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Steele v. Neff

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

January 2, 2020

SEAN M. STEELE, Plaintiff,
v.
LT. NICHOLAS NEFF, et al., Defendants.

          James L. Graham Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Elizabeth P. Deavers Chief Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court for consideration of the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint filed by Defendants Lt. Nicholas Neff, Lt. Doug Byrd, Brandi Glore, Caroline Harris, and Darryl May (ECF No. 22), Plaintiff's “Motion in Opposition, ” construed as a Response in Opposition (ECF No. 27), and Defendants' Reply (ECF No. 30). For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 22) be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Sean M. Steele is an inmate currently incarcerated at the Trumbull Correctional Facility. (ECF No. 22 at 2.) During the events described in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, he was incarcerated at the Pickaway Correctional Institution (“PCI”). (ECF No. 9 at 2.) Plaintiff brings civil rights claims against PCI employees under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights stemming from a Rules Infraction Board (“RIB”) proceeding at the institution. (ECF No. 9.) Plaintiff alleges from June 29 to July 18, 2018, he was placed in the Transitional Programming Unit (“TPU”) while an investigation was conducted by a PCI investigator. (Id. at 5-6.) He states that on July 16, 2018, he received a copy of a conduct report for “dealing” and on July 17, 2018, RIB conducted a hearing on the conduct report. (Id. at 5-6, Exhibit 7). The RIB Chairperson, Defendant Lt. Byrd, found Plaintiff to be not guilty of “dealing”. (Id.)

         On July 20, 2018, Plaintiff alleges that he was again taken to TPU due to a new conduct report prepared by Defendant Lt. Neff regarding a fight that took place in general population and the yard on July 8, 2018. (Id. at 6, 8, Exhibit 2.) Plaintiff maintains that, because he was in TPU at the time of the alleged fight, he could not have possibly been involved in it. (Id. at 6.) He therefore believes that the conduct report was false and was prepared by Defendant Neff as retaliation for Plaintiff being found not guilty in the previous RIB proceeding. (Id. at 6-7.) At the RIB hearing for the new conduct report, the Chairperson, Defendant Lt. Byrd, found Plaintiff not guilty for fighting but found him guilty for engaging in unauthorized group activity. (Id. at 10-11, Exhibit 3.) Defendant Lt. Byrd sentenced Plaintiff to 30-days of continued placement in TPU and requested a security level increase and transfer. (Id.)

         Plaintiff was provided with a copy of the Disposition of the RIB proceeding. (Id. at 11- 12.) He claims that the document does not provide a written statement of the evidence relied upon. (Id. at 11-12.) A copy of this document with Plaintiff's annotations is attached to the Amended Complaint. (Id. at Exhibit 3.) The document asks the Chairperson to “[s]tate the facts that explain the board's decision.” (Id.) The Chairperson answered “[t]he Board believes the conduct report to be true and factual as written.” (Id.) Plaintiff appealed the decision to Defendant May, who upheld the decision. (Id. at Exhibits 3, 4.) Defendant Glore conducted a security review following the RIB decision and ultimately agreed with the recommendation that his security level be increased from level 2 to level 3. (Id. at 13, Exhibit 5.) Plaintiff then requested the paperwork necessary to appeal this decision. He claims, however, that he did not receive the required paperwork in a timely fashion as a result of the actions of Defendants Glore and Detty. (Id. at 13-15, Exhibit 5.) Defendant Harris approved the security level increase before receiving Plaintiff's appeal. (Id. at 17-18, Exhibit 5.) Plaintiff was transferred to Trumbull Correctional Institution on August 16, 2018. (Id. at 17.)

         Plaintiff contends that Defendants violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to provide a written statement of the evidence relied upon and reasons for the disciplinary action he faced at the PCI. (ECF No. 27 at 6.) In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff describes a series of events that he claims were a result of the false report and the failure of Defendant Lt. Byrd to provide a written explanation in the RIB Disposition document. (ECF No. 9.) Plaintiff contends that this alleged due process violation resulted in an additional 30-days placement in TPU, being labeled a gang leader, loss of his prison job, deprivation of his level 2 security status, transfer to a higher security prison farther away from his home, economic hardship from bringing forth this lawsuit, and the potential to affect his parole eligibility. (Id. at 18-20.)

         Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint on several bases, asserting that the declaratory relief sought by Plaintiff is moot, Plaintiff's official capacity claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment, Plaintiff has not met the requirements for punitive damages, Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and qualified immunity applies and bars all of Plaintiff's claims. (ECF No. 22.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff must satisfy the basic federal pleading requirements set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Under Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Thus, Rule 8(a) “imposes legal and factual demands on the authors of complaints.” 16630 Southfield Ltd., P'ship v. Flagstar Bank, F.S.B., 727 F.3d 502, 503 (6th Cir. 2013) (emphasis in original).

         Although this pleading standard does not require “‘detailed factual allegations,' . . . [a] pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, '” is insufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A complaint will not “suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Instead, to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter . . . to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Facial plausibility is established “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. “The plausibility of an inference depends on a host of considerations, including common sense and the strength of competing explanations for the defendant's conduct.” Flagstar Bank, 727 F.3d at 504 (citations omitted).

         In considering whether a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court must “construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept its allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund v. Standard & Poor's Fin. Servs. LLC, 700 F.3d 829, 835 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Directv, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007)). However, “the tenet that a court must accept a complaint's allegations as true is inapplicable to threadbare recitals of a cause of action's elements, supported by mere conclusory statements.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663. Thus, while a court is to afford plaintiff every inference, the pleading must still contain facts sufficient to “provide a plausible basis for the claims in the complaint”; a recitation of facts intimating the “mere possibility of misconduct” will not suffice. Flex Homes, Inc. v. Ritz-Craft Corp of Mich., Inc., 491 F. App'x. 628, 632 (6th Cir. 2012); Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         In addition, the Court holds pro se complaints “‘to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Garrett v. Belmont Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't., No. 08-3978, 2010 WL 1252923, at *2 (6th Cir. April 1, 2010) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)). This lenient treatment, however, has limits; “‘courts should not have to guess at the nature of the claim asserted.'” Fre ...


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