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Hudson v. Roundtree

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

November 14, 2018




         Plaintiff, incarcerated at Coffee Correctional Facility (“CCF”) in Nicholls, Georgia, is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights case concerning events alleged to have occurred at the Charles B. Webster Detention Center in Augusta, Georgia. Defendants Roundtree and Washington have each filed a pre-answer motion to dismiss. (Doc. nos. 14, 15 (hereinafter, motions together as “Defendants' motions”).) Plaintiff did not respond to either motion, and as previously explained, (doc. no. 16), the motions are therefore deemed unopposed under Local Rule 7.5. For the reasons set forth below, the Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS Defendants' motions be GRANTED, this civil action be DISMISSED, and an appropriate judgment of dismissal be ENTERED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On July 16, 2018, the Court screened Plaintiff's complaint and directed service of process on Defendant Roundtree, Sheriff of Richmond County, and Defendant Washington, an officer at the Charles B. Webster Detention Center, based on Plaintiff's allegations of denial of access to the courts. (See doc. no. 8.) The Court also recommended dismissal of two other Defendants, as well as any claims related to allegations of the inability to utilize the grievance procedure at the detention center. (See doc. no. 9.) Chief United States District Judge J. Randal Hall adopted that recommendation, without objection, as the opinion of the Court. (See doc. no. 11.) Because only Sheriff Roundtree and Officer Washington remain as Defendants, the Court turns its attention to the facts alleged in the complaint regarding these two individuals.

         Plaintiff was temporarily housed at the detention center from March 15 to 20, 2018, because he was scheduled to appear in Superior Court for re-sentencing on his convictions for aggravated assault, child molestation, and cruelty to children. (Doc. no. 1, p. 9.) Prior to leaving his permanent facility, CCF, Plaintiff and his fellow inmates prepared “legal documents, briefs, notes, arguments, etc.” to use during the re-sentencing proceedings, and Plaintiff arrived at the detention center on the afternoon of March 15th with these legal materials in his possession. (Id. at 9-10.) When Officer Washington booked Plaintiff into the detention center, he took Plaintiff's legal materials, and despite Plaintiff's explanation he needed the materials for his re-sentencing the next day, told Plaintiff he could not keep the materials with him in his cell. (Id. at 10.) Officer Washington also refused to allow Plaintiff to make arrangements to have his mother pick up the materials. (Id.) Officer Washington stated Sheriff Roundtree made the policy that legal materials could not be kept in cells and refused to give Plaintiff a grievance form. (Id.)

         The next day, Plaintiff asked “the transfer officer(s)” for his legal materials prior to leaving for the courthouse, but they refused. (Id. at 11.) Thus, when Plaintiff appeared pro se for his re-sentencing, he was unable to successfully argue for a reduction of his original forty-year sentence. (Id. at 11-12.) Had Plaintiff been allowed to have his legal materials with him, he “would have received a substantially reduced sentence.” (Id. at 12.) Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages from Sheriff Roundtree and Officer Washington, as well as an injunction prohibiting enforcement of Sheriff Roundtree's “customs, policies, practices and procedures” that deprive prisoners coming to the detention center from state prisons of their legal materials. (Id. at 14.)


         Although Sheriff Roundtree and Officer Washington filed two separate motions, their primary argument for dismissal is the same: Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted because he has not shown he incurred actual harm from the deprivation of his legal material. For the reasons set forth below, the Court agrees Defendants' motions should be granted on this basis.

         Sheriff Roundtree also argues the claims against him should be dismissed because he cannot be held responsible for Officer Washington's actions on the basis of supervisory liability, and as to any state law claims, he is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. (Doc. no. 14, pp. 10-11.) Because the Court finds Plaintiff fails to state a viable denial of access to the courts claim, the Court need not address the supervisory liability argument. See Dang v. Sheriff, Seminole Cty., Fla., 871 F.3d 1272, 1282 (11th Cir. 2017) (“In light of the Court's determination that there was no constitutional deprivation, there is no basis for supervisor liability.” (citations omitted)). Likewise, as discussed in detail below, because the Court is recommending dismissal without prejudice of any potential state law claims, the Court need not address Eleventh Amendment immunity.

         A. Legal Standard for Rule 12(b)(6) Motion

         In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint, not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail on the merits. Adinolfe v. United Tech. Corp., 768 F.3d 1161, 1168 (11th Cir. 2014). The Court must accept as true all facts alleged in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff's favor. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007) (per curiam); American Dental Ass'n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1288 (11th Cir. 2010). To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the allegations in the amended complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). That is, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         The Court must also consider Rule 12(b)(6) in conjunction with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Id. While Rule 8(a) does not require detailed factual allegations, “it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A complaint is insufficient if it “offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, '” or if it “tenders ‘naked assertions' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). The Court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). In short, the complaint must provide a “‘plain statement' possess[ing] enough heft to ‘sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 557 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         Finally, the court affords a liberal construction to a pro se litigant's pleadings, holding them to a more lenient standard than those drafted by an attorney. Erickson, 551 U.S. At 94. However, this liberal construction does not mean that the court has a duty to re-write the complaint. Snow v. DirecTV, Inc., 450 F.3d 1314, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006).

         B. Plaintiff Fails to State a Claim for Denial of Access to the ...

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