Lenoir v. Montana State et al
ORDER DISMISSING CASE. Motion to amend 4 GRANTED. Motion to compel 6 DENIED. To the extent Lenoir seeks to raise claims under state law, the Court DECLINES to exercise supplemental jurisdiction. Any appeal of this disposition would not be taken in good faith. Signed by Judge Brian Morris on 1/19/2023. Transmitted electronically to prison for delivery to inmate. (TAG)
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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MONTANA
JASON DEVON LENOIR,
Cause No. CV 22-43-H-BMM
MONTANA STATE; SOUTH
DAKOTA; UNKNOWN C/O OF MSP
Plaintiff Jason Devon Lenoir filed a Complaint invoking the Montana Tort
Claims Act, Mont. Code Ann. § 2-9-101 (2021), and the Fourteenth Amendment
on June 27, 2022. See Compl. (Doc. 1 at 1.) Lenoir’s second supplement (Doc. 5)
clarifies that he is proceeding under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Second Supp. (Doc. 5 at
Lenoir was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis, see Order (Doc. 7),
but he also paid the full amount of the filing fee. See Docket Entry July 7, 2022.
Lenoir is a prisoner. The Court must, therefore, review Lenoir’s Complaint
to determine whether it fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. See 28
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U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). A federal court must liberally construe pleadings filed
by unrepresented incarcerated persons and extend an opportunity to amend where
appropriate. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam); Akhtar
v. Mesa, 698 F.3d 1202, 1212 (9th Cir. 2012). The Court must dismiss a claim
when its defects cannot be cured by amendment. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).
II. Lenoir’s Pleadings
After Lenoir filed his Complaint, he filed a motion to amend and proposed
amendment. (Doc. 4.) About one week later, Lenoir submitted a document
containing allegations similar to, but different from, his original Complaint (Doc.
A plaintiff is entitled to amend his pleading once without leave of court. See
Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1)(A). Lenoir’s amendment (Doc. 4 at 2) adjusts his request
for damages in the original complaint, and he was not required to submit a motion
before making that amendment. The “supplement” containing new allegations
(Doc. 5) required leave of court, but its allegations are similar and not extensive.
The Court will allow the second amendment (Doc. 5) as well. Lenoir’s complaint
consists of all three of these pleadings. (Docs. 1, 4, 5.)
III. Lenoir’s Allegations
Lenoir states that Montana State Prison officers transported him from
Montana State Prison (“MSP”) to South Dakota State Prison (“SDSP”), where he
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stayed for about two weeks. He alleges that, at the time he left MSP, his legal
work, SCORE 5 MP3 player, and charger were in the back seat of the vehicle. See
Compl. (Doc. 1 at 1.) Unlike his other property, which was shipped to and from
SDSP, none of these items went through security to be logged. See (Doc. 1 at 4;
Doc. 1-1 at 5, 8.)1 When he arrived at SDSP, he was not permitted to have any
property. When he returned to MSP, he regained his legal work but not the MP3
player. He concludes that either MSP or SDSP are liable for the loss of his player.
See Compl. (Doc. 1 at 6.)
In the supplement, Lenoir asserts that he spent 15 days in disciplinary
detention at MSP from January 19 to February 2, 2022. When he returned to his
cell, his alarm clock was missing. He asserts that other inmates told him that “his
max cell door had been opened and an inmate had stolen his alarm clock.” (Doc. 5
at 2.) He contends that the action of “the prison official who opened Lenoir’s door
to another maximum security inmate” amounted to a “state-created danger,” thus
establishing a duty to protect his property. (Id. at 1–2.) He also asserts that at least
two other inmates have lost items of personal property. (Id. at 14.)
Since returning to MSP from SDSP, Lenoir has purchased a new MP3
player, but he seeks compensatory damages for the lost player and the loss of its
Some of the grievance forms Lenoir submitted with his pleadings are not legible copies.
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use. He also seeks punitive damages of $2,000 and reimbursement for the filing
fee, $402. (Doc. 1 at 2, 4–6; Doc. 4 at 2.) Lenoir seeks $5,000 from the State of
Montana “[i]n light of the danger [that] Montana’s negligence” posed to “Lenoir’s
property and legal work.” (Doc. 4 at 2.) It is not clear whether he also seeks up to
$10,000,000 in punitive damages. (Id.)
