Coburn
v.
Miller

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF OKLAHOMAAug 8, 2018
Case No. CIV-15-642-HE (W.D. Okla. Aug. 8, 2018)

Case No. CIV-15-642-HE

08-08-2018

CHAD A. COBURN, Plaintiff, v. CHAD MILLER et al., Defendants.


REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Plaintiff Chad A. Coburn, a state prisoner appearing pro se and proceeding in forma pauperis, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Chief United States District Judge Joe Heaton has referred this matter to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for initial proceedings in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff initiated this action on June 1, 2015, alleging violation of his due process and equal protection rights based on the unlawful deprivation of personal property. See Compl. (Doc. No. 1); Pl.'s Am. Br. (Doc. No. 48). Defendants Mayhem, Amin, Battles, and Hilligoes move for dismissal of Plaintiff's claims, asserting that Plaintiff did not, prior to commencing this lawsuit, exhaust his available administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA"), codified in pertinent part at 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). See Defs.' Mot. (Doc. No. 58) at 1-5; see also Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 219-20 (2007) ("All [courts] agree that no unexhausted claim may be considered."). Plaintiff has responded. See Pl.'s Resp. (Doc. No. 59). Plaintiff has also filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 55), to which Defendants did not respond. See Reed v. Bennett, 312 F.3d 1190, 1195 (10th Cir. 2002) ("[A] party's failure to file a response to a summary judgment motion is not, by itself, a sufficient basis on which to enter judgment against the party.").

Plaintiff's Complaint also names Chad Miller, the Warden of Cimarron Correctional Facility ("CCF"), as a defendant. The Court has dismissed Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Miller pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m). See Order of Sept. 7, 2017 (Doc. No. 33).

PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS

Plaintiff's claims arise from events that transpired following Plaintiff's transfer from CCF, a facility in Cushing, Oklahoma, operated by a company formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America ("CCA"), to Davis Correctional Facility ("DCF") in Holdenville, Oklahoma, which is also operated by CCA. Plaintiff alleges that CCF failed to send certain personal property items to DCF when Plaintiff was transferred on January 8, 2014. See Compl. at 6; Pl.'s Am. Br. at 5-8. Plaintiff asserts that in failing to deliver to him his television, watch, and "commissary," Defendants deprived Plaintiff of his personal property without due process and violated his right to equal protection. See Pl.'s Am. Br. at 4, 6, 8. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages. See id. at 9; Compl. at 6.

Citations to page numbers herein use the CM/ECF pagination.

ANALYSIS

I. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

A. Standard of Review and Materials Considered

Asserting that Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies, Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Defs.' Mot. at 1-5; Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). "Although failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense, it may be raised in a motion to dismiss asserting a failure to state a claim when the grounds for this defense appear on the face of the complaint." Burnett v. Okla. Dep't of Corr., No. 17-6202, 2018 WL 2470909, at *1 (10th Cir. Jun. 4, 2018).

In analyzing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court "accept[s] as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and view[s] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Burnett v. Mortg. Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., 706 F.3d 1231, 1235 (10th Cir. 2013). A complaint fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted when it lacks factual allegations sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (footnote and citation omitted). Bare legal conclusions in a complaint are not entitled to the assumption of truth; "they must be supported by factual allegations" to state a claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

In evaluating Defendants' Motion, the undersigned has considered as Plaintiff's pleading the completed Complaint form submitted by Plaintiff and the "Brief" and exhibits attached by Plaintiff to that document. See Doc. No. 1, at 1-6; Doc. No. 1-1, at 1-14; id. at 15-25 (Plaintiff's Exhibits A through K); Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c). The undersigned also has considered the revised (but largely duplicative) version of the "Brief" and exhibits that were submitted subsequently by Plaintiff, which are accepted as an amendment to Plaintiff's Complaint. See Doc. No. 48, at 1-9; Doc. Nos. 48-1 to -11 (refiled copies of Exhibits A through K to initial Complaint); Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1). Finally, the undersigned has considered the grievance policy that was provided by Defendants in the court-ordered Special Report, as the prison's lost-property remedies are referred to by Plaintiff in the Complaint and are central to Plaintiff's claims, and there is no dispute as to its authenticity. See Compl. at 1, 3; Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1098 (10th Cir. 2009) (noting that in a Rule 12(b)(6) review, the court may consider the complaint, "attached exhibits," "documents incorporated into the complaint by reference," and documents "referred to in the complaint if the documents are central to the plaintiff's claim and the parties do not dispute the documents' authenticity" (internal quotation marks omitted)); Burnett v. Okla. Dep't of Corr., No. CIV-16-609-M, 2017 WL 4077029, at *2 (W.D. Okla. June 22, 2017) (R. & R.) (considering exhaustion documents in special report when reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion because the documents were "central to the issue" of exhaustion and Plaintiff referenced them in his complaint), adopted, 2017 WL 4054151 (W.D. Okla. Sept. 13, 2017).

