United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
R. WILHOIT JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Jerry Ray Belt is an individual confined at the Federal
Medical Center ("FMC")-Lexington in Lexington,
Kentucky. Belt was previously incarcerated at Federal
Correctional Institution ("FCI")-Fort Dix in Fort
Dix, New Jersey and FCI-Ashland in Ashland, Kentucky.
Proceeding without an attorney, Belt filed a complaint
asserting claims against various prison officials at FCI-Fort
Dix and FCI-Ashland pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown
Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).
originally filed his complaint in the United States District
Court for the District of New Jersey, Belt v. Federal
Bureau of Prisons, et al., No. 1:17-cv-13582-RBK-AMD.
However, after concluding that it did not have personal
jurisdiction over the FCI-Ashland Defendants, that Court
transferred the claims against those defendants to this
judicial district pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), as
venue and jurisdiction are appropriate in this district.
[D.E. No. 8] The New Jersey District Court then conducted the
initial screening of the claims against the remaining
FCI-Fort Dix Defendants pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§
1915(e)(2), 1915A, but did not screen the claims against the
FCI-Ashland Defendants. [Id.]
claims transferred to this Court are alleged against the
following defendants: 1) Northeast Regional Health Services
Administrator; 2) Jose A. Santana (Northeast Regional
Administrative Remedy Coordinator); 3) Thomas Smith (Warden,
FCI-Ashland); 4) Janisse Bishop (Associate Warden,
FCI-Ashland); 4) Mr. Fazenbaker (Unit Manager, FCC/FPC/FCI
(Low)); 5) Federal Prison Camp Administrator-Ashland, KY
(Unknown); 6) Health Services Administrator,
FCC/FPC/FCI-Ashland, KY (Unknown); 7) Chief Psychologist,
FCC/FPC/FCI-Ashland, KY (Unknown); 8) Ms. Williams (Staff
Psychologist, FCC-Ashland, KY); 9) Staff Psychologist,
FCC/FCI-Ashland, KY (Unknown); 10) Tony Dean (Case Manager,
FPC-Ashland); 11) S. Reed (Counselor, FCI-Ashland Low); 12)
Mr. Patton (Case Manager, FCI-Ashland Low); 13) J. Boggs
(Counselor, FCI-Ashland Low); 14) Captain, FCC-Ashland
(Unknown); 15) Ms. Boyd (Primary Care Provider, FCI-Ashland
Low); 16) Dr. Gomez (Health Services Director, FCC-Ashland);
17) Special Agent-In-Charge, FCC-Ashland (Unknown); 18)
Special Investigations Services, FCC-Ashland, Ky., Lieutenant
this Court must conduct a preliminary review of Belt's
complaint against these defendants because Belt asserts
claims against government officials. 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. McGore v.
Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 607-08 (6th Cir. 1997). A
complaint is subject to dismissal as "frivolous"
where "it lacks an arguable basis in either law or
fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325
Court evaluates Belt'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). However, 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). 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 v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470 (6th Cir. 2010).
See also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8. In addition, "a
plaintiffs obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his
'entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and
conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of
action's elements will not do." Twombly,
550 U.S. at 555.
although the Court has an obligation to liberally construe a
complaint filed by a person proceeding without counsel, that
obligation does not extend so far as to require or permit it
to create arguments or claims that the plaintiff has not
made. 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."). Thus, 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, 2008) ("Neither the
Court nor Defendants are obligated to search through the
Complaint and its voluminous exhibits in order to glean a
clear and succinct statement of each claim for relief. It is
Plaintiffs' responsibility to edit and organize their
claims and supporting allegations into a manageable
format."). The Court is not required to create a claim
for the plaintiff, nor to "conjure up unpled
allegations." Moorman v. Herrington, No. CIV A
4:08-CV-P127-M, 2009 WL 2020669, at *1 (W.D. Ky. July 9,
addressing the specifics of Belt's allegations, the Court
first notes a few general principals applicable to Belt's
claims. First, Belt seeks to pursue his claims pursuant to
Bivens, which held that an individual may
"recover money damages for any injuries...suffered as a
result of [federal] agents' violation of his
constitutional rights." Bivens 403 U.S. at 397.
However, to the extent that Belt seeks to sue the defendants
in their official capacities, his claims fail. A suit against
a government employee in his or her "official
capacity" is not a suit against the employee for his or
her conduct while performing job duties for the government
but is instead a suit against the government agency that
employs the individual. Thus, an official capacity suit
against an employee of the Bureau of Prisons
("BOP") is a suit against the BOP, which is a
federal agency. While Bivens authorizes suits
against federal employees for violations of civil rights, it
does not waive the sovereign immunity enjoyed by the United
States and its agencies. Ctr. for Bio-Ethical Reform,
Inc. v. Napolitano, 648 F.3d 365, 370 (6th Cir. 2011)
(Bivens claims may be asserted against federal
officials only in their individual capacities); Okoro v.
