United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
SIDNEY J.D. LESLIE, Plaintiff,
UNKNOWN OWNERS OF GEO/LCF, et al., Defendant.
L. RUSSELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Sidney J.D. Leslie, appearing pro so and in
forma pauperis, filed this action seeking relief
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In accordance with 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C), the matter was referred
to United States Magistrate Judge Shon T. Erwin for
preliminary review. On October 8, 2019, Judge Erwin issued
his Report and Recommendation. Doc. No. 11. Therein Judge
Erwin recommends that the matter be dismissed upon screening
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a) and (b). The matter is
currently before the Court on Petitioner's timely
objection, Doc. No. 12, which gives rise to the Court's
obligation to undertake a de novo review of those
portions of the Report and Recommendation to which Petitioner
makes specific objection. Cognizant of its obligation and
granting Plaintiff's filing the liberal construction
mandated by Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972),
the Court enters judgment in favor of the Defendants.
alleges that, because legal documents vanished or were lost
while making their way through the prison's mail delivery
system, Defendants are liable for violation of
Plaintiff's First Amendment rights of free speech and
access to courts, as well as his Fourteenth Amendment rights
of due process and access to courts. For these alleged
violations, Plaintiff sued the unknown owners of GEO Group,
Inc., (GEO) a private entity that owns Lawton Correctional
Facility (LCF), where Plaintiff is currently incarcerated. He
also sued LCF Warden R.C. Smith and Oklahoma Department of
Corrections Director Mark Knutson in their individual and
official capacities. Plaintiff seeks monetary, injunctive,
and declaratory relief, in addition to nominal, and punitive
Erwin construes Plaintiff's claims as against LCF, GEO,
their unknown owners, Warden Smith, and Director Knutson. He
first recommends that Plaintiff's claims against LCF be
dismissed because LCF is a prison facility with no separate
legal identity from GEO. As to GEO and the unknown owners,
Judge Erwin recommends dismissal because Plaintiff has failed
to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Judge
Erwin further recommends that the official capacity claims
against Defendant Smith should be dismissed because Smith is
a Warden for a private prison and thus has no official
capacity under § 1983. As to the official capacity
claims against Defendant Knutson, Judge Erwin recommends
dismissal because any suit against Knutson as a state
official in his official capacity is a suit against the
state, and the State of Oklahoma has not waived its immunity
from suit. Finally, Judge Erwin recommends that the
individual capacity claims against Defendants Smith and
Knutson be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted.
preliminary issue, it appears that Plaintiff has exhausted
his available administrative remedies. In his Report, Judge
Erwin did not address the issue because he was unable to
determine whether Plaintiff had in fact exhausted his
administrative remedies. But in his Complaint, Plaintiff
attached proof of his exhaustion. In his first exhibit,
Plaintiff provides the Court with his inmate grievance
petitions and proof of LCF's denial. See Doc.
No. 1, Ex. 1. The Court is satisfied with Plaintiff's
showing. Thus, his action is not barred for failure to
exhaust his available administration remedies.
recording his objections, Plaintiff asserts that he never
intended to sue LCF and GEO as entities, but only the
individual owners of LCF and GEO. Upon review, it appears
that Plaintiff is correct; his Complaint identifies the
owners of LCF and GEO as defendants, not the entities
themselves. See Doc. No. 12, pp. 1, 5. Accordingly,
the Court declines to adopt Judge Erwin's Report and
Recommendation as it relates to any claims construed against
LCF and GEO as entities.
first objection, Plaintiff asserts that Judge Erwin fails to
include all the relevant facts from the Complaint in the
background section of his Report and Recommendation. Doc. No.
12, p. 3. This is not an appropriate basis for objection. In
any event, the Court is required to review Plaintiff's
action de novo and has access to Plaintiff's
Complaint from which to evaluate whether a proper claim has
second objection, Plaintiff argues that the standard of
review described in the Report and Recommendation was
misapplied because Judge Erwin misconstrued his claims as
being only against LCF, and that the Judge inserted a claim
challenging the efficacy of the grievance process that
Plaintiff did not intend to plead. Doc. No. 12, pp. 3- 4.
