Wilson v. Taylor

Decision Date14 December 2006
Docket NumberNo. CIV.A. 05-399-JJF.,CIV.A. 05-399-JJF.
Citation466 F.Supp.2d 567
PartiesJames A. WILSON, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Stanley TAYLOR, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Delaware

James A. Wilson, et al., Pro se Plaintiffs.

Lisa Barchi, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Attorney for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

FARNAN, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion To Dismiss pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) with supporting memorandum (D.I.80, 81), Plaintiff James A. Wilson's ("Plaintiff Wilson") Motion To Amend (D.I.85), Defendants' Motion To Strike Plaintiffs' Sur-reply To Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (D.I.102), and Plaintiff Wilson's Motion For Summary Judgment (D.I.103). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Defendants' Motion To Strike and grant in part and deny in part Plaintiffs' Motion To Amend. The Court will grant Defendants' Motion To Dismiss in part and deny it in part. The Court will deny Plaintiff Wilson's Motion For Summary Judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff James A. Wilson and thirty inmates incarcerated within Delaware Department of Correction institutions filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (D.I.1.) A number of Plaintiffs have dismissed their claims and others have been dismissed by the Court. The following Plaintiffs remain in the case: James A. Wilson, Anthony Morris, Eldon Potts, Roderick Brown, Frank Williams, Jerome Green, Jose Serpa, James Johnson, Shaun Lee, and Nathan Henry.

The Amended Complaint (D.I.27) contains several miscellaneous claims which were dismissed as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. (D.I.34.) The remaining claims allege that black inmates at the Sussex Correctional Institute ("SCI") are routinely denied their right to procedural due process pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment during disciplinary hearings and security classification determinations. The Amended Complaint raises an equal protection claim, alleging that white inmates receive preferential treatment over similarly situated black inmates in security classifications and job placement. The Amended Complaint also alleges that Defendant Sgt. Mears ("Mears") used excessive force against Plaintiff Pedro Cintra ("Plaintiff Cintra") and that Defendant Cpl. J. Stozenbach ("Stozenbach") failed to protect Plaintiff Cintra in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants, who are variously administrators, wardens, and other prison officials, were personally involved in the alleged violations.

II. DISCUSSION
A. Motion To Dismiss
1. Standard of Law

Rule 12(b)(6) permits a party to move to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The purpose of a motion to dismiss is to test the sufficiency of a complaint, not to resolve disputed facts or decide the merits of the case. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir.1993). To that end, the Court assumes that all factual allegations in Plaintiffs' pleading are true, and draws all reasonable factual inferences in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs. Amiot v. Kemper Ins. Co., 122 Fed.Appx. 577, 579 (3d Cir.2004). However, the Court should reject "unsupported allegations," "bald assertions," or "legal conclusions." Id. A Rule 12(b)(6) motion should be granted to dismiss a pro se complaint only when "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)).

2. Rule 11

Defendants argue that the Complaint should be dismissed as a sanction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 11. Defendants contend that Plaintiff Wilson perpetrated a fraud on the Court when he submitted the original complaint with an attached signature page, representing that all those who signed the page agreed to join the complaint, when in fact Plaintiff Wilson failed to make it clear to the inmates that they were signing on to a lawsuit.

Rule 11 requires that every pleading be signed by the parties filing it, or by the attorney for the parties. Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(b). Litigants who sign a pleading represent, inter alia, that the pleading "is not being presented for any improper purpose." Id. Section (c) of Rule 11 authorizes the Court to impose "an appropriate sanction" upon finding that "subdivision (b) has been violated" and giving notice and an opportunity to respond. Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c). Dismissal, however, is only employed as a sanction in rare and limited circumstances, such as when a litigant makes untruthful statements or blatant misrepresentations to the Court, Joiner v Delo, 905 F.2d 206, 207-08 (8th. Cir.1990), or fails to comply with an order of the Court. Vakalis v. Shawmut Corp., 925 F.2d 34, 36 (1st Cir.1991).

