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Toppin v. Kornegay

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

February 21, 2014

JESSE M. TOPPIN, Plaintiff,


LOUISE W. FLANAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and it is before the court on the respective motions to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) filed by defendants Captain Darnell ("Darnell"), Mr. Boisvert ("Boisvert"), Correctional Officer Carroll ("Carroll"), Sergeant Drumgo ("Drumgo"), Johnny Hawkins ("Hawkins"), Alvin Keller ("Keller"), Sergeant Key ("Key") and J. Kornegay ("Kornegay") (DE 20), as well as Correctional Officer Harrison ("Harrison") and Correctional Officer King ("King") (DE 29). Plaintiff did not respond to either motion. In this posture, the issues raised are ripe for adjudication.


The incident at issue arose on April 13, 2011, while plaintiff, a state inmate, was incarcerated at Warren Correctional Institution ("Warren"). Compl. p. 7. On this date, defendants Drumgo, Harrison, Key, and Carroll executed a search of plaintiff's cell. Id . Specifically, Key and Carroll detained plaintiff outside of his cell in "receiving" while Drumgo and Harrison searched plaintiff's "religious prayer box." Id . "During the search of [plaintiff's] room, some of [his] religious items were confiscated resulting in the los[s] of [his] personal religious items (property) and they have never been returned, therefore could not be desecrated properly as required by [his] religious beliefs." Id . The specific items plaintiff claims were confiscated include: (1) three ounces of gray sage; (2) four ounces of herbal Kinninick; (3) three ounces of white cedar; and (4) one sweet grass braid. Id . p. 9.

Subsequent to the search, plaintiff was charged with a disciplinary offense for possession of an unauthorized communication device because a black Samsung cell phone and battery pack were recovered from plaintiff's sacred items box in the course of the search. Id . Attach. 1, p. 7. On April 20, 2011, plaintiff plead guilty to the charged disciplinary offense and received forty-five (45) days in segregation, forty (40) hours extra duty, and lost twenty (20) days of good-time credit.

On May 31, 2012, plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that defendants violated his rights pursuant to the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff also alleges that defendants violated North Carolina Department of Public Safety ("DPS") policy. Finally, plaintiff alleges that defendants' repeatedly failed to process his grievances in retaliation for plaintiff's attempt to vindicate his First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. As relief, plaintiff seeks compensatory, punitive, exemplary, and nominal damages for violations of his constitutional rights and loss of his religious property. Plaintiff additionally seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.

Defendants subsequently filed motions to dismiss, arguing that plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Although plaintiff was notified of defendants' motions to dismiss, he failed to respond.


A. Motion to Dismiss

1. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) determines only whether a claim is stated; "it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party v. Martin , 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). A claim is stated if the complaint contains "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 677 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In evaluating whether a claim is stated, "[the] court accepts all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, " but does not consider "legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, ... bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement[, ]... unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v., Inc. , 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). In other words, this plausibility standard requires a plaintiff to articulate facts, that, when accepted as true, demonstrate that the plaintiff has stated a claim that makes it plausible he is entitled to relief. Francis v. Giacomelli , 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (quotations omitted).

2. Analysis

a. Fourth Amendment

Plaintiff asserts that the search of his cell constituted an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, an inmate does not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in his prison cell, and "the Fourth Amendment proscription against unreasonable searches does not apply within the confines of the prison cell." ...

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