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Locke v. Solomon

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

November 13, 2017

KAREEM LOCKE, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGE SOLOMON, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Frank D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on initial review of Plaintiff Kareem Locke's pro se civil Complaint, filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a prisoner of the State of North Carolina. According to the Complaint, on August 3, 2009, Plaintiff was placed on a Department of Public Safety “Watch List” for suspected gang membership and affiliation. (Compl. 7, Doc. No. 1.) On December 11, 2015, Plaintiff was informed by Defendant Daniel Hatley, identified as a Security Risk Group (“SRG”) Officer at Brown Creek Correctional Institution (“BCCI”), that he was going to recommend Plaintiff be taken off the watch list and given a Security Threat Group (“STG”) classification (i.e. classified as a gang member).[1] Plaintiff filed a grievance on December 15, 2015, complaining of Hatley's decision and pointing out that he had held prison jobs, completed all assigned tasks, and had not been charged with any gang-related infraction since being placed on the watch list. (Copy of 12/15/15 Grievance, Doc. No. 1 at 16.)

         On January 6. 2016, Plaintiff was informed by Defendant Hatley that he had been “bumped up” to S.R.G. classification level III, with accompanying restrictions on visitation and phone-calls, among others things. (Compl. 7.) Plaintiff was informed that the reason for the increase in his security risk level was because of his “rank” in an STG. (Compl. 7.)

         On January 19, 2016, Petitioner was charged with two infractions - attempting to possess cell phones and watches, and attempting to possess tobacco. (Compl. 8.) The charges were levied based upon allegations made by a confidential informant to Defendant Samantha Horne, identified as an SRG Officer at BCCI. (Compl. 8; Offense and Disc. Rpt., Doc. No. 1 at 22.) Defendant Benjamin A. Carver, identified as a Disciplinary Hearing Officer at Alexander Correctional Institution, presided over Plaintiff's January 29, 2016 disciplinary hearing. Defendant Carver found Plaintiff guilty of both infractions and punished him accordingly. (Compl. 8.)

         Plaintiff claims that the increase in his SRG classification level was made in violation of his right to due process. (Compl. 9.) According to Plaintiff, SRG policy requires that for an inmate to be raised from a “watch list” to a security alert status, the inmate must have a pending gang-related infraction or “cluster” of gang-related infractions; Plaintiff asserts he had no pending infractions at the time his security classification was raised. (Compl. 7, 10.)

         Plaintiff further claims that his security classification was raised in retaliation for filing the December 15, 2015 grievance and that the January 19, 2016 infractions were fabricated to legitimize the increase in his security status after the fact. (Compl. 10-13.) Finally, Plaintiff claims Defendant Carver violated his right to due process by depriving Plaintiff of information he requested at the disciplinary hearing that would have proved the infraction allegations to be false, and by finding Plaintiff guilty of both infractions although no evidence of guilt, other than the confidential informant's allegation, was presented at the hearing. (Compl. 12-13.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, [2] the Court must review the Complaint to determine whether it is subject to dismissal on the grounds that it is “frivolous, ” “malicious, ” “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). In its frivolity review, the Court must determine whether the Complaint raises an “indisputably meritless legal theory, ” Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32 (1992), or is founded upon clearly baseless factual contentions, such as “fantastic or delusional scenarios, ” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989). While a pro se complaint must be construed liberally, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), the liberal construction requirement will not permit a district court to ignore a plaintiff's clear failure to allege facts which set forth a claim that is cognizable under federal law, see Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Claims Raised

         “To state a claim under [42 U.S.C.] § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that no State shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1; accord Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 223 (1976).

         In order to determine whether a due process violation has occurred, an initial determination must be made that a protected liberty interest exists and, if so, the next step is to define what process is mandated to protect it. See Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995). In order to demonstrate a liberty interest meriting procedural due process protections, an inmate must show: “(1) denial of an interest that can arise either from the Constitution itself or from state laws or policies, ” and (2) “this denial imposed on him an atypical and significant ...


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