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Smith v. North Carolina Department of Safety

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

April 5, 2019

S. SHANE SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF SAFETY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION, ORDER, AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          L. Patrick Auld United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, S. Shane Smith, submitted a pro se Complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Docket Entry 2), and requested permission to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § l915(a) (Docket Entry 1). Plaintiff is a prisoner of the State of North Carolina who, at the time he filed this action, was housed in this District at the Dan River Work Farm. As reflected on the docket, the State later transferred Plaintiff to Rutherford Correctional Center, which is located in the Western District of North Carolina. The Complaint alleges that several current and former prison officials at Dan River violated Plaintiff's rights in various ways and names those officials as Defendants. The Complaint also names the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) and several officials in that Department as Defendants, claiming mainly that they knew of, but failed to correct, the alleged abuses of Dan River officials. Plaintiff seeks damages, as well as injunctive relief. He also filed a Motion (Docket Entry 3) seeking an appointment of counsel, a Motion (Docket Entry 4) seeking a temporary restraining order and/or a preliminary injunction, and a Motion (Docket Entry 7) seeking expedited review of his case. For the reasons that follow, the Court should dismiss all of the claims in the Complaint except for two retaliation claims against two Defendants. The Court should also deny as moot Plaintiff's request for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction. Finally, Plaintiff's requests for appointment of counsel and for expedited review will be denied and the case will be stayed pending an initial partial payment or proof of lack of funds to do so.

         Legal Background

         Because Plaintiff is “a prisoner seek[ing] redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity, ” this Court has an obligation to “review” this Complaint. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). “On review, the court shall . . . dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if [it] - (1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         Applicable here, a plaintiff “fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, ” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), when the complaint 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)). “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of “entitlement to relief.”'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). 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.[1]

         Discussion

         According to the Complaint:

         Plaintiff was born with no fingers or toes, which significantly limits his ability to perform many common tasks, including walking, writing, standing, working, and grasping objects. (Docket Entry 2, § IV(B)(1).) He also suffers from very sensitive skin. (Id.) In 2011, Plaintiff sued prison officials under § 1983 and later entered into a settlement agreement in which the officials agreed to provide Plaintiff with certain accommodations, including special clothing. (Id., § IV(B)(9), (64)-(65).) Plaintiff transferred to the Dan River facility in August of 2016. (Id., § IV(B)(11).) He applied for several work positions before receiving a designation in September of 2016 as the inventory stock clerk in the prison kitchen. (Id., § IV(B)(12)-(13).) In October of 2016, Defendant Michael Roach, the Assistant Superintendent at Dan River, removed Plaintiff from that position because Roach “did not approve of the footwear prison officials had been providing to accommodate Plaintiff's disability.” (Id., § IV(B)(14).) Plaintiff then attempted to obtain footwear from prison officials that would allow him to return to his job, but Roach, as well as Defendants Litonya Carter (the ADA coordinator for the NCDPS) and Timothy Willis (then the Superintendent at Dan River), would not provide Plaintiff with the required footwear. (Id., § IV(B)(15).) At some point, Plaintiff purchased the proper footwear himself and returned to work. (Id., § IV(B)(16).) The missed time at work cost Plaintiff wages and sentence reduction credits. (Id., § IV(B)(15), (17).)

         These allegations do not state any viable claim for relief. As noted above, the Complaint attempts to assert a claim under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act; however, “the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act do not provide any causes of action against individual defendants in their individual capacities.” Keith-Foust v. North Carolina Central Univ., No. 1:15CV470, 2016 WL 4256952, at *13 (M.D. N.C. Aug. 11, 2016) (unpublished). Further, to the extent that Plaintiff seeks to proceed directly against a state agency or asserts official capacity claims against individual Defendants, those statutory disability-related claims raise complex issues regarding sovereign immunity. See generally United States v. Georgia, 546 U.S. 151 (2006); Chase v. Baskerville, 508 F.Supp.2d 492 (E.D. Va. 2007).[2] In this instance, the Court need not grapple with those issues because Plaintiff's footwear-related disability claim fails for a more basic reason:

