United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division
TORI T. CURTIS, Plaintiff,
JEREMY K. WHEELER, ET AL., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
R. WILHOIT, JR.UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Tori T. Curtis is an individual previously confined at the
Eastern Kentucky Correctional Facility in West Liberty,
Kentucky. Proceeding without an attorney, Curtis has filed a
civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [D.E. No. 1]
and a motion to proceed in forma pauperis. [D.E. No.
2] The Court has reviewed the fee motion and will grant the
request on the terms established by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b).
Because Curtis has been granted pauper status in
this proceeding, the $50.00 administrative fee is waived.
District Court Miscellaneous Fee Schedule, § 14.
Court must conduct an initial review of the complaint
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A. A
district court must dismiss any claim that 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. Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d
468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). The Court evaluates Curtis's
complaint under a more lenient standard because he is not
represented by an attorney. Erickson v. Pardus, 551
U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Burton v. Jones, 321 F.3d 569,
573 (6th Cir. 2003). At this stage, the Court accepts the
plaintiffs factual allegations as true, and his legal claims
are liberally construed in his favor. Bell Atlantic Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007).
a complaint must set forth claims in a clear and concise
manner, and 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); Hill, 630 F.3d at 470. Although the
Court has an obligation to liberally construe a complaint
filed by a person proceeding without counsel, the principles
requiring generous construction of pro se pleadings
are not without limits. Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d
591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989); Wilson v. Lexington Fayette
Urban County Government, No. 07-cv-95-KSF, 2007 WL
1136743 (E.D. Ky. April 16, 2007). The Court is not required
to create a claim for the Plaintiff, nor to "conjure up
unpled allegations." Moorman v. Herrington, No.
4:08-cv-P127-M, 2009 WL 2020669, at *1 (W.D. Ky. July 9,
2009)(citations omitted). See also Coleman v.
Shoney's, Inc., 79 Fed.Appx. 155, 157 (6th Cir.
2003) ("Pro se parties must still brief the issues
advanced with some effort at developed argumentation.").
Vague allegations that one or more of the defendants acted
wrongfully or violated the plaintiffs constitutional rights
are not sufficient. Laster v. Pramstaller, No.
08-cv-10898, 2008 WL 1901250, at *2 (E.D. Mich. April 25,
complaint, Curtis alleges that in October 2017, while he was
confined at the Little Sandy Correctional Complex in Sandy
Hook, Kentucky, he complained to the head of Aramark Teresa
Gullett that he wanted to quit working in the kitchen because
he was having issues with other inmates sexually harassing
him. [D.E. No. 1 at p. 4] He claims that, although Gullett
told him that he would not be written up for quitting his
job, he was written up by Correctional Officer Jeremy K.
Wheeler and charged with refusing or failing to carry out a
work assignment. [Id. at p. 5] According to Curtis,
in issuing this disciplinary report, Wheeler violated the
policies and procedures of the Kentucky Department of
Corrections ("KDOC") because the disciplinary
report allegedly did not show all of the facts, specifically
that Curtis was in an uncomfortable situation in the kitchen
because of the alleged harassment and felt pressured to quit
his job. [Id. at p. 5-6] Curtis also alleges that
Wheeler violated the Eighth Amendment of the United States
Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual
punishment because, as punishment for his conviction of the
offense charged in the disciplinary report, Curtis was
confined in the Restrictive House Unit ("RHU") for
30 days. [Id. at p. 6] He further alleges a
violation of the Thirteenth Amendment's prohibition
against slavery or involuntary servitude. [Id. at p.
6] Curtis also asserts a claim against Joseph M. Howard,
identified by Curtis as a Correctional
Lieutenant/Chairman/Adjustment Officer who presided over his
disciplinary hearing on the report issued by Wheeler.
[Id. at p. 8] Curtis alleges that, during his
disciplinary hearing, Howard failed to comply with several of
the KDOC's Policies and Procedures applicable to
disciplinary hearings, and that Curtis' conviction for
refusing or failing to carry out a work assignment and the
resulting punishment of 30 days in the RHU violated his Fifth
Amendment due process rights and his Eighth Amendment rights
to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. [Id.
at p. 9]
purports to bring these claims against Wheeler, Howard, and
the KDOC in their official and individual capacities, based
on his theory that the KDOC allows officials to "break
and bend the rules to their liking" in violation of the
Corrections Policies and Procedures, are unprofessional, and
are "careless for others and job efforts, etc."
[Id. at p. 7] As relief, he seeks compensatory and
punitive damages, reimbursement for court costs and expenses,
and for all KDOC inmates to be able to back order
pornographic magazines, Playstation gaming systems, and video
games. [Matp. 9-11]
to the extent that Curtis seeks to assert his claims against
the defendants in their "official capacities,"
these claims must be dismissed. Notwithstanding its label, an
"official capacity" claim against a state officer
is not a claim against the officer arising out of his or her
conduct as an employee of the state but is actually a claim
directly against the state agency which employs them.
Lambert v. Hartman, 517 F.3d 433, 439-40 (6th Cir.
2008); Alkire v. Irving, 330 F.3d 802, 810 (6th Cir.
