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Ray v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 5, 2019

STEVEN L. RAY, Plaintiff



         On April 1, 2019, Steven L. Ray, an individual currently confined at the prison camp located at the Schuylkill Federal Correctional Complex (FCC Schuylkill) in Minersville, Pennsylvania, filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971).[1] (ECF No. 1.) On June 28, 2019, the Court denied Mr. Ray's motion to proceed in forma pauperis based on his inmate account balance. The Court directed Mr. Ray to file the requisite filing fee in this matter, which he subsequently did. See ECF Nos. 19 and 21.

         In his Complaint, Mr. Ray alleges the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) misclassified him on at least two occasions which led to his improper placement at high security facilities rather than prison camps more fitting for a minimum-security inmate like himself. Additionally, he states that after serving as a BOP confidential informant and receiving threats from other inmates, prison staff held him in protective custody for extended periods of time rather than immediately transferring him to another facility. Finally, he claims his conditions of confinement in protective custody violated the Eighth Amendment. The sole named defendant is the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Northeast Region. (ECF No. 1.)

         The Court proceeds to screen the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A. For the reasons set forth below, the Complaint will be dismissed with leave to amend. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b)(1).

         Also pending before the Court are several motions concerning Mr. Ray's quest for a reduction of his sentence and/or compassionate release as an “equitable” remedy for his past conditions of confinement and his substantial assistance to the BOP as a confidential informant. (ECF Nos. 23, 26, 28, 31, 32, 34 and 35.) As the Court is without jurisdiction to address these motions, they will be dismissed without prejudice. Alternatively, they will be withdrawn due to Mr. Ray's failure to comply with Pa. M.D. Local Rule 7.5.

         I. Standard of Review for Screening Pro Se In Forma Pauperis Complaints

         When a litigant seeks to proceed in forma pauperis, without payment of fees, 28 U.S.C. § 1915 requires the court to screen the complaint. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Likewise, when a prisoner seeks redress from a government defendant in a civil action, whether proceeding in forma pauperis or not, the court must screen the complaint. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Both 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915(A) give the court the authority to dismiss a complaint if it is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) - (iii); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) - (2); Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2013).

         A complaint is frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis either in law or fact. See Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523, 530 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 1832 - 33, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989)). In deciding whether the complaint fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, the court employs the standard used to analyze motions to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). See Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000). Under Rule 12(b)(6), the court “must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 - 11 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 - 50, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)). The court may also rely on exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record. Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2007).

         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . .” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). A complaint is required to provide “the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)).

         To test the sufficiency of the complaint, the court “must take three steps.” Connelly v. Lane Constr. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). First, a court must “take note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Id.(internal quotations and brackets omitted). Second, the court must identify allegations that are merely legal conclusions “because they . . . are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id.While detailed factual allegations are not required, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964). Third, a court should assume the veracity of all well-pleaded factual allegations and “then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Connelly, 809 F.3d at 787 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. at 1949).

         A complaint filed by a pro se plaintiff must be liberally construed and “held ‘to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Fantone v. Latini, 780 F.3d 184, 193 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 - 21, 92 S.Ct. 594, 596, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972)); see also Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007). Yet, even a pro se plaintiff “must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim.” Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). Pro se litigants are to be granted leave to file a curative amended complaint even when a plaintiff does not seek leave to amend, unless such an amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Estate of Lagano v. Bergen Cty. Prosecutor's Office, 769 F.3d 850, 861 (3d Cir. 2014). A complaint that sets forth facts which affirmatively demonstrate that the plaintiff has no right to recover is properly dismissed without leave to amend. Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 106 (3d Cir. 2002).

         With these principles in mind, the Court sets forth the background to this litigation, as Plaintiff alleges it in his Complaint.

         II. Allegations of the Complaint

         Pro se Plaintiff, Steven Ray, was convicted pursuant to guilty pleas in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York of mail fraud and forgery of United States Treasury checks, and obstruction of justice in connection with the sentencing on the mail fraud and forgery counts. United States v. Ray, 713 Fed.Appx. 20 (2d Cir. 2017). On September 16, 2016, he received an 84-month sentence on the mail fraud and forgery plea and a concurrent 84-month sentence on the obstruction plea and ordered to pay restitution. (Id.) His projected release date is September 20, 2021.[2]

         Following his guilty plea convictions, but prior to sentencing, Mr. Ray was housed as a presentenced inmate at the County Jail in Bath, New York. For 13 months he was “segregated” in a maximum-security section of that facility. (ECF No. 1 at 3.)

         On October 1, 2016, the BOP transferred Mr. Ray to the “Youngstown PA CCA Maximum Detention Facility” where he was again housed with violent criminals and his privileges were “greatly restricted.” (Id.) A month later he was transferred to the Allenwood Federal Correctional Complex in Allenwood, Pennsylvania. Much to his disagreement, the BOP placed him at FCI Allenwood Low, a low security federal correctional institution, rather than the prison camp located at the same compound. He served 13 months at this facility where his “conditions were substantially inferior of those enjoy[ed] at the prison camp.” (Id.) Mr. Ray believes the BOP committed another “colossal blunder” by placing him in solitary confinement for 40 days where he was “stripped of all human rights” and forced to endure “the harshest living conditions” as a means of “reward[ing] a cooperating inmate”. (Id.)

         When the BOP recognized its misclassification of Mr. Ray, instead of sending him to a prison camp, they sent him to the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC Brooklyn), in Brooklyn, New York. This “vertical” facility had “virtually no ...

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