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Smith v. Davis

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky

March 13, 2018

RODNEY SMITH PLAINTIFF
v.
CHARLES AARON DAVIS et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER PLAINTIFF

          Greg N. Stivers, Judge United States District Court.

         Rodney Smith, a prisoner presently incarcerated at Kentucky State Penitentiary (KSP), originally filed this action in the Franklin Circuit Court (DN 1). The case was removed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, and on November 29, 2017, the case was transferred to this Court. In his complaint, Plaintiff contends, in part, that Defendants, employees of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, violated his constitutional rights. Thus, the Court construes this action as being brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         This matter is before the Court for initial review of the complaint 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 following claims to proceed: (1) the Fourth Amendment unreasonable search claims against Defendants Rodriguez and Neely in their individual capacities; (2) the First Amendment retaliation claims against Defendants Belt, Beeler, Burnett, Epley, Fraliex, McCullough, Ben Mitchell, Seth Mitchell, Peck, Roberts, and White in their individual capacities; (3) the Eighth Amendment failure-to-treat claim against Defendant Davis in his individual capacity; and (4) the religion claim against Defendants Rodriguez and Neely in their individual capacities. The other claims and Defendants will be dismissed from this action.

         I. SUMMARY OF CLAIMS

         Plaintiff identifies a total of fifteen Defendants. Plaintiff states that fourteen of the Defendants are employed by KSP and one Defendant is employed by Correct Care Solutions (CCS).[1] The fifteen Defendants are as follows: (1) James R. Beeler a Lieutenant at KSP; (2) Troy Belt, a Unit Administrator at KSP; (3) Wesley Burnett, a Correctional Officer (CO) at KSP; (4) Charles Aaron Davis, a Registered Nurse employed by CCS and working at KSP; (5) Lauren Epley, an employee of KSP; (6) Brittany Fraliex, a CO at KSP; (7) Monica McCullough, a CO at KSP; (8) Joy Meyers, a Social Service Clinician at KSP; (9) Benjamin D. Mitchell, a Case Treatment Officer at KSP; (10) Seth T. Mitchell, an employee of KSP; (11) Brian Neely, a CO at KSP; (12) Marshall E. Peck, an employee of KSP; (13) Charles Roberts, an employee of KSP; (14) Gage Rodriguez, a Sergeant at KSP; and (15) Randy White, the Warden at KSP. All Defendants are sued in their individual and official capacities. As relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages. He also wants the Adjustment Committee decision to be vacated, the “matter to be rescinded from [his] Department of Corrections/Kentucky State Penitentiary institutional records and files, ” and his good-time credits restored. Additionally, Plaintiff seeks a declaration that Defendants “each and together have violated [Plaintiff's] State and Federal rights.”

         In his complaint, Plaintiff states that on February 24, 2017, he was enrolled in the “Segregation Transition Unit Group in attempt to have his Segregation Sentence subsequently suspended upon successful completion.” Plaintiff states that on April 17, 2017, while he was showering, Plaintiff believed Officer Muncher “molested and/or violated his intimate privacy and persons, Ergo [Plaintiff] verbally complained to . . . Supervisor/Lieutenant, Samantha Paris.”

         On the following day, April 18, 2017, Plaintiff states that Defendant Rodriquez, “along with a non-defendant, ” removed Plaintiff from the Segregation Transition Unit Program at approximately 10:20 a.m. and relocated him to 3 cell house 12-Right. Plaintiff states that during the transfer he made a “PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) claim on [Defendant] Rodriguez.” The PREA claim, according to Plaintiff, was investigated by Defendant Roberts. Plaintiff states that he received a disciplinary report because Defendant Roberts found that Plaintiff made the PREA claim in bad faith.

         Further, during the transfer, Plaintiff states that he “was deprived the opportunity to pack his personal and State Belonging.” However, according to Plaintiff, his property was returned later in the evening. According to Plaintiff, at approximately 2:20 p.m. on April 18, 2017, he was placed on property restrictions, and Defendant Rodriguez conducted an inventory of Plaintiff's property and “annotated that an ipod was missing.” Plaintiff states that at 2:22 p.m. Defendants Rodriguez and Neely came to Plaintiff's cell to remove him and take him to the “cell house strip cage.” Apparently, Plaintiff received a disciplinary report for alleged indecent exposure for activity which took place at this time. Plaintiff states that he was placed in wrist and ankle restraints. Plaintiff states that he was “forcefully placed against the exterior wall” while being removed from the cell. According to Plaintiff, “[a]t this time [Defendants] Rodriguez and Neely forcefully with Malicious intent, wedged [Plaintiff's] under garments and trousers in Between [Plaintiff's] Buttocks in an attempt to” dislodge the missing iPod from Plaintiff's “cavity.” Plaintiff states that nothing was found at this time, and he was escorted to the “12 left and right Officer Station, which is one of many sections in the ‘Restricted Housing Unit.'”

