United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division
PROPOSED FINDINGS OF FACT AND
A. EIFERT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
November 2017, Plaintiff, Melvin Cochran
(“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and
incarcerated at the Mount Olive Correctional Complex
(“MOCC”) in Mount Olive, West Virginia, filed a
complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against David
Ballard, the Warden of MOCC, and Lolita Butcher and Jim
Rubenstein, the Acting West Virginia Division of Corrections
(“WVDOC”) Commissioner and former WVDOC
Commissioner, respectively. In the Complaint, Plaintiff
alleges that his constitutional right to marry under the
First and Fourteenth Amendments has been violated by
Defendants. (ECF No. 1 at 8). Pending before the court is
Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (ECF
No. 23). Plaintiff has filed a Response in Opposition to
Defendants' Motion, (ECF No. 28), and Defendants have
filed a reply memorandum. (ECF No. 30). This matter is
assigned to the Honorable Joseph R. Goodwin, United States
District Judge, and by standing order is referred to the
undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for the submission
of proposed findings of fact and recommendations for
disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).
thoroughly considered the issues in dispute, the undersigned
FINDS that the complaint, at least in part,
states a claim that is sufficient to survive Defendants'
initial dispositive motion. Accordingly, the undersigned
respectfully PROPOSES that the presiding
District Judge confirm and accept the following findings and
RECOMMENDS that Defendants' motion for
judgment on the pleadings, (ECF No. 23), be
DENIED, in part, and
GRANTED, in part. The motion for judgment on
the pleadings should be DENIED as to
Plaintiff's claims for equitable relief and
GRANTED as to Plaintiff's claims for
Relevant Facts and Procedural History
Plaintiff alleges that he has been repeatedly denied
authorization to marry Sandra Lawrence, a private citizen.
(ECF No. 1 at 8). Plaintiff and Ms. Lawrence met while she
was employed as a Chaplain at MOCC. (Id.). Plaintiff
states that he and Ms. Lawrence developed a “strong
spiritual bond” and friendship through their shared
beliefs and faith. (Id. at 9). Ms. Lawrence later
sent Plaintiff a money order for $50, in violation of
institutional rules. This led to Ms. Lawrence's
termination and Plaintiff's placement in segregation.
(Id. at 8). Plaintiff and Ms. Lawrence continued
their relationship after her termination through
correspondence. (Id. at 9).
in 2015 and continuing until early 2016, Ms. Lawrence sought
approval for visitation with Plaintiff, but her requests were
refused due to a WVDOC policy which states that employees and
former employees are not permitted to visit inmates. (ECF
Nos. 2-1, 2-3, 2-4, 2-6, 2-7). In February 2016, Ms. Lawrence
officially requested permission from Defendant Ballard to
marry Plaintiff. (ECF No. 2-8). In March 2016, Defendant
Ballard denied Ms. Lawrence's request stating,
“[s]ince you do not have the authorization to visit
this inmate, your request is moot.” (ECF No. 2-9).
Plaintiff then sought approval to marry Ms. Lawrence in March
2016 and again in June 2016. (ECF No. 2-25). He was denied
permission both times. (Id.). Ms. Lawrence renewed
her request to marry Plaintiff in a letter to Lolita Butcher
in May 2017. (ECF No. 2-12, at 3). In June 2017, Ms.
Lawrence's request was also denied. (ECF No. 2-13).
asserts that inmate marriages are governed by WVDOC Policy
Directive 507.00 which states in relevant part:
B. An inmate's request to marry shall be approved
1. The inmate is legally eligible to marry.
2. The intended spouse has verified, in writing, an intention
to marry the inmate and is legally eligible to do so.
3. The marriage poses no threat to
institution/facility/center security, good order or public
(ECF No. 1 at 2). Plaintiff alleges that he was told by
prison staff that his request to marry Ms. Lawrence was
denied due to Operating Procedure 5.13, which mandates that:
[T]he intended spouse must meet all of the same eligibility
criteria requirements applicable to all visitors as outlined
in WVDOC Policy Directive 505.03.
(Id. at 13). WVDOC Policy Directive 505.03, however,
contains the following exclusionary clause that applies to
Employees and ex-employees, volunteers and ex-volunteers, are
not permitted to visit with inmates.
(Id.). Plaintiff contends that, as Policy Directive
507.00 does not contain a requirement that the prospective
spouse be approved for visitation, it is improper for
Defendants to reject his request to marry Ms. Lawrence based
on Operating Procedure 5.13. (Id. at 11, 16).
argues that Defendants' repeated refusal to grant him
authorization to marry Ms. Lawrence violates his fundamental
right of marriage guaranteed by the United States
Constitution. (ECF No. 1 at 14). He maintains that his
marriage to Ms. Lawrence does not create a security threat,
and Defendants' actions in withholding permission for
their marriage based on “reflexive and rote assertions
of security issues” is without justification.
