Where a former detainee plausibly alleged that nine prison officials engaged in a campaign of unlawful retaliation after he complained about a lack of access to the prison law library, including the imposition of false disciplinary charges, his suit will proceed.
In this civil rights suit filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Jacob Rader, a former detainee at Lunenburg Correctional Center, or LCC, claims that nine LCC officials engaged in a campaign of unlawful retaliation after he continuously exercised his First Amendment rights.
Eight of those defendants have filed a motion to dismiss. They claim that the third amended complaint, or TAC, should be dismissed because (1) plaintiff failed to administratively exhaust his claims; (2) certain claims have been misjoined and (3) certain claims fail to state a claim as a matter of law.
It is not apparent from the face of plaintiff’s TAC that he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing all 14 claims. The TAC contains numerous allegations concerning filing “informal complaints” and “regular grievances” related to the claims at issue. Furthermore, the cases cited by defendants involved courts dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies on motions for summary judgment, not motions to dismiss.
Defendants argue that claims alleging that defendant Holmes confiscated a legal book, denied plaintiff a call with his attorney and harassed him on Jan. 24, 2022, are misjoined and should be severed because they arose after plaintiff originally filed suit and are not part of the access to law library claims advanced in the previous complaints. Plaintiff counters that these claims are all linked through a campaign of retaliation he has endured since he began complaining about law library policies. The court agrees with plaintiff.
In Count One, plaintiff fails to state a First Amendment access-to-courts claim. Prisoners have no freestanding First Amendment right to a law library or to legal assistance while incarcerated. To the extent plaintiff bases his claim on the allegation that Holmes took about two and a half weeks to respond to law library requests, that allegation, too, is deficient.
Regarding Count Two, defendants argue that the court should dismiss plaintiff’s claim that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was denied access to the grievance process because inmates have no constitutional right to participate in a grievance system. Plaintiff asserts that this claim is akin to bringing retaliation claims against these defendants. Claim Two may proceed under a theory of retaliation.
Regarding Count Three, defendants argue only that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing suit. The court has already rejected this argument.
Regarding Count Five, plaintiff’s due process claim based on Richardson ignoring LCC mask policy is dismissed because the constitutional violation plaintiff is attempting to allege is unclear.
Regarding Count Six, plaintiff’s claim that his constitutional rights were violated through the imposition of false disciplinary charges fails as a matter of law. These claims may proceed, however, under a theory of retaliation.
In Counts Seven through Nine, plaintiff alleges that three defendants violated his due process rights during disciplinary hearings. A prisoner cannot challenge the validity of a disciplinary conviction in a § 1983 suit unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction has been invalidated.
The TAC alleges that Ms. Holmes found plaintiff guilty of a disciplinary offense without considering video evidence and that the charge was reversed on appeal once the video footage was reviewed. Claims Seven and Eight therefore cannot proceed under a theory of due process; however, Claim Nine as to Ms. Holmes may proceed. Further all three claims may also proceed under a retaliation theory.
In Count 10, plaintiff contends that it was outrageous for the prison to shut down the law library during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly because the closure occurred eight months before any positive cases were detected at LCC. This is insufficient to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Next, plaintiff fails to respond to defendants’ argument that Count 11 fails to state a claim for negligence, so this claim is dismissed.
In Count 12, plaintiff appears to allege that Ms. Holmes harassed him by finding him guilty after a disciplinary hearing and refusing to allow him physical access to the law library. The court is unable to identify a tort of harassment recognized under Virginia law on these facts. Finally, plaintiffs’ claim in Count 13 that certain defendants conspired to violate his constitutional rights must be dismissed because plaintiff’s allegations are too vague to establish a meeting of the minds.
Defendants’ motion to dismiss granted in part, denied in part.
Rader v. Bailey, Case No. 1:20-cv-01423, March 30, 2023. EDVA at Alexandria (Giles). VLW 023-3-168. 19 pp.