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Buchnowski v. Street

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

July 9, 2018

DAVID STREET, et al., Defendants.



         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss, (Doc. No. 25), by Defendants David Street, Dexter Gibbs, and Mike Slagle.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff James Buchnowski is a state prisoner currently incarcerated at Avery/Mitchell Correctional Institution in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. Plaintiff is serving a 70-93 month sentence, after being convicted of second-degree rape in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina in 2008. Plaintiff filed this action on October 10, 2017, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment and his Due Process and Equal Protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. (Doc. No. 1). Specifically, Plaintiff claims that, under the North Carolina Department of Public Safety's Division of Adult Corrections and Juvenile Justice (“DAC”) policy governing the promotion of felons, he is eligible for minimum custody because he has less than sixty months left to serve on his sentence, but that Defendants have refused to promote him. (Doc. No. 26-2: Ex. A, DAC Policy, Ch. C, § .0500, 0503(a) & (b)(1), Promotion of Felons, Iss. Nov. 16, 2011). Plaintiff claims that Defendants' wrongful denial of promotion to minimum custody violates his Due Process and Equal Protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. For relief, Plaintiff seeks the following: (1) a declaration that Defendants' conduct has violated his constitutional rights; (2) an injunction promoting him to minimum custody; (3) compensatory damages (based on the wages he claims has lost by virtue of his wrongful ineligibility for work release); and (4) punitive damages.

         On December 4, 2017, following a frivolity review, this Court allowed Plaintiff to proceed on his claims. (Doc. No. 11). On March 12, 2018, Defendants filed the pending motion to dismiss, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. No. 25). On March 13, 2018, this Court entered an order in accordance with Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising Plaintiff of the requirements for filing a response to the motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 27). Plaintiff filed a response to the motion to dismiss on May 3, 2018. (Doc. Nos. 32, 33). Thus, this matter is ripe for disposition.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a motion may be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint without resolving contests of fact or the merits of a claim. Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 828 (1993). Thus, the Rule 12(b)(6) inquiry is limited to determining if the allegations constitute “a short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief” pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2). To survive a defendant's motion to dismiss, factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to “raise a right to relief above a speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Thus, a complaint will survive if it contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). For the purposes of a Rule 12(b)(6) analysis, a claim has facial plausibility “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The Court must draw all reasonable factual inferences in favor of the Plaintiff. Priority Auto Grp., Inc. v. Ford Motor Credit Co., 757 F.3d 137, 139 (4th Cir. 2014). In a Rule 12(b)(6) analysis, the Court must separate facts from legal conclusions, as mere conclusions are not entitled to a presumption of truth. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Importantly, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. However, well-pleaded factual allegations are entitled to a presumption of truth, and the court should determine whether the allegations plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Id. at 679.


         A. Plaintiff's Claims to Declaratory or Injunctive Relief

         Article III, section 2 of the Constitution requires that “an actual controversy . . . be extant at all stages of review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed.” Preiser v. Newkirk, 422 U.S. 395, 401 (1975). An actual, ongoing controversy is required because the federal courts are without authority “‘to give opinions upon moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or rules of law which cannot affect the matter in issue in the case before it.'” Church of Scientology of Calif. v. United States, 506 U.S. 9, 12 (1992) (quoting Mills v. Green, 159 U.S. 651, 653 (1895)).

         Because a litigant must have a redressable stake in the outcome of the litigation at all times, Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992), mootness is a threshold issue determinative of federal jurisdiction. North Carolina v. Rice, 404 U.S. 244, 246 (1971). Since Plaintiff filed this suit, DAC has promoted him to minimum custody. See (Doc. No. 26-3, Ex. B, DAC, Public Offender Information - James Buchnowski, as visited Mar. 8, 2018, p. 1, (denoting minimum custody)). Because an actual, ongoing controversy over Plaintiff's promotion to minimum custody no longer exists, Plaintiff's claims for declaratory or injunctive relief are moot and will be dismissed.

         B. Plaintiff's Claims Alleging that Defendants Violated Prison Policy

         Plaintiff alleges in much of the Complaint that Defendants have shirked their responsibilities as defined in DAC policies. “Section 1983 provides a federal cause of action against any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives another of his federal rights.” Conn v. Gabbert, 526 U.S. 286, 290 (1999). See also Scott v. Edinburg, 346 F.3d 752, 760 (7th Cir. 2003) (observing that 42 U.S.C. § 1983 protects plaintiffs from constitutional violations, not violations of state statutes or administrative regulations). Accordingly, the existence of prison policy designed to regulate the conduct of prison employees does not entitle an inmate to sue to enforce the regulations or for damages as a result of their breach. Indeed, “[a] violation of internal prison policy no more establishes liability under 42 U.S.C § 1983 than compliance with a prison policy would preclude a finding of liability.” Manley v. Daniels, No. 3:11-cv-320, 2012 WL 5411861, at *4 (N.D. Ind. Nov. 2, 2012) (unpublished). In sum, to the extent that any of Plaintiff's claims are premised on Defendant's violations of prison policies, they will be dismissed.

         C. Plaintiff's Claims Against Supervisory ...

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