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Gould v. Lassiter

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

December 20, 2019




         Plaintiff, a state inmate, filed this civil rights actionpro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The matter now comes before the court on defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (DE 17). Also before the court are plaintiffs motions for entry of default (DE 20, 22), motions for entry of default judgment (DE 22, 28, 31), motions for injunctive relief (DE 24, 29), and motion to compel discovery (DE 32). In this posture, the issues raised are ripe for adjudication.


         On June 25, 2018, plaintiff, a state inmate, filed this civil rights actionpro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and then moved to amend his complaint. On October 31, 2018, the court granted plaintiffs motion to amend, and conducted an initial review of plaintiffs action. The court determined that plaintiff improperly brought unrelated claims against several unrelated defendants, and cautioned plaintiff that he may only bring a claim against multiple defendants when the claims arise out of the same transaction or there are common questions of law or fact. Accordingly, the court directed plaintiff to file one amended complaint and cautioned plaintiff not to bring multiple unrelated claims against multiple unrelated defendants. The court also notified plaintiff that his amended complaint would be considered the complaint in its entirety and that the court would not review plaintiffs other filings to glean any misplaced claims.

         On November 19, 2018, plaintiff filed an amended complaint naming as defendants Governor Roy Cooper ("Cooper"), the North Carolina Department of Public Safety ("DPS"), DPS Director Kenneth Lassiter ("Lassiter"), Central Prison Warden Eddie Thomas ("Thomas"), and Lieutenant Bryant Soucier ("Soucier"). The court subsequently conducted an initial review of plaintiffs amended complaint, and dismissed plaintiff s action against defendant DPS. The court, additionally, dismissed without prejudice plaintiffs action against defendant Cooper, as well as plaintiff s claims arising out of disciplinary proceedings initiated in response to plaintiff mailing a mouse to the court on September 10, 2018. The court, however, allowed plaintiff to proceed with the following remaining claims: violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; inadequate prison conditions in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution; violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment related to lost property and disciplinary convictions; denial of access to courts in violation of the First Amendment; and retaliation in violation of the First Amendment.

         Defendants Lassiter, Thomas, and Soucier subsequently moved to dismiss plaintiffs action for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The motion was fully briefed. Plaintiff next filed a motion for entry of default, motions for entry of default judgment, motions for injunctive relief, and a motion to compel discovery.


         The facts set forth in plaintiffs amended complaint are summarized as follows. On October 12, 2017, plaintiff arrived at Central Prison, and immediately began litigating a notice of appeal "which had a time limitation of 10 days." (Am. Compl. (DE 11) p. 5). "After a weeks lapse of time said notary was accomplished though indigent mail staff at time caused petitioner to be denied a writ of certiorari in the Court of Appeals." (Id.) (no alterations made to the original). Plaintiff further states that he was denied "legal services materials" and envelopes. (Id.) Between the dates of October 12, 2017 and November 9, 2018, plaintiff was "constantly" denied access to postage for his legal mail, envelopes, and notary services. (Id. p. 6).

         Plaintiff additionally provides as follows:

Upon receipt of request for trust fund account statement to the prison Administration, [plaintiff] began to be harassed and again denied all access to legal materials [and] access to courts. A memo was issued by [defendant] Lassiter on [June 1, 2018] stipulating mail room staff is to confiscate all envelopes of incoming mail. Yet no change is to come to legal. This has been taking place to petitioner's legal mail for some time now []. On [September 9, 2018, plaintiff] was taken off the job without cause and placed in segregation in retaliation for his actions with this court. On [September 19, 2018, plaintiff] was taken out of his cell placed in holding out of view and said to have STG material [and] a piece of metal in his property. From holding [plaintiff] was taken to Unit 1 manager's office and given a memo from Warden Eddie Thomas stating he has placed stipulations on [plaintiff s] mail which allows the officers to walk away from my cell with legal mail to take to their office to inspect out of my view. Nor am I allowed to see it sealed and mailed ....
By the delay of said package [, plaintiff] is missing unexplained correspondence from the Judicial Standards Commission and NC State Bar. On the sentencing Judge who was asked to recuse, and prosecutor who was vindictive and selection of his trial. The very vital time lines of Appeal in matters of Pretrial Orders were denied due to inability to properly litigate due to withholding vital documents (mail), denied access to legal material, notary services, where [plaintiff] was is denied certiorari by the Court of Appeals.

(Id pp. 6-7). Additionally, on June 12, 2018, defendant Soucier placed plaintiff in segregation, and plaintiff lost "numerous litigation to the courts (writ of Immediate Appeal-Summary Judgment), law books, and religious literature." (Id. p. 6).

         Plaintiff, also, made several allegations related to his religious practice and a rat infestation Specifically, plaintiff asserts that the kitchen staff prevented him from entering the kitchen with his prayer rug. (Id. p. 5). Plaintiff states that kitchen staff accused him of refusing to work, but that he noticed a rat infestation in the kitchen and "wished not to pray on the floor." (Id.) Plaintiff, additionally, states that for three days he was forced to go without food during Ramadan because he was not "provided a late meal for [North Carolina Department of Public Safety ("DPS") policy] is that [i]f I take a [t]ray I am not [d]ue the meal of the fast." (Id.) With respect to the rat infestation, plaintiff contends he has complained about the infestation since his arrival at Central Prison, and that he suffered a bacterial infection from the rats. (Compl. p. 7; Mem. in Supp. p. 3). Finally, plaintiff states that he was denied grievances, "appeals," and "letters to administration." (Compl. pp. 6, 7).


         A. Motions for Default and Default Judgment

         Plaintiff moves for entry of default against defendants pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a). In support, plaintiff asserts that defendants did not timely respond to plaintiffs complaint. The record reflects that defendants filed a timely motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on April 12, 2019. See (DE 15, 17). Accordingly, plaintiffs motion for entry of default is DENIED. Because defendants are not in default, plaintiffs motions for default judgment, likewise, are DENIED.

         B. Motion to Dismiss

         1. Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) determines only whether a claim is stated; "it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party v. Martin,980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). A claim is stated if the complaint contains "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, 677 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In evaluating whether a claim is stated, "[the] court accepts all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff," but does not consider "legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, . . . bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement[, ] . . . unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Nemet Chevrolet. Ltd. v. Inc.. 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). In other words, this plausibility standard requires a ...

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