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Johnson v. Brame

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

April 11, 2019

Greg H. Johnson, Plaintiff,
v.
D. Brame, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION

          Robert T. Numbers, II United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Greg H. Johnson, a state inmate proceeding pro se, filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This matter is currently before the court for the screening required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). For the following reasons, Johnson's claims should be dismissed.

         I. Screening Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act

         The PRLA requires courts to review, prior to docketing, actions filed by prisoners against governmental entities or officials. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The purpose of this review is to eliminate those claims that unnecessarily impede judicial efficiency and the administration of justice. The court must examine the pleadings, identify cognizable claims, and dismiss any portion of the complaint that is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. at § 1915A(b).

         A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted 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). The Supreme Court has explained that “[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. Plaintiff's status as a pro se party relaxes, but does not eliminate, the requirement that his complaint contain facially plausible claims. The court must liberally construe a pro se plaintiff's allegations, but it “cannot ignore a clear failure to allege facts” that set forth a cognizable claim. Johnson v. BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP, 867 F.Supp.2d 766, 776 (E.D. N.C. 2011).

         Johnson alleges that, on March 11, 2018, prison officials improperly confiscated and destroyed his personal property. Compl. at 5-7, D.E. 1. To the extent Johnson is alleging defendants wrongfully deprived him of his property without due process of law[1], the claim is without merit. Even “an unauthorized intentional deprivation of property by a state employee does not constitute a violation of the procedural requirements of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment if a meaningful postdeprivation remedy for the loss is available.” Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 533 (1984); see Mora v. City of Gaithersburg, 519 F.3d 216, 230-31 (4th Cir. 2008). Here, an adequate post-deprivation remedy is available to Johnson in state court. See, e.g., Wilkins v. Whitaker, 714 F.2d 4, 6-7 (4th Cir. 1983).

         Johnson also has not alleged a claim for violation of his substantive due process rights. The Fourth Circuit defines substantive due process as “an absolute check on certain governmental actions notwithstanding the fairness of the procedures used to implement those actions.” Front Royal & Warren Cnty. Indus. Park Corp. v. Town of Front Royal, Va., 135 F.3d 275, 287-88 (4th Cir. 1998) (internal quotation omitted). The substantive due process check “is warranted only where no process could cure the deficiencies in the governmental action . . . In other words, governmental action offends substantive due process only where the resulting deprivation of life, liberty, or property is so unjust that no amount of fair procedure can rectify it.” Id. Confiscation of Johnson's personal property, which included contraband, see Pl. Ex. at 4, D.E. 9, does not satisfy this standard, particularly where Johnson has an adequate post deprivation remedy under state law. See Love v. Pepersack, 47 F.3d 120 (4th Cir. 1995) (holding substantive due process violation occurs “only where the state courts can do nothing to rectify the injury that the state has already arbitrarily inflicted”).

         Finally, Johnson has filed letters with the court describing events unrelated to the instant claim and occurring after he filed his complaint (D.E. 7, 8). He does not formally request leave to amend his complaint to include these claims. To the extent Johnson seeks to pursue these claims, he must file them in a separate action after exhausting his administrative remedies.[2] Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2); see also George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007) (explaining that “[u]nrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits” to ensure prisoners comply with Rule 20 and to prevent them from avoiding the fee payment or three-strikes provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act); Jones v. Bock , 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007) (“[U]nexhausted claims cannot be brought in court.”).

         II. Conclusion

         As discussed above, it is recommended that Johnson's claims be dismissed.

         The Clerk of Court must serve a copy of this Memorandum and Recommendation (“M&R”) on each party who has appeared in this action. Any party may file a written objection to the M&R within 14 days from the date the Clerk serves it on them. The objection must specifically note the portion of the M&R that the party objects to and the reasons for their objection. Any other party may respond to the objection within 14 days from the date the objecting party serves it on them. The district judge will review the objection and make their own determination about the matter that is the subject of the objection. If a party does not file a timely written objection, the party will have forfeited their ability to have the M&R (or a later decision based on the M&R) reviewed by the Court of Appeals.

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Notes:

[1] Johnson couches his claim as a Fourth Amendment Violation. However, “[p]risoners have no legitimate expectation of privacy in their cells or in their possessions; therefore, the Fourth Amendment is not applicable to searches of prison cells, nor does it protect the destruction of an inmate's personal property.” Lakemper v. Solomon, No. 5:17-CV-73-FDW, 2019 WL ...


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