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Gholston v. Humphrey

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

September 3, 2014



STEPHEN HYLES, Magistrate Judge.

Presently pending before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff Robert Watkins' Complaint.[1] (ECF No. 95.) Also pending are Plaintiff's motions for a temporary restraining order (TRO) (ECF No. 17), appointment of counsel (ECF No. 16), and two motions to amend the complaint (ECF Nos. 120, 161). For the reasons explained below, it is recommended that Defendants' motion to dismiss be granted, Plaintiff's motions for TRO, and appointment of counsel be denied, and motions for leave to amend the Complaint be granted in part and denied in part.


Plaintiff, an inmate currently confined at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison (GD&CP) in Jackson, Georgia, filed an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging constitutional civil rights violations against Defendants. (Compl. 1.)[2] Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process by transferring him to the Special Management Unit (SMU) at GD&CP without notice of the reasons therefor or opportunity to be heard, and his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment in the conditions of his confinement at the SMU. ( Id . at 4, 7.)

Plaintiff asserts that he was placed in the SMU on July 27, 2009 "without being informed of why or an opportunity to be heard." ( Id . at 5.) He alleges that his placement is "indefinite" and that he has not been told what he could do to be released. ( Id .) Plaintiff claims that he has requested information regarding the rules and regulations of the SMU and how he can be released, and has filed classification appeals, all to no avail. ( Id .) He states that the SMU imposes "atypical and significant hardship" on him. Examples of these alleged hardships include: property is confiscated without reasons given, exercise is denied or limited to twice a week, clothing is not issued, deprivation of food is used as "punishment for speaking out on violation[s], " strip cells are employed with no clothing, no bedding, and no toilet paper for days at a time, showers are limited to three times a week and wholly denied in E-wing, cell lights are dimmed at night which makes reading and writing difficult, visitation is limited and "scrutinized, " the use of handcuffs as "brass knuckles" against inmates is "ordered, condoned" by Defendants, educational programs are not provided, Plaintiff is not allowed out of the cell without handcuffs and leg shackles, and human contact and environmental or sensory stimuli are denied via metal strips on doors. ( Id . at 5-6.)

Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint for a number of reasons. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 95.) As to the claim for violation of Plaintiff's due process rights, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's Complaint does not state a claim in that it fails to show he has a liberty interest in not being held in the SMU. (Defs.' Br. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss 9-11, ECF No. 95-1.) As to Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims, Defendants argue that Plaintiff failed to properly exhaust most of his claims prior to filing this suit, as required by the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). ( Id . at 4.) Finally, as to the remaining Eighth Amendment claims, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ( Id . at 11-19.) The motion is now ripe for review, as are Plaintiff's motions.


I. Motions to Amend

A. Plaintiff's First Motion for Leave to Amend the Complaint

On March 4, 2013, Plaintiff filed his response to Defendants' motion to dismiss and a motion for leave to amend the complaint. (ECF Nos. 120, 121.) In his proposed First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff more specifically alleges the conditions that he contends show he holds a liberty interest in not being classified in the SMU, implicating procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. (ECF No. 120-1.)

Plaintiff also states that he intends to "expunge" the claims brought under the Eighth Amendment. ( Id .) The Court construes the second part of Plaintiff's motion as a motion to voluntarily dismiss his asserted Eighth Amendment claims. This part of the motion is granted and Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims are dismissed.

Defendants responded to the motion for leave to amend on March 20, 2013, arguing that leave should not be given because amendment would be futile. (Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s First Mot. for Leave to Amend 4, ECF No. 136.) Defendants argue that all but one of Plaintiff's new allegations, whether intended as claims under the Fourteenth Amendment or the Eighth Amendment, have not been fully exhausted prior to the filing of his original Complaint. ( Id . at 5.) The new allegation for which Defendants do not contest exhaustion is that denial of medical treatment is common after unnecessary uses of force in the SMU. (Pl.'s First Amended Compl. 1.) Defendants contend that this amendment is also futile because it is insufficient to state a claim. (Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s First Mot. for Leave to Amend 6.)

As Defendants point out, many of Plaintiff's allegations in the First Amended Complaint simply restate the allegations of his original Complaint. He also includes some new allegations and makes further factual assertions regarding prior allegations. In his First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was moved from general population at Hays State Prison to E-Wing of the SMU at GD&CP on July 27, 2009. (Pl.'s First Amended Compl. 1.) E-Wing, he states, "subjects [him] and others to punitive conditions of confinement... simply for speaking out on violations." ( Id .) He alleges that he is subjected to a "behavioral modification program" within the SMU that is not governed by any standard procedures. ( Id .) Plaintiff states that since he has been in the SMU, fear and force have been used against him "without justification, " and false reports are created to cover up the force used. ( Id .) He also states that denial of medical care is "common" after unnecessary uses of force. ( Id .)

Plaintiff further specifies that he has been housed in E-Wing "on several occasions without property, physical exercise, denial of food at times, denied mail and shower for weeks, housed in cells where mold and mildew [are] on the walls and ceiling." (Pl.'s First Amended Compl. 1.) Plaintiff then compares the procedure in administrative segregation to the SMU saying that standard operating procedure in administrative segregation requires weekly review of placement for the first sixty days and monthly review thereafter, but these reviews are only made annually in the SMU according to "Defendants unwritten SMU procedure." ( Id .) He further asserts that Defendants "and other State officials" have conspired to "utilize the SMU as a facility to maliciously punish inmates physically, mentally, and psychologically" by using the tactics described in his original Complaint. ( Id .) Plaintiff states that certain privileges, including visitation, phone access, commissary, packages, television, ...

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