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Santos v. Bureau of Prisons

March 20, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


Presently before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. (Doc. 12). Plaintiff Willard Santos (Santos) alleges in this Bivens*fn1 action, filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, that his due process rights were violated by the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") and Correctional Officer Crystal Shivery ("Shivery"). For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss will be granted.

I. Statement of Facts

Santos, an inmate incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary at Lewisburg, alleges that Shivery began harassing him on July 17, 2003, by falsely accusing him of violating the dress code, disobeying orders, and interfering with security counts. He alleges that the harassment resulted in the issuance of two false misconducts. According to Santos, the first misconduct, issued in July 2003, charged him with indecent exposure upon departing the shower. Santos contends that this wrongful charge caused him injury to his character in that he is now labeled a sexual offender. He further alleges that he was denied a proper hearing because he was not allowed to present witnesses on his behalf. (See Doc. 1, p. 2).

Santos was found guilty by the Unit Discipline Committee and sanctioned with loss of commissary, phone and visiting privileges for thirty days. He appealed this disciplinary action and, at some point during the administrative appeal process, the matter was remanded back for a new hearing. Santos alleges that he was denied the opportunity to present witnesses at the new hearing and was found guilty "without a proper hearing." (See Doc. 1, p. 8). His subsequent appeals were denied at all levels of review. (See id.).

The second misconduct was issued on October 25, 2003. According to Santos, Shivery prematurely closed and locked the cell doors during a security count. As a result, Santos was unable to access his cell. When Shivery came to his cell, she opened the door, let him in the cell, and resumed the count of the inmates without comment. To his surprise, Santos was later summoned to the lieutenant's office and informed that he would be charged with interfering with count and failing to obey an order. Following a hearing, Santos was found guilty and sanctioned to the loss of fourteen days of good conduct time, loss of commissary privileges for ninety days and fifteen days in disciplinary segregation. His subsequent appeals were denied at all levels of review. (See Doc. 1, p. 9).

Santos asserts that defendants deprived him of his liberty in direct violation of the Due Process Clause. He seeks expungement of any files maintained on the indecent exposure misconduct charge and punitive damages from the Bureau of Prisons. He also seeks compensatory and punitive damages from Shivery for the issuance of false misconducts. (See Doc. 1, p. 10).

II. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for dismissal of a claim that fails to assert a basis upon which relief can be granted. See FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6).

In the context of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom. See Langford v. City of Atlantic City, 235 F.3d 845, 847 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996)). Although the court is generally limited in its review to the facts alleged in the complaint, it "may also consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997) (stating that, although "a district court ruling on a motion to dismiss may not [generally] consider matters extraneous to the pleadings[,] . . . a document integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint" may be considered "without converting the motion [to dismiss] into one for summary judgment") (quoting Shaw v. Digital Equip. Corp., 82 F.3d 1194, 1224 (1st Cir. 1996)).

A complaint will not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond a doubt that "no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002). "The complaint will be deemed to have alleged sufficient facts if it adequately put[s] the defendant on notice of the essential elements of the plaintiff's cause of action." Langford, 235 F.3d at 847. Further, a court must grant leave to amend before dismissing a complaint that is merely deficient. See Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000).

III. Discussion

When an inmate charged with misconduct has been afforded proper due process protections, an allegation that he was falsely accused does not state a claim for a violation of his constitutional rights in the absence of retaliation for the exercise of a constitutional right. Flanagan v. Shively, 783 F. Supp. 922, 931-32 (M.D.Pa.), aff'd mem., 980 F.2d 722 (3d Cir. 1992); Wilson v. Maben, 676 F. Supp. 581, 584 (M.D.Pa. 1987); Freeman v. Rideout, 808 F.2d 949, 952-54 (2d Cir. 1986) (holding that planting of false evidence by prison guard does not amount to constitutional misconduct where an inmate has been provided with procedural due process). In the instant case, Santos fails to state a prima facie claim of retaliation.*fn2 Rather, he claims only that defendants' due process violations denied him a liberty interest. Therefore, the court must determine whether Santos had a protected liberty interest and, if so, what process was mandated to protect it. See Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995); Shoats v. Horn, 213 F.3d 140, 143 (3d Cir. 2000). Importantly, due process requirements apply only when the prison's actions impose "an atypical and significant hardship on the ...

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