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Monk v. Dawn

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 26, 2018

MARVIN D. MONK, # 14303-033, Plaintiff,


          J. Phil Gilbert District Judge.

         Plaintiff, an inmate in the United States Penitentiary at Marion (“Marion”), 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). Plaintiff is serving a 240-month sentence for Enticement of a Person Under the Age of 18 to Engage in Criminal Sexual Activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b)[1] and Production of Child Pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a). See Monk v. United States of America, Case No. 12-cr-120 (W.D. Ken., Doc. 103) (government's response to motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255).[2] The conduct giving rise to the indictment included enticing a minor (Plaintiff's stepdaughter) to engage in sexual activity and producing visual depictions of sexually explicit conduct with that minor. See Monk v. United States of America, No. 12-cr-120 (W.D. Ken., Docs. 1 and 103). A search warrant on Plaintiff's iPhone revealed sexually explicit text messages between Plaintiff and the minor victim, including sexually explicit photos. See Monk v. United States of America, No. 12-cr-120 (W.D. Ken., Doc. 103). Additionally, the arresting agency recovered an 8mm video cassette that contained footage of Plaintiff and the minor victim engaging in sexual activity. Id.

         After his arraignment, Plaintiff was remanded to the custody of the United States Marshal and ordered to have no direct or indirect contact with the victim. Id. Despite this clear directive, Plaintiff contacted the victim on multiple occasions. Id. He did so by writing letters to the victim, [3] prompting the United States to file a motion to restrict Plaintiff's outgoing mail. See Monk v. United States of America, No. 12-cr-120 (W.D. Ken., Docs. 28, 29, 30, and 103).

         Plaintiff brings this action seeking an order to require the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to allow him to use the prison's electronic public messaging service (“TRULINCS”) and for monetary damages for denying him access to the same. Access to this method of correspondence with persons outside the prison is generally available to federal prisoners. However, on January 15, 2016, when Plaintiff arrived at Marion, Defendant Dawn (Marion's Case Manager Coordinator) prohibited Plaintiff from using this system. (Doc. 1, pp. 4, 18). Use of the system was denied based on Plaintiff's “offense conduct and personal history.” (Doc. 1, pp. 4, 18). Since then, Plaintiff has submitted several grievances seeking access to TRULINCS. (Doc. 1, pp. 4-19). All of Plaintiff's requests for permission to use TRULINCS have been denied, as have his administrative appeals of those denials. Id. Plaintiff asserts that the decision to deny him this privilege was “arbitrary and capricious, ” when other inmates with similar conduct are allowed to use electronic messaging. (Doc. 1, pp. 5-7). He protests the decision as discriminatory and a violation of his right to equal protection. Id. In addition, he claims that the officials who denied his grievances and related appeals violated his “First Amendment right to redress when they failed to take the appropriate action in response to [his] administrative remedy process, ” thereby denying Plaintiff “a meaningful review.” (Doc. 1, p. 7).

         Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

         Under § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint, and to dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from an immune defendant. After fully considering the allegations in the Complaint, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has failed to state a cognizable claim for violation of his constitutional rights. Therefore, this action is subject to summary dismissal.

         A. Program Statement Number 4500.11

         According to the Complaint, restricting Plaintiff's access to the TRULINCS program was an arbitrary and abusive application of BOP Program Statement Number 4500.11, [4] which governs the Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer System (TRULINCS) - Electronic Messaging.[5] This policy states, in pertinent part, “Use of the TRULINCS is a privilege; therefore, the Warden or an authorized representative may limit or deny the privilege of a particular inmate.” PS 4500.11, § 14.2, p. 127. Section 14.9 governs “System Access, ” and provides that “[a]n inmate's exclusion from participation must be based on their individual history of behavior that could jeopardize the legitimate penological interests listed above [protecting the “safety, security, or orderly operation of the correctional facility, or the protection of the public or staff.”]. Inmates must not be excluded from program participation based on general categorizations of previous conduct.” PS 4500.11, § 14.9a, p. 131. Section 14.9a. (1) specifically addresses sex offenders, providing that “[i]nmates whose offense, conduct, or other personal history indicates a propensity to offend through the use of email or jeopardizes the safety, security, orderly operation of the correctional facility, or the protection of the public or staff, should be seriously considered for restriction.” PS 4500.11, § 14.9a. (1). Inmates convicted of sex offenses are not categorically excluded from participation. As Defendant Deaton noted in resolving one of Plaintiff's grievances, Plaintiff's restricted access was based on his “offense conduct and personal history.” (Doc. 1, p. 18). Further, “all cases are reviewed individually and are not compared to other inmates cases.” Id.

         Under this policy and guidelines, it appears that the denial of Plaintiff's request to participate in TRULINCS was not arbitrary or capricious, but was based on the above policy and on Plaintiff's own personal history of enticing his minor stepdaughter to engage in sexually explicit conduct; exchanging sexually explicit text messages with his minor daughter, including photographs of his penis and her genitals; producing child pornography depicting sexually explicit acts with his minor stepdaughter; and violating a no-contact order following his arraignment. The policy cited by Plaintiff gives officials discretion to restrict Plaintiff from using TRULINCS based on this offense conduct. More to the point, not every denial of a “privilege” (such as access to TRULINCS) amounts to a constitutional violation.

         B. Equal Protection

         Plaintiff suggests that he has been denied equal protection because other inmates with “similar” offense conduct are permitted access to TRULINCS, and he purports to bring an equal protection claim as a “class of one.” (Doc. 1, pp. 6-7).

         An equal protection claim may be brought under a “class of one” theory, alleging that the plaintiff has been treated differently from others similarly situated, without a rational basis for the difference in treatment. See Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564 (2000). “Class-of-one discrimination is illustrated when a public official, with no conceivable basis for his action other than spite or some other improper motive ... comes down hard on a hapless private citizen.” Brunson v. Murray, 843 F.3d 698, 705 (7th Cir. 2016) (internal quotations omitted) (quoting Swanson v. City of Chetek, 719 F.3d 780, 784 (7th Cir. 2013), and Lauth v. McCollum, 424 F.3d 631, 633 (7th Cir. 2005)). A plaintiff may plead himself out of court if the complaint provides a rational basis for the treatment at issue. D.B. ex rel. Kurtis B. v. Kopp, 725 F.3d 681, 686 (7th Cir. 2013).

         In the instant case, the Complaint and attached exhibits refute Plaintiff's equal protection claim. Marion officials articulated a rational basis, consistent with the BOP's program statement and guidelines and based on Plaintiff's individual history of offense behavior, for denying Plaintiff access to TRULINCS. See Vill. of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564 (2000) (plaintiff alleging class-of-one equal protection claim must plead that he was “intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated and that there is no rational basis for the difference in treatment.”).

         C. First Amendment ...

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