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Mays v. Kentucky Dep't of Corr.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

November 22, 2017



          Joseph H. McKinley, Jr. Chief Judge United States

         Plaintiff Paul Harrison Mays, Jr., a prisoner presently incarcerated at Little Sandy Correctional Complex (LSCC), originally filed this pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the Eastern District of Kentucky (DN 1). Subsequently, the Eastern District of Kentucky transferred this action to the Western District of Kentucky (DN 4). There were deficiencies with the filing of the complaint. Thus, this Court entered an Order on September 22, 2017 (DN 10), in which it ordered Plaintiff to remedy the deficiencies. Plaintiff was ordered, in part, to file his action on the Court-approved form for filing an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court further informed Plaintiff that “the amended complaint will superseded/replace the originally filed complaint and will be the document upon which the Court will perform its initial review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.” Plaintiff was further “cautioned to include any claims he wishes to bring before this Court in the new amended complaint.”

         After seeking and being granted an extension of time to respond to the Court's September 22, 2017, Order, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint (DN 16). The amended complaint (DN 16) is before the Court for initial review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 608 (6th Cir. 1997), overruled on other grounds by Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007). For the reasons that follow, the Court will allow the Fourteenth Amendment claims against Defendants West, Rodriguez, Mason, Herndon, Stewart, Strang, and Saager in their individual capacities for monetary damages to proceed. The other claims and Defendants will be dismissed from this action.


         Plaintiff identifies the following twelve Defendants in this action: (1) The Kentucky Department of Corrections (KDOC); (2) Webb Strang, Interim Warden at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex (LLCC); (3) Randy Saager, an employee of Cordant Health Solutions; (4) Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr., an Internal Affairs Lieutenant at LLCC; (5) Scott Stewart, a Captain at LLCC; (6) David Herndon, a Correctional Officer at LLCC; (7) Amanda L. Mason, a Sergeant at LLCC; (8) Franklin West, a monitor at Dismas Charities, Portland; (9) Cordant Health Solutions, a urinalysis laboratory; (10) Sterling Reference Labs, a urinalysis laboratory; (11) Secon Drug Screening Co., a urinalysis laboratory; and (12) Dismas Charities Portland (Dismas Charities), a halfway house located in Louisville, Kentucky. Plaintiff states that he sues all Defendants in their official and individual capacities. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief in the form of “[f]ixing policies.” Plaintiff alleges that on January 5, 2016, while he was housed at Defendant Dismas Charities, he was subjected to a urinalysis (DN 1, pp. 3-5).[1] According to Plaintiff's amended complaint, Defendant West obtained the urine specimen but did so in an incorrect manner. Plaintiff states that Defendant West did not identify Plaintiff by “proper ID, ” did not check the temperature range of the urine specimen, and misspelled Plaintiff's name. The urine specimen was sent to Defendants Cordant Health Solutions and Sterling Reference Labs for testing (DN 1-10, p. 17; DN 1-5, p. 2). The specimen results showed that Plaintiff tested positive for Methamphetamine and Morphine (DN 1-2, pp. 1-2; DN 1-3; DN 1-5, p. 2). Plaintiff was thereafter transferred to LLCC where the positive test results were entered into the Kentucky Offender Management System (DN 1-3, p. 1; DN 1-7, p. 2). Plaintiff was charged with unauthorized use of drugs or intoxicants. An adjustment hearing was conducted on April 20, 2016, and Defendant Herndon found Plaintiff guilty of two charges of Unauthorized Use of Drugs or Intoxicants (DN 1-6). Plaintiff was issued a penalty of 60 days loss of good time credits for each charge. Plaintiff challenged the guilty findings administratively, but the findings of guilt were upheld by Defendant Strang (DN 1-2, p. 2).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a motion for a declaratory judgment in Oldham Circuit Court (DN 1-10). The Oldham Circuit Court found that Plaintiff's petition was “well taken” and granted “the relief sought which is restoration of good time and expungement of the [Plaintiff's] record in regard to the positive urine tests collected from Dismas Charities which are the subject of his disciplinary proceeding and appeal” (DN 1-10, p. 2). That Court explained its concern with the chain of custody of the urine specimen as follows:

The urine sample indicates that it was initially tested on January 7 and confirmation test was conducted January 8. However the internal chain of custody indicates that the aliquot process was performed January 14, 2016 which is of concern since the specimen could not have been divided after the tests were performed. As a result of this anomaly, the Department of Corrections contacted Cordant Health Solutions and on February 1, 2017 (over a year later) the laboratory faxed a corrected chain of custody showing the aliquot was performed on January 7, 2016. . . . The Court must agree with the [Plaintiff] in this case. There is absolutely no explanation for the error and the Court is unwilling to accept the facts without any explanation whatsoever as to the seemingly incorrect chain of custody.

(DN 1-10, p. 1). According to Plaintiff, the Oldham Circuit Court decision was not appealed (DN 17).

         In his amended complaint, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Rodriguez ignored Defendant West's mistakes “as well as unreliable evidence of Cordant, Sterling and Secon and investigated and charged me with write-up.” Plaintiff contends that Defendant Mason “also ignored unreliable evidence and sent write-up to court call.” According to Plaintiff, Defendant Herndon “ignored unreliable evidence and took my good time and other priveledges as court call officer.” Plaintiff states that Defendant Stewart “ignored unreliable evidence and signed off as supervisor on court call evidence.” According to Plaintiff, Defendant Strang “ignored unreliable evidence and upheld wrongful conviction as Warden at LLCC.” Defendant Saager, according to Plaintiff, “ignored the unreliable evidence and incorrect Chain of Custody and also facilitated the delivery by fax of what was described as ‘Corrected COC forms' to Angela E. Cordery when in fact the ‘corrected' forms were still incorrect and unreliable.” Further, Plaintiff states that “[t]he entire integrity of a chain of custody is compromised if it can be changed later to suit.” As to Defendants Kentucky Department of Corrections, Cordant Health Solutions, Sterling Reference Labs, Secon Drug Screening Company, and Dismas Charities, Plaintiff asserts that they “oversaw and employ[] at least one of each of the defendants in their official capacity.” Plaintiff fails to state in his amended complaint what rights he alleges have been violated. However, in his original complaint, Plaintiff asserted claims under “U.S. 4th; 14th, § 1; Ky Const. § 10; CPP 15.8.”


         Because Plaintiff is a prisoner seeking relief against governmental entities, officers, and/or employees, this Court must review the instant action under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under § 1915A, the trial court must review the complaint and dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the court determines that it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See § 1915A(b)(1), (2); McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d at 608.

         A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). The trial court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Id. at 327. In order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         “[A] district court must (1) view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and (2) take all well-pleaded factual allegations as true.” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561 F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gunasekera v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)). “But the district court need not accept a ‘bare assertion of legal conclusions.'” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561 F.3d at 488 (quoting Columbia Nat. Res., Inc. v. Tatum, 58 F.3d 1101, 1109 (6th Cir. 1995)). The court's duty “does not require [it] to conjure up unpled allegations, ” McDonald v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 1979), or to create a claim for a plaintiff. Clark v. Nat l Travelers Life Ins. Co., 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir. 1975). To command otherwise would require the Court “to explore exhaustively all potential claims of a pro se plaintiff, [and] would also transform the district court from its legitimate advisory role to the improper role of an advocate seeking out the strongest arguments and most successful strategies for a party.” Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. The KDOC

         Title 42 of the United States Code, Section 1983 creates no substantive rights, but merely provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere. As such, it has two basic requirements: (1) the deprivation of federal statutory or constitutional rights by (2) a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Flint v. Ky. Dep't of Corr., 270 F.3d 340, 351 (6th Cir. 2001). The KDOC is a department within the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. See Exec. Order No. 2004-730 (July 9, 2004); Ky. Rev. Stat. § 12.250. A state and its agencies, however, are not “persons” subject to suit under § 1983. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989); see also Crockett v. Turney Ctr. Indus. Prison, No. 96-6067, 1997 WL 436563, at *1 (6th Cir. Aug. 1, 1997) ...

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