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McNeal v. Cheruvathor

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 6, 2018

MICHAEL MCNEAL, Plaintiff
v.
ALYSSA CHERUVATHOR, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          James K. Bredar, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Michael McNeal, a Maryland prisoner, seeks monetary and injunctive relief against case manager Alyssa Cheruvathor for violation of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, after Plaintiff was transferred to another prison and Defendant filed a Petition for Peace Order against Plaintiff.[1] In addition to the Complaint, Plaintiff submitted a Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (ECF No. 2), which will be granted. He also submitted a Motion for Appointment of Counsel (ECF No. 3), which will be denied.

         STATEMENT OF LAW

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a) and (b)(1), the Court must screen complaints in civil actions filed by prisoners seeking redress from an officer or employee of a governmental entity and “dismiss the complaint or any portion of the complaint” that the court finds “frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” The purpose of screening is to protect against possible abuses of the privilege of proceeding in forma pauperis and determine whether Defendant should be required to respond to the action. While this court is mindful that the pleadings of self-represented litigants are liberally construed, see Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), factual allegations in a complaint must contain “more than labels and conclusions, ” and the action may be dismissed if the allegations do not provide “enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         The Complaint broadly asserts that Defendant violated Plaintiff's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights, but fails to specifically connect either Amendment to the Complaint's factual allegations. Conditions that “deprive inmates of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities” may amount to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981).

In order to establish the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment, a prisoner must prove two elements - that the deprivation of [a] basic human need was objectively sufficiently serious, and that subjectively the officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind.

Shakka v. Smith, 71 F.3d 162, 166 (4th Cir. 1995) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). “Only extreme deprivations are adequate to satisfy the objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim regarding conditions of confinement.” De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 634 (4th Cir. 2003).

         Prisoners have a liberty interest protected under the Fourteenth Amendment in avoiding confinement conditions that impose “atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.” Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995) (citing Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974)); Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 210 (2005).

         Whether confinement conditions are atypical and substantially harsh “in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life” is a “necessarily . . . . fact specific” comparative exercise. Beverati v. Smith, 120 F.3d 500, 502-03 (4th Cir. 1997) (quoting Sandin, 515 U.S. at 483-84). “[G]eneral population is the baseline for atypicality for inmates who are sentenced to confinement in the general prison population and have been transferred to security detention while serving their sentence.” Incumaa v. Stirling, 791 F.3d 517, 527 (4th Cir. 2015). Where, as in Bevarati v. Smith, 120 F.3d 500 (4th Cir. 1997), conditions in segregated confinement are “similar in most respects to those experienced by inmates in the general population, ” no liberty interest exists in avoiding that segregation assignment. Beverati, 120 F.3d at 503.

         ANALYSIS

         The factual allegations contained in Plaintiff's Complaint can be divided into three general categories. The Court addresses each in turn.

         A. Transfer and Segregation

         Plaintiff takes issue with the fact that, in March 2018, he was transferred to another institution and received 90 days of “segregation time.” ECF No. 1 at 6. Plaintiff states that Defendant has “receive[d] over 60 love letters from [Plaintiff].” Id. According to Plaintiff, his transfer and segregation time occurred “as a result” of Defendant forwarding these “love letters” to her supervisor. Id. This allegation fails to allege that Defendant violated Plaintiff's Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment rights for at least two reasons.

         First, Plaintiff only alleges that Defendant turned the letters over to her supervisor; he fails to allege that Defendant was personally involved in the transfer decision or segregation placement.[2] Amendment to cure this defect would be futile in light of the second reason that the claim fails: Plaintiff has not identified a liberty interest giving rise to due process protections. Maryland prisoners have no liberty interest in placement at a particular facility. Paoli v. Lally, 812 F.2d 1489, 1493 (4th Cir. 1987) (concluding that “neither the Maryland statutes nor the regulations create liberty interests protected by the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment” against transfer to another facility); see also Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 224 (1976) (stating that the Due Process Clause does not “in and of itself protect a duly convicted prisoner against transfer from one institution to another within the state prison system.”). Further, courts have held that periods of administrative or disciplinary segregation do not, standing alone, amount to an “atypical and significant hardship” compared with ordinary prison life as required to trigger due process protections. See Sandin v. Connor, 515 U.S. 472, 485-86 (1995); Prieto v. Clarke, 780 F.3d 245, 254 (4th Cir. 2015) (“[A] prisoner does not establish a state-created liberty interest in avoiding disciplinary segregated confinement if such confinement does not present a dramatic departure from the basic conditions of the inmate's indeterminate sentence.” (brackets and internal quotation marks omitted)). Here, aside from a ...


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