of factual allegations to support an inference of a retaliatory motive. In Whittington v.
Lynaugh, 842 F.2d 818, 819 (5th Cir. 1988), the plaintiff, Daniel Johnson, had filed numerous
lawsuits against administrators and staff within the Texas prison system. The defendants then
denied Johnson’s request to have his custody status upgraded, and Johnson alleged that the
denial was in retaliation for filing his previous suits. Id. The Fifth Circuit rejected Johnson’s
claim – and explained why courts must insist upon specific factual allegations to support an
inference of retaliation:
If we were to hold that [Johnson] by his allegations in this case had established a case
which was entitled to the full panoply of discovery, appointment of counsel, jury trial
and the like, we would be establishing a proposition that would play havoc with every
penal system in the country. Prison administrators must classify and move prisoners.
It is a virtual truism that any prisoner who is the subject of an administrative decision
that he does not like feels that he is being discriminated against for one reason or
another, such as the past filing of a grievance, a complaint about food or a cellmate, or
a prior complaint that he was not being treated equally with other prisoners. If we
were to uphold the further pursuit of [Johnson’s] complaint in this case we would be
opening the door to every disgruntled prisoner denied the next level of trustyship,
reassigned to another prison job, moved to another cell, [or] claiming his shoes were
uncomfortable, to bring such a suit.
Whittington v. Lynaugh, 842 F.2d 818, 819 (5th Cir. 1988). Prisoners routinely file grievances
and lawsuits against prison staff on an ongoing basis, for any number of reasons. As such, it is
not uncommon for a prisoner to file a grievance or suit, then receive a Rule Violation Report
sometime thereafter. Thus, to avoid turning nearly every charge of prison rule violations against
a prisoner into a claim of retaliation, courts insist upon additional allegations or evidence to
substantiate a retaliation claim, such as prison staff issuing threats of disciplinary action if an
inmate files further grievances, staff members pulling an inmate aside to threaten him, members
of prison staff perpetrating unprovoked acts of violence against an inmate, or prison staff
members wholly fabricating charges of prison rule violations against an inmate. See Decker v.
McDonald, 2010 WL 1424322 (E.D. Tex. 2010) (Magistrate Judge’s Report and
Recommendation) (unpublished), adopted by the District Court, 2010 WL 1424292 (E.D. Tex.)
In this case, Mr. Taylor has not alleged facts sufficient to support a claim of retaliation.
First, the case Mr. Taylor uses to establish a basis for retaliation was filed in 2001, some 16 years
ago. It is simply unfathomable that Mr. Pennington would wait more than a decade and a half to
retaliate for the filing of a lawsuit. In addition, that suit, Taylor v. Pennington, 4:01CV198-WAPJAD, was dismissed as frivolous – before the defendants were even served with process. Thus, it is
doubtful that Mr. Pennington was even aware of the suit. Indeed, Mr. Pennington, as the Director of
the Administrative Remedy Program, has been named as a defendant in many suits: at least 49 in this
district and 10 in the Southern District. The sheer number of cases against him makes it even less
likely that he would be aware of any one in particular. In this situation, Charlie Taylor has only his
personal belief that he is the victim of retaliation, and that is insufficient to sustain such a claim.
Woods v. Edwards, 51 F.3d 577, 580 (5th Cir. 1995). Johnson v. Rodriguez, 110 F.3d 299, 310 (5th
Cir. 1997). For these reasons, Mr. Taylor’s claim of retaliation against Richard Pennington will be
dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.
Improper Lockdowns of Taylor’s Unit
Fifth, Charlie Taylor alleges that defendant Sonja Stanciel has unlawfully and unnecessarily
locked down the plaintiff’s prison facility. Taylor believes that these lockdowns were unneeded
[there was] no threat to staff nor offenders. The victim was beaten by his own gang
for gambling without any money – disciplining him for causing or trying to start
trouble on the zone. A fist fight, no weapon, no major medical, no Rule Violation
Reports written, and staff was not hurt or in danger.
