Gilchrist v. Pinson et al
ORDER RULING ON REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION. The court adopts the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation 50 and incorporates it herein by reference. Defendant's motion to dismiss 18 is granted. Signed by Chief Judge Margaret B Seymour on 9/19/2012. (mcot, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Jimmy G. Gilchrist,
) Civil Action No. 5:11-01746-MBS-KDW
ORDER AND OPINION
Eliane Pinson; John Doe #1; Mrs. Greer;
Gregory Nolan; John Doe #2; John Doe #3;
Tessie Smith; Mr. Kammerer; Ms. Coleman;
all in their official and individual capacities,
Jimmy G. Gilchrist (“Plaintiff”), an inmate with the South Carolina Department of
Corrections (“SCDC”), filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action on July 22, 2011, alleging that
Defendants violated his constitutional rights. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local
Rule 73.02, D.S.C., on July 22, 2011, the within action was referred to United States Magistrate
Judge Kevin F. McDonald for pretrial handling. ECF No. 2. On October 10, 2011, Defendants
filed a motion to dismiss. ECF. No. 18. On October 14, 2011, the Magistrate Judge filed an
order pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising Plaintiff of the
consequences if he failed to adequately respond to Defendants’ motion to dismiss. ECF No. 21.
Plaintiff responded to Defendants’ motion to dismiss on October 27, 2011. ECF No. 23. On
January 2, 2012, the matter was reassigned to Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West. ECF No. 41.
Plaintiff is an inmate housed at the Manning Correctional Institution (“Manning”) in
Columbia, South Carolina. ECF No. 1 at 2. Plaintiff alleges that his constitutional rights were
violated when he was transferred between three prison facilities within the SCDC. Plaintiff avers
that when he was transferred, his custody status was revoked, and he lost his earned work credits.
ECF No. 1 at 23. Plaintiff contends that he possesses a state-created liberty interest in his
custody status that cannot be taken away without due process. Id. Plaintiff argues that his
custody status constitutes a protected liberty interest because, when the SCDC changes a
prisoner’s custody status, the prisoner loses whatever earned work credits he had accrued, which
in effect lengthens the duration of the prisoner’s sentence. Id. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages
and injunctive relief.
The following facts are according to Plaintiff’s complaint. On the morning of May 12,
2009, Plaintiff was working on the farm at the Walden Correctional Institution (“Walden”) when
a prison official ordered him to change out of his work clothes. Id. A prison official placed
Plaintiff in handcuffs and returned him to the prison facility where he was eventually placed in
leg irons. Id. Plaintiff asked Sergeant Howard, who is not a defendant in this case, what he had
done wrong, but Sergeant Howard told Plaintiff that he would find out later. Id. At around
12:15 p.m., Sergeant Howard told Plaintiff that he was going to be placed in “lock-up” and
transferred to the Turbeville Correctional Institution (“Turbeville”). Id. Although Plaintiff was
unaware of why he was being transferred, a prison official told Plaintiff that his custody status
would change automatically because Plaintiff was moving from a “minimum out” camp to a
“minimum in” camp, a higher level security facility. Id.
On May 14, 2009, Plaintiff appeared before the classification board at Turbeville. Id. at
24. Defendant Greer, Plaintiff’s classification caseworker at the time, attended and signed off on
the decision to change Plaintiff’s custody status. Id. Plaintiff attempted to explain to the board
that he did not agree with its decision, but before he could, an officer instructed Plaintiff to leave.
Id. On the same day, Plaintiff’s sister contacted “Headquarters” and spoke with Arthur Houston,
who is not a defendant in this case, regarding her brother’s transfer from Walden to Turbeville.
Id. Houston indicated that the transfer request had come from Walden and that he had signed the
paper work that effected the transfer. Id. Houston further indicated that Plaintiff had not been in
trouble at Walden. Id. Next, Plaintiff’s sister contacted Defendant Pinson, the warden at
Walden. Id. Defendant Pinson told Plaintiff’s sister that she had signed off on the transfer
because Plaintiff had been deemed a “security risk” but that she did not know the specific reason
why Plaintiff had been given that designation. Id. at 24-25. Plaintiff’s sister also contacted
Turbeville and spoke with Defendant Greer, who was also unaware of the reason for Plaintiff’s
transfer. Id. at 25. On May 15, 2009, Defendant Greer informed Plaintiff that the reason for his
transfer concerned an incident involving a tractor. Id. at 25. Plaintiff never received a formal
notification from SCDC explaining why his minimum out custody status had been revoked. Id.
