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Heard v. Crumpton

United States District Court, Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division

March 19, 2015

DARRELL W. HEARD, #370271 Plaintiff,
LESLIE CRUMPTON et al., Defendants.


Aleta A. Trauger, United States District Judge

Plaintiff Darrell Heard, a state prisoner incarcerated at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution (“RMSI”) in Nashville, Tennessee, filed a complaint in this court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting that his constitutional rights were violated when he was denied a specific job placement. The complaint is before the court for an initial review pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). For the reasons set forth herein, the complaint will be dismissed in part.

I. Statement of Facts

The plaintiff alleges that on April 23, 2014 he was scheduled, along with two other inmates, for a job interview with Leslie Crumpton for placement at Tennessee Cook Chill, a food processing plant operated by TRICOR.[1] Crumpton informed him on the day of the interview that Christy Mathis, Job Coordinator at Charles Bass Correctional Complex, had called her at home the previous night and told her to cancel the plaintiff’s interview because his charge of conviction made him ineligible. Crumpton told the plaintiff she did not agree with Mathis’s assessment but that it was not “her call.” (ECF No. 1, at 4.) The plaintiff challenges prison authorities’ decision not to allow him to be considered for this job. He names as defendants the following: Leslie Crumpton, who apparently works or volunteers for TRICOR; Christy Mathis; Lt. Gregory Leonard; Sgt. Kayser Nolton, who signed off on the initial denial of the plaintiff’s grievance (ECF No. 1, at 38); Warden Wayne Carpenter; Michael Holloway; Stevenson Nixon; Jason Woodall, TDOC Deputy Commissioner of Operations; Benjamin Bean; TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield; and David Harp.

The plaintiff has clearly exhausted his administrative remedies regarding this claim. He filed an initial grievance in or around May 2014, which was denied. (See ECF No. 1, at 23.) He appealed that denial, and a hearing was conducted before the grievance committee on November 20, 2014. According to the grievance-hearing minutes attached to the complaint, RMSI Classification Coordinator Bill Smith testified on behalf of the plaintiff at the hearing that the plaintiff’s position was correct, that he met all the criteria for the job listed in the memo posting the job, and that typically, “Anybody that RMSI has sent to Cook Chill in the past hasn’t been trustee until they pas[s] the test and [are] accepted. Then we do a re-class and change their custody level.” (ECF No. 1, at 21.) After the hearing, the grievance committee agreed with the plaintiff and recommended that he be re-evaluated and considered for the job placement. (ECF No. 1, at 9.) Warden Carpenter, however, rejected the recommendation based on a finding that the plaintiff did not have the correct custody level. (Id.) The plaintiff appealed the decision but, on January 6, 2015, Jason Woodall affirmed the denial of the grievance on the basis that the plaintiff “does not have the correct custody to be placed on TRICOR job register.” (ECF No. 1, at 8.)

The plaintiff asks the court to rule in his favor regarding his “discrimination suit and civil rights violations, ” “[a]ward legal fees, compensatory damages as well as back pay starting on April 23, 2014, ” and “[p]unish anyone who committed official misconduct.” (ECF No. 1, at 5.)

II. Standard of Review

Under the PLRA, the court must conduct an initial review of any civil complaint brought by a prisoner if it is filed in forma pauperis, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), seeks relief from government entities or officials, 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), or challenges the plaintiff’s conditions of confinement, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). After conducting this review, the court must dismiss the complaint, or any portion thereof, that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, is frivolous, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The Sixth Circuit has confirmed that the dismissal standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), “governs dismissals for failure to state a claim under those statutes because the relevant statutory language tracks the language in Rule 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470–71 (6th Cir. 2010). Thus, to survive scrutiny on initial review, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility 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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

In reviewing the complaint to determine whether it states a plausible claim, “a district court must (1) view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and (2) take all well-pleaded factual allegations as true.” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gunasekera v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)). A pro se pleading must be liberally construed and “held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).

III. Discussion

The plaintiff seeks to bring suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 creates no substantive rights itself but instead provides a remedy for deprivations of rights established elsewhere. To state a claim under § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) a deprivation of rights secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and (2) that “the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color of state law.” Tahfs v. Proctor, 316 F.3d 584, 590 (6th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted); 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

A. Whether the Plaintiff States a Deprivation of Rights

The plaintiff in this case does not identify which of his constitutional rights he believes have been violated other than to assert that the denial of the opportunity to be interviewed for the Cook Chill job was discriminatory. The court liberally construes the complaint as asserting both a due-process claim and an equal-protection claim based on disparate treatment.

The complaint, however, fails to state a due-process claim for which relief may be granted, because a prisoner has no constitutionally protected liberty or property interest in a prison job assignment or security classification. See, e.g., Moody v. Daggett, 429 U.S. 78, 88 n.9 (1976) (noting that prisoner classification and eligibility for rehabilitation programs in federal prisons are not directly subject to “due process” protections); Newsom v. Norris, 888 F.2d 371, 374 (6th Cir. 1989) (“[T]he Constitution does not create a property or liberty interest in prison employment. . . .” (citations omitted); Bulger v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons, 65 F.3d 48, 49 (5th Cir. 1995) (holding that prisoners have no constitutionally protected liberty or property interests per se in their prison job assignments). See also Agramonte v. Shartle, 491 F. App’x 557, 560 (6th Cir. 2012) (“The plaintiffs have not set out a procedural due process claim because they do not allege that they have suffered an atypical or significant hardship, as required by Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995). They have not set out a substantive due process claim because the conditions alleged to exist at [the prison], even if proven, would not meet the ‘shock the conscience’ standard ...

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