United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Western Division
HENRY HINTON, JR. PLAINTIFF
PIKE COUNTY, ET AL. DEFENDANTS
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Michael T. Parker, United States Magistrate Judge
MATTER came before the Court for an evidentiary hearing on
January 29, 2018, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B)
and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b). Plaintiff
appeared pro se, and Honorable Wayne Dowdy appeared
on behalf of Defendants Pike County, Sheriff Mark Sheppard,
Glen Green, and Lieutenant Smith. Having heard the arguments
of the parties and considered all the evidence, the
undersigned finds that Plaintiff failed to prove by a
preponderance of the evidence the claims asserted against the
Defendants. Accordingly, the undersigned recommends that this
matter be dismissed.
lawsuit arises from events which took place while Plaintiff
was incarcerated at the Pike County Jail. According to
Plaintiff, he entered the jail on June 30, 2014, and was
transferred to a Mississippi Department of Corrections
facility on November 24, 2015. Plaintiff asserts three claims
in this action: (1) a denial of access to court claim against
Defendant Sheppard; (2) a conditions of his confinement claim
against Defendants Sheppard, Green, and Smith; and (3) a
failure to protect claim against Defendant Sheppard.
Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages from
of Access to Court Claim
claims that he lost a forfeiture hearing in state court and
missed his opportunity to appeal the forfeiture ruling
because he did not have access to a law library or other
legal assistance while housed in the Pike County Jail. At the
evidentiary hearing, Plaintiff testified that that he was
arrested on June 30, 2014, and at the time of his arrest,
police officers seized $7, 746.00. Plaintiff testified that
the money was discovered in a backpack along with
marijuana. Plaintiff testified that he was charged
with intent to distribute controlled substances and the
prosecution pressured him to enter a guilty plea. Plaintiff
testified that he dismissed his first two public defenders
because they recommended that he enter a guilty plea. On
October 5, 2015, after Plaintiff was appointed a third public
defendant, he entered an Alford plea. Plaintiff
submitted into evidence a transcript of his plea hearing.
See Plaintiff's Exhibit L.
testified that while he was in jail, he filed a claim in
state court for the seized $7, 746.00 and, in November of
2015, attended a forfeiture hearing in state court. During
the hearing, the money was ordered forfeited. Plaintiff
submitted into evidence the state court's forfeiture
order. See Plaintiff's Exhibit L. Plaintiff
testified that, after the forfeiture order was entered, he
wrote the clerk of court regarding an appeal, but by the time
he received the clerk's response, his deadline to appeal
the forfeiture order had passed. Plaintiff submitted into
evidence his letter and the clerk's response.
See Plaintiff's Exhibit L.
testified that the Pike County Jail did not have a law
library nor any legal aid officials. Plaintiff also testified
that he requested that the jail administrator, Defendant Glen
Green, provide him a copy of the rules of civil procedure.
Defendant Green testified that he did not recall Plaintiff
ever requesting a copy of the rules of civil procedure.
Defendant Green, however, testified that the jail did not
have a law library. According to Green, a law library was
unnecessary because each of the inmates housed in the jail
was represented by an attorney.
testified that because he did not have access to a law
library or other legal assistance, he lost at the forfeiture
hearing and missed his opportunity to appeal the forfeiture
ruling. According to Plaintiff, if he would have had access
to a law library or legal assistance, he would have prevailed
at the forfeiture hearing because the State wrongfully used
his Alford plea, which was not an admission of
guilt, to support the forfeiture. Plaintiff also asserts
that, with access to a law library or legal assistance, he
would have known how and when to appeal the forfeiture
possess a constitutional right of access to courts, including
having the “ability . . . to prepare and transmit a
necessary legal document to court.” Eason v.
Thaler, 73 F.3d 1322, 1328 (5th Cir. 1996). The right of
access to the courts is limited to allow prisoners
opportunities to file nonfrivolous claims challenging their
convictions or conditions of confinement. Jones v.
Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 325 (5th Cir. 1999).
“Interference with a prisoner's right to access to
the courts, such as delay, may result in a constitutional
deprivation.” Chriceol v. Phillips, 169 F.3d
313, 317 (5th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted).
“[a] denial-of-access-to-the-courts claim is not valid
if a litigant's position is not prejudiced by the alleged
violation.” Ruiz v. United States, 160 F.3d
273, 275 (5th Cir. 1998); Henthorn v. Swinson, 955
F.2d 351, 354 (5th Cir. 1992). It is only when a prisoner
suffers some sort of actual prejudice or detriment from
denial of access to the courts that the allegation becomes
one of constitutional magnitude. Walker v. Navarro County
Jail, 4 F.3d 410, 413 (5th Cir. 1993); Howland v.
Kilquist, 833 F.2d 639, 642 (7th Cir. 1987). To prove
his claim, a plaintiff must show real detriment-a true denial
of access, such as the loss of a motion; the loss of a right
to commence, prosecute, or appeal in a court; or substantial
delay in obtaining a judicial determination in a proceeding.
See Oaks v. Wainwright, 430 F.2d 241 (5th Cir.
Code Annotated § 41-29-179(2) provides as follows:
If the owner of the property has filed an answer denying that
the property is subject to forfeiture, then the burden is on
the petitioner to prove that the property is subject to
forfeiture. However, if an answer has not been filed by the
owner of the property, the petition for forfeiture may be
introduced into evidence and is prima facie evidence that the
property is subject to forfeiture. The standard of proof
placed upon the petitioner in regard to property forfeited
under the provisions of this article shall be by a
preponderance of the evidence.
Miss. Code Ann. § 41-29-179(2).
burden of proof in a forfeiture action differs from that
involved in a criminal trial. The government need not prove
beyond a reasonable doubt that a connection exists between
the forfeited property and the illegal activity. Thus, a
criminal conviction is not a prerequisite to a civil
forfeiture. See State ex rel. Mississippi Bureau of
Narcotics v. Lincoln County, 605 So.2d 802, 804 (Miss.
Code Annotated § 41-29-153 identifies property subject
to forfeiture, including money. Section 41-29-153(7) provides
that “[a]ll monies, coin and currency found in close
proximity to forfeitable controlled substances . . . are
presumed to be forfeitable under this paragraph; the burden
of proof is upon claimants of the property to rebut this
state court's forfeiture order states that the
“Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics has put forth proof
that property at issue is subject to forfeiture under the
provisions of §§ 4-29-153(a)(5) and
41-29-153(a)(7) of the Mississippi Code of 1972, as amended,
having been used, or intended for use, in violation of the
Uniform Controlled Substances Law and having been found in
close proximity to forfeitable controlled substances, to-wit:
marijuana.” See Plaintiff's Exhibit L.
During testimony before this Court, Plaintiff admitted that
the $7, 746.00 was found in a backpack along with marijuana.
Additionally, during Plaintiff's plea hearing, the state
court asked Plaintiff the following: “Are you satisfied
that if we brought a jury in here, and they heard the four
charges, that there would be enough evidence that they might
conclude that you were guilty of each of the charges?”
Plaintiff responded “yes, sir.” See
Plaintiff's Exhibit L.
state court also explained to Plaintiff that a police officer
would testify that he saw Plaintiff throw two prescription
bottles out of his vehicle, which contained a substantial
quantity of hydrocodone obtained by fraudulent prescriptions.
The state court explained that officers found twenty grams of
marijuana and over five units of Alprazolam in
Plaintiff's possession. The court also explained that
records would ...