Villasana v. Pittman
MEMORANDUM OPINION signed by Chief Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr on 12/5/2017. (xc:Pro se party by regular mail. ) (DOCKET TEXT SUMMARY ONLY-ATTORNEYS MUST OPEN THE PDF AND READ THE ORDER.)(ab)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
CHIEF JUDGE CRENSHAW
Julio Villasana, an inmate of the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Hartsville,
Tennessee, brings this pro se, in forma pauperis action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Yolanda
Pittman, the Assistant Warden of the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, alleging violations of
the Plaintiff’s federal civil and constitutional rights. (Doc. No. 1). The Plaintiff seeks declaratory
judgment, monetary damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief. (Id. at 33-36).
The complaint is before the Court for an initial review pursuant to the Prison Litigation
Reform Act (“PLRA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A.
PLRA Screening Standard
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the court must dismiss any portion of a civil complaint
filed in forma pauperis that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, is frivolous, or
seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Section 1915A similarly
requires initial review of any “complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a
governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity,” id. § 1915A(a), and summary
dismissal of the complaint on the same grounds as those articulated in § 1915(e)(2)(B). Id. §
The Sixth Circuit has confirmed that the dismissal standard articulated by the Supreme Court
in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007),
“governs dismissals for failure to state a claim under those statutes because the relevant statutory
language tracks the language in Rule 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470–71 (6th Cir.
2010). Thus, to survive scrutiny on initial review, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual
matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads
factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for
the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[A] district court must (1) view
the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and (2) take all well-pleaded factual
allegations as true.” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009)
(citing Gunasekera v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)).
Although pro se pleadings are to be held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520–21 (1972); Jourdan v. Jabe, 951 F.2d 108,
110 (6th Cir. 1991), the courts’ “duty to be ‘less stringent’ with pro se complaints does not require
us to conjure up [unpleaded] allegations.” McDonald v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 1979)
Section 1983 Standard
The Plaintiff brings his federal claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983
creates a cause of action against any person who, acting under color of state law, abridges “rights,
privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws . . . .” To state a claim under § 1983,
a plaintiff must allege and show two elements: (1) that he was deprived of a right secured by the
Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) that the deprivation was caused by a person acting
under color of state law. Tahfs v. Proctor, 316 F.3d 584, 590 (6th Cir. 2003); 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
The complaint alleges that the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center allows inmates to keep
personal televisions inside their assigned housing cells. The prison provides access to thirty-four
television channels, including English-language entertainment, sports, and religious programming.
In addition, every weekend the prison broadcasts three or more “free-world, first-run, theatrically
released English-language movies that have been made available for distribution by a movie rental
company over the prison’s closed-circuit TV system for the entertainment of the English-speaking
prisoners; however, the prison never broadcasts a Spanish-language movie for the entertainment of
Spanish-speaking prisoners.” (Doc. No. 1 at 10). According to the Plaintiff, South Central
Correctional Facility, CCA/Whiteville Correctional Facility, and CCA/Hardeman County
Correctional Facility all provide access to some television stations broadcasting Spanish-language
programs for the prisoners of Hispanic-descent housed within those facilities. (Id. at 14).
While incarcerated at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, the Plaintiff, who is a
Mexican citizen, requested prison officials to provide the Plaintiff and other inmates with access
to Spanish-speaking television stations or programming as well as Spanish-language weekend
movies. According to the complaint, Defendant Pittman told the Plaintiff that she would never add
“any Mexican stuff” to the programming provided to inmates at the Trousdale facility. (Doc. No.
1 at 7). On another occasion, Defendant Pittman allegedly told the Plaintiff: “If you want Mexican
T.V., you should go back to Mexico!” (Id. at 9). The Plaintiff filed numerous grievances regarding
the matter, but Pittman never responded to the grievances.
The complaint alleges that Defendant has denied and continues to deny the Plaintiff equal
treatment under the law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
(Doc. No. 1 at 1). “The Equal Protection Clause prohibits states from ‘mak[ing] distinctions which
either burden a fundamental right, target a suspect class, or intentionally treat one differently from
others similarly situated without any rational basis for the difference.’” Coleman v. Governor of
Mich., 413 Fed.Appx. 866, 877 (6th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (quoting Radvansky v. City of Olmsted
Falls, 395 F.3d 291, 312 (6th Cir. 2005)) (citing Vacco v. Quill, 521 U.S. 793, 799 (1997)).