[T]he ADA [ ] mandates that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” 42 U.S.C. § 12132. The Supreme Court has held that this provision applies to state prisoners. See Pa. Dep't of Corr. v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206, 213, 118 S.Ct. 1952, 141 L.Ed.2d 215 (1998) (“[T]he plain text of Title II of the ADA unambiguously extends to state prison inmates.”). In order to state a violation of Title II, a plaintiff must allege that: 1) he or she is a qualified individual with a disability; and 2) he or she is being excluded from participation in, or being denied the benefits of some service, program, or activity by reasons of his or her disability. See Powell v. Nat'l Bd. of Med. Exam'rs, 364 F.3d 79, 85 (2d Cir.2004); Atkins v. County of Orange, 251 F.Supp.2d 1225, 1231 (S.D.N.Y.2003). The second prong requires the disabled plaintiff to allege that his or her mistreatment “was motivated by either discriminatory animus or ill will due to disability.” Garcia v. S.U.N.Y. Health Scis. Ctr. of Brooklyn, 280 F.3d 98, 112 (2d Cir.2001). This animus requirement reflects the purpose of Title II, which is “to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability and to ensure evenhanded treatment between the disabled and the able-bodied.” Doe v. Pfrommer, 148 F.3d 73, 82 (2d Cir.1998).

Elbert v. New York State Dept. of Correctional Services, 751 F.Supp.2d 590, 594-95 (S.D.N.Y. 2010). see also Westminister Nursing Ctr. v. Cohen, No. 5:17CV96, 2017 WL 5632661, at *4 (E.D. N.C. Nov. 22, 2017) (unpublished) (“Due to the similar statutory language in the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, they are construed to impose the same requirements.”

         Here, the Complaint does not allege that the footwear that Roach required Plaintiff to use on the job differed from that used by non-disabled prisoners or that Defendants provided the required footwear for free to non-disabled prisoners to work in the kitchen. Therefore, the Complaint fails to allege facts showing that Defendants treated Plaintiff differently than his nondisabled counterparts resulting in his exclusion from the kitchen job. Finally, Plaintiff's transfer to a new prison moots any request for injunctive relief on this front.

         As for a claim under § 1983 based on Plaintiff's alleged temporary exclusion from the kitchen job, prisoners do “not have a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest in [a] prison job.” Backus v. Ward, No. 98-6331, 1998 WL 372377, at *1 (4th Cir. June 8, 1998) (unpublished) (citing Bulger v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons, 65 F.3d 48, 50 (5th Cir. 1995)). Also, to the extent that Plaintiff seeks sentence reduction credits, that claim cannot proceed under § 1983, but instead only in a habeas corpus action: “Challenges to the validity of any confinement or to particulars affecting its duration are the province of habeas corpus; requests for relief turning on circumstances of confinement may be presented in a § 1983 action.” Muhammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749, 750 (2004). Moreover, habeas corpus actions represent the only avenue to federal court for “state prisoners who were deprived of good-conduct-time credits.” Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973) (discussing good time credits in the context of prison disciplinary proceedings); accord Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 79 (2005) (“Because an action for restoration of good-time credits in effect demands immediate release or a shorter period of detention, it attacks ‘the very duration of physical confinement' and thus lies at ‘the core of habeas corpus.'” (internal citations and ellipses omitted) (quoting Preiser, 411 U.S. at 487-88)); see also Pierce v. Freeman, No. 95-7031, 1997 WL 467533, at *1-2 (4th Cir. Aug. 15, 1997) (unpublished; decision without opinion, 121 F.3d 699) (“[A] prisoner seeking the restoration of good time credits in federal court may only do so by way of writ of habeas corpus.” (citing Preiser, 411 U.S. at 500)). Because Plaintiff seeks an earlier release from prison, he must bring any such request in a habeas action rather than under § 1983.

         The Complaint's next set of allegations concerns Plaintiff's work in the kitchen under Defendants Aleisha Adams and Kenneth Day, Foodservice Managers for Dan River. Specifically, the Complaint asserts that these Defendants regularly summoned Plaintiff to work early, but failed to record any overtime hours, thereby denying him extra sentence reduction credits. (Docket Entry 2, § IV(B)(17)-(18).) The Complaint, however, raises no claim of disability discrimination in connection with this allegation, and, as stated ...


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