United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
A. Eifert United States Magistrate Judge
5, 2016, Plaintiff, Teresa Miller, proceeding pro se
and then incarcerated at the Lakin Correctional Center
(“Lakin”) in West Columbia, West Virginia, filed
a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the United
States District Court for the Northern District of West
Virginia. (ECF No. 1). The action was subsequently
transferred to this court and is assigned to the Honorable
Robert C. Chambers, United States District Judge. By standing
order, the matter was referred the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge for findings of fact and recommendations for
disposition. Having fully considered Plaintiff's claims
and her requests for relief, the undersigned FINDS that
portions of the amended complaint are moot, portions request
compensation from individuals and entities that are not
“persons” under § 1983, and the remaining
portions fail to state a claim for which relief may be
granted. Therefore, the undersigned respectfully RECOMMENDS
that the presiding district judge DISMISS the amended
complaint, with prejudice, and remove this action from the
docket of the court. For the same reasons, the undersigned
further RECOMMENDS that the presiding district judge DENY
Plaintiff's motion to amend the amended complaint, which
seeks to increase her prayer for monetary relief to one
billion dollars. (ECF No. 34).
Relevant Factual Background
November 14, 2013, Plaintiff entered a guilty plea to a drug
trafficking charge brought in the Circuit Court of Monongalia
County, West Virginia. On January 6, 2014, Plaintiff was
sentenced to a term of 1 to 15 years, to be served in the
West Virginia State Penitentiary. However, in lieu of
incarceration in the penitentiary, the Circuit Court allowed
Plaintiff to serve her sentence on home confinement with the
condition that she report to a probation officer as directed.
Plaintiff did not appeal her conviction or sentence.
February 25, 2014, Plaintiff's home confinement was
revoked when she tested positive for cocaine, and she was
delivered to the West Virginia Division of Corrections.
Plaintiff moved for reconsideration of the revocation order,
and on June 9, 2014, the Circuit Court agreed to place her on
home confinement again, contingent on the Preston County home
confinement office accepting her, as well as her enrollment
in either drug court or an in-patient treatment program.
Arrangements for home confinement were not completed;
therefore, Plaintiff was not released pursuant to this order
and, instead, was taken to Lakin.
March 9, 2015, a hearing was held on a second motion for
reconsideration. The Circuit Court agreed to place Plaintiff
on six months of probation. Consequently, she was immediately
released from Lakin.
on release, Plaintiff allegedly violated the terms of
probation and was arrested on July 20, 2015. Following a
hearing, the Circuit Court reimposed Plaintiff's original
sentence. She was remanded to the Division of Corrections and
returned to Lakin. Plaintiff filed a motion for
reconsideration of the revocation order; however, the Circuit
Court denied the motion based upon the number of
Plaintiff's probation violations and the fact that she
was under consideration for parole. Plaintiff appealed the
Circuit Court's order to the Supreme Court of Appeals of
West Virginia (“WVSC”), and that appeal is still
pending. Sometime between August 3 and August 12, 2016,
Plaintiff was released from Lakin. (ECF Nos. 30, 31). She
currently resides in Morgantown. (ECF No. 33).
Procedural Background of § 1983 Action
5, 2016, Plaintiff filed a lengthy, rambling complaint
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the United States
District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.
(ECF No. 1). The complaint included numerous criticisms
levied against multiple individuals and institutions that
Plaintiff had encountered during her journey through the
state penal system. Altogether, counting continuations and
attachments, the complaint was 187 pages long. (ECF Nos. 1,
1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4). On May 5, 2016, the Clerk of Court sent
Plaintiff a Notice of Deficient Pleading, indicating that
Plaintiff needed to provide complete names, to the extent
known, and addresses of the defendants in order for the
action to proceed. Plaintiff was given twenty-one days to
comply. (ECF No. 5). However, the following day, United
States Magistrate Judge Robert W. Trumble, noting that the
claims involved facilities and individuals located in the
Southern District of West Virginia, transferred
Plaintiff's case to this court. (ECF No. 6).
