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Coburn v. Miller

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

March 6, 2019

CHAD A. COBURN, Plaintiff,
CHAD MILLER, Warden, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Chad A. Coburn, an Oklahoma prisoner appearing pro se and proceeding in forma pauperis, has filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that several private correctional employees violated Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection. See Compl. (Doc. No. 1) at 1-6; Am. Br. (Doc. No. 48) at 1-9;[1] Am. Br. Exs. 1-11 (Doc. Nos. 48-1 to 48-11).[2] Specifically, Plaintiff contends that these employees of a company operating private correctional facilities in Oklahoma failed to deliver Plaintiff's private property to Plaintiff after he was transferred from one such facility to another. On September 6, 2018, the Court denied Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 58), in which the four remaining Defendants had argued that Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing suit. See Order (Doc. No. 62) at 1-3 (Heaton, J.). Following the opportunity for discovery and dispositive motions, [3] Plaintiffs' claims would appear to be ready for trial. The Court, however, remains obligated to screen Plaintiff's pleading and dismiss any claim that fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), 1915A(b). Exercising that obligation, the Court determines that Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed.

         Screening Obligation and Standard of Review

         The Court is required by the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act to screen Plaintiff's pleading in order to identify its cognizable claims and to dismiss the pleading, or any portion thereof, that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks damages from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). To survive dismissal a “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). A claim is facially plausible when the well-pled factual allegations, accepted as true and viewed in the plaintiff's favor, “allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged” under the governing law. Id.; see Burnett v. Mortg. Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., 706 F.3d 1231, 1236 (10th Cir. 2013). A pro se plaintiff's complaint must be “construed liberally and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ” so that any potentially valid claim can be fairly decided on its merits. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). Still, a pro se plaintiff must allege “sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based, ” id., and district courts cannot “construct . . . claims or grounds [for] relief” not fairly presented in the complaint, Windsor v. Colo. Dep't of Corr., 9 Fed.Appx. 967, 970 (10th Cir. 2001).

         Summary of Plaintiff's Pleading

         Plaintiff's claims arise from events that transpired around the time of Plaintiff's transfer from Cimarron Correctional Facility (“CCF”), a facility in Cushing, Oklahoma, operated by a company formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America (“CCA”), to Davis Correctional Facility (“DCF”) in Holdenville, Oklahoma, which is also operated by CCA. Plaintiff alleges that CCF failed to send certain personal property items to DCF when Plaintiff was transferred on January 8, 2014. See Compl. at 6; Am. Br. at 5-8. Plaintiff asserts that in failing to deliver to him his television, watch, and “commissary, ” Defendants deprived Plaintiff of his personal property without due process and violated his right to equal protection. See Compl. at 4; Am. Br. at 4, 6, 8. Plaintiff asserts these claims against five CCF employees: Warden Chad Miller, [4] Chief Unit Manager Hilligoes, and Property Officers Anmin, Battles, and Mayhem.[5] See Compl. at 1-3; Am. Br. At 2-3. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages against each Defendant. See Compl. at 6; Am. Br. at 9.

         Plaintiff contends that on October 1, 2013, he was put in disciplinary segregation at CCF after he was caught with a cell phone in his possession. See Am. Br. at 3. Two days later, Defendant Anmin gave Plaintiff a property inventory form that, according to Plaintiff, did not list his wristwatch. See Id. at 4. Plaintiff was transferred from CCF to DCF on January 8, 2014. Id. at 5. Within a few days, Plaintiff realized that his television, wristwatch, and packaged food had not been transferred with him. Id. at 5-6. Plaintiff alleges that on January 15, 2014, he sent a Request to Staff to Defendants Mayhem, Anmin, and Miller regarding the property items but received no response. See Id. 5. Plaintiff then submitted a 14-6D Claim Form pursuant to the CCA Property Policy on January 29, 2014. Am. Br. Ex. 7, at 1 (identifying lost items as surge protector, television, watch, phone book, Koran, boots, canteen, headphones, and headphone extension). Plaintiff asserts that this claim was not investigated or answered by prison officials. See Am. Br. Ex. 1, at 2.

         On February 7, 2014, however, CCF sent Plaintiff some of the items listed on the 14-6 Claim Form. See Am. Br. Ex. 11 (identifying returned items as electrical power bar, headset, shower shoes, and personal hygiene items). According to Plaintiff, Defendant Anmin “packed and inventoried [Plaintiff's] property” at CCF, but one or more unidentified CCF staff members intentionally withheld his television because Plaintiff “had prior problems with prison officials at CCF.” Am. Br. at 6-8.

         At some point between February 7, 2014, and March 6, 2014, Plaintiff's mother contacted CCF regarding the whereabouts of Plaintiff's television but was told that all of Plaintiff's remaining property, including his television, had been sent to DCF. Am. Br. at 6-7; Am. Br. Ex. 10, at 1. Plaintiff contacted DCF's property officer, who told Plaintiff that his television had not yet arrived and that he needed to pursue the issue with CCF rather than DCF. Am. Br. Ex. 10, at 1; Am. Br. at 6-7. Plaintiff does not allege that he took any further steps authorized by the CCA Property Policy or that he pursued the matter in state court. See Am. Br. Ex. 1, at 2.


         A plaintiff seeking to hold a state-actor defendant personally liable under § 1983 must ultimately prove that such defendant, “through the official's own individual actions, has violated” a right secured to the plaintiff by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676.

         I. Plaintiff's Equal Protection Claim

         Plaintiff alleges that the circumstances described in his pleading and summarized above constitute a violation of his right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. See Compl. at 4. In support, Plaintiff states only that Defendants “had a chance to correct the problem” but neglected to do so. Id.

         To state an equal protection claim, Plaintiff must allege that he has intentionally been treated differently than similarly situated individuals. See Barney v. Pulsipher, 143 F.3d 1299, 1312 (10th Cir. 1998). Further, Plaintiff must allege facts in the Complaint plausibly showing that he is a member of a protected class, or that he asserted a fundamental right, or that any distinction in his treatment compared to other prisoners' treatment was not reasonably related to a legitimate penological purpose. See City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985); SECSYS, LLC v. Vigil, 666 F.3d 678, 688 (10th Cir. 2012) (“[The Equal Protection Clause] seeks to ensure . . . that those who appear similarly situated are not treated differently without, at the very least, a ...

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