         Plaintiff states that he was “stopped and placed up against the hall-way crash gate.” Thereafter, according to Plaintiff, Defendants Rodriguez and Neely “elevated [Plaintiff's] arms above head, at which time [Defendant] Rodriguez pulled [Plaintiff's] trousers and under garments down and went inside the anal cavity with [Defendant] Rodriguez's hand.” Plaintiff states that he began to “execute ‘PREA' prevention tactics” previously taught to him, and he “yelled out loud enough to bring attention and awareness to the area to scare, discourage and cause [Defendants] Rodriguez and Neely to cease their illegal acts of sexual abuse.” According to Plaintiff, at this point Defendants Rodriguez and Neely “yanked [Plaintiff] down the stairways in route to the cell house strip cage with [Plaintiff's] Male extremities exposed along with Buttocks for view of inmate sexual predators and male and female staff.” Plaintiff asserts that this “sexual molestation” violated his “rights under Article four of the U.S. Constitution ‘illegal search' it also violated a tenant of [Plaintiff's] Religious Beliefs as a professed Muslim.”

         Plaintiff states that he continued to scream and yell and that Defendant Rodriguez threatened Plaintiff with pepper spray. Plaintiff states that Defendant Rodriguez told Plaintiff, “If you Don't Shut up I'll Beat Your (word omitted).” Plaintiff states that there is no surveillance in the strip cage, so he requested a hand-held camera to “insure” his safety. Plaintiff states that the video recording shows that upon his arrival in the strip cage, Plaintiff's trousers and undergarments were at his ankles. According to Plaintiff, his clothing was then exchanged, and he was “re-restrained and escorted Back to cell, located on 12-Right.” Plaintiff states that when arriving at his cell there were officers in the cell trying to locate the “alleged missing ipod.” When asked by Defendant Rodriguez if they had found the iPod, the officers searching Plaintiff's cell responded that they had not. According to Plaintiff, Defendant Rodriguez “delegated [Plaintiff] to be stripped out.” Thereafter, Plaintiff states that his personal property and hygiene items were removed from his cell for 24 hours. Plaintiff states that this is permissible according to institutional policy promulgated through Defendant White. Although unclear, it appears that Plaintiff states that there were feces and urine on the floor of this cell.

         On April 19, 2017, according to Plaintiff, he informed psychologist Gene Reaney of his living conditions. Plaintiff states that he was then moved to another cell. According to Plaintiff, he was moved “in Solely” his boxers while being “video'd surveilled.” Plaintiff states that Defendant Rodriguez continued to “harass, intimidate and Deprive [Plaintiff] of Constitutional necessities, a Mattress.” Plaintiff states that Defendant Rodriguez told Plaintiff, “thats how Muslims shall Be treated in America . . . You're a Rat.” Plaintiff states that on April 25, 2017, he “was given Back state issued property, ie. clothing and Bed linen.” Also on April 25, 2017, Plaintiff represents that he was escorted to medical to be seen by Defendant Davis. Plaintiff states that the visit was to be for “pain of the rectal cavity . . . that was the result of [Defendant] Rodriguez entering [Plaintiff's] Anal cavity on April 18, 2017.” Plaintiff states that Defendant Davis questioned Plaintiff about the names of the individuals Plaintiff alleged molested him, as if Defendant Davis “was More Concerned of the incident and/or activity than the well-being and Safety of [Plaintiff].” Plaintiff states that thereafter Defendant Davis “told the escorting officers the visit was terminated.” According to Plaintiff, he was escorted back to his living area.

         Plaintiff states that on April 26, 2017, Defendant Rodriguez removed Plaintiff from his cell to escort him to a visitation area on 12-left. Plaintiff states that along the way, Defendant Rodriguez “forcefully Placed [Plaintiff] against a wall.” Plaintiff states that he began to yell out for someone in fear for his safety. According to Plaintiff, while in the visitation cage, Plaintiff was asked by a person named Coombs about what was going on. Plaintiff states that Coombs threatened and intimidated Plaintiff by “shaking an ‘MK9' Mace can.” Plaintiff inquired as to whether Coombs and Defendant Rodriguez were going to kill him. Plaintiff reports that Coombs responded, “Maybe.”

         Plaintiff lists various disciplinary reports (DR) he received. On April 25, 2017, he received DR# KSP-2017-00920 which was issued by Defendant Seth Mitchell. On April 26, 2017, Plaintiff received DR# KSP-2017-00931 which was also issued by Defendant Seth Mitchell. On May 2, 2017, Plaintiff was issued DR# 2017-KSP-00869 which was issued by Defendant Seth Mitchell “while conducting a PREA investigation.” Although unclear, it appears that Plaintiff states, as to this disciplinary report, that Defendant Beeler found Plaintiff guilty of tampering with physical evidence or hindering an investigation. On May 3, 2017, Plaintiff received DR# KSP-2017-00994 issued by Defendant Seth Mitchell. On May 20, 2017, Plaintiff received DR# KSP-2017-01133 issued by Defendant Burnett.

