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Jenkins v. Bittinger

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

October 17, 2016

Bobby C. Jenkins, Plaintiff,
Mr. Bittinger; Eric S. Hooper; Charles West, Walter Martin, Defendants.


          Kaymani D. West United States Magistrate Judge

         This is a civil action filed pro se by a state prison inmate. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e) (D.S.C.), this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in such pro se cases and to submit findings and recommendations to the district court. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e); 1915A (as soon as possible after docketing, district courts should review prisoner cases to determine whether they are subject to summary dismissal).

         I. Factual Background

         Bobby Jenkins (“Plaintiff”) alleges he was subjected to a false disciplinary violation charge for Inciting/Creating a Disturbance as the result of an encounter with Defendant Hooper on March 1, 2016 (“the March 1 incident”). Compl. 9, ECF No. 1. He asserts that Defendant West filed that charge and several other charges (striking and threatening an employee), [1] and that Defendant Bittinger improperly “stacked” seven charges against him and conducted an unconstitutional disciplinary hearing that resulted in the loss of good-time credits along with the imposition of other sanctions. Id. at 15. Plaintiff asserts Defendant Hooper did not follow South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”) policy when he handcuffed Plaintiff in the Alpha area of Evans Correctional Institution, and that he used excessive force by spraying chemical munitions in Plaintiff's face and using “palm heal [sic] strikes.” Id. at 10. Plaintiff asks for declaratory and injunctive relief including removal of the disciplinary convictions from his prison record and placement into general population. He also requests compensatory and punitive damages. Id. at 16-17.

         II. Standard of Review

         Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of Plaintiff's pro se Complaint filed in this case. This review has been conducted pursuant to the procedural provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915, 1915A, and the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996, and in light of the following precedents: Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324-25 (1989); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); Nasim v. Warden, Md. House of Corr., 64 F.3d 951 (4th Cir. 1995); Todd v. Baskerville, 712 F.2d 70 (4th Cir. 1983); Boyce v. Alizaduh, 595 F.2d 948 (4th Cir. 1979).

         Pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), and a federal district court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). When a federal court is evaluating a pro se complaint, the plaintiff's allegations are assumed to be true. De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 630 n.1 (4th Cir. 2003). Nevertheless, the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that this court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal district court. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990). Even under this less stringent standard, the Complaint filed in this case is subject to partial summary dismissal under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         III. Discussion

         Initially, the Complaint is subject to partial summary dismissal as to Defendant Martin because a close review of the pleading fails to disclose any allegations of any kind against this Defendant. There is no mention of Defendant Martin anywhere in the body of the Complaint and the only references to him are in the caption and on one of the pages provided for a listing of Defendants. ECF No. 1 at 3. Under the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, more specifically 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), this court should dismiss an action filed by a prisoner which is “frivolous” or “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” Because there are no allegations of any wrongdoing by Defendant Martin, Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted as to this Defendant. See Potter v. Clark, 497 F.2d 1206, 1207 (7th Cir. 1974) (“Where a complaint alleges no specific act or conduct on the part of the defendant and the complaint is silent as to the defendant except for his name appearing in the caption, the complaint is properly dismissed.”); Newkirk v. Circuit Court of City of Hampton, No. 3:14CV372-HEH, 2014 WL 4072212 (E.D. Va. Aug. 14, 2014) (complaint subject to summary dismissal where no factual allegations against named defendants within the body of the pleading); see also Krych v. Hvass, 83 F. App'x 854, 855 (8th Cir. 2003); Black v. Lane, 22 F.3d 1395, 1401 n.8 (7th Cir. 1994); Walker v. Hodge, 4 F.3d 991, *2 n.2 (5th Cir. 1993); Banks v. Scott, 3:13CV363, 2014 WL 5430987, at *2 (E.D. Va. Oct. 24, 2014). In absence of substantive allegations of wrongdoing against the named Defendant, there is nothing from which this court can liberally construe any type of plausible cause of action arising from the Complaint against him. See Cochran v. Morris, 73 F.3d 1310 (4th Cir. 1996) (statute allowing dismissal of in forma pauperis claims encompasses complaints that are either legally or factually baseless); Weller v. Dep't of Social Servs., 901 F.2d at 389 n.2 (dismissal proper where there were no allegations to support claim).

