United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
September 20, 2005.
ROBERT SMITH, Plaintiff,
D. PRICE, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN E. JONES, District Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
THE BACKGROUND OF THIS ORDER IS AS FOLLOWS:
The plaintiff, Robert Smith ("Plaintiff" or "Smith"), a federal
prisoner incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institute,
Schuylkill, Pennsylvania ("FCI-Schuylkill"), proceeding pro se,
initiated this Bivens action pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1331*fn1 by filing a complaint in the United States District
Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on August 8, 2005.
Plaintiff alleges that on February 18, 2005, Defendant Price
conducted a search of Plaintiff's cell and found a seven and a
half inch shank located in the lighting fixture of the desk light in Plaintiff's cell. (Rep. &
Rec. at 2). As a result, Plaintiff was found guilty of possession
of a weapon and sanctioned with 60 days of disciplinary
segregation, disallowance of 54 days of good conduct time,
forfeiture of 135 days of non-vested good conduct time, and loss
of telephone and visiting privileges for one year. Id.
Plaintiff submits a series of arguments concerning this incident,
including the following: the knife did not belong to him; the
knife was found in the fixture of the desk light in the cell that
he shared with another inmate; he did not have control over the
fixture and that special tools, which he did not possess, were
required to open the fixture; and Defendants failed to properly
investigate the matter. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants
violated his Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment rights by finding
him guilty of possession of a weapon.
Named as Defendants in the complaint are the following: Ronnie
Holt, Warden at FCI-Schuylkill; D. Price, an officer at
FCI-Schuylkill; Kevin Bittenbender, a Bureau of Prisons ("BOP")
Disciplinary Hearing Officer; and Harrell Watts, the National
Inmate Appeals Administrator for the BOP.
This case was referred to Magistrate Judge J. Andrew Smyser for
preliminary review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). On August
26, 2005, Magistrate Judge Smyser issued a Report and
Recommendation within which he concludes that the complaint fails to state a Bivens claim upon
which relief can be granted and that granting Plaintiff leave to
amend his complaint would be futile. The Magistrate Judge
therefore recommends that the complaint be dismissed and the case
file closed. Id. at 8-9.
Plaintiff filed objections to the Magistrate's Report on
September 8, 2005. This matter is now ripe for disposition.
STANDARD OF REVIEW:
When objections are filed to a report of a magistrate judge, we
make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or
specified proposed findings or recommendations made by the
magistrate judge to which there are objections. See United
States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667 (1980); see also
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Local Rule 72.31. Furthermore, district judges have
wide discretion as to how they treat recommendations of a
magistrate judge. See id. Indeed, in providing for a de
novo review determination rather than a de novo hearing,
Congress intended to permit whatever reliance a district judge,
in the exercise of sound discretion, chooses to place on a
magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations. See
id., see also Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 275 (1976);
Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 7 (3d Cir. 1984). DISCUSSION:
A careful review of Plaintiff's objections to the Report and
Recommendation reveal that they are nothing more than a
restatement of the arguments asserted in his complaint concerning
alleged Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment violations, as well as
unclear assertions that the Magistrate Judge erred in his Report.
(See Rec. Doc. 10). We will address Plaintiff's objections as
necessary in this narrative.
As the Magistrate Judge explained, the Supreme Court held in
Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475 (1973), that when a prisoner
"is challenging the very fact or duration of his physical
imprisonment, and the relief he seeks is a determination that he
is entitled to immediate release or a speedier release from that
imprisonment, his sole federal remedy is a writ of habeas
corpus." Id. at 500. Accordingly, to the extent that Plaintiff
is seeking the return of good conduct time credits, he is seeking
a speedier release from custody. He must therefore pursue that
claim in a habeas corpus case, and not in the Bivens action
which Plaintiff has asserted here.
Plaintiff is also seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as
well as declaratory relief. In both his complaint and objections,
Plaintiff has asserted violations of his due process rights under
the Fifth Amendment, as well as Sixth and Eighth Amendment
violations. We will address these claims in turn. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants violated his Fifth Amendment
right to due process by finding him guilty of possession of a
weapon and by subsequently upholding that finding.*fn2 We
are in agreement with the Magistrate Judge's explanation that
success on that claim would necessarily imply the invalidity of
the disciplinary sanctions imposed on Plaintiff, including the
loss of good conduct time. Such a claim is not cognizable as a
Bivens claim for monetary damages unless or until Plaintiff's
disciplinary sentence is reversed or expunged by prison
officials, or called into question by a federal court's issuance
of a writ of habeas corpus.*fn3 See Heck v. Humphrey,
512 U.S. 477 (1994); Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641 (1997).
With regard to Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim, we note that
an Eighth Amendment claim of cruel and unusual punishment must
contain allegations which "involve the unnecessary and wanton
infliction of pain." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). The
two prong analysis of Eighth Amendment claims involves an
objective component, the deprivation must be sufficiently
serious, and a subjective component, the defendant must have been
deliberately indifferent. Young v. Quinlan, 960 F.2d 351,
359-60 (3d Cir. 1992). We agree with the Magistrate Judge's
determination that merely finding Plaintiff guilty of possession
of a weapon and sentencing him to 60 days disciplinary
segregation does not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment
violation. (Rep. & Rec. at 7-8). Plaintiff therefore fails to
state an Eighth Amendment claim upon which relief can be granted.
Finally, Plaintiff alleges that his Sixth Amendment rights were
violated as he was found guilty of possession of a knife.
However, the Sixth Amendment guarantees apply only to criminal
prosecutions, Kirby v. Illinois, 406 U.S. 682, 690 (1972), and
prison disciplinary proceedings are not criminal prosecutions
within the meaning of the Sixth Amendment. Wolff v. McDonnell,
418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974). Plaintiff accordingly fails to state a Sixth Amendment
claim upon which relief can be granted.
After a careful review of the record, including Plaintiff's
objections to the Report and Recommendation, we are in agreement
with the Magistrate Judge that Plaintiff's complaint fails to
state a Bivens claim upon which relief can be granted. We also
find that granting Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint would
be futile as this is not a case in which Plaintiff's allegations
are unclear or where Plaintiff failed to include specific
allegations necessary to support his claim. See
28 U.S.C. § 1915A; see also Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital,
293 F.3d 103, 113-14 (3d Cir. 2002). Instead, as the Magistrate Judge
accurately submits, Plaintiff's claims in the case sub judice
are not cognizable claims.
For the reasons set forth in Magistrate Judge Smyser's Report
and Recommendation, Plaintiff's objections are without merit.
Plaintiff's complaint will be dismissed and the case closed.
NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED THAT:
1. Magistrate Judge Smyser's Report and
Recommendation (doc. 9) is adopted in its entirety.
2. Plaintiff's complaint is hereby dismissed.
3. The Clerk shall close the file on this case.
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