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Gatewood v. Beckstrom

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland

September 24, 2014

KENNETH GATEWOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN GARY BECKSTROM, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

HENRY R. WILHOIT, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff Kenneth Gatewood is an inmate confined by the Kentucky Department of Corrections ("KDOC") in the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex ("EKCC"), located in West Liberty, Kentucky. Gatewood has filed a pro se civil rights complaint asserting constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Gatewood alleges that the defendants, all EKCC officials, [1] violated and/or "manhandled" his right to due process of law by unlawfully dismissing from his prison job at the EKCC; failing to properly investigate his complaints and/or respond to his institutional grievances; and by wrongfully refusing to transfer him to another KDOC facility. Gatewood alleges that the same actions or omissions by the defendants amounted to deliberate indifference to his well-being. Gatewood has been granted in forma pauperis status in a separate order.

The Court has conducted a preliminary review of Gatewood's complaint because he asserts claims against government officials and because he has been granted pauper status. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A. Because Gatewood is not represented by an attorney, the Court liberally construes his claims and accepts his factual allegations as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). As explained below, the Court determines that Gatewood has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and that his § 1983 complaint must be dismissed with prejudice.

ALLEGATIONS OF THE COMPLAINT

Gatewood alleges that when he reported to his maintenance prison job at the EKCC on August 27, 2014, his supervisor informed him that he had been terminated from that position. [D. E. No. 1, p. 3, ¶ 17] Gatewood then received a "Job Dismissal" form, signed by the EKCC Work Supervisor, Work Program Director, and Department Head. The reason provided on the form was, "Lied when asked a direct question." [ Id., ¶ 18; see also "Job Dismissal, " D. E. No. 1-2, p. 1] The following day, August 28, 2014, Gatewood submitted an "Inmate Grievance Form, " stating that his dismissal was the result of a personal conflict between him and Defendant Keith Helton and other EKCC officials; that Helton had harassed him; and that his due process rights had been violated by the termination of his prison job. [D. E. No. 1-2, pp. 3-4] In his grievance form, Gatewood asked that the Committee, "Take a fearless, thorough, moral investigation into the matter, and see to it that the appropriate authorities are notified and that these acts and omission are brought to and [sic] end." [ Id., p. 3]

Gatewood states that, two days later, on August 29, 2014, he learned from Margaret Jenkins, EKCC Case Treatment Officer, that "... no conflict was lodged into inmate's management file with Defendant Helton." [D.E. No. 1, p. 3, ¶ 20] On September 2, 2014, Sarah Potter, EKCC Grievance Coordinator, returned Gatewood's grievance to him. Potter rejected the grievance, stating, "The hiring and firing process is non-grievable due to being a classification decision according to CPP 14.6." [D.E. No. 1-1, p. 2, ¶ 9][2]

In another document which Gatewood submitted, entitled "Notice, " he alleged that he is suffering from "... indifference with the correctional staff." [D. E. No. 1-5]. Gatewood appears to claiming that the EKCC staff either failed to properly investigate his grievance(s), or just ignored his grievance(s). Gatewood further alleges that when he objected to the fact his complaints about Defendant Helton's harassment of him went undocumented, he was "... subjected to future suffering and pain." [ Id., p. 4, ¶ 25] On this issue, Gatewood further alleges that Warden Beckstrom failed to "... acknowledge or investigate or delegate a subordinate to investigate claims of harassment towards Plaintiff from Defendant Helton, " id., p. 4, and that Warden Beckstrom "... failed to provide him with information about such claim...." [ Id. ]

After his dismissal from his prison job, Gatewood requested a transfer to another KDOC facility. [ Id., p. 4, ¶ 6] On September 2, 2014, Defendant John Hollway, Deputy Warden of Programs, responded that Gatewood's transfer request is pending; that the EKCC has a prison population of over 1700; that the KDOC is processing transfer requests which predate Gatewood's transfer request; and that Gatewood "... should work on gaining some patience and eventually your time for transfer will happen. I also encourage you to remain positive and seek goals for yourself that is attainable at EKCC." [D. E. No. 1-1, p. 1]

Gatewood alleges that the defendants have violated his right to due process of law by dismissing him from his prison job; failing to properly investigate, document, and respond to, his grievances complaining about Defendant Helton; and by refusing immediately approve his transfer to another KDOC facility. As a prisoner being held in state custody, Gatewood's claims on these issues fall under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees due process of law. Additionally, Gatewood claims that these actions and/or omissions amount to deliberate indifference to his well-being; "deliberate and intentional misconduct;" the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain;" and failure to protect him from harm, all in violation of his rights guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment. See id., pp. 5-6.

Gatewood contends that the defendants' actions and/or omissions, has caused him to suffer mental anguish and emotional distress. [ Id., p. 4]. Gatewood further alleges that the loss of his prison job and the resulting loss of wages from that prion job qualify as a physical injury that enables him to assert a claim alleging mental anguish. [ Id., p. 5, ¶ 30]

RELIEF REQUESTED

Gatewood seeks damages of at least $13, 000.00, his fees, court costs, and any other relief to which he is entitled. [ Id., p. 6] Gatewood further demands both a permanent and a temporary injunction which: (1) prohibits EKCC officials from terminating an inmate from his prison job without "Due Process of Law Taking Place in Their Decision Making;" (2) prohibits EKCC officials from "... issuing harassing, molesting, communicating and delegating orders... on Plaintiff without Due process... taking place;" and (3) transfers him immediately from the EKCC to another KDOC facility ".... to ensure future retaliation is not taken against Plaintiff." [D. E. No. 1-6, pp. 1-2]

DISCUSSION

To the extent that Gatewood alleges that he was terminated from his prison job without due process of law, he states no claim for relief. A prisoner's loss of job assignment is not a protected liberty interest because it does not impose an atypical and significant hardship on him in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life. Williams v. Straub, 26 F.Appx. 389, 391 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Bulger v. United States Bureau of Prisons, 65 F.3d 48, 49 (5th Cir. 1995)). In other words, prisoners have no constitutional right to prison employment ...


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