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Harms v. Byrd

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

April 8, 2018

CHRISTOPHER HARMS Plaintiff,
v.
RAYMOND BYRD, et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          SHON T. ERWIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Christopher Harms, appearing pro se and in forma pauperis, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a violation of the First Amendment and his right to Due Process. (ECF No. 1). Chief U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton has referred this matter to the undersigned magistrate judge for initial proceedings consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B)-(C). A review of the complaint has been conducted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a) and 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Based on that review, the undersigned recommends that the Court DISMISS the Complaint.

         I. SCREENING REQUIREMENT

         The Court must review each complaint in which a prisoner seeks redress against a governmental entity, officer, or employee and each case in which a plaintiff proceeds in forma pauperis. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The Court is required to dismiss the complaint or any portion of the complaint that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b); 1915(e)(2)(B).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court must accept Mr. Harms' allegations as true and construe them, and any reasonable inferences to be drawn from them, in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. See Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1217 (10th Cir. 2007). Since Mr. Harms is proceeding pro se, his complaint must be construed liberally. See id. at 1218. The Court “review[s] the complaint for plausibility; that is, to determine whether the complaint includes enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Young v. Davis, 554 F.3d 1254, 1256 (10th Cir. 2009) (quotations and citation omitted). “Plausible” in this context does not mean “likely to be true, ” but rather refers “to the scope of the allegations in a complaint: if they are so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct, ” then the plaintiff has not “nudged (his) claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The plausibility requirement “serves not only to weed out claims that do not (in the absence of additional allegations) have a reasonable prospect of success, but also to inform the defendants of the actual grounds of the claim against them.” Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1248 (10th Cir. 2008).

         A complaint fails to state such a claim when it lacks factual allegations sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (footnote and citation omitted). Bare legal conclusions in a complaint are not assumed to be true; legal conclusions “must be supported by factual allegations” to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         “[A] pro se plaintiff requires no special legal training to recount the facts surrounding his alleged injury, and he must provide such facts if the court is to determine whether he makes out a claim on which relief can be granted.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). “[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitlement to relief' requires “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. As a result, courts “look to the specific allegations in the complaint to determine whether they plausibly support a legal claim for relief.” Kay, 500 F.3d at 1218 (quotation marks and citations omitted).

         Whether a complaint contains sufficient facts to avoid dismissal is context-specific and is determined through a court's application of “judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; see also Gee v. Pacheco, 627 F.3d 1178, 1184-85 (10th Cir. 2010) (discussing Iqbal).

         III. PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS/NAMED DEFENDANTS

         Mr. Harms alleges that while incarcerated in Cimarron Correctional Facility (CCF) he was demoted from “level four” to “level one” for a rule violation he did not commit.[1]Mr. Harms alleges that the reduction in classification levels affected the rate at which he could earn credits, which would ultimately shorten his sentence. Accordingly, Mr. Harms states that he was entitled to certain due process protections, which he was denied. (ECF No. 1:5, 7).[2]

         IV. OFFICIAL CAPACITY CLAIMS

         Defendants Byrd and Hilligoss are both employees of CCF, a private prison owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Although Mr. Harms raised claims against these Defendants in their official capacities, such claims cannot stand. As employees of a private prison, Defendants Byrd and Hilligoss are not state officials, and official capacity claims cannot be asserted against them. See Jones v. Barry, 33 Fed.Appx. 967, 971, n.5 (10th Cir. 2002) (“the CCA defendants are not state actors, and they do not have an “official capacity.”); Alamiin v. Patton, No. CIV-13-1001-F, 2016 WL 7217857, at *6 (W.D. Okla. Dec. 13, 2016) (“As employees of a private prison, they are not state officials, and official capacity claims cannot be asserted against them.”). Thus, the Court should dismiss the claims against Defendants Byrd and Hilligoss with prejudice. See Miskam v. Sherrod, No. CIV-14-0646-HE, 2015 WL 4717105, at *3 (W.D. Okla. Aug. 7, 2015) (dismissing official capacity claims against private prison employees seeking monetary damages with prejudice).

         V. INDIVIDUAL ...


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