To the extent that the Plaintiff alleges that the challenged action unduly burdens his exercise
of a fundamental right, there is no constitutional right to television while incarcerated. Rawls v.
Sundquist, 929 F. Supp. 284, 288-89 (M.D. Tenn. 1996)(Campbell, J)(citing Dede v. Baker, 1994
WL 198179, at *2 (6th Cir. 1994)); see also Madden v. Piper, No. 1:16-CV-P21-GNS, 2016 WL
7116189, at *3 (W.D. Ky. Dec. 6, 2016)(stating that “access to amenities like a television . . . is not
a fundamental right”).
To the extent the Plaintiff asserts that he is a member of a suspect class, prisoners are not a
suspect class for equal protection purposes. Jackson v. Jamrog, 411 F.3d 615, 619 (6th Cir. 2005).
However, the Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Pittman, a state actor, intentionally discriminated
against the Plaintiff because of his race and/or national origin. Race and national origin are classic
examples of suspect classes. See Doe #1 by and through Lee v. Sevier County, Tennessee, No. 3:17CV-41, 2017 WL 3038144, at *7 (E.D. Tenn. July 17, 2017)(citing Personnel Admin’r of Mass. v.
Feeney, 442 U.S. 256, 272-73 (1979)).
To a state a claim for a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment, the Plaintiff must plead “sufficient facts to show ‘that a state actor intentionally
discriminated against [him] because of membership in a protected class.’” Brand v. Motley, 526 F.3d
921, 924 (6th Cir. 2008)(quoting Henry v. Metro. Sewer Dist., 922 F.2d 332, 341 (6th Cir. 1990)).
Here, the Plaintiff alleges specific facts giving rise to an inference that Defendant Pittman
intentionally discriminated against him because of his race and/or national origin. For example, the
complaint alleges that Pittman told the Plaintiff: “If you want Mexican T.V., you should go back to
Mexico!” (Docket No. 1 at 9). The complaint further alleges that Pittman told the Plaintiff that she
would never add “any Mexican stuff” to the programming provided to inmates at the Trousdale
facility. (Id. at 7). Therefore, the Court finds that the Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a violation
of the Equal Protection Clause.
In Elliot v. Brooks, No. 980-1470, 1999 WL 525909 (10th Cir. July 20, 1999), a prisoner
claimed that the television broadcast selection at his prison favored the selections of the black
majority inmate population. Id. at *1. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding that,
because there is no constitutional right for inmates to watch television, the prisoner plaintiff had
failed to allege a cognizable constitutional violation. Id. Likewise, in Webster v. Stanton, No. CIV
S-07-2282 MCE KJM P, 2008 WL 1721902 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 10, 2008), a prisoner claimed that jail
officials were biased against African-American inmates because Black Entertainment Television
was not accessible in the jail and “there’s no chanell for African Americans when there are several
chanells for Latino’s & Hispancis, Caucasians has CMT Country Music Television . . . .” Id. at *1
(spelling and punctuation as in original).
Citing Elliot, the court found that inmates have no
constitutional right of access to television and the plaintiff’s claim was frivolous. Id.
These cases are not binding precedent on this Court. Nevertheless, the Court notes that, in
dismissing the prisoner-plaintiffs’ claims in the cited cases, neither court discussed the Equal
Protection Clause; the Courts’ analyses rest on the well-settled proposition that the ability to watch
television while incarcerated is not a fundamental right. This Court agrees that inmates do not have
a constitutional right to television access. However, in both Elliot and Webster, unlike in the instant
case, neither prisoner-plaintiff alleged specific facts giving rise to an inference that a defendant
intentionally discriminated against the prisoner because of his race and/or national origin in failing
to provide certain television programming. For these reasons, the Court believes that Elliot and
Webster are distinguishable, and that the instant Plaintiff has stated an equal protection claim upon
which relief can be granted for purposes of the required PLRA screening.
For the reasons discussed above, in screening the complaint pursuant to the PLRA, the Court
finds that the complaint states a colorable, non-frivolous equal protection claim against Defendant
An appropriate Order will be entered.
WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR.
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?