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Sperry v. Wildermuth

United States District Court, D. Kansas

June 13, 2017

JEFFREY J. SPERRY, Plaintiff,
v.
LINDSEY WILDERMUTH, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          DAVID J. WAXSE, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, a state prisoner appearing pro se, brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights complaint. Plaintiff also filed an application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and has submitted the initial filing fee as directed. The Court grants leave to proceed in forma pauperis. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff is directed to file an amended complaint.

         Statutory Screening of Prisoner Complaints

         The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of such entity to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Additionally, with any litigant, such as Plaintiff, who is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court has a duty to screen the complaint to determine its sufficiency. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Upon completion of this screening, the Court must dismiss any claim that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary damages from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b), 1915(e)(2)(B).

         To survive this review, the plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In applying the Twombly standard, the Court must assume the truth of all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Leverington v. City of Colo. Springs, 643 F.3d 719, 723 (10thCir. 2011).

         While a pro se plaintiff's complaint must be liberally construed, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), pro se status does not relieve the plaintiff of “the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). The Court need not accept “mere conclusions characterizing pleaded facts.” Bryson v. City of Edmond, 905 F.2d 1386, 1390 (10th Cir. 1990). “[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Northington v. Jackson, 973 F.2d 1518, 1523 (10th Cir. 1992). In addressing a claim brought under § 1983, the analysis begins by identifying the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989). The validity of the claim then must be judged by reference to the specific constitutional standard which governs that right. Id.

         Discussion

         Plaintiff is an inmate at the El Dorado Correctional Facility (“EDCF”) in El Dorado, Kansas. He has been incarcerated since 1997 and was previously housed at the Lansing Correctional Facility (“LCF”) in Lansing, Kansas. Plaintiff was transferred to EDCF on January 22, 2016, as a result of his placement in administrative segregation. He has been held in administrative segregation continuously since October of 2015. Mr. Sperry has studied law throughout his incarceration and has helped many inmates pursue grievances and legal claims, as well as pursuing numerous grievances and claims of his own.

         Plaintiff's complaint includes fourteen (14) counts bringing at least ninety-four (94) claims against twenty-four (24) defendants. The Court finds the complaint is deficient in several regards.

         1. Retaliation

         The main claim Mr. Sperry seems to be making is one he never specifically makes: retaliation. Construing his complaint liberally, he appears to allege his assignment to and continued confinement in administrative segregation (with the resulting hardships inherent in such placement), interference with his access to courts, interference with his mail, and deprivation of his property are all the result of a retaliatory motive on the part of primarily two defendants. Plaintiff claims the retaliation is in response to his actions in pursuing legal claims on his own behalf and on behalf of other inmates.

         The Tenth Circuit has found “[i]t is well-settled that prison officials may not retaliate against or harass an inmate because of the inmate's exercise of his right of access to the courts.” Gee v. Pacheco, 627 F.3d 1178, 1189 (10th Cir. 2010)(internal quotation marks omitted), quoting Smith v. Maschner, 899 F.2d 940, 947 (10th Cir. 1990). In Gee, the plaintiff had filed grievances against the defendants and a habeas corpus petition. He alleged he was subsequently transferred to an out-of-state supermax prison in retaliation. The court found Mr. Gee had stated a claim for retaliation because he identified a constitutionally protected activity in which he had engaged, described a responsive action that would chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in that activity, and recited facts indicating the action was substantially motivated as a response to his constitutionally protected conduct (that the defendants were aware of his protected activity, that his protected activity complained of the defendants' actions, and that the transfer was in close temporal proximity to the protected activity). Id. The Tenth Circuit found this was sufficient for him to proceed beyond the pleading stage. Id.

         While courts afford prison officials great discretion in the management of prisoners and will typically find their actions valid if they are reasonably related to legitimate penological interests, prison officials do not have the discretion to punish or retaliate against a prisoner for exercising his constitutional rights. Prison officials may not retaliate or harass an inmate under the guise of a pretextual motive. See Gee, 627 F.3d at 1188.

         Although Plaintiff's complaint must be construed liberally, the Court will not construct legal arguments for a pro se litigant. See Garrett v. Selby Connor Maddux & Janer, 425 F.3d 836, 840 (10th Cir. 2005). If Plaintiff decides to pursue a retaliation claim in an amended complaint, he must adequately allege plausible facts supporting all elements of the claim.

         2. Improper Joinder of Claims

         While several of Plaintiff's fourteen (14) counts relate to his placement and continued confinement in administrative segregation and other allegedly retaliatory actions on the part of some of the defendants, several counts are completely unrelated and are improperly joined.

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) apply to suits brought by prisoners. FRCP Rule 20(a)(2) governs permissive ...


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