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Stevens v. Chumley

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

October 10, 2019




         On July 11, 2018, Plaintiff Laderius Stevens, who at the time was incarcerated at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution (RMSI) in Nashville, Tennessee, [1] filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a motion to proceed in forma pauperis, and a motion to appoint counsel. (ECF Nos. 1, 2 & 3.) The complaint concerns events that allegedly occurred while Stevens was in custody at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary (WTSP) in Henning, Tennessee. (ECF No. 1 at PageID 4.) The Court issued an order granting leave to proceed in forma pauperis and assessing the civil filing fee pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a)-(b). (ECF No. 7.) On March 25, 2019, the Court denied Stevens's motion for appointment of counsel. (ECF No. 10.) The Clerk shall record the Defendants as Lieutenant First Name Unknown (FNU) Chumley; WTSP Warden Jonathan Lebo; Sergeant Robert Fine; and Cert Team Officer FNU Dorsey.

         Stevens alleges that in May 2017, he was called to the property room to retrieve shoes he had specially ordered. (ECF No. 1 at PageID 6.) The property room officer would not allow Stevens to have the shoes because they were not from the approved vendor, but Stevens countered that he had Warden Lebo's permission to order the shoes. (Id.) The offi cer did not believe Stevens, so Stevens proposed they ask Warden Lebo, who was walking nearby. (Id. at 6-7.) Stevens and the officer found Warden Lebo, who confirmed he had given Stevens permission to order the shoes. (Id. at 7.) The officer refused to give Stevens the shoes, allegedly telling Warden Lebo that he could not permit only Stevens to order shoes from other vendors. (Id.) Warden Lebo did not reprimand the officer and allegedly walked away. (Id.) The next day, Stevens called Debra Johnson, [2] Supervisor of Wardens for the Western District of Tennessee, about the incident. (Id.) Johnson told Stevens “she would investigate the matter.” (Id.)

         A few days later, on May 11, 2017, Cert Team Officers Dorsey and Eastep, along with STG Coordinator Boucom, [3] approached Stevens and his cellmate for an impromptu cell search. (Id. at PageID 7-8.) The officers allegedly found nothing and left. (Id. at PageID 8.) That evening, however, Stevens alleges that he and his cellmate received disciplinary writeups for possessing two cell phones and two knives. (Id.) Sergeant Fine wrote that he found the items in an air duct during the search, even though Stevens contends Fine was not one of the officers who conducted the search that day. (Id.)

         A hearing on the disciplinary report for possession of the knives, but not the cell phones, allegedly took place four days later. (Id.) Sergeant Fine allegedly testified that, contrary to the report, he was on the roof of the prison above Stevens's cell when he found the knives, which he passed to Officer Dorsey from the roof through a hole in the vent. (Id. at PageID 8-9.) Stevens insists Officer Dorsey did not tell Stevens he found contraband during the cell search, but Dorsey testified and corroborated Sergeant Fine's testimony that he had handed the knives to Dorsey through a hole in the roof. (Id. at PageID 9.) The other officers present at the search did not testify, nor did the officers enter into evidence photographs of the hole. (Id.) Lieutenant Chumley found Stevens and his cellmate guilty based on Fine and Dorsey's testimony. (Id.) They were stripped of 12 months of good time credits and received 30 days of “punitive time” plus a $5 fine. (Id. at PageID 9-10.) Stevens never faced a hearing for possession of the cellphones. (Id. at PageID 10.)

         On May 19, 2017, four days after the hearing, two Cert Team Officers woke Stevens and told him they were transferring him to the prison's segregation unit for suspected gang activity. (Id.) The officers would not provide Stevens with details, and a sergeant told him only that Warden Lebo had told the sergeant “to lock [Stevens] up for gang activity.” (Id.) Stevens remained in segregation for 17 days but was never given more information or charged with any discipline. (Id. at PageID 10-11.) On June 5, 2017, the day after he was released, the unit sergeant informed Stevens he was being returned to segregation to serve the remainder of the 30-day penalty for possession of the knives. (Id. at PageID 11.) Stevens, however, allegedly remained in segregation for 67 additional days. (Id.)

         In the meantime, Stevens alleges he received an “administration segregation placement” from Lieutenant Chumley informing him that he was designated to “supermax” placement as of June 5, 2017, based on “old charges” for which he had already served his punishment and “a vague statement about me being a security threat.” (Id.) Stevens alleges he did not receive a timely notice, hearing, or opportunity to address his supermax placement. (Id. at PageID 12.) He asserts the supermax placement exceeded his sentence for possession of the knives and that this “major change in my conditions of living” imposed an “atypical and significant hardship on me in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.” (Id.) He alleges he is confined to his cell 23 hours a day during weekdays and 24 hours on weekends, subjected to constant light, disciplined for shielding the light from his eyes, and denied nearly any environmental or sensory stimuli. (Id.) He alleges that when he is allowed out of his cell, he is escorted by officers while wearing shackles and handcuffs. (Id. at PageID 13.) Stevens states he receives only three showers per week, has limited access to cleaning utensils, and is denied other privileges like visitation and phone calls. (Id.)[4]

         Stevens asserts that Warden Lebo retaliated against him, Sergeant Fine and Officer Dorsey falsified their testimony that resulted in the initial segregation to Stevens, and Lieutenant Chumley wrongfully ordered his supermax confinement. (Id. at PageID 14-15.) Stevens sues the Defendants in their individual and official capacities. (Id. at PageID 1.) He seeks an injunction ordering the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) to return him to the general prison population, $850, 000 in compensatory damages, and $175, 000 in punitive damages. (Id. at PageID 15-16.)

         The Court is required to screen prisoner complaints and to dismiss any complaint, or any portion thereof, if the complaint-

(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         In assessing whether the complaint in this case states a claim on which relief may be granted, the standards under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), as stated in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-79 (2009), and in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-57 (2007), are applied. Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). The Court accepts the complaint's “well-pleaded” factual allegations as true and then determines whether the allegations “plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.'” Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681). Conclusory allegations “are not entitled to the assumption of truth, ” and legal conclusions “must be supported by factual allegations.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although a complaint need only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), Rule 8 nevertheless requires factual allegations to make a “‘showing,' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 n.3.

         “Pro se complaints are to be held ‘to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers,' and should therefore be liberally construed.” Williams, 631 F.3d at 383 (quoting Martin v. Overton, 391 F.3d 710, 712 (6th Cir. 2004)). Pro se litigants, however, are not exempt from the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989); see also Brown v. Matauszak, 415 Fed.Appx. 608, 612, 613 (6th Cir. Jan. 31, 2011) (affirming dismissal of pro se complaint for failure to comply with “unique pleading requirements” and stating “a court cannot ...

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