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Bell v. N.C. English

United States District Court, D. Kansas

December 4, 2018

N.C. ENGLISH, Warden, USP-Leavenworth, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff proceeds pro se and in forma pauperis in this prisoner civil rights action. At the time of filing, Plaintiff was in federal custody at USP Leavenworth in Leavenworth, Kansas. Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint that Defendants have retaliated against him for filing grievances by delaying his transfer to a halfway house that was scheduled for November 13, 2018. Plaintiff alleges that his case manager, Defendant Helm, told Plaintiff that he would take away Plaintiffs halfway house designation if Plaintiff filed grievances against him. Plaintiff alleges that his designation was then delayed without due process. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Ratz took all of Plaintiffs BP Forms, stamps, address book, Bible, and pens, to prevent Plaintiff from filing administrative remedies and legal actions. Plaintiff alleges that his property was destroyed in response to his hunger strike, without a disciplinary hearing, and to prevent Plaintiff from filing a grievance prior to being placed in a "hard cell." Plaintiff also alleges the Warden is holding him in the SHU without cause, and that Plaintiff was told it is due to "administration not liking him."

         Plaintiff filed a motion (Doc. 3) seeking an expedited preliminary injunction based on alleged irreparable harm. Plaintiff asks the Court to restore his halfway house date, to order his immediate removal from the SHU, and to order Defendants to cease all attempts to stop Plaintiff from seeking relief. The Court entered an Order (Doc. 5) directing Defendants to respond to the motion. This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Response (Doc. 7).

         Defendants' Response indicates that Plaintiff has been transferred to a halfway house, rendering his request for injunctive relief moot. Defendants state that:

Plaintiff Steven Bell is a federal inmate, and at the time the Complaint was filed, was housed at the United States Penitentiary ("USP") located in Leavenworth, Kansas. (Declaration Heim, Attachment 1, p. 1, ¶ 4). Plaintiffs projected full-term release date is December 30, 2018. (Id., p. 2, ¶ 5; Exh. A, p. 2). When Plaintiff was initially transferred to USP Leavenworth, his projected date for release to a halfway house was November 13, 2018. (Id., ¶ 6; Exh. F). Plaintiff agreed to a medical hold to obtain medical services, including surgery and follow-up services. (Id., ¶ 7; Exh. E). Due to the surgery, Plaintiffs halfway house release date was moved to December. (Id., p. 3, ¶ 9; Exh. G). Plaintiff underwent surgery at the end of October, 2018, which resulted a medical hold, and the release date for the halfway house to be moved to December. (Id., p. 3, ¶ 9; Exh. D, F, and H). Plaintiffs medical hold was lifted on November 20, 2018. (Id. ¶ 10; Exhibit I). Plaintiff was approved for transfer from USP Leavenworth to a halfway house on November 20, 2018. (Id., ¶ 11; Exh. B; Exh. J, p. 2). Plaintiff left USP Leavenworth on November 27, 2018, scheduled to arrive at the halfway house on November 28, 2018. (Id., p. 3-4, ¶ 11; Exh. B; Exh. J, p. 5).

(Doc. 7, at 1-2) (citing Heim Declaration, Attachment 1).

         To obtain a preliminary injunction, the moving party must demonstrate four things: (1) a likelihood of success on the merits; (2) a likelihood that the movant will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief; (3) that the balance of the equities tip in the movant's favor; and (4) that the injunction is in the public interest. little v. Jones, 607 F.3d 1245, 1251 (10th Cir. 2010). "[A] showing of probable irreparable harm is the single most important prerequisite for the issuance of a preliminary injunction." Dominion Video Satellite, Inc. v. Echostar Satellite Corp., 356 F.3d 1256, 1260 (10th Cir. 2004).