Scibana, 63 Fed.Appx. 182, 184 (6th Cir. 2003).
while Bivens expressly validated the availability of
a claim for damages against a federal official in his or her
individual capacity, an officer is only responsible for his
or her own conduct. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676-677.
See also Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S.Ct. 1843, 1860
(2017). Thus, in order to recover against a given defendant
in a Bivens action, the plaintiff "must allege
that the defendant [was] personally involved in the alleged
deprivation of federal rights." Nwaebo v. Hawk-
Sawyer, 83 Fed.Appx. 85, 86 (6th Cir. 2003)
(citing Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 373-77
(1976)). Indeed, "[e]ven a pro se prisoner must link his
allegations to material facts...and indicate what each
defendant did to violate his rights..." Sampson v.
Garrett, 917 F.3d 880, 882 (6th Cir. 2019) (citing
Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 471 (6th Cir. 2010);
Lanman v. Hinson, 529 F.3d 673, 684 (6th Cir.
to proceed with each of his Bivens claims against
each defendant, Belt must: 1) allege the violation of a
constitutional right; 2) link his allegations to material
facts; and 3) indicate what each individual defendant against
whom he asserts a particular claim did to violate his
complaint is rambling, disjointed, repetitive and, as
originally filed, brings claims against 38 different
officials from two BOP facilities in different states. In
addition, many of the claims are against unknown defendants
and consist of formulaic legal conclusions rather than
specific factual allegations giving rise to a legal claim.
Thus, ascertaining the claims Belt seeks to bring in this
Court, the defendants against whom he seeks to bring those
claims, and the factual allegations supporting each claim,
presents a challenge.
Belt's complaint is essentially broken up into two
sections. The first section provides the general factual
background giving rise to his complaint, including Belt's
alleged history of trauma (including sexual, mental, and
physical abuses "from infancy through puberty"
[D.E. No. 1 at p. 12]), his allegations of sexual assault by
counselor G. Ruffin while Belt was incarcerated at FCI-Fort
Dix, and his claims that, since being
transferred to FCC-Ashland, the assignment of his
security-level designation is improper. [D.E. No. 1 at p.
11-12] The remainder of his complaint lists each individual
defendant against whom he seeks to assert a claim and alleges
(generally in broad, conclusory language) the claims he seeks
to assert against each defendant. [Id. at p. 12-19]
what the Court is able to ascertain, with respect to the
claims transferred to this Court by the District Court in New
Jersey, Belt alleges the following claims against the
following defendants: 1) Defendant Jose A. Santana,
identified as the Chief of the Designation, Sentencing and
Computation Center ("DSCC") has "neglected his
obligations of oversight regarding reviewing Belt's
current custody security classification status,"
resulting in Belt being housed "at a mismatched and
inappropriate custody-level with inmates who are convicted
sexual predators, causing mental and physical anguish,"
and has also neglected his obligations "to investigate
unwarrantly malicious fabrications to approve current
increased custody level," and has remained indifferent
to appeals of family members to investigate FCC-Ashland's
Unit Team's malfeasance regarding the mismatched custody
assignment [D.E. No. 1 at p. 13]; 2) authorities at
FCC-Ashland, in complicity with Santana, have violated 18
U.S.C. §§ 3621, 4042, and 4081, and the Central and
Regional BOP authorities' oversight and enforcement
obligations are being neglected [Id. at p. 12]; 3)
Belt has been inappropriately assigned a security-level
custody increase and housed in the Special Housing Unit
("SHU") due to his legitimate health complaints
[Id. at p. 12]; 4) FCC-Ashland Health Services have
been indifferent and neglected to provide treatment required
as a result of previous sexual abuse of Belt, as well as
Belt's "current serious health complications which
are abnormal" [Id. at p. 13, 17-18]; 5) Warden
Thomas Smith has inadequately responded to reports that Belt
has been retaliated against by subordinate staff at
FCC-Ashland [Id. at p. 16]; 6) Belt has been exposed
to second-hand tobacco smoke in an institution "infested
with vermin, roaches and other known and unknown pests,"
as well as "infestations of black-mold, lead
paint-based, asbestos contaminated areas" [Id.
at p. 19-20]; 7) health services employees have
"knowingly, intentionally, deliberately, and willfully,
denied Belt warranted treatment for both mental and physical
conditions" [Id. at p. 17, 18]; 8) an unknown
lieutenant at FCC-Ashland "implicitly threatened"
Belt during his investigation of Belt's claim that he was
sexually assaulted by an employee at FCI-Fort Dix
[Id. at p. 19]; 9) Belt has been denied access to
the administrative remedy process by Counselors S. Reed and
J. Boggs [Id. at p. 18]; and 10) Belt has been
denied access to uncontaminated drinking water [Mat p.
