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Staples v. United States

United States District Court, D. Kansas

April 17, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on plaintiff's amended complaint (Doc. #19) in this civil rights action brought under Bivens[1]. The Court has conducted an initial review of the complaint under 28 U.S.C. §1915A and enters the following findings and order.


         The amended complaint names as defendants the United States of America and the following employees of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP): Mark S. Inch, Director of the BOP; Eian Guy, Administrator of Inmate Appeals; the unnamed Regional Director of the North Central Region of the BOP; former Warden Claude Maye of the U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas (USPL); Lieutenant Sweeting, a supervisory officer at USPL; and Correctional Officer Schwarz at USPL. Plaintiff also names the Unit Disciplinary Committee at USPL as a defendant.

         The complaint alleges that in 2015, plaintiff was found guilty in three incident reports. Although he does not detail the nature of those reports, he states that the sanctions imposed were brief losses of commissary privileges, telephone use, and visitation. The reports later were expunged. Plaintiff alleges that he suffered mental anguish and hardship as a result of the sanctions.

         The complaint also alleges that on January 16, 2015, defendant Schwarz escorted him to the office of defendant Sweeting where he underwent a strip search. Plaintiff claims that conducting the strip search in that office violates a liberty interest established by an unidentified BOP Program Statement, but he does not identify the specific supporting facts upon which relies. He seeks damages and costs.


         A federal court must conduct a preliminary review of any case in which a prisoner seeks relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of such an entity. See 28 U.S.C. §1915A(a). Following this review, the court must dismiss any portion of the complaint that is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary damages from a defendant who is immune from that relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         In screening, a court liberally construes pleadings filed by a party proceeding pro se and applies “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

         To avoid a dismissal for failure to state a claim, a complaint must set out factual allegations that “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The court accepts the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id. However, “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a [plausible] claim of entitlement to relief, ” the matter should be dismissed. Id. at 558. A court need not accept “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action supported by mere conclusory statements.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Rather, “to state a claim in federal court, a complaint must explain what each defendant did to [the pro se plaintiff]; when the defendant did it; how the defendant's action harmed [the plaintiff]; and what specific legal right the plaintiff believes the defendant violated.” Nasious v. Two Unknown B.I.C.E. Agents, 492 F.3d 1158, 1163 (10th Cir. 2007).

         The Tenth Circuit has observed that the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in Twombley and Erickson set out a new standard of review for dismissals under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) dismissals. See Key v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1218 (10th Cir. 2007)(citations omitted). Following those decisions, courts “look to the specific allegations in the complaint to determine whether they plausibly support a legal claim for relief.” Kay, 500 F.3d at 1218 (quotation marks and internal citations omitted). A plaintiff “must nudge his claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1098 (10th Cir. 2009). In this context, “plausible” refers “to the scope of the allegations in a complaint: if they are so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct much of it innocent, ” then the plaintiff has not “nudged [the] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (citing Twombly at 1974).

         Disciplinary sanctions

         As a prisoner, plaintiff retains “only a narrow range of protected liberty interests.” Rezaq v. Nalley, 677 F.3d 1001, 1011 (10th Cir. 2012)(internal citation omitted). In Sandin v. Connor, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995), the United States Supreme Court held that for a prisoner, a “liberty interest will be generally limited to freedom from restraint which, while not exceeding the sentence in such an unexpected manner as to give rise to protection by the Due Process Clause of its own force, nonetheless imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.” Id. at 483-84.

         The Eighth Amendment requires prison officials to “provide humane conditions of confinement … [and] “take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.'” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. ...

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