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Santiago v. Gray

United States District Court, D. Delaware

May 24, 2019

LT. GRAY, et al., Defendants.


         1. Introduction. Plaintiff Jose Santiago, was an inmate at the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington, Delaware, when filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (D.I. 3). He is now housed at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware. (D.I. 22). Plaintiff appears pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (D.I. 6). On November 7, 2018, Plaintiff filed a motion for injunctive relief alleging retaliation by Defendant Lt. Gray for commencing this action. (D.I. 16, 17). The Court denied the motion. (D.I. 24). On December 31, 2018, Plaintiff filed a second motion for injunctive relief. (D.I. 28). Defendants oppose. (D.I. 31). Plaintiff has also filed two motions to amend the complaint and a request for counsel. (D.I. 27, 35, 37). Defendants move to strike the amended complaint. (D.I. 36)

         2. Motion for Injunctive Relief. A preliminary injunction is "an extraordinary remedy that should be granted only if (1) the plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) denial will result in irreparable harm to the plaintiff; (3) granting the injunction will not result in irreparable harm to the defendant; and (4) granting the injunction is in the public interest." NutraSweet Co. v. Vit-Mar Enterprises, Inc., 176 F.3d 151, 153 (3d Cir. 1999). The elements also apply to temporary restraining orders. See NutraSweet Co. v. Vit-Mar Enterprises., Inc., 112 F.3d 689, 693 (3d Cir. 1997). "[F]ailure to establish any element in [a plaintiffs] favor renders a preliminary injunction inappropriate." NutraSweet II, 176 F.3d at 153. Furthermore, because of the intractable problems of prison administration, a request for injunctive relief in the prison context must be viewed with considerable caution. Rush v. Correctional Med. Services, Inc., 287 Fed.Appx. 142, 144 (3d Cir. 2008).

         3. Background. Plaintiff alleges he has been subjected to retaliation since submitting a grievance on May 1, 2018. (D.I. 28 at ¶ 6). He states that Defendant Lt. Gray threatened him with solitary confinement and that he would make Plaintiffs time in prison hell. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that Gray threatened him with physical action. (Id. at ¶ 9). Plaintiff alleges that he requested a transfer to the Sussex Correctional Institute on April 18, 2018 due to a "mold incident and health concerns." (Id. at ¶ 10). Plaintiff states that the dorm was "made livable per defendants in May or June of 2018" and that he remained at the HRYCI during this time, all the while being asked to drop his claim. (Id.)

         4. According to Plaintiff, he was transferred to the VCC on November 16, 2018 for refusing to stop fighting for his constitutional rights. (Id. at ¶ 12). The transfer caused Plaintiff to lose his prison job, income, and good time. (Id.) Plaintiff also alleges that he purchased many items from the commissary a week prior to his transfer and those items were disposed of without giving Plaintiff an opportunity to mail the items home. (Id. at ¶ 13). In addition, Plaintiff claims that his other personal items were taken by the VCC property room "per retaliation by DOC in concert/participation with Lt. Gray" and disposed of or donated to inmates who work in the property room. (Id. at¶14).

         5. Plaintiff states that on December 4, 2018, he received a classification override and his points were dropped making him eligible for an out-of-state transfer. (Id. at¶15). Plaintiff alleges that "[i]t was made clear if [he] continued [his] fight [he] would be transferred out of state." (Id.). Plaintiff asks the Court to "intercede." (Id. at¶17).

         6. Exhibits submitted by Plaintiff indicate that on April 19, 2018, Gray and Defendant Anthony McLellan (misnamed in the Complaint as McMillian) met with Plaintiff regarding a grievance he had submitted complaining of black mold in the shower area and along the ventilation systems. (D.I. 28 at 17). McLellan informed Plaintiff that maintenance would look into the situation and, if there was a mold problem, it would be rectified as soon as possible. (Id.) The exhibits include records of the transfer of Plaintiffs property. The forms were signed by several correctional officers, but not by Defendants. (Id. at 36). Nor do documents indicate that Defendants had any involvement in the removal of Plaintiffs personal items at the VCC. (Id. at 40-41, 43-48).

         7. In their opposition to Plaintiffs motion, Defendants provide the affidavit of McLellan who states that neither he, nor Gray, threatened Plaintiff with solitary confinement. (D.I. 32 at Ex. A). McLellan states that despite the fact that Plaintiffs grievance was invalid for failure to follow DOC procedures, he addressed Plaintiffs concerns, and had maintenance investigate the matter. (Id.). As a result, the dorms were closed, inmates were moved, and the issues were fixed. (Id.). Defendants argue that Plaintiff has not met his burden to prove a threat of immediate irreparable injury.

         8. "The relevant inquiry is whether the movant is in danger of suffering irreparable harm at the time the preliminary injunction is to be issued." SI Handling Sys., Inc. v. Heisley, 753 F.2d 1244, 1264 (3d Cir. 1985). Because Plaintiff is no longer housed at the same correctional facility as Gray or McClennan, it is implausible he will suffer irreparable harm because of speculative retaliation by either Defendant when Plaintiff is housed at the VCC.

         9. In addition, proof of a retaliation claim requires Plaintiff demonstrate that: (1) he engaged in protected activity; (2) he was subjected to adverse actions by a state actor; and (3) the protected activity was a substantial motivating factor in the state actor's decision to take adverse action. Carter v. McGrady, 292 F.3d 152, 158 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Mt. Healthy Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 287 (1977)); see also Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220 (3d Cir. 2000) (a factfinder could conclude that retaliatory placement in administrative confinement would "deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising his First Amendment rights" (citations omitted)).

         10. Considering the evidence submitted, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has not met the requirements for injunctive relief. There is no evidence that Defendants were involved in Plaintiffs transfer, and there is no evidence that Defendants had any involvement with Plaintiffs personal property either prior to his transfer from the HYRCI or upon his transfer to the VCC. Finally, the parties' position on whether Plaintiff was threatened with solitary are polar opposite and, regardless, there is no evidence that Plaintiff was ever sent to solitary confinement. Plaintiff has failed to show the likelihood of success on the merits or irreparable harm. Therefore, the Court will deny the motion.

         11. Amendment. Plaintiff filed a motion for permission to amend and an amended complaint. (D.I. 27, 35). Both are construed as motions to amend. Defendants move to strike the proposed amended complaint. (D.I. 36).

         12. Pursuant to D. Del. LR 15.1(b) when seeking to amend, the proposed amended pleading shall indicate in what respect it differs from the pleading which it amends, by bracketing or striking through materials to be deleted and underlining materials to be added. Plaintiffs proposed amended complaint does not indicate in what respect it differs from the pleading which it amends, by bracketing or striking through materials to be deleted and underlining materials to be added. In addition, the proposed amendment is confusing and seems to combine issues in this case with another case Plaintiff is involved in, Nash v. Akinbayo, Civ. No. 18-677-MN. Plaintiff may not litigate the same issues in two separate cases.

         13. Given Plaintiffs failure to comply with this Court's Local Rules and the confusing proposed amendment, Plaintiffs motions for leave to amend (D.I. 27, 35) will be denied without prejudice to renew. Defendants' motion to strike will be dismissed as moot. (D.I. 36). The Court will consider a renewed motion to amend upon Plaintiffs compliance with the local rules of this Court.

         14. Request for Counsel. Plaintiff requests counsel on the grounds that he is incarcerated and it is impossible for him to obtain sensitive documents and videos from the Delaware Department of Correction and important and necessary witness ...

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