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Willie J. Griffin, Jr v. W. Lehman

May 19, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gilbert, District Judge:



Plaintiff, an inmate currently in the Federal Correctional Institute in Yazoo City, Mississippi, was at all times relevant to this action housed in the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. Plaintiff brings this action for alleged violations of his constitutional rights by persons acting under the color of federal authority. See Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:

(a) Screening.-- The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.

(b) Grounds for Dismissal.-- On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint--

(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or

(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

28 U.S.C. § 1915A. An action or claim is frivolous if "it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007). Upon careful review of the complaint and any supporting exhibits, the Court finds it appropriate to exercise its authority under § 1915A; portions of this action are subject to summary dismissal.


The following version of the facts of this case is gleaned from Plaintiff's amended complaint (Doc. 17). Plaintiff was expecting visitors at the USP Marion, and informed Defendant Wiesel so that the visitors' information could be put into the computer system prior to the visit, per prison policy. However, Defendant Wiesel failed to put the information in the system, and did not inform other staff of his oversight. As a result, Defendant Pitts turned Plaintiff's visitors away because there was no information on them in the system. When Plaintiff was taken to the visiting area in anticipation of receiving his visitors, he was told by Defendant Wiesel to wait there, which Defendant Pitts witnessed. Defendant Lehman then came by and wrote Plaintiff a disciplinary ticket for being in an unauthorized area. Defendant Beggs wrote a memorandum supporting Defendant Lehman's decision to write Plaintiff a ticket.

Plaintiff was then given a disciplinary hearing regarding the incident. Defendant Auterson, who presided over the hearing, found Plaintiff guilty without considering the evidence; Defendant Auterson did not call witnesses and Plaintiff was not shown any written statements prepared by witnesses. Plaintiff was given 30 days of segregation as a result of the hearing. Thereafter, Plaintiff made requests of Defendant Julien, including a request to take a polygraph test to clear him of guilt.

Even though Plaintiff offered to pay for the test, this request was denied by Defendant Julien, along with other requests.*fn1

After Plaintiff was placed in segregation, John Doe members of the SHU Staff began retaliating against Plaintiff by denying him recreation periods on February 17 and 18 as well as March 4 and 5; denying him haircuts on March 6 and 15; and denying him phone privileges the week of March 7-12, 2010, claiming that the phone was out of order. At an unspecified time Plaintiff began to be denied access to the law library, and this denial lasted for three months. Further, Plaintiff was placed in a one-man cell with another inmate, and was forced to sleep on the floor with his feet under the cell toilet. On March 21, 2010, Plaintiff submitted a grievance, complaining about the second-hand smoke generated by SHU staff, as well as the handling of food trays by staff with bare hands.

Some time later, Plaintiff agreed to act as a witness for his cellmate in a disciplinary hearing. On December 23, 2010, Defendants Baney and Chamness came to Plaintiff's cell and threatened Plaintiff by stating "you don't want to burn that bridge with me" in reference to Plaintiff's witness statement. Ultimately witnesses were not called for the hearing. At some unspecified time, Defendant Chamness made Plaintiff miss a phone conference wherein Plaintiff was supposed to participate in a court hearing. Because Plaintiff missed the phone hearing, a judgment was entered against him.


To facilitate the orderly management of future proceedings in this case, and in accordance with the objectives of FED. R. CIV. P. 8(e) and 10(b), the Court finds it appropriate to break the claims in Plaintiff's pro se complaint and other pleadings into numbered counts, as shown below. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as to their merit.

Count 1: Visitors

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Wiesel and Pitts denied him access to his visitors, in violation of his constitutional rights. However, prisoners do not have a fundamental right to visitation arising directly from the Constitution. Kentucky Dep't of Corr. v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454 (1989). "The denial of prison access to a particular visitor 'is well within the terms of confinement ordinarily contemplated by a prison sentence,' and therefore is not independently protected by the Due Process Clause." Id. at 461 (citing Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460 (1983)).

Statutes and regulations may limit the discretion of officials to act and thereby give an inmate a constitutionally protected liberty interest in receiving visitors; determining whether such an interest exists requires a court "to examine closely the language of the relevant statutes and regulations." Thompson, 490 U.S. at 461. A regulation creates a liberty interest when it contains "language creating 'substantive predicates' to guide discretion" exercised by prison officials, and "'explicitly mandatory language,' i.e., specific directives ...

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