2003) ("While personal-capacity suits seek to impose
personal liability upon a government official for actions he
takes under color of state law, individuals sued in their
official capacities stand in the shoes of the entity they
represent.") (internal quotation marks omitted).
Curtis's official capacity claims are therefore civil
rights claims against KDOC.
the KDOC is not subject to suit under § 1983 in federal
court, both because a state agency is not a
"person" subject to liability under Section 1983,
and because the Eleventh Amendment deprives federal district
courts of subject matter jurisdiction over a claim for money
damages against a state and its agencies. Gibbons v.
Kentucky Dept. of Corrections, No. 3:07CV-P697-S, 2008
WL 412847, at * 1 (W.D. Ky. Sept. 4, 2008) (citing Puerto
Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf& Eddy,
Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 687-88 (1993) ("Absent waiver,
neither a State nor agencies acting under its control may be
subject to suit in federal court.") (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted)); Scott v. Kentucky
Department of Corrections, No. 08-CV-104-HRW, 2008 WL
4083002, at *2 (E.D. Ky. Aug. 29, 2008) ("the Eleventh
Amendment has also been interpreted to extend immunity to
State employees sued for damages in their official
capacities."). The Court therefore will dismiss all of
the § 1983 claims against the defendants in their
official capacities. To the extent that Curtis alleges
constitutional claims against Wheeler and Howard in their
individual capacities, his claims also fail. To be clear,
Curtis' complaint is essentially a constitutional
challenge to the imposition of disciplinary sanctions imposed
against him while he was in state custody. However, Curtis
cannot challenge his disciplinary conviction in a § 1983
action; instead his remedy is to pursue relief under state
law and then, if necessary, file a habeas action. See
Smith v. Corrections Corp. of America, 5 Fed.Appx. 443,
444-45 (6th Cir. 2001) (discussing Heck v. Humphrey,
512 U.S. 477 (1994) and Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S.
641 (1997)). And to the extent that Curtis takes exception to
the procedures related to his disciplinary conviction, he is
not currently eligible for relief on that basis because fails
to allege that his disciplinary conviction has been
overturned. See Smith, 5 Fed.Appx. at 445; see
also Lee-Bey v. Gundy, 80 Fed.Appx. 435, 437 (6th Cir.
2003) (citing Edwards, 520 U.S. at 646).
claims that his placement in administrative segregation for
30 days amounted to an unreasonable search and seizure in
violation of the Fourth Amendment and/or cruel and unusual
punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment also fail.
The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches
and seizures. However, in the context of prisoner placement
in segregation, the scope of that right is considered
co-extensive with the protections afforded by the Due Process
Clause, and an inmate should only be considered
"seized" under the Fourth Amendment if the
placement in segregation "imposes atypical and
significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the
ordinary incidents of prison life" as set forth in
Sandin v. Conner, 515, U.S. 472, 484 (1995).
Leslie v. Doyle, 125 F.3d 1132, 1135-37 (7th Cir.
1997); see also Ortega v. U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement, 737 F.3d 435, 441 (6th Cir. 2013)
(citingLeslie). Here, Curtis alleges that he was
placed in the RHU for 30 days and he has failed to allege any
atypical significant hardship in relation to the ordinary
incidents of prison life. Such conditions fall far short of
the more severe deprivations found to be cognizable under the
Due Process Clause. Cf. Joseph v. Curtin, 410
Fed.Appx. 865, 868 (6th Cir. 2010); Siddiq v.
Edlund, 8 Fed.Appx. 522, 524 (6th Cir. 2001). See
also Weatherspoon v. Woods, No. 16-1277, 2017 WL
3923335, at *3 (6th Cir. Feb. 24, 2017) (citing Hudson v.
Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 52-30 (1984)).
part, the Eighth Amendment "does not mandate comfortable
prisons," but only requires prison officials to provide
inmates with "the minimal civilized measure of
life's necessities." Rhodes v. Chapman, 452
U.S. 337, 347, 349 (1981). Curtis' placement in
administrative segregation, and the resulting minimal
intrusion upon the broader freedoms he enjoyed in the general
population, did not deprive him of any of life's
necessities to state a viable claim under the Eighth
Amendment. Cf Harden-Bey v. Rutter, 524 F.3d 789,
795-96 (6th Cir. 2008); Colgrove v. Williams, 105
Fed.Appx. 537, 538 (5th Cir. 2004).
although Curtis references the Thirteenth Amendment of the
Constitution, which abolished slavery in the United States,
he fails to allege any facts supporting a claim under the
Thirteenth Amendment. Where a complaint does not provide any
factual basis for the claims set forth in the complaint, it
must be dismissed for failure to state a claim. Grinter
v. Knight, 532 F.3d 567, 577 (6th Cir. 2008); Scheid
v. Fanny Farmer Candy Shops, Inc., 859 F.2d 434, 436
(6th Cir. 1988) ("More than bare assertions of legal
conclusions is ordinarily required to satisfy federal notice
IT IS ORDERED that:
Curtis's motion to proceed in forma pauperis
[D.E. No. 2] is GRANTED and payment of the filing ...