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Ramsey v. Management Training & Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

March 4, 2019




         On February 28, 2019, plaintiff Jermaine Alexander Ramsey, an inmate previously housed at the Marshall County Correctional Facility (“MCCF”), appeared before the undersigned for a hearing pursuant to Spears v. McCotter, 766 F.2d 179 (5th Cir. 1985), to determine whether there exists a justiciable basis for his claim filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. A plaintiff's claim will be dismissed if “it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact, such as when a prisoner alleges the violation of a legal interest that does not exist.” Martin v. Scott, 156 F.3d 578 (5th Cir. 1998) (citations omitted). The Prison Litigation Reform Act[1] applies to this case because Ramsey was incarcerated when he filed this lawsuit. Ramsey having consented to U.S. Magistrate Judge jurisdiction in this case in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the undersigned has the authority to enter this order and the accompanying final judgment.

         I. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Ramsey was housed in C custody in long-term segregation in Unit D4 at MCCF on August 21, 2018. On that date, a shakedown occurred, and all offenders were taken to the recreation yard wearing only boxers and t-shirts. Ramsey claims that he left his 2.5 carat diamond Cartier wedding band in his cell, on top of several “allowable” items, such as marriage papers and photos of his deceased wife. When he returned to his cell, Ramsey claims, his wedding band, photographs, and marriage papers had been confiscated. Ramsey maintains that other items, such as his religious materials and commissary items, were also confiscated, and he asserts that he never received a property receipt for the confiscated items.

         At his Spears hearing, Ramsey stated that the policy of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (“MDOC”) allowed him to possess a wedding band and the other items, but that they were nonetheless confiscated and held by Defendants. Ramsey claims that all of the items were confiscated to punish him for filing a prior lawsuit against MCCF, and he claims that not allowing him to possess these particular items violates his right to equal protection. He also alleges that certain Defendants have attempted to extort him, stating that certain Defendants approached him in the recreation yard and informed him that he can have his wedding band back if he will pay them each $400.

         II. Screening Standards

         Because Ramsey has been permitted to proceed in forma pauperis in this action, his complaint is subject to dismissal under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). See 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (subjecting prisoner complaint to preliminary screening regardless of in forma pauperis status). Pursuant to the PLRA, the Court is obligated to evaluate the complaint and dismiss it if it is “frivolous or malicious, ” if it “fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, ” or it “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” § 1915(e)(2).

         III. Discussion

         A. Equal Protection

         First, the Court considers whether the confiscation of Ramsey's personal property violates his right to equal protection. It is well settled that the Equal Protection Clause of Fourteenth Amendment prohibits a state from denying any person the equal protection of the laws. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. To establish a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, a plaintiff must demonstrate that he was treated differently than similarly-situated persons, and that “the unequal treatment stemmed from a discriminatory intent.” Taylor v. Johnson, 257 F.3d 470, 473 (5th Cir. 2001).

         Ramsey has not provided the Court with any facts that would support his claim, and the Court finds that Ramsey's equal protection claim must, therefore, be dismissed due to its conclusory nature. See Koch v. Puckett, 907 F.2d 524, 530 (5th Cir. 1990) (holding that despite liberal construction given to pro se petitions, “mere conclusory allegations on a critical issue are insufficient to raise a constitutional issue”). Moreover, “[d]iscriminatory purpose ... implies that the decisionmaker singled out a particular group for disparate treatment and selected his course of action at least in part for the purpose of causing its adverse effect on an identifiable group.” Lavernia v. Lynaugh, 845 F.2d 493, 496 (5th Cir. 1988) (internal quotation marks omitted). Ramsey has not provided the Court with any facts that transform his claim into an equal protection claim, and therefore, it must be dismissed.

         B. Retaliation

         Second, the Court considers whether Ramsey has potentially stated a claim for retaliation. The Fifth Circuit has held that “[t]o prevail on a claim of retaliation, a prisoner must establish (1) a specific constitutional right, (2) the defendant's intent to retaliate against the prisoner for his or her exercise of that right, (3) a retaliatory adverse act, and (4) causation.” McDonald v. Steward, 132 F.3d 225, 231 (5th Cir. 1998). “The relevant showing in such cases must be more than the prisoner's personal belief that he is the victim of retaliation.” Johnson v. Rodriguez, 110 F.3d 299, 310 (5th Cir. 1997) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Rather, “[t]he inmate must produce direct evidence of motivation, or the more probable scenario, allege a chronology of events from which retaliation may be plausibly inferred.” Woods v. Smith, 60 F.3d at 1166 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Ramsey alleges that the deprivation of his personal property is a retaliatory act for his having filed a prior lawsuit against the facility. Generally, prisoners enjoy a constitutional right of access to the courts, see Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483, 48385 (1969), and therefore, Ramsey's claim involves a specific constitutional right. However, at his Spears hearing, Ramsey stated that the prior lawsuit giving rise to this allegedly unconstitutional confiscation involved a slip and fall at MCCF, which was filed in this Court as Ramsey v. Management Training & Corp., 4:18CV178-RP (N.D. Miss.). That lawsuit was signed on August 22, 2018, one day after the deprivations at issue in ...

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