First, the Report and Recommendation does not construe
Plaintiff's claims as only against LCF. However, as noted
previously, the Court will not adopt the Report's
determination of claims allegedly asserted against LCF
because LCF is not a Defendant in this case. Second, as it
appears that Plaintiff never intended to plead a claim
challenging the efficacy of the grievance process, the Court
declines to adopt that portion of the Report and
further argues that in addition to the Report's
background section mentioned in his first objection, the rest
of the Report and Recommendation fails to include relevant
facts from the Complaint and is therefore deficient. Doc. No.
12, pp. 4-5. Again, this is not an appropriate basis for
objection. To the extent the allegation is true, the Court
reviews Plaintiff's claims de novo.
third objection, Plaintiff again objects to the Report's
determination of claims against LCF and GEO as entities. Doc.
No. 12, pp. 5-6. This issue has been dealt with above; the
Court need not address it here.
further argues that Judge Erwin's recommendation that the
claims against the unknown owners of LCF and GEO should be
dismissed for failure to state a claim is unfounded. Doc. No.
12, p. 6. In the Report, Judge Erwin recommends that
Plaintiff's claim against the owners under § 1983
should be dismissed because Plaintiff did not make factual
allegations demonstrating an official policy or custom that
was enacted or maintained with deliberate indifference to an
almost inevitable violation of federal rights. Doc. No. 11,
p. 5 (citing Schneider v. City of Grand Junction Police
Dep't, 717 F.3d 760, 7769-71 (10th Cir
2013)). In objecting, Plaintiff describes the custom for
handling prison mail and asserts that a proper claim has been
stated because this custom leads to the loss of mail,
hindering and obstructing a prisoner's access to the
courts. But Plaintiff did not identify this custom in his
more, the standard applied by Judge Erwin in his Report and
argued by Plaintiff in objection is relevant only if
Plaintiff's claim were against LCF and GEO as entities.
See Dubbs v. Head Start, Inc., 336 F.3d 1194,
1215-17 (10th Cir.2003) (holding that a private entity can be
held liable under § 1983 for municipal liability only if
it had a policy that was the direct cause or moving force
behind the constitutional violations); see also Smedley
v. Corrections Corporation of America, 175 Fed.Appx.
943, 946 (10th Cir. Dec. 20, 2005) (unpublished) (“[I]n
order to hold [Corrections Corporation of America, the owner
of private prisons] liable for the alleged tortious acts of
its agents, [the inmate plaintiff] must show that [the
company] directly caused the constitutional violation by
instituting an official municipal policy of some nature, that
was the direct cause or moving force behind the
constitutional violation[s]” (citations and internal
quotation marks omitted)). Plaintiff has made it clear in his
objection that he never intended to sue LCF or GEO as an
entity. See Doc. No. 12, p. 5. Therefore, this
standard does not apply here.
Plaintiff's § 1983 claim is instead against
individual Defendants-here, the individual owners of LCF and
GEO, Warden Smith, and Director Knutson-he needed to plead
facts concerning the individual Defendants' personal
involvement in violating the constitution, causation, and
state of mind. See Schneider, 717 F.3d at 767-769.
Plaintiff has failed to plead any of these elements. His
claim is therefore subject to dismissal.
fourth objection, Plaintiff repeats objections already made.
In his fifth objection, Plaintiff objects to a portion of
Judge Erwin's recommendation concerning the official
capacity claims against Defendants Smith and Knutson. First,
Judge Erwin recommends that the official capacity claims
against Defendant Smith be dismissed as improperly raised.
Defendant Smith cannot be sued in his official capacity
because he has no official capacity under § 1983-he is a
Warden for a private prison, not a state actor. See Jones
v. Barry, 33 Fed.Appx. 967, 971 n.5 (10th
Cir. 2012). Plaintiff does not object to this recommendation
and the Court agrees, the claims against Defendant Warden in
his official capacity were improperly raised and are subject
to dismissal. Plaintiff then concedes that Defendant Knutson,
as a state employee, cannot be sued in his official capacity
for monetary damages because the State of Oklahoma has not
waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity. Plaintiff does,
however, object to Judge Erwin's recommendation that the
Court dismiss Plaintiff's official capacity claims for
injunctive and declaratory relief ...