23, 2016, the undersigned issued an order denying seven
pending motions filed by Plaintiff and identifying several
deficiencies in the complaint and the in forma
pauperis application. (ECF No. 22). Plaintiff was
instructed to submit a completed Application to Proceed
Without Prepayment of Fees & Costs and to file an amended
complaint setting forth concise claims against the named
defendants. (Id.). Plaintiff was further advised
that some of her claims-those that challenged the fact or
duration of her confinement-were not properly brought in a
§ 1983 complaint and needed to be asserted in a petition
for a writ of habeas corpus. Plaintiff was given sixty days
to comply with the order.
20, 2016, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint and an
Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees and Costs.
(ECF Nos. 27, 28). On August 12, 2016, Plaintiff sent the
Clerk of Court a Notice of Change of Address form, indicating
that she was no longer housed at Lakin and was now residing
in Kingwood, West Virginia. (ECF No. 31). On September 29,
2016, Plaintiff filed a second notice of change of address,
indicating that she had moved to Morgantown, West Virginia.
(ECF No. 33). Plaintiff no longer appears in the inmate
locator of either the West Virginia Division of Corrections,
or the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility
Authority. Her most recent filing indicates that she remains
on release in Morgantown. (ECF No. 34 at 3).
amended complaint, Plaintiff names twenty (22) defendants,
including the West Virginia Division of Corrections,
Commissioner Jim Rubenstein, individuals employed at Lakin,
individuals connected with the Charleston Correctional
Center, and individuals associated with PSI Med, an entity
that allegedly provided remote medical services to Plaintiff.
(ECF No. 27). Plaintiff lists a number of grievances against
the defendants, including lack of access to the law library;
refusal to add courts to Plaintiff's call list; alleged
retaliation for filing civil cases; loss of personal
belongings during transport; problems with work release;
violations of the Health Insurance Portability and
Accountability Act (“HIPAA”); ineffective
grievance procedure; the suspicious application of clear tape
to her mail; letters not being delivered; religious
discrimination; delays in granting her parole; refusal of
daily access to the reading library; and suspected tampering
with her kosher food. (Id.). With respect to relief,
Plaintiff asks the Court to explain why she was brought to
prison without a sentencing order; why she is unable to use
the law library and have cases dismissed for lack of using
it; why she does not have access to programs designed to help
her integrate into society; why she is punished for filing
legal papers; why the defendants are “trying to
distance me between my friends and family”; and for any
monetary relief owed to her for the alleged violations of her
constitutional and civil rights. (ECF No. 27 at 6, 15). A
short time ago, Plaintiff moved for leave to increase her
demand for monetary relief to one billion dollars. (ECF No.
to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915, a court must
screen each case in which a prisoner seeks to proceed in
forma pauperis. The court must dismiss the case, or any
part of it, if the complaint 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.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915. A
“frivolous” case has been defined as one which is
based upon an indisputably meritless legal theory, Anders
v. California, 386 U.S. 738, 744 (1967), or lacks
“an arguable basis either in law or fact.”
Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989);
Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25 (1992). Likewise, a
complaint fails to state a compensable claim, and therefore
should be dismissed, when viewing the well-pleaded factual
allegations in the complaint as true and in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff, the complaint does not contain
“enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
Supreme Court further clarified the
“plausibility” standard in Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009), stating that the
Court is required to accept as true the factual allegations
asserted in the complaint, but is not required to accept the
legitimacy of legal conclusions that are “couched as .
. . factual allegation[s].” Id. at 678
(quoting Bell Atlantic Corp, 550 U.S. at 554).
“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice.” Id. “[W]here the well-pleaded
facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere
possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it
has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is
entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679.
has filed her complaint pro se, and courts are
required to liberally construe pro se complaints.
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). However,
even under this less stringent standard, the complaint still
must contain sufficient factual allegations to support a
valid legal cause of action. Bass v. E.I. Dupont de
Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003).
The court may not rewrite the pleading to include claims that
were never presented, Parker v. Champion, 148 F.3d
1219, 1222 (10th Cir. 1998), construct the plaintiff's
legal arguments for her, Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d
411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993), or “conjure up questions
never squarely presented” to the court. Beaudett v.
City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).
course of screening a prisoner's case, the court should
also verify that it has judicial authority under Article III,
Section 2 of the United States Constitution to consider the
asserted claims. As a prerequisite to the exercise of
judicial authority, the complaint before the court must
present an actual case or justiciable controversy. “To
be justiciable under Article III of the Constitution, the
conflict between the litigants must present a ‘case or
controversy' both at the time the lawsuit is filed and at
the time it is decided. If intervening factual ... events
effectively dispel the case or controversy during pendency of
the suit, the federal courts are powerless to decide the
questions presented.” Ross v. Reed, 719 F.2d.