         A preliminary injunction is "an extraordinary remedy that may only be awarded upon a clear showing that the plaintiff is entitled to such relief." Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 22 (2008). A preliminary injunction is appropriate only when the movant's right to relief is clear and unequivocal. Schrier v. Univ. of Colo., 427 F.3d 1253, 1258 (10th Cir. 2005). Moreover, a federal court considering a motion for preliminary injunctive relief affecting the conditions of a prisoner's confinement must give "substantial weight to any adverse impact on public safety" and on prison operation. 18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(2). Finally, a mandatory preliminary injunction, such as the one sought by Plaintiff, which requires the non-moving party to take affirmative action, is disfavored and therefore requires the moving party to make a heightened showing of the four factors above. Little, 607 F.3d at 1251.

         Plaintiff has failed to show irreparable harm and his request for injunctive relief is moot. Plaintiff was transferred to the halfway house and is no longer housed at USP Leavenworth. Because Plaintiffs request relates solely to alleged wrongdoing on the part of USP Leavenworth employees, the Court would be unable to provide Plaintiff with effective relief. The Court therefore denies Plaintiffs motion seeking an expedited preliminary injunction.

         Plaintiff also seeks injunctive relief in his Complaint. Such a request is likewise moot. Article III of the Constitution extends the jurisdiction of federal courts only to "live, concrete" cases or controversies. Rio Grande Silvery Minnow v. Bureau of Reclamation, 601 F.3d 1096, 1109 (10th Cir. 2010). "Article Ill's requirement that federal courts adjudicate only cases and controversies necessitates that courts decline to exercise jurisdiction where the award of any requested relief would be moot-i.e. where the controversy is no longer live and ongoing." Cox v. Phelps Dodge Corp., 43 F.3d 1345, 1348 (10th Cir. 1994), superseded by statute on other grounds. Consequently, "[m]ootness is a threshold issue because the existence of a live case or controversy is a constitutional prerequisite to federal court jurisdiction." Rio Grande, 601 F.3d at 1109 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         "Past exposure to illegal conduct does not in itself show a present case or controversy regarding injunctive relief." O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 4951974). The Tenth Circuit has applied this principle to § 1983 actions brought by inmates, and held that an inmate's transfer from one prison to another generally renders moot any request for injunctive relief against the employees of the original prison concerning the conditions of confinement. See Green v. Branson, 108 F.3d 1296, 1299-1300 (10th Cir. 1997); see also Wirsching v. Colorado, 360 F.3d 1191, 1196 (10th Cir. 2004) (inmate's release from prison moots his claims for declaratory and injunctive relief); McAlpine v. Thompson, 187 F.3d 1213, 1215 (10th Cir. 1999) (recognizing prisoner's release from prison mooted his § 1983 claim for injunctive relief); Love v. Summit County, 776 F.2d 908, 910 n.4 (10th Cir. 1985) (noting transfer of inmate to different prison renders his § 1983 claim for injunctive relief moot).

         The mootness doctrine is based on the reality that even if the inmate receives injunctive relief, the defendants from the former prison would be unable to provide the relief to plaintiff. Because Plaintiff is no longer incarcerated at USP Leavenworth, his claims for injunctive relief are moot and subject to dismissal.

         Plaintiff also seeks $1, 000 per day for each day he was held in the SHU past November 25, 2018, and $1, 000 per day for each day he was held at USP Leavenworth past November 13, 2018. Plaintiffs request for compensatory damages is barred by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e), because Plaintiff has failed to allege a physical injury. Section 1997e(e) provides in pertinent part that "[n]o Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e).

         Plaintiff also filed a Motion to Modify Petition (Doc. 6), seeking to correct the spelling of Defendant A. Heim's name and to add a request for $1, 000, 000 in punitive damages. The Court grants the motion. However, punitive damages "are available only for conduct which is 'shown to be motivated by evil motive or intent, or when it involves reckless or callous indifference to the federally protected rights of others.'" Searles, 251 F.3d at 879 (quoting Smith v. Wade,461 U.S. 30, 56 (1983)). Plaintiff presents no plausible basis for a claim of punitive damages because he alleges no facts ...

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