On May 21, 2009, Plaintiff filed a “Step One” grievance that challenged SCDC’s decision
to transfer Plaintiff from Walden to Turbeville, thereby changing his custody status. Id. In
Plaintiff’s grievance, Plaintiff asserted that he possessed a liberty interest in his custody status,
insofar as a change in custody status affected his earned work credits, and that SCDC deprived
him of that interest without due process. Id. at 10-11. Defendant Nolan, the warden at
Turbeville, denied the grievance on August 10, 2009. Id. at 10. Plaintiff filed a “Step Two”
grievance on August 20, 2009, that Defendant John Doe #2 denied on December 18, 2009. Id. at
12. The author of the denial reasoned that “[d]ue to security concerns involved, [Plaintiff was]
reduced in custody and transferred to a more secure facility.” ECF No. 1 at 12. The author went
on to note that “an inmate’s custody classification involves the exercise of discretion in regards
to security need.” Id. On February 9, 2010, Plaintiff appealed that decision to a state
administrative law court, and on July 2, 2010, the court dismissed the appeal, finding that
Plaintiff did not have a liberty interest in his custody status. Id. at 13-16.
On October 13, 2010, SCDC transferred Plaintiff from Turbeville to Walden, where
Plaintiff had previously been held, and then on October 18, 2010, SCDC transferred Plaintiff to
Manning, where he resides today. Id. at 26. The effect of those transfers was to elevate
Plaintiff’s custody status from minimum out to minimum out restricted, a higher level security
classification. Id. Defendant Smith, the warden at Walden, and Defendant Kammerer, who
recommended Plaintiff for the “minimum restricted out” classification, signed off on the
transfers. Id. The transfers and change in custody status took place without a disciplinary
hearing. Id. On November 2, 2010, Plaintiff filed a grievance, arguing that he was denied due
process when SCDC changed his custody status without providing a hearing. Id. at 6. Defendant
Coleman denied the grievance, noting that the transfer did not affect Plaintiff’s custody status
because Manning, like Warden, is a minimum out institution. Id.
Plaintiff seeks an injunction to restore his earned work credits and damages in the amount
of $100 for each day he was deprived of his minimum out custody status. Id. at 28. On October
10, 201l, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on the following grounds: (1) Plaintiff has failed
to demonstrate that he has a state-created liberty interest in his security classification; (2) Plaintiff
has no cognizable claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (3) the complaint fails to state facts
sufficient to constitute a cause of action. ECF No. 18.
The Magistrate Judge found that a constitutionally protected liberty interest is not
implicated when an inmate is transferred from one prison to another, unless the location of
imprisonment posed an atypical hardship or exceeded the sentence imposed. See Sandin v.
Connor, 515 U.S. 472, 483-84 (1995). Finding no atypical hardship or enlarged sentence, the
Magistrate Judge concluded that Plaintiff’s change in custody status alone does not amount to a
due process violation. Second, the Magistrate Judge determined that Plaintiff’s § 1983 claim
bears on the duration of his sentence, insofar as Plaintiff alleges that the change in custody status
affected his earned work credits. The Magistrate Judge concluded that the claim fails as a matter
of law because Plaintiff must challenge the duration of his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
2254(b). See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475 (1973). Relatedly, the Magistrate Judge
determined that Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), bars Plaintiff’s lawsuit because the
complaint alleges a constitutional defect that, if successfully established, would implicitly
question the appropriate amount of time Plaintiff has left to serve on his sentence. Accordingly,
the Magistrate Judge recommended that Defendants’ motion to dismiss be granted.
The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court. The recommendation
has no presumptive weight. The responsibility for making a final determination remains with
this court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). The court is charged with making a de
novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or
recommendations to which an objection is made. The court may accept, reject, or modify, in
whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the Magistrate Judge. The court may
also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions.
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
Plaintiff has filed a litany of objections, few of which focus on the dispositive parts of the
Magistrate Judge’s findings and many of which reiterate the same contentions Plaintiff set forth
in his complaint and brief in opposition to motion to dismiss. Plaintiff argues that Heck does not
control because Heck involved a § 1983 claim that challenged the validity of a criminal
conviction and this case arises out of an administrative decision within the prison system. ECF
No. 55 at 7. Plaintiff maintains that Preiser does not control because the purpose of his lawsuit
is not to ensure a speedier release from prison but to vindicate the protected liberty interest he
has in his custody status. Id. at 7-9. Elsewhere in Plaintiff’s objections, however, Plaintiff
asserts that the issue is “whether the SCDC can revoke Plaintiff’s custody status without
providing minimum due process protection when the [earned work credits are] based on custody
thus, making the custody level a protected liberty interest.” Id. at 8. As the court interprets that
statement, the question is not whether custody status alone constitutes a protected liberty interest,
but whether custody status, when tied to a prisoner’s earned work credits, constitutes a protected
A prisoner does not possess a protected liberty interest in maintaining a particular custody
status, or in being housed in one prison facility versus another. Sandin v. Connor, 515 U.S. 472,
483-84 (1995); Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238 (1983); Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 224
(1976). Likewise, a prisoner does not possess a protected liberty interest in the opportunity to
earn work credits, even if those credits could shorten the duration of a prisoner’s sentence. Wolff
v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 557 (1974). By contrast, it is well-settled that a prisoner’s statutory
right to sentence-related credits is a protected liberty interest that may not be denied without due
process. Id.; Sandin, 515 U.S. at 477-78. In Wolff, Nebraska prisoners challenged prison
officials’ revocation of “good-time credits” without due process. Id. at 544-45. The Court held
that “the Due Process Clause itself does not create a liberty interest in credit for good behavior,
but that the statutory provision created a liberty interest in a shortened prison sentence which
resulted from good-time credits, credits which were revocable only if the prisoner was guilty of
serious misconduct.” 418 U.S. at 557 (internal quotation marks omitted).
