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Lewis v. Errington

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

December 3, 2019

ARMOND R. LEWIS, #126613 PLAINTIFF
v.
J. ERRINGTON, ET AL. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

          HALIL SULEYMAN OZERDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court sua sponte. Pro se Plaintiff Armond R. Lewis (“Plaintiff”), an inmate of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, brings this Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis. See Order [5]. The named Defendants are J. Errington, Superintendent of South Mississippi Correctional Institution; Unknown Davis, a Lieutenant at George County Regional Correctional Facility; Mississippi Department of Corrections (“MDOC”); and Richard Pennington, Director of MDOC's Administrative Remedy Program. The Court, having liberally construed Plaintiff's Complaint, finds that this case should be dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 27, 2017, Plaintiff received a rule violation report (“RVR”) for possessing “major contraband [b]y the specific act of having a cell phone charger.” Attach. [7-1] at 1. As a result, he lost prison privileges (including commissary, phone, and visitation) for six months, and his custodial classification level was reduced to “C-custody”[1] for one year. Pl.'s Resp. [7] at 1. Plaintiff states that his appeal of this RVR was denied via the prison grievance system. Compl. [1] at 4.

         In this lawsuit, Plaintiff asserts his innocence and claims the disciplinary process violated his due process rights. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that, because of Lt. Davis's conduct, he was not allowed to attend his disciplinary hearing and he was found guilty of the RVR. Compl. [1] at 4; Pl.'s Resp. [7] at 2.

         Plaintiff complains that Superintendent Errington and Director Pennington failed to investigate and overturn the disciplinary decision when Plaintiff appealed through the prison grievance system. Compl. [1] at 4; Pl.'s Resp. [7] at 2-3. As relief, Plaintiff seeks “cash compensation” and the return of all “time” he would have earned if his custodial classification level had not been reduced. Compl. [1] at 4; Resp. [7] at 3.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 (“PLRA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1915, applies to prisoners proceeding in forma pauperis in this Court. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(h). The PLRA provides in part that “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action . . . (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Since Plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis, his Complaint is subject to the case screening procedures set forth in the PLRA.

         A. Disciplinary action

         Plaintiff claims Defendants violated his constitutional right to due process when the prison disciplinary process resulted in a reduction in his custodial classification level and the revocation of privileges for six months. To invoke the protections of the Due Process Clause, Plaintiff must have a protected liberty interest at stake. In the prison context, a constitutionally protected liberty interest is “limited to freedom from restraint which . . . imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.” Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484-85 (1995) (finding the discipline of inmates by prison officials is consistent with the expectations of the sentence imposed by a court of law).

         A change in an inmate's classification level is not an atypical or significant hardship warranting constitutional protection. Wilkerson v. Stalder, 329 F.3d 431, 435-36 (5th Cir. 2003) (noting that “[t]his circuit has continued to hold post-Sandin that an inmate has no protectable liberty interest in his classification”). The classification of prisoners falls well within the broad discretion of prison officials and should be “free from judicial intervention.” McCord v. Maggio, 910 F.2d 1248, 1250-51 (5th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). Plaintiff clearly does not have a “constitutionally protected interest in either a custodial classification or the possibility of earning good-time credits.” Thomas v. Jordan, No. 07-60071, 2008 WL 4649095, at *1 (5th Cir. Oct. 21, 2008) (citing Neals v. Norwood, 59 F.3d 520, 533 (5th Cir. 1995)). A reduction in Plaintiff's classification level or loss of the ability to earn sentence credits associated with a specific classification level does not implicate due process protection.[2]

         Similarly, privilege restrictions, like those in this case, are “merely changes in the conditions of [Plaintiff's] confinement and do not implicate due process concerns.” Madison v. Parker, 104 F.3d 765, 768 (5th Cir. 1997); see Lewis v. Dretke, No. 02-40956, 2002 WL 31845293, at *1 (5th Cir. Dec. 11, 2002) (finding restrictions on commissary, telephone, recreation, and library privileges as well as attendance at religious services, along with 15 days of solitary confinement, resulting from allegedly false disciplinary charges does not implicate due process); Berry v. Brady, 192 F.3d 504, 508 (5th Cir. 1999) (observing that prisoners have no constitutional right to visitation privileges and that restrictions on those privileges do not implicate any due process concerns). Since Plaintiff does not have a constitutionally protected right to a specific classification level or certain privileges while in prison, Defendants did not violate his due process rights. Therefore, Plaintiff's complaints regarding the RVR for possession of major contraband and resulting punishment are legally frivolous. See, e.g., Lewis v. Dretke, No. 02-40956, 2002 WL 31845293, at *1 (5th Cir. Dec. 11, 2002) (finding inmate's due process claims related to prison disciplinary action frivolous).

         B. Prison grievance system

         Plaintiff also claims that Defendants Errington and Pennington violated his constitutional rights when they denied his appeals of this disciplinary action within the prison grievance system. An inmate does not have a federally protected liberty interest in having a prison grievance investigated or resolved to his satisfaction. Geiger v. Jowers, 404 F.3d 371, 373-74 (5th Cir. 2005). Therefore, an inmate does not suffer a constitutional violation when his appeal within the prison grievance system is “arbitrarily and capriciously denied.” Staples v. Keffer, 419 Fed.Appx. 461, 463 (5th Cir. 2011) (finding “a prisoner does not have a constitutional right to a grievance procedure at all, and he has no due process liberty interest in having his grievances resolved to his satisfaction.”). Because Plaintiff has no protected liberty interest in having his grievances ...


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