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Lancaster v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

June 26, 2017

CHRISTOPHER LANCASTER, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Danny C. Reeves, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Christopher Lancaster has filed a pro se complaint alleging that, in 2012, unidentified officers at the United States Penitentiary - McCreary in Pine Knot, Kentucky stomped his legs while trying to force him into a cell. He further alleges that he was placed in a holding cell for 24 hours with no blanket, mattress, or toilet. [Record No. 1] The Court initially characterized Lancaster's letter as a Complaint asserting constitutional tort claims pursuant to the doctrine announced in Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). [Record No. 3] Lancaster objected to this characterization, stating that he wished to assert a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671-80 (“FTCA”). [Record No. 4] He then filed a motion to amend his Complaint to include a number of new factual allegations, add seven prison officials as defendants, and assert Bivens claims against them. [Record No. 18]

         To effectuate Lancaster's expressed intention to assert a claim under the FTCA, the Court directed the Clerk of the Court to modify the docket to reflect that this is an action under the FTCA, and to identify the United States of America as the sole defendant. [Record No. 25 at 5] the Court further advised that, before Lancaster's FTCA claim could proceed, he would be required to demonstrate that there was subject matter jurisdiction by filing a copy of his SF-90 form presenting his claim to the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) for administration settlement, as well as the BOP's letter denying the claim. [Record No. 25 at 5]

         The Court denied Lancaster's motion to amend his complaint to add Bivens claims because: (1) he failed to tender a proposed amended complaint with his motion; and (2) his proposed amendment would be futile as it is would be subject to dismissal as time-barred. Specifically, because the actions and events giving rise to Lancaster's purported Bivens claims occurred in July 2012, the statute of limitations expired in July 2013. [Record No. 25 at 6-7]

         Lancaster then filed a document captioned “Interlocutory Appeal Protesting Denial of Amended Complaint.” [Record No. 29] This document was docketed by the Clerk as a motion for reconsideration because Lancaster asked the Court to vacate its prior Order denying his motion to amend his Complaint to add a Bivens claim. [Record No. 29] The Court denied Lancaster's request for relief, again noting that Lancaster's proposed Bivens claims are untimely. [Record No. 30] The Court further advised that, if Lancaster wishes to file an interlocutory appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, he should file appropriate documents clearly expressing that intent. [Record No. 30] But the Court also noted that, as the Court's March 9, 2017 Order is not a final order from which an interlocutory appeal will ordinarily lie, Lancaster would incur a $505.00 appellate filing fee and probable dismissal of his appeal. [Record No. 30 at 1-2] Next, the Court warned that Lancaster remained obligated to comply with the Court's April 5, 2017 Order by filing a copy of his SF-90 form presenting his claim to the BOP for administration settlement, as well as the BOP's letter denying the claim into the record on or before May 26, 2017. [Record No. 30 at 2]

         I. Lancaster's “Motion for Emergency Stay Pending Motion for Consideration”

         Lancaster has now filed a document entitled “Motion for Emergency Stay Pending Motion for Consideration.” [Record No. 32] In this motion, he asks the Court for an emergency stay “pending reconsideration of time bar of the above case under Rule 60(b)(1).” [Record No. 32 at 1] Lancaster claims he has just obtained “newly discovered evidence” in support of his case. [Record No. 32 at 1] He states that he has been forced to remain inside the Special Housing Unit (“SHU”) and that, for safety reasons beyond his control, he “has had property lost or delayed transferring from numerous prison [sic] with no access to legal council [sic] or documents.” [Record No. 32-1]

         In support, Lancaster submits a letter dated April 27, 2017 and signed by “M. Ureña, ” identified as a Correctional Counselor at the Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman, Florida. This letter references correspondence Lancaster received from this Court regarding “the court's denial for the interlocutory Appeal submitted by inmate Lancaster.” [Record No. 32-2] The letter states that, “[a]lthough the inmate's appeal submission was time bar [sic], ” computer records show that Lancaster may have had difficulties filing in a timely manner due to his stay in special housing at several institutions from 2012 to present. [Record No. 32-2] The letter explains that Lancaster's stay in the SHU and numerous transfers would have given him limited access to filing material or resources. [Record No. 32-2] The letter then requests, on behalf of “unit management, ” that Lancaster be provided an opportunity to continue with his legal remedy process. [Record No. 32-2]

         This letter raises several serious concerns. As an initial matter, it is extremely unusual (if not unheard of) for a prison employee to write such a letter to the Court requesting that additional time be granted to permit a prisoner to pursue such untimely claims, raising questions regarding the letter's authenticity. The letter is also rife with grammatical errors and erroneously refers to this Court's denial of Lancaster's interlocutory appeal. [Record No. 32-2] Although Lancaster filed a document entitled “Interlocutory Appeal” in this Court, as the Court previously explained, this document was construed as a motion for reconsideration because Lancaster asked this Court (not the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit) to vacate its prior order denying his motion to amend his complaint to add Bivens claims. [Record No. 30] To be clear, Lancaster has never had an interlocutory appeal pending in this Court, as such an appeal would be filed with the Sixth Circuit.

         Even putting aside these concerns, Lancaster's latest motion and the letter he submits in support do not provide grounds for the relief sought. Lancaster's motion to amend his Complaint to assert claims under Bivens was denied as futile because the actions and events giving rise to those claims occurred in July 2012, while the statute of limitations expired in July 2013, or three years before he filed his lawsuit. [Record No. 25] Lancaster's construed motion to reconsider the Court's denial of his motion for leave to amend his Complaint was denied for the same reason. [Record No. 30]

         Lancaster's motion for an emergency stay essentially requests that the Court apply the doctrine of equitable tolling to the statute of limitations governing his Bivens claims on the grounds that his stay in the SHU and transfers between institutions limited his access to filing materials and resources. However, the doctrine of equitable tolling applies sparingly and “only when a litigant's failure to meet a legally-mandated deadline unavoidably arose from circumstances beyond that litigant's control.” Jurado v. Burt, 337 F.3d 638, 642 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Graham-Humphreys v. Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Inc., 209 F.3d 552, 560-61 (6th Cir.2000)). As the Supreme Court has explained,

[w]e have allowed equitable tolling in situations where the claimant has actively pursued his judicial remedies by filing a defective pleading during the statutory period, or where the complainant has been induced or tricked by his adversary's misconduct into allowing the filing deadline to pass. We have generally been much less forgiving in receiving late filings where the claimant failed to exercise due diligence in preserving his legal rights.

Irwin v. Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 498 U.S. 89, 96 (1990)(citations omitted). “Absent compelling equitable considerations, a court should not extend limitations by even a single day.” Graham-Humphreys, 209 F.3d at 561.

         Equitable tolling applies only if two requirements are met. “First, the petitioner must establish ‘that he has been pursuing his rights diligently.' And second, the petitioner must show ‘that some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way and prevented timely filing.'” Hall v. Warden, Lebanon Corr. Inst., 662 F.3d 745, 749 (6th Cir. 2011)(quoting Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631, 649 (2010)). Neither of these requirements are met here. Although Lancaster makes the general argument that he had difficulty filing his Complaint because of a “prolong stay in special housing and numerous transfers, ” as well as the loss of property and/or delayed transfer of his property between institutions [Record No. 32-1, 32-2], limitations on access to legal resources do not justify equitable tolling. “It is well settled that the lack of legal assistance, ignorance of the law or the frustrations of typical prison conditions that make prison-based litigation ...


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