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Belk v. Smith

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

May 8, 2014



L. PATRICK AULD, Magistrate Judge.

The instant matter comes before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for recommended rulings on Defendant Larry Jones' Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Reconsideration (Docket Entry 28) and Defendant Lewis Smith's Motion to Dismiss the Fourteenth Amendment Claims and for Reconsideration of the Sufficiency of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act Claims (Docket Entry 30). (See Docket Entry dated Jan. 8, 2014; see also Docket Entry dated Feb. 15, 2012 (assigning case to undersigned Magistrate Judge).) For the reasons that follow, the Court should grant both Motions in part and deny them in part.

I. Background

Plaintiff commenced this case by filing a pro se prisoner form Complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Docket Entry 2.) The Complaint alleges that Defendants Lewis O. Smith, the Facility Administrator of Albemarle Correctional Institution ("Albemarle") in Badin, North Carolina, and Larry Jones, a Medical Doctor (see id. at 2), denied Plaintiff's requests to take on jobs during his incarceration at Albemarle in order to "make [Plaintiff] have to max out [his] sentence, " in violation of his constitutional rights (id. at 3). It further alleges that Defendant Jones conducted a three-minute examination of Plaintiff upon Plaintiff's arrival and asked only if Plaintiff could stand for an hour. (Id.) Plaintiff thereafter "learned that restrictions were put on [him] without [him] knowing such as no standing for [] more than a [sic] hour, no going up steps, can't pick no more than 10 lbs. up...." (Id.) The Complaint asserts that Plaintiff previously held jobs while incarcerated in other facilities where he "worked 40 hours weekly standing all day long making and shipping out furniture." (Id.) As a result of these events, the Complaint apparently asserts claims under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Rehabilitation Act"). (See id.) The Complaint requests injunctive relief, compensatory damages in the amount of $500, 000 and punitive damages in an amount to be determined. ( Id. at 4.)

This Court (per Senior United States District Judge N. Carlton Tilley, Jr.) dismissed Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment and individual-capacity ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims against both Defendants, and dismissed Plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief as moot. (Docket Entry 26 at 21.) However, the Court declined to dismiss Plaintiff's official capacity claim under the Rehabilitation Act. (Id.) The Court also authorized Plaintiff's claims under the ADA (official-capacity) to proceed "to the extent that they arise from adequately pled constitutional violations, " but permitted Defendants 45 days to address the sufficiency of Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment allegations. (Id.) Both Defendants subsequently filed the instant Motions. (Docket Entries 28, 30.)[1] They argue that Plaintiff's Complaint does not articulate constitutional violations and further request that the Court reconsider its determination that the Complaint alleges facts sufficient to state a claim under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. (Id.) Plaintiff has not responded. (See Docket Entries dated Oct. 31, 2013, to present.)[2]

II. Motion to Dismiss

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint falls short if it does not "contain 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, 678 (2009) (emphasis added) (internal citations omitted) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). This standard "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id . In other words, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id.

"[D]etermining whether a complaint states on its face a plausible claim for relief and therefore can survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion... requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Francis v. Giacomelli , 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009). Moreover, although the Supreme Court has reiterated the importance of affording pro se litigants the benefit of liberal construction, Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has "not read Erickson to undermine Twombly's requirement that a pleading contain more than labels and conclusions, " Giarratano v. Johnson , 521 F.3d 298, 304 n.5 (4th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted) (applying Twombly standard in dismissing pro se complaint); accord Atherton v. District of Columbia Off. of Mayor , 567 F.3d 672, 681-82 (D.C. Cir. 2009) ("A pro se complaint... must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.' But even a pro se complainant must plead factual matter' that permits the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.'" (quoting Erickson , 551 U.S. at 94, and Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679, respectively)).

A. Habeas/ Heck Bar

Defendants first contend that Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims are barred because he impermissibly "challenges the fact or duration of his confinement and seeks immediate or speedier release, " for which habeas corpus provides the sole remedy. (Docket Entry 29 at 5; see also Docket Entry 31 at 3.) As this Court (per Judge Tilley) noted, Plaintiff initiated this case while in prison but has since been released, rendering his requests for injunctive relief moot. (See Docket Entry 26 at 6.) Moreover, Plaintiff's success in the instant case would not "necessarily imply the unlawfulness of a (not previously invalidated) conviction or sentence.'" (Docket Entry 29 at 6 (quoting Wilkinson v. Dotson , 544 U.S. 74, 81 (2005)).)

In Edwards v. Balisok , 520 U.S. 641 (1997), the United States Supreme Court recognized a distinction between the position of the plaintiff in that case, who challenged the procedures used in a prison disciplinary proceeding that ultimately revoked his previously earned good-time credits, and the limitations of Heck:

There is, however, this critical difference from Heck : Respondent, in his amended complaint, limited his request to damages for depriving him of good-time credits without due process, not for depriving him of good-time credits undeservedly as a substantive matter. That is to say, his claim posited that the procedures were wrong, but not necessarily that the result was. The distinction between these two sorts of claims is clearly established in our case law, as is the plaintiff's entitlement to recover at least nominal damages under § 1983 if he proves the former one without also proving the latter one.

Id. at 645.

Plaintiff's Complaint permits a similar reading. It does not contend that Defendants denied Plaintiff credits that he rightfully earned, but rather challenges the procedures they utilized, which limited his ability to earn credits. (See Docket Entry 2 at 3.) Moreover, as Defendants themselves point out (see Docket Entry 29 at 14-15, 17-18), any number of reasons may have caused prison employers to deny Plaintiff's job applications. Accordingly, if Plaintiff prevailed on his instant constitutional claims, that outcome would not ...

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