689, 693-94 (4th Cir. 1983). “The requisite personal
interest that must exist at the commencement of the
litigation ... must continue throughout its existence.
Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S.
43, 68 n. 22 (1997) (citations omitted). “Simply
stated, a case is moot when the issues presented are no
longer ‘live' or the parties lack a legally
cognizable interest in the outcome.” Powell v.
McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496 (1969).
a general rule, a prisoner's transfer or release from a
particular prison moots his claims for injunctive and
declaratory relief with respect to his incarceration
there.” Rendelman v. Rouse, 569 F.3d 182, 186
(4th Cir. 2009). “The reasons for finding mootness in
such a context are clear. Once an inmate is removed from the
environment in which he is subjected to the challenged policy
or practice, absent a claim for damages, he no longer has a
legally cognizable interest in a judicial decision on the
merits of his claim.” Incumaa v. Ozmint, 507
F.3d 281, 287 (4th Cir. 2007). “Any declaratory or
injunctive relief ordered in the inmate's favor in such
situations would have no practical impact on the inmate's
rights and would not redress in any way the injury he
originally asserted.” Id.
a plaintiff's claim should not be dismissed as moot if
there is sufficient evidence to conclude that the action is
“capable of repetition, yet evading review.”
Southern Pac. Terminal Co. v. ICC, 219 U.S. 498, 515
(1911). Under this exception, a claim that would otherwise be
moot may be subject to judicial review if the facts of the
case lead to a reasonable expectation that the “same
complaining party would be subjected to the same action
again.” Lane v. Williams, 455 U.S. 624, 634
(1982) (citing Weinstein v. Bradford, 423 U.S. 147,
149 (1975)); Federal Election Commission v. Wis. Right to
Life, 551 U.S. 449, 463 (2007) (“capable of
repetition” exception requires demonstrated probability
that the same controversy will recur involving the same
plaintiff). The plaintiff must make a reasonable showing
“that he will again be subject to the alleged
illegality.” Mere conjecture that the plaintiff may
return to a prison facility and again face the alleged wrong
is not sufficient to meet the mootness exception.
Higgason v. Farley, 83 F.3d 807, 811 (7th Cir.
Plaintiff ‘s complaint is so unwieldy that it is
difficult to separate her claims and requests for relief and
assign them to the various defendants. However, to the extent
that Plaintiff requests declaratory or injunctive relief, the
undersigned FINDS that her complaint is moot. Plaintiff is no
longer an inmate at Lakin, having been released from custody
months ago. Moreover, Plaintiff has not made a reasonable
showing that she will return to Lakin and be subjected to the
same alleged wrongs. Therefore, all claims seeking
non-monetary relief should be dismissed.
Claims Subject to Money Damages
42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides a remedy to parties who are
deprived of federally protected civil and constitutional
rights by persons acting under color of any state “law,
statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage.”
Id. Congress enacted § 1983 “to enforce
provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment against those who
carry a badge of authority of a State and represent it in
some capacity, whether they act in accordance with their
authority or misuse it.” Monroe v. Pape, 365
U.S. 167, 171-172 (1961), overruled on other grounds
by 436 U.S. 658. In order to state a cause of action
under § 1983, a plaintiff must present facts showing
that: (1) a person (the defendant) deprived him or her of a
federally protected civil right, privilege or immunity and
(2) that the defendant did so under color of State law.
Perrin v. Nicholson, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 105121, *
4 (D.S.C. 2010); See American Mfr. Mut. Ins. Co. v.
Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999) (“To state a
claim for relief in an action brought under § 1983,
respondents must establish that they were deprived of a right
secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and
that the alleged deprivation was committed under color of
state law.”). If either of these elements is missing,
the complaint fails to state a claim for relief under §
1983. Id. at 50.
asks the Court to award her the “monetary” relief
that she is “entitled to for violating [her]
constitutional and civil rights.” (ECF No. 27).