(Id. at 15-16). Plaintiff notes that the marriage
could be accomplished via a one-time visit for the purpose of
the ceremony and, thus, would not require extending full
visitor privileges to Ms. Lawrence. (Id. at 16). For
relief, Plaintiff requests that this Court issue a
declaratory judgment stating that Defendants have violated
Plaintiff's rights under the First and Fourteenth
Amendments; issue an injunction ordering Defendants to begin
working with Plaintiff to develop a procedure that will allow
Plaintiff and Ms. Lawrence to marry while maintaining valid
security measures; order an award of compensatory and
punitive damages that the Court deems fit and proper; and
grant any other relief to which Plaintiff is entitled.
(Id. at 16-17).
August 2018, Defendants filed a Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings and a supporting memorandum. (ECF Nos. 23, 24).
Defendants agree with Plaintiff that decisions regarding
inmate marriage are governed by WVDOC Policy Directive
507.00; however, they deny that the decision is controlled
solely by that Policy Directive. (ECF No. 24 at 2-3).
Defendants contend that the decision to deny Plaintiff's
marriage request pursuant to Operating Procedure 5.13 is
constitutional under the test established by the United
States Supreme Court in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S.
78 (1987). (ECF No. 24 at 3, 10). Defendants state that
allowing Plaintiff to marry Ms. Lawrence would pose a
security risk as she is a former prison employee and,
consequently, is knowledgeable of prison security procedures.
(Id. at 8). Moreover, she has a propensity to
violate prison policies as demonstrated by her history of
depositing $50.00 in Plaintiff's inmate account in
flagrant contravention of prison rules. (ECF No. 24 at 8).
Defendants also maintain that the decision to deny
Plaintiff's marriage is discretionary and does not
violate any clearly established rights; accordingly, they are
entitled to qualified immunity against an award of civil
damages. (Id. at 10-12). Defendants ask this Court
to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice. (ECF No.
23 at 1).
August 28, 2018, the undersigned held a status conference.
(ECF No. 26). Following the conference, Plaintiff was ordered
to respond to Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings and to provide a summary of any specific factual
issues that Plaintiff believed needed to be developed prior
to a ruling on the motion. (ECF No. 27). In September 2018,
Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition to Defendants'
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (ECF No. 28).
Response, Plaintiff reiterates his position that it is
improper for Defendants to require visitation approval as a
precondition of marriage. (Id. at 4). Plaintiff
challenges the “implementation of informal and
unauthorized policies” to deny his right to marry.
(Id. at 9). Plaintiff restates his position that
Policy Directive 507.00 represents the exclusive authority
for inmate marriage approval, and that the defendant prison
officials have illegally denied his request to marry Ms.
Lawrence by establishing an additional requirement that the
prospective spouse be an approved visitor. (Id. at
furthermore disagrees with Defendants' interpretation of
Turner v. Safley, arguing that Defendants'
decision to deny his marriage request does not meet the test
established by the Supreme Court in that decision. Plaintiff
contends that Defendants' fear of security risks due to
Ms. Lawrence's past violation of prison regulations and
status as a former employee is “unreasonable” and
an “exaggerated response.” (ECF No. 28 at 11).
Plaintiff refers to other individuals that he believes
committed similar infractions as Ms. Lawrence, but were
nonetheless permitted to visit the prison afterward.
(Id. at 13). Plaintiff claims that, in any event,
Defendants' security concerns can be alleviated by
restricting Ms. Lawrence to a one-time supervised visit
solely for the marriage ceremony. (Id. at 13-14).
also filed a list of factual issues that he feels need to be
developed prior to consideration of a dispositive motion.
(ECF No. 29). Most of the factual issues listed by Plaintiff
pertain to the process by which prison Policy Directives and
Operating Procedures are promulgated, their legal effect, and
the discretion afforded to those charged with enforcing them.
(Id. at 1-2). Plaintiff also asserts that further
factual development is needed to investigate whether several
former inmates and a former “Kiros” volunteer,
who purportedly violated institutional rules, were
subsequently granted visitation access. (Id. at
October 2018, Defendants filed a Reply to Plaintiff's
Response in Opposition. (ECF No. 30). They first argue that
no further discovery is required in order for the case to be
adjudicated on the pleadings. (Id. at 12).
Defendants assert that for the purpose of their Motion for
Judgment on the Pleadings, they have accepted as true all the
factual allegations contained in Plaintiff's Complaint.
(Id.). As to Plaintiff's twelve unresolved
factual issues, Defendants state that the identified issues
are either purely legal questions already answered by the
record, or are irrelevant to the merits of the case.
(Id. at 12-13). Defendants contend that the alleged
incidents in which other individuals were authorized to visit
the prison after committing infractions do not need to be
developed by discovery, because they bear no similarity to
Ms. Lawrence's case. According to Defendants, the first
two referenced cases involve ex-inmates; therefore,
they do not implicate the type of security concerns at issue
here. Defendants contend that the case of the ex-volunteer is
likewise irrelevant, as the ex-volunteer “does not have
knowledge of security procedures.” (ECF No. 30 at 13).
Finally, Defendants argue that past decisions to grant
admission to the facility are not material to ...