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Hines v. Allbaugh

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

August 3, 2017

JOE M. ALLBAUGH, [1], Defendants.



         Before the Court is Magistrate Judge Shon Erwin's Report and Recommendation, Doc. 111, that the Court grant Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, Doc. 94, and dismiss all of Plaintiffs' claims with prejudice. Plaintiff objects. Doc. 112. In light of his objection, the Court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), has reviewed the Report and Recommendation de novo. In doing so, it has liberally construed Mr. Hines's pro se filings pursuant to Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).

         For the reasons that follow, the Court will ADOPT IN PART the Report and Recommendation. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Thurman Harvey Hines has sued several Oklahoma state prison officials for his alleged treatment at the Oklahoma State Reformatory (OSR) in Granite, Oklahoma. Having since been transferred to the Davis Correctional Facility in Holdenville, Oklahoma, Mr. Hines claims that prison officials at OSR violated his constitutional rights in a number of ways[2] and caused him emotional distress. The Defendants are eight officials employed at the OSR and three officials employed by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) in administrative positions.[3] Mr. Hines, who has sued all Defendants in both their individual and official capacities, seeks monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief.

         II. Standard of Review

         “Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain a ‘short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009). A complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, [which if] accepted as true . . . state[s] a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 678 (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff's well-pled factual allegations must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Beedle v. Wilson, 422 F.3d 1059, 1063 (10th Cir. 2005). Because Mr. Hines brings this suit pro se, the Court liberally construes his claims pursuant to Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. at 520-21. That said, Mr. Hines “still has ‘the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.'” Jenkins v. Currier, 514 F.3d 1030, 1032 (10th Cir.2008) (quoting Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir.1991)). “Dismissal of a pro se complaint for failure to state a claim [under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)] is proper only where it is obvious that the plaintiff cannot prevail on the facts he has alleged and it would be futile to give him an opportunity to amend.” Nagy v. Spence, 172 F.App'x 847, 848 (10th Cir. 2006) (unpublished) (quoting Perkins v. Kansas Dep't of Corr., 165 F.3d 803, 806 (10th Cir.1999)). If the Court does dismiss a prisoner's petition, the Court should still explain the pleading's deficiencies so that a prisoner with a meritorious claim can then submit an adequate complaint. Cf. Nasious v. Two Unknown B.I.C.E. Agents, 492 F.3d 1158, 1163 (10th Cir.2007) (reversing dismissal with prejudice, in part because of district court's failure to explain to pro se plaintiff what is required by Rule 8).

         Mr. Hines's claims, when broadly framed, fall into one of five categories: (1) claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (2) conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1985, (3) First Amendment retaliation, (4) state law claims for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and (5) claims for declaratory and injunctive relief. The Court takes them up one by one. While the Court concurs with the findings of the Magistrate Judge as it pertains to some claims, it appears that the he did not address others.

         III. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims

         The Court first takes up Mr. Hines's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[4] Section 1983 provides that a person acting under color of state law who “subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute is not itself a source of substantive rights, but a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.” Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979). Because “Section 1983 does not allow plaintiffs to create a federal case out of every violation of state common law . . . the first inquiry in any § 1983 suit . . . is whether the plaintiff has been deprived of a right ‘secured by the Constitution and laws.' ” Margheim v. Buljko, 855 F.3d 1077, 1084 (10th Cir. 2017) (internal cites and alterations omitted).

         Mr. Hines believes that Defendants have run roughshod over his federal rights in numerous ways. He alleges violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection of the laws, as well as cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

         A. Due Process Claims

         Mr. Hines points to several alleged due process violations. He first complains that several defendants-Morris, Hendrix, Hill, McCullom, Patton, Williams, Allbaugh, and Kinnision-violated his due process rights in disciplinary hearings at OSR by failing to provide him with videotape of his alleged misconduct, restricting his ability to call witnesses, providing biased hearing officers, and producing evidence insufficient for a conviction. The Magistrate Judge recommended dismissing these claims for Mr. Hines's failure to show that these disciplinary hearings in any way infringed on a protected liberty interest. The Court agrees.

         “The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits states from depriving citizens of liberty without due process of law.” Wilson v. Jones, 430 F.3d 1113, 1117 (10th Cir. 2005). This guarantee applies to prison inmates, but “[p]rison disciplinary proceedings are not part of a criminal prosecution, and the full panoply of rights due a defendant in such proceedings does not apply.” Harrison v. Morton, 490 F.App'x 988, 992 (10th Cir. 2012) (unpublished) (citing Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974)). In order for a prison inmate to show that his disciplinary proceedings have implicated a protected liberty interest, an inmate must show that he was “subjected to (1) conditions that impose atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life or (2) disciplinary actions that inevitably affect the duration of his sentence.” Harrison v. Morton, 490 F.App'x 988, 992 (10th Cir. 2012) (alterations and quotes omitted).