Plaintiff does not identify which of the twenty-two
defendants are responsible for paying the money damages, nor
does she specify an amount of compensation that should be
awarded against each defendant. Furthermore, Plaintiff fails
to pinpoint the particular violations that she believes
entitle her to monetary relief. For that reason, the
undersigned will examine in turn each claim asserted by
Plaintiff in her amended complaint to determine if she has
alleged sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for money
damages under § 1983.
Individuals and Entities that are not Persons under
examining Plaintiff's individual claims, the undersigned
will consider whether there are any named defendants not
subject to suit, because they are not “persons”
under § 1983. In Will v. Mich. Dept. of State
Police, the Supreme Court of the United States
considered “the question whether a State, or an
official of the State while acting in his or her official
capacity, is a ‘person' within the meaning of
Rev.Stat. § 1979, 42 U.S.C. § 1983.”
Id., 491 U.S. 58, 60 (1989). Examining the language
and purpose of the statute, the Supreme Court concluded that
Congress never intended to subject States to liability for
deprivations of civil liberties when such suits would have
otherwise been barred by the States' sovereign immunity.
Id. at 66. The Court further held that a State's
officials “acting in their official capacities”
likewise were not “persons” under § 1983.
Id. at 71. The Court explained: “Obviously,
state officials literally are persons. But a suit against a
state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit
against the official; rather, it is a suit against the
official's office. As such, it is no different from a
suit against the State itself.” Id. (citations
Court later clarified its holding in Will, making a
distinction between officials acting in their official
capacities and officials acting in their personal capacities
under color of state law. Kentucky v. Graham, 473
U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985); see also Hafer v. Melo, 502
U.S. 21 (1991). The Court explained that because the real
party in interest in an “official-capacity” suit
is the governmental entity, rather than the named official,
the target of such a claim is the entity's “policy
or custom.” Hafer, 502 U.S. at 25 (citing
Graham, 473 U.S. at 166). “Personal-capacity
suits, on the other hand, seek to impose individual liability
upon a government officer for actions taken under color of
state law.” Id.
significance of this distinction is key to the viability of a
§ 1983 complaint against a state official. As a general
proposition, the doctrine of sovereign immunity contained in
the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution bars
suit against a State. Will, 491 U.S. at 67. By
extension, sovereign immunity bars claims for money damages
against state officials acting within their official
capacities, including claims brought pursuant to § 1983.
Id. at 71. In contrast, suits for money damages
brought against state officials acting in their personal
capacities are not barred by the doctrine of sovereign
immunity. Hafer, 502 U.S. 30. Instead, a
state official sued in his or her personal capacity under
§ 1983 must rely upon “personal immunities,
” such as qualified immunity, to bar suit. Id.
determination of whether a defendant has been named in his
official or individual capacity is generally made by
examining “the face of the complaint.” Amos
v. Maryland Dep't of Pub. Safety & Corr. Servs.,
126 F.3d 589, 609 (4th Cir. 1997), vacated on
other grounds by 524 U.S. 935 (1998). “[A]
plaintiff need not plead expressly the capacity in which he
is suing a defendant in order to state a cause of action
under § 1983.” Biggs v. Meadows, 66 F.3d
56, 60 (4th Cir. 1995). However, “[w]hen a plaintiff
does not allege capacity specifically, the court must examine
the nature of the plaintiff's claims, the relief sought,
and the course of proceedings to determine whether a state
official is being sued in a personal capacity.”
Id. at 61. In Foreman v. Griffith, the
Fourth Circuit discussed the significance of the factors
outlined in Biggs:
With respect to assessing the nature of a plaintiff's
claim or claims, the Biggs court stated that the
plaintiff's failure to allege that the defendant acted in
accordance with a governmental policy or custom or the lack
of indicia of such a policy or custom on the face of the
complaint indicates that a state actor has been sued in his
individual capacity. With respect to the nature of the relief
sought, the Biggs court also stated that the
plaintiff's request for compensatory or punitive damages
indicates an individual capacity suit since such relief is
unavailable in official capacity suits. Finally, with respect
to the course of proceedings, the Biggs court stated
that the defendant's assertion of qualified immunity as a
defense indicates an individual capacity suit, since such a
defense is only available in individual capacity suits.
81 Fed.App'x 432, 435 (4th Cir. 2003). Ultimately,
“the underlying inquiry remains whether the
[p]laintiff's intention to hold a defendant personally
liable can be ...