For the following reasons, Lenoir’s complaint fails to state a claim on which
relief may be granted.
Negligence and accident are “[f]ar from an abuse of power.” Daniels v.
Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 332 (1986). “To hold that injury caused by such conduct is
a deprivation within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment would trivialize
the centuries-old principle of due process of law.” Id. Lenoir has no recourse under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a negligent act resulting in loss of his property.
The Court can entertain claims under state law, see 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), but
will not if all claims rooted in federal law are dismissed. See § 1367(c)(3), (d).
B. Procedural Due Process
Jail officials must provide due process before they deprive inmates of
property pursuant to policies or rules. See, e.g., Shinault v. Hawks, 782 F.3d 1053,
1057 (9th Cir. 2015). It is impossible to provide due process before an unexpected
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and unauthorized deprivation of property, such as might be caused by loss,
accident, or theft. When policy is not the reason for depriving an inmate of his
property, the constitutional guarantee of due process is satisfied if an adequate
post-deprivation remedy is available to the inmate. See Hudson v. Palmer, 468
U.S. 517, 533 (1984); see also, e.g., Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 129–130
(1990); Barnett v. Centoni, 31 F.3d 813, 816 (9th Cir. 1994) (per curiam). The
Montana Tort Claims Act, Mont. Code Ann. §§ 2-9-101, et seq., provides just such
a remedy—the process that is constitutionally due. That remedy is adequate even if
it does not provide the same type or extent of relief as an action under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 would. See Hudson, 468 U.S. at 531.
The facts Lenoir alleges do not support an inference that a prison employee
or official followed policy in depriving him of his alarm clock or his MP3 player.
In fact, he alleges the opposite. See (Doc. 5 at 2–5) (“An inmate entering another’s
cell is absolutely against policy and procedure.”) To the extent policy allows an
inmate to work on the cell block, it also requires an officer to observe. See id. at
14–15 (quoting policy and referring to inmate swampers). Possibly an officer
failed to follow policy by failing to keep watch over the inmate. If so, Lenoir
alleges only negligence. Alternatively, an officer may have intentionally allowed
an inmate to take Lenoir’s property. If so, Lenoir does not claim that act was
authorized by policy, so the right to due process is vindicated through the Montana
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Tort Claims Act. In either case, Lenoir cannot state a claim under § 1983 for
violation of his right to procedural due process.
C. Eighth Amendment
To trigger the protection of the Eighth Amendment, an inmate must show
that “a prison official’s act or omission [resulted] in the denial of ‘the minimal
civilized measure of life’s necessities.’” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834
(1994) (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). Lenoir asserts
that employees and officials at MSP are deliberately indifferent to substantial risks
of serious harm to inmates’ property. He emphasizes that his legal work could have
been lost to an inmate entering his cell. See, e.g. (Doc. 5 at 5–9.)
The Eighth Amendment protects inmates’ health and safety. It prohibits
guards from using “physical force against prisoners” that is “excessive” in relation
to the situation at hand. It guarantees “humane conditions of confinement”—that
is, “adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.” It demands that guards
“take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates . . . from violence
at the hands of other prisoners.” Farmer, 511 U.S. 832–33 (internal quotation
marks and citations omitted). Undoubtedly, “[b]eing violently assaulted in prison is
simply not ‘part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against
society.’” Id. at 834 (quoting Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347).
Personal items certainly can be personally meaningful and important to the
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subjective well-being of an inmate serving time in prison. Occasionally losing
personal property to the predations of other inmates is discouraging, frustrating,
and not something an inmate should have to experience. Lenoir’s allegations are
not “objectively, ‘sufficiently serious’” to rise to the level of cruel and unusual
punishment. See Id. at 834 (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, (1991)). The
Eighth Amendment does not condone deliberate emotional torture, but it also does
not protect or guarantee inmates’ subjective well-being. Occasional loss of
personal property items does not remotely approach the nature of the harm an
inmate must show in order to call on the protection of the Eighth Amendment.
Legal work does not implicate the Eighth Amendment. As Lenoir did not
lose any of his work, he also has no claim for violation of his right to access to the
courts. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 348 (1996).
D. Supervisory Liability
To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against supervisory officials for
inadequately training subordinates, a plaintiff must show that “the lack of training
actually caused the constitutional harm or deprivation of rights.” Hyde v. City of
Wilcox, 23 F.4th 863, 874 (9th Cir. 2022); see also Felarca v. Birgeneau, 891 F.3d
809, 819–20 (9th Cir. 2018); Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1207–08 (9th Cir.