         Seemingly, Plaintiff refers to two other disciplinary reports that he says were issued by Defendants Seth Mitchell or Roberts. Plaintiff describes the disciplinary reports as charging Plaintiff with making a PREA claim in bad faith. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Seth Mitchell violated “every aspect of ‘Confidentiality' . . . when [he] knowingly placed in the face of the disciplinary the exact illustration in which [Plaintiff] Detailed in the grievance submitted on claims of PREA.” Plaintiff states that this subjected him to “acts of retaliation by any Meens and reprisal, once this said disciplinary report was forwarded to the Adjustment Committee for review.” Plaintiff further appears to contend that the disciplinary violations should not have been a category 5, but a category 3, and that Defendant Seth Mitchell made them a category 5 in retaliation for Plaintiff filing grievances and PREA complaints. Plaintiff states that “it should be deemed when Conducting the investigation into [Plaintiff's] Claims of [Defendant] Rodriguez's Sexual Misconduct . . . there was more than a Modicum of evidence to support [Plaintiff's] claims.” Plaintiff further states that “[t]o issue a disciplinary report when an inmate initiates legal redress and begins to exhaust their administrative remedies to be in compliance with the Prison Litigation Reform Act, is Kentucky State Penitentiary's Machinated Thwart process to deter and Deprive and/or negate this requirement.”

         As to the “alleged theft of an ipod, ” Plaintiff states that Defendant Rodriguez violated Corrections Policies and Procedures (CPP) 9.8 because Plaintiff was not present during the cell search as the policy requires. Plaintiff states that Defendants Belt, McCullough, and Epley found Plaintiff guilty of stealing or possession of stolen goods and assessed Plaintiff restitution in the amount of $50.00. Plaintiff states that Defendant White concurred with the findings. Plaintiff points out that he signed an agreement stating that if the iPod was damaged or altered that he would be held responsible for the restitution cost of the iPod. Plaintiff states that this is a legal contract to which he is bound. Plaintiff asserts that he was found “guilty void of any evidence and soley on the Blind assertion of [Defendant] Rodriguez stating he couldn't find it . . . and Due to [Defendant] Meyers stating, ‘Smith did happen to have the ipod on this date.'” Further, Plaintiff states that the iPod is “deemed dangerous contraband” as defined by “KRS 520.010” and “CPP 9.6 II. B.” Plaintiff states that Defendant Meyers introduced this contraband into the institution and that she may be prosecuted.

         Plaintiff states that the disciplinary report by Defendant Rodriguez in which Plaintiff was charged with “Eluding or Resisting apprehension” is “a clear display of retaliation.” Plaintiff states that Defendants Beeler, Fraliex, and Benjamin Mitchell, the members of the adjustment committee, found Plaintiff “[g]uilty to guarantee [Plaintiff] receives More Segregation time and is unable to grieve the acts and omissions of [Defendants].” Plaintiff states that Officer Jenkins reviewed the “hand held video camera; at no time does he report he seen [Plaintiff] Resist apprehension.” Plaintiff states that he informed the members of the adjustment committee that he had contacted the Department of Public Advocacy about being sexually molested by Defendant Rodriguez. Plaintiff asserts that this “gave prerequisite knowledge to [Defendant] Rodriguez's parties, agents and Successors to protect him By all means.” Plaintiff states that two incidents occurred in April, but were not reported until May. Plaintiff concludes that Defendant Rodriguez “Back Dated incidents of alleged wrong-doings By” Plaintiff. According to Plaintiff, Defendant White concurred in the finding of guilt.

         In the “Conclusions” portion of his complaint, Plaintiff summarizes his claims. He claims that when Defendant Rodriguez went into his anal cavity for his own personal reasons, he violated “Article IV.” Plaintiff states that “Article XIV was violated in Both forms, Procedural when [Defendants] White, Belt, Mitchell, Epley, Peck, McCullough, Fraliex and Beeler refused to Dismiss each and every Disciplinary report at the Committee level.” As to Defendant White, Plaintiff states that Defendant White violated “Article XIV” when he concurred in the guilty finding, “furthering Arbitration and Concealing the Malfeasance at the [KSP].” Plaintiff contends that “Article VIII was violated [by Defendant] Rodriguez [when he] delegated [Plaintiff's] state and personal Property to Be removed from [Plaintiff's] cell for Days at a time.” Plaintiff states that he was deprived of the “[b]are necessities of life in violation of Article XIV of the U.S. Constitutional, [Plaintiff] was forced into a cruel and Unusual living arrangement due to the Urine and feces all over the cell floor.” Plaintiff further states that he was denied medical treatment for the “lacerations sustained in the inner cavity.”

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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. Official-Capacity Claims

         1. Claims for Damages against the State-Employee Defendants

         “Official-capacity suits . . . ‘generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.'” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985) (quoting Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of N.Y.,436 U.S. 658, 690 n.55 (1978)). The official-capacity claims brought against the Defendants who are employees or officers of the Commonwealth of Kentucky are deemed claims against the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Id. at 166. State officials sued in their official capacities for money damages are not “persons” subject to suit under § 1983. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police,491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). Thus, because Plaintiff seeks money damages from state officers or employees in their official capacities, he fails to ...


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