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Morganherring v. Lafleur

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

April 11, 2019

William Morganherring, Plaintiff,
A.M. Lafleur and Donald Mobley, Defendants.


          Robert T. Numbers, II, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff William Morganherring, a state inmate proceeding pro se, commenced 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”). Also before the court is Morganherring's motion to amend (D.E. 8). For the following reasons, the court grants Morganherring's motion to amend but recommends dismissal of Morganherring's claims.

         I. Motion to Amend

         Morganherring moves to amend his complaint to reflect the proper defendants. Specifically, Morganherring seeks to replace A.M. Lafleur with Mr. Farmer as a defendant in this action. The court will allow him to amend his complaint as a matter of right. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1).

         II. Screening Under the PLRA

         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. Morganherring'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).

         Based on disciplinary infractions, prison officials assigned Morganherring a restricted housing classification. Compl. at 5, D.E. 1; Pl. Ex. at 1, D.E. 7. Morganherring argues that his custody classification is unconstitutional. Compl. at 5, D.E. 1. This claim should be dismissed.

         First, the PLRA states that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under [42 U.S.C. §] 1983 . . ., or any other Federal law, by a prisoner . . . until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); see Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 83-85 (2006); Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524 (2002). “[T]he PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.” Porter, 534 U.S. at 532; see Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007). A prisoner must exhaust administrative remedy procedures regardless of the types of relief such procedures offer. See Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 740-41 (2001). “[E]xhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA and . . . unexhausted claims cannot be brought in court.” Jones, 549 U.S. at 211.

         However, “the PLRA does not require a prisoner to allege that he has exhausted his administrative remedies . . . .” Anderson v. XYZ Corr. Health Servs., Inc., 407 F.3d 674, 675 (4th Cir. 2005). “Instead, an inmate's failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense to be pleaded and proven by the defendant.” Id. at 683. Nonetheless, “[a] court may sua sponte dismiss a complaint when the alleged facts in the complaint, taken as true, prove that the inmate failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.” Custis v. Davis, 851 F.3d 358, 361 (4th Cir. 2017). The Fourth Circuit has held that such instances are rare. Id.

         Here, Morganherring concedes on the face of his complaint that he did not exhaust his administrative remedies before filing his complaint. Compl. at 8, D.E. 1. Moreover, Morganherring's filings in this action demonstrate that prison officials have not made administrative remedies unavailable to him. Pl. Ex. at 1, D.E. 7; see Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1858 (2016) (holding that a prisoner is not required to exhaust if administrative remedies are “unavailable.”). Thus, the undersigned finds that Morganherring's complaint “present[s] the rare, exceptional instance” where failure to exhaust is apparent on the complaint's face. Custis, 851 F.3d at 362. Therefore, the district should dismiss Morganherring's claims for failure to exhaust.

         Moreover, even if Morganherring had exhausted his administrative remedies, his claim lacks merit. The crux of his complaint is that prison officials violated the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Constitution because they both punished him for his disciplinary infractions and altered his custody classification. However, double jeopardy does not apply to prison disciplinary proceedings. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974) (“Prison disciplinary proceedings are not part of a criminal prosecution, and the full panoply of rights due a defendant in such proceedings does not apply.”); Meeks v. McBride, 81 F.3d 717, 722 (7th Cir. 1996) (“[A] prison disciplinary proceeding is no bar to a subsequent criminal prosecution for the same offense”); Martin v. West, No. CV 8:17-2754-MGL-JDA, 2017 WL 6888825, at *2 (D.S.C. Dec. 15, 2017) (“[T]he law is clear that double jeopardy does not apply to prison disciplinary proceedings”), report and recommendation adopted, No. CV 8:17-2754-MGL-JDA, 2018 WL 388847 (D.S.C. Jan. 11, 2018)

         If the court construed Morganherring's claim as sounding in due process instead, a prisoner still has no right to a specific custody classification. See, e.g., O'Bar v. Pinion, 953 F.2d 74, 82- 83 (4th Cir. 1991). Rather, the custody classification of state prisoners within the state prison system is among the “wide spectrum of discretionary actions that traditionally have been the business of prison administrators rather than of the federal courts.” Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 225 (1976). Specifically, the Supreme Court has held, inmates have “no legitimate statutory or constitutional entitlement” to any particular custodial classification even if a new classification would cause that inmate to suffer a “grievous loss.” Moody v. Daggett, 429 U.S. 78, 88 n. 9 (1976). Moreover, Morganherring's complaint does not establish that, by assigning him to restricted housing, prison officials subjected him to atypical and significant hardships in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life. See Incumaa v. Stirling, 791 F.3d 517, 527 (4th Cir. 2015), as amended (July 7, 2015). Therefore, any potential due process claim would also fail.

         Finally, Morganherring filed a document in support of his complaint describing an unrelated incident involving the alleged excessive use of force in November 2018. Pl. Ex. at 1, D.E. 10. Morganherring does not formally request leave to amend his complaint to include this claim. To the extent Morganherring seeks to pursue this claim, he must file it in a separate action after exhausting his administrative remedies.[1] 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 ...

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