         Additionally, all of Plaintiff's allegations against Defendants Bittinger and West relate to their participation in the filing and prosecution of disciplinary violation charges that resulted in convictions and loss of good-time credits along with other sanctions. As a result, Plaintiff's claims against these two Defendants, as well as his allegations of false charges against Defendant Hooper, are not properly raised in this § 1983 action.[2] It is settled that “habeas corpus is the exclusive remedy for a state prisoner who challenges the fact or duration of his confinement and seeks immediate or speedier release, even though such a claim may come within the literal terms of § 1983.” Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 481 (1994) (citing Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475 (1973)). Cf. Muhammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749, 755 (2004) (§ 1983 may be used to challenge disciplinary procedures where no accrued/earned good-time credits are taken as a sanction). The holdings of Heck and Preiser, insofar as applicable to challenges to prison disciplinary procedures under which forfeited good-time credits may be restored were confirmed by the United States Supreme Court in Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74 (2005). Referencing both Heck and Preiser, along with Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641 (1997) and Wolf v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974), the Wilkinson Court stated,

These cases . . . taken together, indicate that a state prisoner's § 1983 action is barred (absent prior invalidation) - no matter the relief sought (damages or equitable relief), no matter the target of the prisoner's suit (state conduct leading to conviction or internal prison proceedings) - if success in that action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of confinement or its duration.
Thus, in Preiser we held the prisoners' § 1983 action barred because the relief it sought - restoration of good-time credits, which would shorten the prisoners' incarceration and hasten the date on which they would be transferred to supervised release - was available in habeas.

544 U.S. at 82, 86 (citations omitted); see, e.g., Cabbagestalk v. Hardin, No. 5:13-cv-2974-RMG, 2014 WL 2881930 (D.S.C. June 25, 2014) (§ 1983 challenge to prison disciplinary process barred by Heck); Battle v. Eagleton, 8:07-cv-1841-GRA-BHH, 2008 WL 2952349, at *5 (D.S.C. July 28, 2008) (“A prisoner cannot bring a § 1983 action challenging a disciplinary proceeding resulting in the loss of good-time credits if the possible relief would necessarily imply the invalidity of the punishment imposed, unless the disciplinary action was previously invalidated.”). Similarly, Plaintiff has no actionable constitutional claim against either Defendant West or Hooper based on his allegations of their filing “false” disciplinary charges. See, e.g., Freeman v. Rideout, 808 F.2d 949, 962-63 (2d Cir. 1986) (“The act of filing false disciplinary charges does not itself violate a prisoner's constitutional rights.”); McClary v. Fowlkes, No. 1:07CV1080 (LO/TCB), 2008 WL 3992637, *4 (E.D. Va. 2008) (finding inmate has no constitutional right against being falsely accused of conduct that may result in deprivation of protected liberty interest). Accordingly, Plaintiff's Complaint should be partially summarily dismissed as to both Defendants West and Bittinger because Plaintiff's allegations against them should be raised in a habeas petition and not in a § 1983 complaint. Also, the Complaint should be partially summarily dismissed to the extent that it asserts a “false charge” claim against Defendant Hooper.

         Furthermore, Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a plausible constitutional claim and should be partially summarily dismissed to the extent that it asserts Defendant Hooper did not follow SCDC policy in connection with the placing of restraints on Plaintiff in the Alpha area and Defendants Bittinger and West did not follow SCDC policy in connection with the filing and determination of disciplinary charges arising from the March 1, 2016 incident.[3] An allegation that an SCDC defendant did not follow the institution's policies or procedures, standing alone, does not amount to a constitutional violation. See United States v. Caceres, 440 U.S. 741 (1978) (IRS agent failed to follow IRS rule re: electronic surveillance; no exclusionary rule in criminal action); see also Riccio v. Cnty. of Fairfax, Va., 907 F.2d 1459, 1469 (4th Cir. 1990) (if state law grants more procedural rights than the Constitution requires, a state's failure to abide by that law is not a federal due process ...

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