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Price v. Pierce

United States District Court, D. Delaware

January 9, 2019

MILLARD E. PRICE, Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN DAVID PIERCE, et al., Defendants.

          Millard E. Price, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware. Pro Se Plaintiff.

          William Joseph Kassab, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CONNOLLY, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Millard E. Price ("Plaintiff'), an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC") in Smyrna, Delaware, filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] (D.I. 3) Defendants former VCC Warden David Pierce ("Pierce") and Corrections Sergeant Ralph Bailey ("Bailey") ("together "Defendants")[2] move for summary judgment.[3] (D.I. 52) Plaintiff opposes the motion and has filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint[4] and a request for counsel. (D.I. 58, 59, 66)

         II. BACKGROUND

         Two claims survived screening of the Complaint; a First Amendment retaliation claim against Bailey and an Eighth Amendment strip search claim against Pierce.[5] (D.I. 9, 10) Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages. (D.I. 3 at 36-40)

         Plaintiff was employed in the VCC receiving room from December 1, 2010 to April 18, 2016. (D.I. 63-2 at 9) While working on Friday, April 15, 2016, Plaintiff found a cell phone in a laundry cart. (Id. at 10) Plaintiff placed the cell phone on a shelf next to the laundry cart and left work without informing any VCC staff that he found the cell phone. (D.I. 45 at ¶ 5; D.I. 63-2 at 11) When he returned to work on Monday, April 18, 2016, two other inmate workers, Boogie Johnson and Terrell Brown ("Brown"), told him that Bailey was looking for a lost cell phone. (D.I. 36 at ¶ 5; D.I. 63-2 at 11) Plaintiff told the two inmates that he found the cell phone, and that he saw the cell phone on the shelf where he left it on the previous Friday night. (D.I. 63-2 at 11) According to Plaintiff, he gave the cell phone to Brown to turn in because there is "bad blood" between Plaintiff and Bailey. (Id.) Plaintiff did not inform VCC staff he had found the cell phone even though he had contact with VCC staff during the weekend. (D.I. 45 at ¶ 8)

         On Monday, April 18, 2016, Officer Hollis told Bailey that Plaintiff had given Brown the cell phone to turn in, and Bailey questioned Plaintiff about the phone. (D.I. 35 at ¶ 9; D.I. 36 at ¶¶ 10, 11, 12) When he was being questioned, Plaintiff told Bailey he found the phone in the institutional laundry cart before leaving work on April 15, 2016, and had placed the cell phone on a shelf next to the laundry cart that contained yellow uniforms. (D.I. 35 at ¶ 9; D.I. 63-2 at 13) According to Bailey, when he asked Plaintiff why he did not turn the cell phone in on April 15, 2016, Plaintiff replied that he knew he would have time to turn in the cell phone. (D.I. 35 at ¶ 9; D.I. 46 at ¶ 11)

         Bailey then issued Plaintiff a disciplinary report for possession of the cell phone and charged him with the infractions of receiving stolen property, theft, and promoting prison contraband. (D.I. 33-1 at 1; D.I. 36 at ¶ 39) Plaintiff was transferred to "the hole" or pretrial hearing detention. (D.I. 33-1 at 7; D.I. 63-2 at 14) Plaintiff requested a hearing and it was held on April 20, 2016. (D.I. 63-2 at 14-15) Bailey was called as a witness. (Id. at 15) Plaintiff was found guilty of theft and promoting prison contraband and sentenced to fifteen days in isolation. (D.I. 33-1 at 2) Plaintiff appealed the decision and it was affirmed on April 25, 2016. (Id. at 3-4) The basis for the decision reads: "Inmate Price admitted to finding the cell phone, hiding the cell phone, and then ultimately turning the cell phone in, but not to security staff. Therefore, he is responsible for his actions." (Id. at 4) Plaintiff was released from isolation on May 3, 2016. (D.I. 48 at ¶ 6)

         Plaintiff alleges the disciplinary report that Bailey authored contained false information and was issued in retaliation for Plaintiffs actions in 2008 when he was a pretrial detainee and worked in the pretrial kitchen in B-Building. (D.I. 3 at 12-13; D.I. 63-2 at 4-5) Bailey was the sergeant in charge of B-Building during this time. (D.I 36 at ¶ 24) Plaintiff submitted a grievance on October 24, 2008, and he also complained about Bailey to Capt. Henry ("Henry") (D.I. 63-2 at 5, 23) Bailey does not recall if Plaintiff complained about him to Henry in 2008, and he denies that he holds a grudge against Plaintiff. (D.I. 36 at ¶ 27, 29) Plaintiff later resigned from the kitchen position and took a different position. (D.I. 63-2 at 8) He and Baily did not cross paths for "a couple of years" and Plaintiff states that when they did, there was always a problem. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges his Eighth Amendment rights were violated when he was housed in isolation for fifteen days because he was subjected to a minimum of three strip searches a day, and the strip searches served no penological interest other than human degradation. (D.I. 3 at 17) Pierce, the VCC Warden during the relevant time-frame, states that when he assumed the warden's position, a standard operating procedure was in place that required cell searches to be conducted of inmates in isolation during each shift and, with cell searches, it was expected that staff would also conduct a strip search. (D.I. 47 at ¶ 3) There were three shifts per day while Plaintiff was housed in isolation. (D.I. 47 at ¶ 4) Pierce states that inmate held in isolation are strip searched for security reasons to ensure inmates have not obtained contraband, given that inmates in isolation still interact or have the opportunity to interact with other individuals, and those interactions are opportunities for inmates to obtain contraband. (D.I. 48 at ¶ 2) Pierce does not have personal knowledge if Plaintiff was strip searched. (D.I. 37 at ¶ 3)

         Defendants move for summary judgment on the grounds that: (1) they are immune from suit by reason of Eleventh Amendment immunity; (2) Plaintiff has failed to offer evidence that his exercise of a constitutional right was a substantial motivating factor in Bailey's decision to discipline him and failed to dispute that Bailey would have made the same disciplinary decision; and (3) Plaintiff ...


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