In this case, it is not clear that a Rule 11 violation occurred. Plaintiff Wilson claims that every signer had knowledge that he and his co-plaintiffs were "petitioning the Court," and the signer who initially alleged that his name was put on the lawsuit `without permission" later admitted that he had signed the document without fully inquiring into its nature. (D.I.84, Attach.) Plaintiff Wilson argued in his Reply that he duplicated the signature page for his Amended Complaint because he no longer had access to some of his fellow inmates. (D.I. 84, at 3.)

At this juncture, there is nothing to suggest that Plaintiff Wilson presented the Complaint for an "improper purpose." The Court cannot say that the, conduct of Plaintiff Wilson rises to the level necessary to employ the drastic sanction of dismissing the case. Therefore, the Court will deny that portion of the Motion To Dismiss seeking dismissal pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 11.

3. Due Process

Any inquiry into whether Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights have been violated must begin with the determination of whether the Amended Complaint implicates a protected liberty interest under the Due Process Clause. Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 223, 96 S.Ct. 2532, 49 L.Ed.2d 451 (1976). A liberty interest can derive from the Due Process Clause itself or can be created by state statutes or prison regulations in situations where an "atypical and significant hardship in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life" is imposed. Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 483-84, 115 S.Ct. 2293, 132 L.Ed.2d 418 (1995).

It is not the case that any adverse change in the conditions of a prisoner's confinement is sufficient to invoke the protections of the Clause. Meachum, 427 U.S. at 224, 96 S.Ct. 2532. "Given a valid conviction, the criminal defendant has been constitutionally deprived of his liberty to the extent that the State may confine him and subject him to the rules of its prison system so long as the conditions of confinement do not otherwise violate the Constitution." Id. Specifically, a transfer of a prisoner from one building to another, or even from one institution to another, "is within the normal limits or range of custody which the conviction has authorized the State to impose." Id. at 225, 96 S.Ct. 2532.

This Court has repeatedly held that Delaware has created no constitutionally protected liberty interest in a prisoner's security classification, Jackson v. Brewington-Carr, Civ. No. 97-270-JJF, 1999 WL 27124, at *3 (D.Del. Jan.15, 1999), even when the change in classification is disciplinary. Blizzard v. Watson, 892 F.Supp. 587, 597 (D.Del.1995). Additionally, inmates do not have a liberty interest in keeping particular prison employment. James v. Quinlan, 866 F2d 627, 629-30 (3d Cir.1989).

In order for an imposition on a prisoner's freedom from restraint to be considered "atypical and significant" so as to implicate a state-created liberty interest, the hardship must go beyond "what a sentenced inmate may reasonably expect to encounter as a result of his or her conviction in accordance with due process of law." Griffin v. Vaughn, 112 F.3d 703, 706 (3d Cir.1997). As a general matter, "discipline by prison officials in response to a wide range of misconduct" does not meet this standard. Id. Even administrative segregation for punitive reasons does not violate a prisoner's liberty interest unless it represents "a dramatic departure from the basic conditions ... of his sentence." Id.

Plaintiffs allege that one or more of them has been deprived of a job, a particular security classification and assignment to a particular building as discipline and without due process of law. As an initial matter, these deprivations do not involve Due Process Clause liberty interests, and fall well within the normal range of custody given the State after a valid conviction. As discussed, Delaware courts have held 'that the State has not created additional liberty interests in these areas. Given the policies and procedures of the Delaware prison system, prisoners do not have a reasonable expectation of employment, a particular security classification, or a particular building assignment, and deprivation of any of the above is in no way a "dramatic departure from the basic conditions" of a prisoner's sentence.

Because Plaintiffs' allegations do `not implicate any protected liberty interests, there is no need for the Court to consider whether the procedures employed by SCI violated due process of law. The Court concludes that Plaintiffs have not stated a due process claim upon which relief can be granted against Defendants Hennessy, De-Loy, Warden Kearney, Stozenbach, and Hollis. Therefore, the Court will grant the Motion To Dismiss insofar as it seeks dismissal of the Due Process claim.

4. Equal Protection

Racial classifications within a prison system are evaluated under the same strict scrutiny as racial classifications generally, not the relaxed scrutiny given other prison policies and regulations under the...

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