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Williams v. Wolfe

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

February 16, 2018

JOHN EDGAR WILLIAMS, III, Plaintiff,
v.
KATHLEEN WOLFE, JERRY BARLOW, SEAN HIRSCH, CHRIS STRAIGHT, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          TERENCE KERN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On May 15, 2017, Plaintiff, a state inmate appearing pro se, filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights complaint (Dkt. # 1) and a motion to proceed in forma pauperis (Dkt. # 2). The Court granted Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis (Dkt. # 4), and Plaintiff paid an initial partial filing fee on June 19, 2017 (Dkt. # 6). By Order filed September 20, 2017 (Dkt. # 8), the Court identified several deficiencies in Plaintiff's complaint and directed Plaintiff to file an amended complaint by October 20, 2017. Plaintiff timely filed an amended complaint (Dkt. # 11).[1] For the following reasons, the Court finds that the amended complaint shall be dismissed without prejudice.

         A. Screening/Dismissal standards

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), federal courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must identify any cognizable claim and dismiss any claim which is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See Id. §§ 1915A(b), 1915(e)(2)(B). The court applies the same dismissal standard under the PLRA as it uses in reviewing a Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1217 (10th Cir. 2007). Under this standard, a court must accept all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true, even if doubtful in fact, and determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007). But “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a [plausible] claim of entitlement to relief, ” the complaint should be dismissed. Id. at 558.

         Additionally, when a plaintiff appears pro se, the court must liberally construe the complaint. Kay, 500 F.3d at 1218. This means “that if a court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). Nonetheless, a pro se plaintiff bears “the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.” Id. And the court “will not supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiff's complaint or construct a legal theory on a plaintiff's behalf.” Whitney v. New Mexico, 113 F.3d 1170, 1173-74 (10th Cir. 1997).

         B. Amended complaint shall be dismissed

         Plaintiff brings this action under § 1983. “The two elements of a Section 1983 claim are (1) deprivation of a federally protected right by (2) an actor acting under color of state law.” Schaffer v. Salt Lake City Corp., 814 F.3d 1151, 1155 (10th Cir. 2016).

         Plaintiff generally alleges that “[o]n May 19, 2015 [his] rights were violated by the individuals named as defendants” and identifies two specific claims. Dkt. # 11 at 2. In Count I of his amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that while he was incarcerated in the Tulsa County Jail, Sergeant Chris Straight, Sergeant Jerry Barlow and Detention Officer Sean Hirsch violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights by falsely accusing him of theft, placing him in segregation without notice and a disciplinary hearing, and harassing him to confess to the alleged theft. Id. at 2, 7-9, 11-12; Dkt. # 12. Plaintiff further alleges that, as a result of the defendants' false allegations against him, he was branded a thief and was assaulted by two inmates after his release from segregation. Id. at 8, 12. He alleges that he suffered physical injuries from the assault and depression from being falsely accused and placed in segregation where he had limited privileges. Id. at 8, 10-12.

         In Count II of his amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that defendant Kathleen Wolfe committed slander when she falsely accused him of being rude and of not needing a breathing treatment for an asthma attack. Id. at 2-3, 5-6, 12. He further alleges that Wolfe's failure to treat his asthma attack forced him to use another inmate's inhaler and caused him physical pain and a “worrisome mind.” Id. at 6, 12.

         Plaintiff seeks the following relief: “$1, 000, 000.00 from Sgt. Chris Straight; $1, 000, 000.00 from Sgt. Jerry Barlow; $250, 000.00 from Kathleen Wolfe; $250, 000.00 from D/O [Hirsch]; $2, 000, 000.00 for compensatory damages.” Id. at 3.

         1. Count I fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted

         In Count I, Plaintiff claims that defendants Straight, Barlow and Hirsch violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights by falsely accusing him of theft, placing him in segregation without any evidence and without written notice or a disciplinary hearing, and harassing him to make a false confession. Id. at 2, 7-9, 11-12.

         Liberally construed, Plaintiff appears to allege a violation of his right to procedural due process. Under the Fourteenth Amendment, a state must provide procedural due process before it deprives a citizen of property or liberty. Brown v. Eppler, 725 F.3d 1221, 1225 (10th Cir. 2013). But “[p]rocedural due process guarantees apply only to those liberty and property interests encompassed by the fourteenth amendment.” Id. (quoting Jacobs, Visconsi & Jacobs, Co. v. City of Lawrence, 927 F.2d 1111, 1115 (10th Cir. 1991)). Thus, to state a plausible procedural due process claim, Plaintiff must allege that he was deprived of a constitutionally protected liberty interest without procedural due process.

         Despite liberal pleading requirements and his pro se status, plaintiff's task is not an easy one. In the prison context, “not every deprivation of liberty at the hands of prison officials has constitutional dimension. This is so because incarcerated persons retain only a ‘narrow range of protected liberty interests.'” Rezaq v. Nalley, 677 F.3d 1001, 1011 (10th Cir. 2012) (quoting Abbott v. McCotter, 13 F.3d 1439, 1442 (10th Cir. 1994)). Here, Plaintiff seems to allege that he was deprived, without due process, of his liberty interest in remaining in general population rather than being placed in segregation. See Dkt. # 11 at 7-9, 11-12. Significantly, “the Supreme Court has recognized that ‘the Constitution itself does not give rise to a liberty interest in avoiding transfer to more adverse conditions of confinement.'” Id. (quoting Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221 (2005)). Instead, “[a] protected liberty interest only arises from a transfer to harsher conditions of confinement when an inmate faces an ‘“atypical and significant hardship . . . in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.”'” Id. (quoting Wilkinson, 545 U.S. at 223). Determining whether a particular hardship is atypical and significant is not an exact science. But the Tenth Circuit has identified “four potentially relevant, nondispositive factors” to guide the analysis: ...


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