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Lucas v. Ballard

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia

March 21, 2018

JAMES A. LUCAS, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID BALLARD, Warden, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AND NOTICE

          DWANE L. TINSLEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is assigned to the Honorable Joseph R. Goodwin, United States District Judge, and it is referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for submission of proposed findings and a recommendation for disposition, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Pending before the court are the plaintiff's Complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (ECF No. 1), and his Motion to Amend Complaint (ECF No. 4). The plaintiff is an inmate at the Mount Olive Correctional Complex (“MOCC”) in Mount Olive, West Virginia.

         Payment of filing fee or filing of application to proceed without prepayment thereof

         The undersigned notes that, although the plaintiff filed an Authorization to Release Institutional Account Information (ECF No. 2), he failed to either pay the applicable $400 filing fee or file an Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees and Costs. It is hereby ORDERED that the plaintiff must either pay the applicable filing fee or file a properly completed Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees and Costs, including having the Certificate section completed by the prison's Trustee Clerk, within 10 days of entry of this Order. The plaintiff is NOTIFIED that the failure to comply with this Order will result in the recommended dismissal of this matter pursuant to Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         Initial screening of Complaint and Leave to Amend

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the undersigned has conducted a preliminary review of the plaintiff's Complaint to determine if this action is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Pro se complaints are held to less stringent standards than those drafted by attorneys, and the court is obliged to construe liberally such complaints. However, in Bell Atlantic Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), the Supreme Court observed that a case should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if, 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.” While the complaint need not assert “detailed factual allegations, ” it must contain “more than labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Id. at 555.

         The Supreme Court elaborated on its holding in Twombly in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), a civil rights case. The Court wrote:

Two working principles underlie our decision in Twombly. First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. [Twombly, 550 U.S.] at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (Although for the purposes of a motion to dismiss we must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation” (internal quotation marks omitted). Rule 8 . . . does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Id., at 556. * * *
In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

556 U.S. at 678-679. This same standard applies to the review of complaints under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         Although pro se complaints must be liberally construed to permit the development of potentially meritorious claims, the court may not rewrite the pleading to construe claims that were never presented, Parker v. Champion, 148 F.3d 1219, 1222 (10th Cir. 1998), develop the plaintiff's legal theories for him, 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). Nevertheless, in the interests of justice, the court may allow a pro se plaintiff the opportunity to amend his complaint in order to correct deficiencies in the pleading. Gordon v. Leake, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978).

         Liberally construed, the undersigned believes that the plaintiff is attempting to assert two claims against the defendants. First, he appears to be challenging the utility and fairness of MOCC's inmate grievance process. However, in Adams v. Rice, 40 F.3d 72 (4th Cir. 1994), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit made it clear that inmates have no constitutional entitlement or due process right to access to a grievance procedure. Therefore, an inmate may not bring a claim under section 1983 alleging denial of a specific grievance process or alleged deficiencies in such process. Accordingly, the undersigned FINDS that the plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted with respect to the plaintiff's claim concerning MOCC's grievance process itself, and that such claim is subject to dismissal under section 1915A.

         However, the plaintiff also appears to be asserting a separate claim that the defendants violated his rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution by retaliating against him for previously utilizing the grievance process and by filing a lawsuit challenging certain conditions of his confinement at MOCC. To establish a First Amendment retaliation claim, a plaintiff must allege: (1) that he engaged in activity protected by the First Amendment; (2) that the defendant took some action that adversely affected the plaintiff's First Amendment rights; and (3) that there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the defendant's conduct (that is, that the exercise of the plaintiff's protected right was a substantial or motivating factor in the defendant's alleged retaliatory conduct). Constantine v. Rectors & Visitors of George Mason Univ., 411 F.3d 474, 499 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Suarez Corp. Indus. v. McGraw, 202 F.3d 676, 685 (4th Cir. 2000)). The plaintiff must allege facts showing that the alleged retaliatory action either violated a clearly-established constitutional right or “constituted punishment for [his] exercise of a constitutional right.” Cochran v. Morris, 73 F.3d 1310, 1318 (4th Cir. 1996) (citing Adams, 40 F.3d at 75).

         Prison officials may not retaliate against an inmate for filing a lawsuit. See Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 84, 86 (1987); see also Hudspeth v. Figgins, 584 F.2d 1345 (4th Cir. 1978); Russell v. Oliver, 552 F.2d 115 (4th Cir. 1977). More recently, in Booker v. South Carolina Dep't of Corr., 855 F.3d 533, 546 (4th Cir. 2017), the Fourth Circuit specifically recognized that, while there is no constitutional right to access to grievance procedures, where an inmate does engage in such procedures, “a reasonable prison official has fair warning that retaliating against who ...


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