Belt's claims may broadly be grouped into the following
categories: 1) claims based on Belt's prisoner security
classification, including his claim that he was classified
improperly in retaliation for filing grievances; 2) claims of
deliberate indifference to Belt's serious medical needs;
3) claims of hazardous prison conditions; 4) claims of denial
of access to the administrative remedy process; and 5) a
claim of "implicit threats" during the
investigation of his sexual assault claim.
Claims Regarding Belt's Security Classification at
complaint, Belt alleges claims based upon his security
classification at FCI-Ashland (which he claims was improper)
against a variety of prison officials.Specifically, Belt
alleges that he has been inappropriately assigned a
"Greater Security - Management Variable," which
represents a security-level custody increase, based upon
officials' "mendaciously manufacturing false
pretense in documentation," and has resulted in
Belt's being housed "at a mismatched and
inappropriate custody-level with inmates who are convicted
sexual predators, causing mental and physical anguish."
[Id. at p. 12-13, 17-18] He further alleges that
authorities at FCC-Ashland, in complicity with Santana (Chief
of the DSCC), have violated 18U.S.C. §§ 3621, 4042,
and 40 81 and have been generally indifferent to the requests
made by Belt and his family members to investigate.
[Id. at p. 12-13] He also alleges that he has been
inappropriately housed in the Special Housing Unit
("SHU") due to his legitimate health complaints,
suggesting a retaliation claim. [Id. at p. 12]
although Belt cites to several statutes regarding the general
authority of the BOP with respect to prisoner classification
and/or management of federal prisons,  Belt does not
cite to any particular provision of these statutes that he
claims have been violated, nor does he allege facts to
explain how his security classification violates any of these
addition, although Belt broadly claims that his security
classification and/or placement in the SHU violates his
rights under the Fifth and Eighth Amendments [D.E. No. 1 at
p. 11], he fails to allege any facts explaining how any
individual defendant violated these rights. Rather,
Belt's complaint consists of repeated conclusory
allegations of "indifference,"
"negligence," "malfeasance" and the like,
which is insufficient to adequately articulate a claim for
relief. 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 pleading requirements.").
so, "[w]hen a court sentences a federal offender, the
BOP has plenary control, subject to statutory constraints,
over 'the place of the prisoner's imprisonment,'
and the treatment programs (if any) in which he may
participate." Tapia v. United States, 564 U.S.
319, 331 (2011)(citing 18 U.S.C. §§ 3621(b), (e),
(f); 3624(f); 28 C.F.R. pt. 544 (2010)). An inmate has no
liberty interest in being placed in any particular penal
institution, Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238, 247
(1983), or classified at any particular security level,
Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 468 (1983),
overruled in part on other grounds by Sandin v.
Conner, 515 U.S. 472 (1995), and hence no rights
protected by the Due Process Clause in that regard.
Sandin, 515 U.S. at 484-86. See also Wilkinson
v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221 (2005) ("... the
Constitution itself does not give rise to a liberty interest
in avoiding transfer to more adverse conditions of
confinement.") (citing Meachum v. Fano, 427
U.S. 215, 225 (1976)); Moody v. Daggett, 429 U.S.
78, 88 n.9 (1976) ("Congress has given federal prison
officials full discretion to control [prisoner classification
and eligibility for rehabilitative programs in the federal
system], 18 U.S.C. § 4081, and petitioner has no
legitimate statutory or constitutional entitlement sufficient
to invoke due process."); Harris v. Truesdell,
79 Fed.Appx. 756, 759 (6th Cir. 2003). Indeed, the BOP's
decisions regarding where to house a particular inmate
pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3621(b) are expressly insulated
from judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act
("APA"). 18 U.S.C. § 3625.
does Belt allege facts sufficient to state a claim that his
placement in the SHU amounts to cruel and unusual punishment
in violation of the Eighth Amendment. 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).
Belt fails to allege facts suggesting that his placement in
administrative segregation, and the resulting minimal
intrusion upon the broader freedoms he enjoyed in the general
population, deprived him of any of life's necessities
sufficient 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).
to the extent that Belt alleges that his placement in the SHU
was retaliatory in violation of the First Amendment, he
alleges no facts that lend any support to this conclusion
whatsoever. To ...