Riley v. O'Brien

Decision Date06 September 2016
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 16-11064-LTS
PartiesCLEON RILEY, Plaintiff, v. CAROL HIGGINS O'BRIEN, ET AL., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts


I. Introduction

On June 6, 2016, plaintiff Cleon Riley ("Riley"), a prisoner formerly in custody at MCI Concord (a medium-security facility) and currently in custody at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility ("PCCF") ( a maximum-security facility), filed a civil rights Complaint against a number of prison officials and prison service providers, including: (1) Carol Higgins O'Brien ("Higgins O'Brien"), the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Correction ("DOC"); (2) Lois Russo ("Russo"), the Superintendent of MCI Concord; (3) William Devine ("Devine"), the Deputy Superintendent of Operations at MCI Concord; (4) Joseph D. McDonald, Jr. ("MacDonald"), the Sheriff of Plymouth County/PCCF; (5) Antone Moniz ("Moniz"), the Superintendent of PCCF; (6) Keefe Corporation ("Keefe Corp."), the vendor of canteen items for prisoners; and (7) Global Tel Link ("GTL"), the telephone service provider for prisoners.

Riley asserts federal claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985, and state claims under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act ("MTCA") and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights ("MDOR"). All of his claims stem from and after his transfer in November, 2015 from MCI Concord to PCCF. He claims this transfer, without a prior classification hearing in violation of state regulations (103 C.M.R. § 120.120),1 resulted in the loss of his personalproperty and has caused him to suffer severe restrictions or limitations with respect to his conditions of confinement at PCCF, compared with those at MCI Concord. He further contends that as a state prisoner, he should be allowed the same conditions at PCCF that he had at MCI Concord. Generally, his grievances include such matters as the limited access to canteen items and telephone calls, excessive charges for canteen items and telephone calls, limited access to gym and recreational activities, limited access to visitation from family and friends, the lack of immediate medical care, and the loss of his personal property.

More specifically, Riley contends that: (1) he was entitled to request a transfer to a state facility of his choice and to appeal a classification board's placement decision to Higgins O'Brien or her designee, but was not provided this opportunity; (2) Keefe Corp. and GTL operate unlawful monopolies at PCCF by excessive mark-up of their products or services; (3) Keefe Corp. does not offer a variety of items (such as a certain brand of sneakers) in its canteen and items that are offered are sub-standard; (4) GTL imposes excessive charges on telephone calls and limits the number of calls to and from family and friends (since he is unable to send money to his children for telephone calls or to put money into his account); (5) he was not allowed to pack his property at MCI Concord (e.g., clothing, TV, hot pot, games, head phones, legal papers, canteen items, MP4 players) but was given only a few items of clothing and cosmetics at PCCF; (6) he lacks physical and recreational activities (such as ping pong, pool table, board games) that he had at MCI Concord, and, as a result, he has gained a lot of weight causing high blood pressure and arthritis; (7) he is not allowed contact visits with his family and cannot play games with his visitors or eat together with them as he did at MCI Concord; (8) the distance to PCCF is too far (as compared to MCI Concord) to make visitation feasible for certain family and friends; (9) he is not allowed to possess nail clippers and thus must wait a month to have his nails clipped by the foot doctor; and (10) he is not permitted to have non-narcoticmedication on his person and must put in a slip to see the doctor to have his medication renewed, and this could take several days causing him to be without medication in the meantime.

As relief, Riley seeks monetary damages and declaratory relief declaring that his transfer violated his constitutional rights and that his transfer was not based on disciplinary reasons. He also seeks injunctive relief in the form of an order that he is entitled to programs and benefits that state prisoners enjoy, and an order directing that he be transferred from PCCF to a state prison. Further, he seeks an order requiring a hearing and appeal process before being transferred again, as well as an order awarding him the good time credit that he was earning prior to his alleged unlawful transfer for each month he is held at PCCF. Finally, he seeks a 10-day bonus of good time credit for completing programs.