         Mr. Hines's due process claim fails because he has shown neither of these things. Nowhere does he allege that these disciplinary actions affected the duration of his sentence. And while he claims in his Objection that he was subject to atypical and significant hardship through disciplinary segregation and the restriction of visitation and canteen rights, he does not elaborate on how his hardship qualifies as significant. Consequently, that due process claim is dismissed for failure to state a claim.

         Mr. Hines's second due process claim consists of allegations that several officials- Patton, Knutson, McCullom, and Bornheim-inappropriately denied the grievance complaints he filed with prison staff. The Magistrate Judge also found this claim failed as a matter of law: Mr. Hines failed to plead facts showing these Defendants were personally involved in a way sufficient to trigger liability under § 1983. That determination was correct. Mr. Hines allegations amount to no more than the argument that these Defendants must be complicit because they denied his grievances. His claims essentially seek to impose supervisor liability on these Defendants, which the Court may not entertain under § 1983: “[Section] 1983 does not recognize a concept of strict supervisor liability; the defendant's role must be more than one of abstract authority over individuals who actually committed a constitutional violation.” Fogarty v. Gallegos, 523 F.3d 1147, 1162 (10th Cir. 2008). Consequently, the “denial of a grievance, by itself without any connection to the violation of constitutional rights alleged by plaintiff, does not establish personal participation under § 1983.” Gallagher v. Shelton, 587 F.3d 1063, 1069 (10th Cir. 2009).

         Mr. Hines does not address this legal shortcoming in his Objection. Instead, he insists the denial of his grievances violated federal law but does not explain how. And he contends that the Magistrate Judge improperly construed one of his “misconduct appeals” as a “grievance appeal.” None of this, however, rectifies the deficiency: the denial of a grievance alone does not invite liability under § 1983.

         There are two other way ways Mr. Hines believes Defendants violated his due process rights: (1) failing to follow prison policy and procedures during his disciplinary hearings and (2) denying him access to the courts by refusing to give him an ink pen. While the Magistrate Judge did not address these claims in the context of due process, they too fail in any event.

         As for Mr. Hines's complaints about prison officials ignoring DOC policy, he must point to some way in which Defendants trampled upon his federally secured rights in order to state a claim under § 1983. Yet all Mr. Hines mentions is a failure to abide by DOC evidentiary standards in his disciplinary hearings. That allegation will not suffice because the violation of a prison policy does not state a claim for the violation of a constitutional right. See, e.g., Williams v. Miller, No. 16-6346, 2017 WL 2438128, at *6 n.14 (10th Cir. June 6, 2017) (unpublished); see also Hovater v. Robinson, 1 F.3d 1063, 1068 n.4 (10th Cir. 1993) (“[A] failure to adhere to administrative regulations does not equate to a constitutional violation.”); see also Hostetler v. Green, 323 Fed.Appx. 653, 657-58 (10th Cir. 2009) (noting a defendant's mere violation of a prison regulation does not equate to a constitutional violation).

         Nor does Mr. Hines's complaint about not being given an ink pen by the OSR Law Library Supervisor, Paula Bethea, [5] come any closer to stating a due process claim. To be sure, an inmate has a constitutional right of meaningful access to the Courts, meaning prison officials must provide Mr. Hines with a “reasonably adequate opportunity” to present his legal claims. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 825, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 1496, 52 L.Ed.2d 72 (1977); Petrick v. Maynard, 11 F.3d 991, 994 (10th Cir. 1993). Practically speaking, this standard requires prisoners be afforded paper, writing implements, stamps, and access to notary services, as well access to an adequate law library or legal advisor. Bounds, 97 S.Ct. at 1496-97; Petrick, 11 F.3d at 994.

         But Mr. Hines must still have standing. He must show that the denial of an ink pen- i.e., access to courts-prejudiced him. “A prisoner must demonstrate actual injury from the interference with his or her access to the courts; this principle derives from the doctrine of standing.” A.M. v. New Mexico Dep't of Health, 148 F.Supp.3d 1232, 1271 (D.N.M. 2015); see also Harmon v. Keith, 383 Fed.Appx. 770, 771 (10th Cir.2010) (unpublished) (“An inmate lacks standing to raise a right-of-access claim unless he is able to demonstrate actual injury.”).

         Again, he has not made this showing. And it is doubtful he could even if the Court granted him leave to amend. He complains of a lack of access to the courts despite having filed this lawsuit. Moreover, even if Defendants did improperly deny Mr. Hines legal supplies, then “[a]t worst, defendants' misconduct temporarily, but not fatally, delayed, and did not unreasonably hinder, the filing of [his] claims.” Purkey v. Green, 28 F.App'x 736, 742 (10th Cir. 2001) (unpublished). His § 1983 claim based on his alleged hindered access to the Courts is therefore denied.

         In conclusion, Mr. Hines has failed to state a plausible claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the denial of any due process ...

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