Doc. 1 at 54. In response to Taylor’s grievance about the lockdowns, Earnest Lee, Superintendent of
the Mississippi State Penitentiary, stated that the lockdowns were necessary because of altercations
between inmates and introduction of contraband into the facility. Doc. 1 at 56. A prison policy or
practice is constitutional as long as it is reasonably related to a legitimate penological objective of the
facility. Hay v. Waldron, 834 F.2d 481, 487-87 (5th Cir. 1987). Mr. Taylor makes light of an inmateon-inmate beating in his unit – insisting that a full lockdown was unnecessary. However, the
lockdown is reasonably related to the legitimate penological interest of inmate and guard safety and
security, and the court will not second-guess the judgment of the Superintendent and Warden, who are
on-site and familiar with the conditions at the facility. These allegations will also be dismissed for
failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.
Confiscation of Legal Material
Sixth, Taylor alleges that defendant Sonja Stanciel illegally confiscated his legal materials,
thus interfering with his access to the courts while he prosecutes an application for post-conviction
collateral relief in state court. He alleges that he is unable to prosecute the application without access
to those legal materials. Mr. Taylor’s various grievances and the responses to them indicate that Ms.
Stanciel ordered the confiscation of Mr. Taylor’s box of legal documents because they were more than
the allowable 6 inches thick. Doc. 1 at 63-65, Doc. 9 at 17-18. According to the Administrative
Remedy Program responses, Mr. Taylor has access to his documents, but he must swap them out so
that he has no more than 6 inches of them in his cell at a time. Id. Mr. Taylor’s application for postconviction relief is still pending before the Mississippi Supreme Court. See Taylor v. State of
Mississippi, 2015-M-01150 (Mississippi Supreme Court).
Prisoners possess a constitutional right of access to courts, including having the “ability . . . to
prepare and transmit a necessary legal document to court.” Eason v. Thaler, 73 F.3d 1322, 1328 (5th
Cir. 1996), quoting Brewer v. Wilkinson, 3 F.3d 816, 821 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1123
(1994). The right of access to the courts is limited to allow prisoners opportunity to file nonfrivolous
claims challenging their convictions or conditions of confinement. Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322,
325 (5th Cir. 1999). “Interference with a prisoner’s right to access to the courts, such as delay, may
result in a constitutional deprivation.” Chriceol v. Phillips, 169 F.3d 313, 317 (5th Cir. 1999) (citations
However, “[a] denial-of-access-to-the-courts claim is not valid if a litigant’s position is not
prejudiced by the alleged violation.” Ruiz v. United States, 160 F.3d 273, 275 (5th Cir. 1998);
Henthorn v. Swinson, 955 F.2d 351, 354 (5th Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 504 U.S. 988 (1992), citing
Richardson v. McDonnell, 841 F.2d 120, 122 (5th Cir. 1988). It is only when a prisoner suffers some
sort of actual prejudice or detriment from denial of access to the courts that the allegation becomes one
of constitutional magnitude. Walker v. Navarro County Jail, 4 F.3d 410, 413 (5th Cir. 1993); see
Howland v. Kilquist, 833 F.2d 639, 642 (7th Cir. 1987). To prove his claim, a plaintiff must show real
detriment – a true denial of access – such as the loss of a motion, the loss of a right to commence,
prosecute or appeal in a court, or substantial delay in obtaining a judicial determination in a
proceeding. See Oaks v. Wainwright, 430 F.2d 241 (5th Cir. 1970).