Lenoir alleges that supervisory officials at MSP must not be adequately
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training the officers who work in the cell blocks, because multiple inmates have
lost items of personal property. See, e.g., (Doc. 5 at 14.) Lenoir’s allegations fail to
show a violation of any of his constitutionally guaranteed rights. Therefore, he
cannot state a claim against supervisory officials for failing to provide training that
prevents such violations.
E. State-Created Danger
Acknowledging that “[t]he Due Process Clause does not confer an
affirmative right to governmental aid or impose a duty on the state to protect
individuals from third parties,” Momox-Caselis v. Donohue, 987 F.3d 835, 845
(9th Cir. 2021), Lenoir alleges that the act of the prison guard who opened the door
of his cell amounted to a “state-created danger,” thus establishing a duty to protect
his property against other inmates. See (Doc. 5 at 1–2.)
The state-created danger doctrine does not apply to this case. The doctrine
establishes only the State’s duty to provide aid or protection, not the scope of the
aid or protection due. Lenoir is a prisoner in state custody. The State’s duty to
protect him against acts of other prisoners is beyond question. The Eighth and
Fourteenth Amendments define the scope and nature of its duty to Lenoir under the
circumstances here. His allegations do not show a violation of either.
F. Substantive Due Process
Finally, Lenoir asserts a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment right to
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substantive due process. See (Doc. 5 at 1–2.) The U.S. Supreme Court, as a general
matter, “has always been reluctant to expand the concept of substantive due
process because the guideposts for responsible decisionmaking in this unchartered
area are scarce and open-ended.” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271–72, 273
(1994) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The protections of
substantive due process have for the most part been accorded to matters relating to
marriage, family, procreation, and the right to bodily integrity. Id. The U.S.
Supreme Court recognized that “[w]here a particular Amendment provides an
explicit textual source of constitutional protection against a particular sort of
government behavior, that Amendment, not the more generalized notion of
substantive due process, must be the guide for analyzing these claims.” Id.
Neither the Eighth nor the Fourteenth Amendment was violated by Lenoir’s
loss of his personal property items. The facts he alleges do not suggest that any of
his other constitutional rights might have been violated. His failure to state a claim
under the applicable law does not authorize resort to an “unchartered area” of
Lenoir does not name an individual defendant who is subject to suit under 42
U.S.C. § 1983. See, e.g., Will v. Michigan Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71
(1989). He has asked the Court to compel Warden Salmonsen or “Montana State
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Prison” to produce evidence enabling him to identify an individual responsible for
admitting an inmate into his cell. See, e.g., Mot. to Compel (Doc. 6 at 3.) Lenoir
fails to allege facts supporting a claim against any potential defendant.
V. Amendment and Certification
Lenoir’s loss of his MP3 player and his alarm clock was unfortunate and
understandably troublesome to him. As Lenoir did not lose them pursuant to policy
but pursuant to failure to follow policy, the Court cannot conceive of how their
loss, theft, or destruction could rise to the level of violating the United States
Constitution. Montana law provides an adequate post-deprivation remedy. Neither
the Eighth Amendment nor substantive due process is remotely implicated on the
facts Lenoir alleges.
Lenoir could not cure the defects of his pleading by alleging additional facts
or naming appropriate defendants. He would have to plead altogether different
facts than he has alleged. The amended complaint is dismissed without further
leave to amend.
Lenoir’s property loss does not support any good-faith disagreement over
whether or how the law applies to the facts. An appeal would be legally and
factually unrealistic. See Fed. R. App. P. 24(a)(3)(A), (4)(B).
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Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED:
1. The motion to amend (Doc. 4) is GRANTED. The amended complaint
consists of Lenoir’s original complaint, amendment, and supplement (Docs. 1, 4-1,
2. The motion to compel (Doc. 6) is DENIED.
3. The amended complaint (Docs. 1, 4, 5) is DISMISSED with prejudice.
4. To the extent Lenoir seeks to raise claims under state law, the Court
DECLINES to exercise supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
5. The Court CERTIFIES that any appeal of this disposition would not be
taken in good faith.
6. The clerk shall enter, by separate document, a judgment of dismissal with
DATED this 19th day of January, 2023.
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