Along with the Complaint, Riley submitted a Letter (Docket No. 2) containing a copy of a "demand letter" sent to Attorney General Maura Healy on May 30, 2016, pursuant to the presentment requirements of the MTCA, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258, § 4. Referenced in the letter is a state lawsuit in the Worcester Superior Court in which Riley asserts that he was not given his classification rights, that he was unlawfully transferred to PCCF, and that his personal property was lost. Riley v. Governor Baker, et al., Docket No. WORC 2011-00184. In his letter, Riley's request for relief is, inter alia, $1,000.00 per day while confined at PCCF, $200.00 for his legal and personal property, and good time credit.

On June 10, 2016, this Court issued a Procedural Order (Docket No. 5) directing Riley to pay the $400.00 filing and administrative fees of the Court, or file a Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis along with his certified prison account statement demonstrating his inability to pay the fees. On June 27, 2016, Riley filed a Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis (Docket No. 6). On June 30, 2016, an Order (Docket No. 7) entered denying the motion without prejudice because Riley failed to submit his certified prison account statement. He again was directed to pay the filing and administrative fees, or submit a renewed in forma pauperis request within 21 days.

On July 21, 2016, Riley filed his certified prison account statement.

II. Discussion
A. The Renewed Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

Upon review of Riley's previously-filed financial affidavit and his prison account statement, this Court finds that he lacks sufficient funds to pay the $400.00 filing and administrative fees for this action up-front. Nevertheless, because he is a prisoner, he may not obtain a complete waiver of the filing fee and he is obligated to pay the fee in installments pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (the in forma pauperis statute).

Accordingly, Riley's renewed Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis (Docket No. 9 ) is ALLOWED, and he is Ordered to pay the filing fee as follows.

1. Riley is assessed an initial partial filing fee of $142.23, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1)(B);2 and
2. The remainder of the fee $207.77 is to be assessed and collected in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

The Clerk shall send the Treasurer's Office at PCCF a copy of this Memorandum and Order to facilitate payments to this Court.

B. Screening of the Complaint

Because Riley is a prisoner, the screening provisions of the PLRA come into play. The PLRA contains several provisions which grant this Court the authority to screen and dismiss prisoner complaints. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (proceedings in forma pauperis); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (screening of suits against governmental officers and entities). Section 1915 authorizes federal courts to dismiss actions in which a plaintiff seeks to proceed without prepayment of fees if the action lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact, Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325(1989), or if the action fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and (iii). Section 1915A also authorizes the Court to review prisoner complaints in civil actions in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity, or officers or employees of a governmental entity, and to dismiss the action regardless of whether or not the plaintiff has paid the filing fee, if the complaint lacks an arguable basis in law or fact, fails to state a claim, or seeks relief from a defendant immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

In addition to the statutory screening requirements under § 1915, this Court has an independent obligation to inquire, sua sponte, into its own subject matter jurisdiction.3 McCulloch v. Velez, 364 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2004). "If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3).

In connection with this preliminary screening, Riley's pro se Complaint is construed generously. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Instituto de Educacion Universal Corp. v. U.S. Dept. of Education, 209 F.3d 18, 23 (1st Cir. 2000). Even under a broad reading, however, the Complaint is substantially deficient.

C. Abstention

As an initial matter, the Court questions whether abstention principles would bar this Court from accepting jurisdiction over this matter because it appears that Riley already has a civil action in the Worcester Superior Court containing some of his claims that are asserted in this action. The federal courts have long recognized the "fundamental policy against federal interference with state criminal proceedings." Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 46 (1971); In reJustices of the Superior Court Dept. of the Massachusetts Trial Court, 218 F.3d 11, 16 (1st Cir. 2000). See Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff, 467 U.S. 229, 237-38 (1984) (federal court abstention from jurisdiction appropriate where "federal claims could have been or could be presented in ongoing state judicial proceedings that concern...

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