An inmate’s right of access to the courts may be fulfilled in ways other than access to a law
library. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351,116 S.Ct. 2174, 2180 (1996). The right of access to the
courts is not “an abstract, freestanding right to a law library or legal assistance[;] an inmate cannot
establish relevant actual injury simply by establishing that his prison's law library or legal assistance
program is subpar in some theoretical sense.” Id. When a state provides adequate legal assistance to a
prisoner, the state has fulfilled its obligation to provide him access to the courts – and need not provide
access to a law library. “Inmates are entitled to either adequate law libraries or adequate assistance
from persons trained in the law, but certainly not both.” Meeks v. California Dep't of Corrections,
1993 WL 330724 (9th Cir. Aug. 31, 1993), citing Bounds, 430 U.S. at 828.
In the papers Taylor has presented to the court, he has not alleged that defendant Sonja
Stanciel has utterly deprived him of his legal files. Instead, he alleges that she confiscated his box of
legal materials and put them in the personal property locker. The documents the plaintiff has provided
to the court show that he still has access to his legal materials – but may only possess a six-inch stack
of documents at a time. Mr. Taylor has filed multiple motions for enlargement of time while
prosecuting his application for state post-conviction collateral relief in state court. Taylor v. State of
Mississippi, 2015-M-1150.1 In these motions, he complains that Warden Stanciel confiscated his box
of legal materials. Id. The documents attached to these motions show that Taylor still has access to
those materials – but cannot keep more than a six-inch stack of them in his cell. Id. Thus, he must use
some materials, then swap them out when he needs more. The Mississippi Department of Corrections
The court takes judicial notice of prior proceedings involving the petitioner, both state and federal.
Moore v. Estelle, 526 F.2d 690, 694 (5th Cir. 1976).
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policy Mr. Taylor provided with his complaint states that prison officials must make a log entry each
time an inmate accesses stored legal materials. Doc. 1 at 65. Taylor did not provide a copy of the log
with his complaint, and he has not alleged a complete denial of access to his files. He seems to have
chosen his words carefully – stating only that he cannot access his entire bankers box of legal
materials at once – without mentioning whether he has access to six inches’ worth of documents at a
time. He certainly did not object to Ms. Stanciel’s assertion that he is free to request the documents he
requires – and to switch them out when he needs others.
The court knows from many similar cases over the years that all inmates in the Mississippi
Department of Corrections face this restriction. In the present case, Mr. Taylor even included the
Mississippi Department of Corrections policy regarding possession of legal documents in his
complaint. Doc. 1 at 65. Indeed, Mr. Taylor made a substantially identical claim in a previous case
before this court. Taylor v. Stanciel, 4:04CV339-WAP-SAA (Memorandum Opinion of March 17,
2005). In that case, Mr. Taylor had multiple bankers boxes of legal materials in the property room –
more than the number allowed under Mississippi Department of Corrections policy. Id. Though he
was invited many times to provide the name and address of someone in the Free World who could
keep the excess boxes, he refused to do so. Id. After many warnings, prison personnel finally
destroyed the documents. Id. Thus, in the earlier case, Mr. Taylor’s “stubborn refusal to cooperate in
that process” led to the destruction of his legal documents. Id. It appears that Mr. Taylor is now
stubbornly refusing to follow the prison procedure for exchanging legal papers into and out of his box
in storage at the facility.
In addition, the Mississippi Supreme Court’s public website reveals that the case for which he
requires portions of his legal files is still pending. Taylor v. State of Mississippi, 2015-M-1150. Mr.
Taylor has requested – and received – multiple extensions of his briefing deadline in that court, based
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upon the confiscation of the bankers box of documents from his cell. Id. He most recently requested
such an extension on October 16, 2017. Id. Hence, he has suffered no harm to any legal position
because his box of documents was placed in the property room. For these reasons, the plaintiff’s
allegations regarding denial of access to the courts should be dismissed for failure to state a
For the reasons set forth above, all of the plaintiff’s claims in this case will be dismissed,
except for his claims against Dr. Kyper, Medical Director for the Mississippi State Penitentiary, for
denial of adequate medical care regarding a cardiovascular diet and a colonoscopy. A judgment
consistent with this memorandum opinion will issue today.
SO ORDERED, this, the 7th day of November, 2017.
/s/ Sharion Aycock___________
U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
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