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Wilbur v. Fitzpatrick

United States District Court, D. Maine

August 14, 2018

JAMES SCOTT WILBUR, Plaintiff
v.
JOSEPH FITZPATRICK, et al., Defendants

          RECOMMENDED DECISION AFTER SCREENING COMPLAINT PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e), 1915A, AND ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTIONS FOR INJUNCTIVE RELIEF

          John C. Nivison, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         In this action, Plaintiff James Scott Wilbur, an inmate in the custody of the Maine Department of Corrections, alleges he was subjected to excessive force, abusive prisoner discipline, and inequitable and prejudicial disciplinary hearing practices by officers and administrators at the Maine State Prison. (Complaint, ECF No. 1.) In addition to filing a complaint, Plaintiff has requested a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunctive relief. (Motions, ECF Nos. 6, 14.)

         Plaintiff filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 4), which application the Court granted (ECF No. 8). In accordance with the in forma pauperis statute, a preliminary review of Plaintiff's complaint is appropriate. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Additionally, Plaintiff's complaint is subject to screening “before docketing, if feasible or … as soon as practicable after docketing, ” because he is “a prisoner seek[ing] redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).

         Following a review of Plaintiff's complaint, as amended, I recommend the Court dismiss the complaint, except for Plaintiff's due process claim regarding the imposition of a fine following a disciplinary proceeding conducted at the prison, and for the excessive force and retaliation claims Plaintiff has asserted against certain defendants. I also recommend the Court deny Plaintiff's motions for injunctive relief. (Motions, ECF Nos. 6, 14.)

         Standard of Review

         The federal in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, is designed to ensure meaningful access to the federal courts for those persons unable to pay the costs of bringing an action. When a party is proceeding in forma pauperis, however, “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines, ” inter alia, that the action is “frivolous or malicious” or “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). “Dismissals [under § 1915] are often made sua sponte prior to the issuance of process, so as to spare prospective defendants the inconvenience and expense of answering such complaints.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989).

         In addition to the review contemplated by § 1915, Plaintiff's complaint is subject to screening under the Prison Litigation Reform Act because Plaintiff currently is incarcerated and seeks redress from governmental entities and officers. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), (c). The § 1915A screening requires courts to “identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint (1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim …; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         When considering whether a complaint states a claim for which relief may be granted, courts must assume the truth of all well-plead facts and give the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom. Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead “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).

         Although a pro se plaintiff's complaint is subject to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), this is “not to say that pro se plaintiffs are not required to plead basic facts sufficient to state a claim, Ferranti v. Moran, 618 F.2d 888, 890 (1st Cir. 1980). To allege a civil action in federal court, it is not enough for a plaintiff merely to allege that a defendant acted unlawfully; a plaintiff must affirmatively allege facts that identify the manner by which the defendant subjected the plaintiff to a harm for which the law affords a remedy. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         Factual Background

         Through his complaint and amended complaint, Plaintiff seeks to assert claims for cruel and unusual punishment, violation of procedural due process, unlawful search and seizure, and the use of excessive force. Plaintiff has joined more than twenty defendants in this action.

         Excessive punishment

         Plaintiff alleges that the Maine Department of Corrections maintains a flawed prison disciplinary policy because most of the conduct proscribed by the policy is classified as either a Class A or Class B offense, and the classifications carry the most severe potential punishments. According to Plaintiff, disciplinary charges too frequently result in excessive punishment. Among the punishments of particular concern to Plaintiff are the loss of privileges due to disciplinary sanctions, including cessation of good time credit accrual and bans against participation in programs and services. Plaintiff contends the disciplinary policy should be revised to classify fewer infractions as Class A or Class B, and to permit more infractions to be resolved informally. Plaintiff requests injunctive relief, which would include the creation of a new policy and redesign of the disciplinary board system. (Complaint ¶¶ 23 - 35, and pp. 15 - 17, ¶ B.1 - B.3.)

         Due process challenge

         Plaintiff asserts facts related to his personal experience with the disciplinary system. Under the caption, Excessive and Unsubstantiated Discipline, Plaintiff describes more than a dozen disciplinary reports asserted against him for a variety of proscribed conduct. (Id. ¶¶ 36 - 51.) Plaintiff asserts that none of his reports resulted in “informal” discipline.[1] (Id. ¶ 52.) As the result of the process, Plaintiff has, from time to time, been banned from accessing the Activities Building, been fined, lost access to the canteen, received extra work assignments in lieu of recreation, and lost the ability to earn good time credits. (Id. ¶¶ 36 - 56.) Plaintiff also alleges that he “repeatedly” has been unable to attend religious services. (Id. ¶ 56.) Plaintiff further alleges that in June 2018, he lost his paid work assignment due to repeated write-ups. (Id. ¶ 57.)

         Plaintiff alleges that the disciplinary process was deficient because disciplinary proceedings were not “initiated” within 24 hours (Id. ¶ 58); the allegations did not receive the approval of the reporting staff member's security supervisor (Id. ¶ 59); the disciplinary process did not include a description of the physical evidence or the “disposition” (Id. ¶ 60); and the disciplinary proceeding did not include the evidence and witnesses requested by Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 58 - 61.)

         Plaintiff also alleges he has a severe mental health issue, and that “[a]t no point in any of the disciplinary incidents … was mental health consultation sought with regard to the dispositions imposed as is required by the defendant's own policy.” (Id. ¶ 62.) According to Plaintiff, Defendants Blakely, Abbott, Ross, and Liberty are responsible for these “failures.” (Id.)

         Conduct of Defendants Chadwick and McConnell

         Plaintiff contends Defendants Chadwick and McConnell have issued Plaintiff, respectively, three and two disciplinary reports since January, 2018. (Id. ¶ 65.) According to Plaintiff, on four occasions, Defendant Chadwick conducted random cell searches of Plaintiff's cell. (Id. ¶ 67.) Plaintiff alleges Defendant McConnell has bypassed the chain of command to advise the coordinator of programs to terminate Plaintiff from his job assignment, and that Defendant Chadwick has used “de-escalation intervention” four times with Plaintiff since November, 2017. (Id. ¶¶ 68 - 70.) On June 12, 2018, Defendant Chadwick confiscated a television from Plaintiff, citing poor disciplinary history. (Id. ¶ 71.)

         Relief requested

         Plaintiff alleges that the conditions imposed on him are cruel and unusual and were imposed without adequate procedural due process. (Id. ¶¶ 73 - 77.) Plaintiff requests declaratory relief stating that the Department's disciplinary policy and Defendants' conduct violated the Constitution, injunctive relief requiring the establishment of a new disciplinary policy, the expungement of his personal disciplinary record, and an award of money damages.

         Amended/supplemental pleadings

         In his amendment to the complaint, Plaintiff supplements his allegations regarding prior, unresolved disciplinary proceedings, and reports new disciplinary charges. (ECF No. 12.) In addition, Plaintiff alleges that after the filing of his complaint in this action, Defendant Chadwick and Defendant Charles Horton, a corrections officer, have undertaken disciplinary action against him, and that Defendant Horton physical assaulted him. Plaintiff further alleged that Defendant Chadwick confiscated or destroyed ...


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