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Clark v. Coupe

United States District Court, D. Delaware

July 22, 2015

JEROME D. CLARK, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT COUPE, PERRY PHELPS, PHILIP MORGAN, KENNETH MCMILLAN, PAMELA FAULKNER, ERICA N. JOHNSON Defendants.

Jerome D. Clark, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution, Wilmington, Delaware. Pro se Plaintiff.

Ophelia M. Waters, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, State of Delaware, Wilmington, Delaware, Counsel for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SUE L. ROBINSON, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Jerome D. Clark ("plaintiff"), an inmate at Howard R. Young Correctional Institution ("HRYCI"), filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, proceeding prose. The court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

Plaintiff alleges violations of his Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (D.I. 23 at 18) He seeks $100, 000 in compensatory damages and $100, 000 in punitive damages from each defendant. (D.I. 2)

Presently before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), or in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.[1] (D.I. 35) For the reasons discussed, the court will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is currently serving a two-year sentence following a conviction for attempted robbery on August 23, 2013. Plaintiff had previously been convicted of sexual assault, among other offenses, in 1983.

During a routine initial assessment on October 10, 2013, the Delaware Department of Correction ("DOC") classified plaintiff as a sex offender. (D.I. 23, ex. 2) The Multi-Disciplinary Team/Institutional Classification Board ("MTD/ICB") recommended the minimum security level, as well as education, sex offender groups, and institutional jobs. (D.I. 23, ex. 2) Through multiple letters and grievances, plaintiff disputed the results of his classification assessment, claiming that he was not a sex offender. (D.I. 23, ex. 3, 5) On October 11, 2013, plaintiff allegedly wrote a letter to defendant Philip Morgan ("Morgan"), Warden, disputing his classification status. Plaintiff claims he received a response from defendant Pamela Faulkner ("Faulkner") stating that the re-classification was DOC policy. (D. I. 23 at 7) On October 18, 2013, plaintiff filed a grievance form along with a letter to defendant Perry Phelps ("Phelps"), Bureau Chief, and Phelps affirmed the classification. (D.I. 23, ex. 4) As a result of his classification status, plaintiff was required to participate in a treatment program with the Head Start Home and Transition Sex Offender groups, but he repeatedly refused to participate. (D.I. 23 at 8-11)

On March 21, 2014, defendant Kenneth McMillan ("McMillan"), Lieutenant, held a disciplinary hearing based on plaintiff's refusal to participate in the treatment programs. (D.I. 23 at 14) During the hearing, plaintiff claims that McMillan read written evidence provided by other inmates and that the evidence was not disclosed to plaintiff. (D.I. 23 at 14) Ultimately, plaintiff was found guilty and sentenced to twenty days in isolated confinement and the loss of ten days of earned good time credits. (D.I. 23 at 15) Plaintiff appealed the hearing decision, claiming that he did not receive a fair and impartial hearing because McMillan issued the original report, held the hearing, withheld written evidence, and made the final decision on appeal. (D.I. 23 at 24-25) On April 24, 2014, plaintiff wrote a letter to defendant Robert Coupe ("Coupe"), Commissioner, requesting an investigation of the hearing process. (D.I. 23 at 16; D.I. 23, ex. 11) After receiving no response, plaintiff filed a§ 1983 lawsuit on December 8, 2013. (D.I. 23 at 16)

Ill. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Because the parties have referred to matters outside the pleadings, [2] defendants' motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment, shall be treated as a motion for summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). "The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 n.10 (1986). "Facts that could alter the outcome are material, ' and disputes are genuine' if evidence exists from which a rational person could conclude that the position of the person with the burden of proof on the disputed issue is correct." Horowitz v. Federal Kemper Life Assurance Co., 57 F.3d 300, 302 n.1 (3d Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). For a party to show that a fact is or is not genuinely disputed, that party must cite to "particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for the purposes of the motions only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, " or show "that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot product admissible evidence to support the facts." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A) & (B).

If the moving party has demonstrated an absence of material fact, the non moving party then "must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, "the court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). The court will "view the underlying facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Pennsylvania Coal Ass'n v. Babbitt, 63 F.3d 231, 236 (3d Cir. 1995). The mere existence of some evidence in support of the nonmoving party, however, will not be sufficient for denial of a motion for summary judgment; there must be enough evidence to enable a jury reasonably to find for the nonmoving party on that issue. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). If the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Claims

1. Classification status

Analysis of plaintiff's due process claim begins with determining whether a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest exists. See Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472 (1995); Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460 (1983). "Liberty interests protected by the Fourteenth Amendment may arise from two sources-the Due Process Clause itself and the laws of the States." Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. at 466. States may create protected liberty interests with respect to prison inmates; however, these state-created "interests 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." Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. at 484 (internal citations omitted). In evaluating plaintiff's due process claim, the court must determine whether the sanction rises to the level of atypical and significant hardship, and then review the relevant procedure to determine its sufficiency under the Due Process Clause.

Plaintiff can succeed under the Due Process Clause only if state law or regulation has created a constitutionally-protected liberty interest in an individual's classification status. However, this court has repeatedly determined that the DOC statutes and regulations do not provide prisoners with liberty or property interests protected by the Due Process Clause. See Carrigan v. State of Delaware, 957 F.Supp. 1376 (D. Del. 1997); Jackson v. Brewington-Carr, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 535 (D. Del. Jan. 15, 1999). More specifically, neither Delaware law nor DOC regulations create a liberty interest in a prisoner's classification within an institution. See Eaton v. Danberg, 545 F.Supp.2d at 399; see also 11. Del. C. § 6529(e). In fact, inmates have "no legitimate statutory or constitutional entitlement" to any particular classification even if a new classification would cause that inmate to suffer a "grievous loss." Moody v. Daggett, 429 U.S. 78, 88 n.9 (1976).

Prison officials are afforded broad discretionary authority, as the "operation of a correctional institution is at best an extraordinarily difficult undertaking." Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 566 (1974). Hence, prison administrators are accorded wide-ranging deference in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that are needed to preserve internal order and to maintain institutional security. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 527 (1979). The classification of prisoners within the State prison system is among the "wide spectrum of discretionary actions that traditionally have been the business of prison administrators rather than of the federal courts." Meachum, 427 U.S. at 225. Furthermore, requiring inmate participation in treatment programs, including for sex offenders, is not an enhanced sentence or duplicative punishment. See generally Abdul-Akbarv. Dept. of Corr., 910 F.Supp. 986, 1002 (D. Del. 1995). The Supreme Court has stated that, "[a]s long as the conditions or degree of confinement to which [a] prisoner is subjected is within the sentence imposed upon him and is not otherwise violative of the Constitution, the Due Process Clause does not in itself subject an inmate's treatment by prison authorities to judicial oversight." Hewitt, 459 U.S. 468 (quoting Montanye v. Haymes, 427 U.S. 236, 242 (1976)). See also Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 480 (1995).

Nothing in the record shows that plaintiff's conditions, such as mandatory participation in a treatment program and relocation to the treatment program center, imposed an "atypical or significant hardship on [him] in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life, " such that his due process rights were violated. Therefore, the court concludes that plaintiffs classification, along with any consequential loss of privileges, did not constitute atypical and significant hardship, and was "within the ...


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