Before a prisoner may be deprived of a protected liberty interest in sentence-related
credits, he must be given some procedural protection. Superintendent, Mass. Corr. Inst. v. Hill,
472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985) (citing Wolff). This includes: “(1) advance written notice of the
disciplinary charges; (2) an opportunity, when consistent with institutional safety and
correctional goals, to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in his defense; and (3) a
written statement by the factfinder of the evidence relied on and the reasons for the disciplinary
action.” Id. Additionally, “some evidence” must support the decision by prison officials to
revoke good-time credits. Id. at 455.
Here, to the extent Plaintiff argues that his custody status alone is a protected liberty
interest, his claim fails under Sandin. If, however, Plaintiff contends that his custody status is a
protected liberty interest by way of its relationship to his earned work credits, then it is
comparable to the liberty interest recognized in Wolff. S.C. Code Ann. § 24-13-230(D) provides
for work and education credits that can reduce the term of a prisoner’s sentence. Under
Subsection D, “[i]f a prisoner commits an offense or violates one of the rules of the institution
during his term of imprisonment all or part of the work credit or education credit he has earned
may be forfeited in the discretion of the official having charge of the prisoner.” Under Wolff,
however, a prisoner must be afforded procedural protection before being deprived of sentence7
related credits. Plaintiff alleges in his complaint that the transfers and custody status
reclassifications that took place in May 2009 and October 2010 reduced his earned work credits.
To what extent the status of Plaintiff’s earned work credits changed, Plaintiff has not pleaded in
detail. In any case, Plaintiff alleges that prison officials told him on both occasions that his
transfers and reclassifications were the result of disciplinary infractions that rendered Plaintiff a
“security risk.” Plaintiff asserts that on neither occasion did he receive the due process protection
that the Court in Wolff held is required when sentence-related credits are at stake. ECF No. 55 at
Plaintiff adequately pleads that his custody status, insofar as it affects his earned work
credits, is a protected liberty interest. Nevertheless, the court need not consider whether Plaintiff
has adequately alleged that the process he received fell short of the standard set forth in Wolff,
because Plaintiff’s claims are barred by the holdings from Preiser and Heck. In Preiser, a group
of prisoners in New York brought a § 1983 lawsuit alleging that the Department of Correctional
Services’ denial of good-time credits violated their constitutional right to due process. 411 U.S.
475 (1973). The prisoners sought an injunction to have their credits restored. Id. at 476-77. The
Court held that although the claims were technically within the scope of section 1983, the
“challenge is just too close to the core of habeas corpus as an attack on the prisoner’s conviction,
for it goes directly to the constitutionality of the confinement . . . itself and seeks immediate
release from that confinement or the shortening of its duration.” Id. at 489. While the holding in
Preiser concerned injunctive relief, in Heck, the Court held that a state prisoner's claim for
damages is not cognizable under § 1983 where success of the action would implicitly question
the validity of the conviction or duration of the sentence, unless the prisoner can demonstrate that
the conviction or sentence has been previously invalidated. 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994). The
Court subsequently extended the ruling in Heck to bar a prisoner’s claim for damages regarding
loss of sentence-related credits. Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 648 (1997). The Court has
further observed that the holdings of Heck and Balisok,
taken together, indicate that a state prisoner's § 1983 action is barred
(absent prior invalidation)—no matter the relief sought (damages or
equitable relief), no matter the target of the prisoner's suit (state
conduct leading to conviction or internal prison proceedings)—if
success in that action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of
confinement or its duration.
Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81–82 (2005).
In this case, Plaintiff makes a claim for injunctive relief and damages. The request for
injunctive relief seeks to have Plaintiff’s earned work credits restored and the claim for damages
seeks $100 for each day Plaintiff was without his minimum out custody status. In asking the
court to restore his earned work credits, Plaintiff seeks relief that would, in effect, shorten the
duration of his sentence, a result barred by Preiser. Likewise, Plaintiff’s claim for damages is
barred. Unless a decision bearing on the duration of a prisoner’s sentence has already been
invalidated, the court cannot award damages when doing so would imply the invalidity of prison
officials’ decision to revoke sentence-related credits. To award damages for each day Plaintiff
has lived without his minimum out custody status would be to implicitly hold that the process by
which Defendants denied Plaintiff his earned work credits was constitutionally deficient.
Because that process has not already been held invalid, § 1983 does not provide Plaintiff a
Accordingly, after a thorough review of the Magistrate Judge's Report and
Recommendation and the record in this case, the court adopts the Magistrate Judge's Report and
Recommendation and incorporates it herein by reference. Defendants’ motion to dismiss is
IT IS ORDERED.
s/ Margaret B. Seymour
Margaret B. Seymour
Chief United States District Judge
Columbia, South Carolina
September 19, 2012
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