B. The PLRA

The PLRA provides that no action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 may be brought by a prisoner regarding conditions of confinement "until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); see also Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90, 93-103 (2006) (explaining that § 1997e(a) requires "proper exhaustion"—i.e., "using all steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly (so that the agency addresses the issues on the merits)" (internal quotation marks omitted)). "Proper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules because no adjudicative system can function effectively without imposing some orderly structure on the course of its proceedings." Ngo, 548 U.S. at 90-91. The PLRA's exhaustion requirement "applies fully when the plaintiff is a federal or state inmate held in a privately operated facility." Ross v. Cty. of Bernalillo, 365 F.3d 1181, 1184 (10th Cir. 2004), abrogated on other grounds by Jones, 549 U.S. 199.

C. Summary of the Pleading and Relevant Grievance Policy

During the relevant period, CCF had adopted CCA's Policy Number 14-6: Inmate/Resident Property Policy ("CCA Property Policy") (eff. Mar. 14, 2007), through which a prisoner may seek administrative relief on property-related claims. See S.R. Ex. 1 (Doc. No. 57-1). To exhaust a claim under this policy that is related to lost, damaged, or stolen property, inmates are first required to request a claim investigation by submitting a 14-6D Lost/Damaged/Stolen Personal Property Claim form within seven days of the incident. See id. at 17-18, 21. The CCA Property Policy provides that if property is determined to be missing when an inmate is transferred from one CCA facility to another, "the 14-6D will be completed and forwarded to the sending facility" and "[t]he sending facility will initiate an investigation into the matter upon receipt of the completed 14-6D." S.R. Ex. 1, at 20; see Jackson v. Wilkinson, 671 F. App'x 717, 717 (10th Cir. 2016); see also Pl.'s Am. Br. Ex. 1, at 2 (stating that "the only remedy to exhaustion on a property issue is the Lost/Stolen Property Claim"). If the claim for replacement or reimbursement is denied, inmates can then appeal by submitting a 14-6E Denied Property Claim Appeal form to the Property Officer within seven days of receipt of the denial. See S.R. Ex. 1, at 18, 20, 21; see also Coburn v. Wilkinson, No. CIV-15-195-RAW-SPS, 2016 WL 4995480, at *2 (E.D. Okla. Sept. 19, 2016), aff'd, 700 F. App'x 834 (10th Cir. 2017).

Plaintiff was transferred from CCF to DCF on January 8, 2014. See Pl.'s Am. Br. at 5. Plaintiff submitted his 14-6D Claim Form pursuant to the CCA Property Policy on January 29, 2014. See Pl.'s Am. Br. Ex. 7, at 1 (identifying lost items as surge protector, television, watch, phone book, Koran, boots, canteen, headphones, and headphone extension). On the line provided for the date of loss, Plaintiff wrote, "Found out on this day." Id. Just below that line, he wrote, "1-8-14." Id. Plaintiff asserts that this claim was not investigated or answered by prison officials. See Pl.'s Am. Br. Ex. 1, at 2. On February 7, 2014, CCF sent Plaintiff some of the items listed on the 14-6 Claim Form. See Pl.'s Am. Br. Ex. 11 (Doc. No. 48-11) (identifying returned items as electrical power bar, headset, shower shoes, and personal hygiene items). According to Plaintiff, CCF sent the remote to his television, but not his television, and that it was "at that moment, [CCF staff] knew that [Plaintiff] did not receive or get his T.V." Pl.'s Am. Br. at 6. Plaintiff also contends that his watch and "commissary" were not among the items delivered on February 7, 2014. Id. at 4.

Although Plaintiff's form is labeled "FORM 14-6A," it is in substance the same Lost/Damaged/Stolen Personal Property Form referenced as the "14-6D" claim form in the CCA Property Policy. See S.R. Ex. 1, at 17-18; Pl.'s Am. Br. Ex. 7, at 1.

At some point between February 7, 2014, and March 6, 2014, Plaintiff's mother contacted CCF regarding the whereabouts of Plaintiff's television but was told that all of Plaintiff's remaining property, including his television, had been sent to DCF. Pl.'s Am. Br. at 6-7; Pl.'s Am. Br. Ex. 10 (Doc. No. 48-10) at 1. Plaintiff does not allege that he took any further steps authorized by the CCA Property Policy, such as the filing of a new 14-6D Claim Form or a 14-6E Denied Property Claim Appeal, regarding the property items he alleges were not delivered to him on February 7. See Pl.'s Am. Br. Ex. 1, at 2; Pl.'s Resp. at 1-3.

Plaintiff alleges that he also made requests pursuant to ODOC's Offender Grievance Process. Plaintiff states that on January 15, 2014—one week after his transfer to DCF—he submitted a Request to Staff to the CCF Property Officer and Warden. See Pl.'s Am. Br. Ex. 1 (48-1) at 2. Plaintiff alleges that he did not receive a response to that Request to Staff. See id. Further, on March 6, 2014, Plaintiff sent a Request to Staff to the DCF Property Officer in which he requested to be told "what[']s going on," as CCF and DCF each had told him that his television was with the other facility. Pl.'s Am. Br. Ex. 10, at 1; see Pl.'s Am. Br. at 6-7. In response to this Request to Staff, DCF reaffirmed that Plaintiff's television had not arrived at DCF and told Plaintiff that he would need to pursue the issue with CCF rather than DCF. Pl.'s Am. Br. Ex. 10, at 1; see Pl.'s Am. Br. at 6-7. Plaintiff acknowledges, however, that "privately contracted facility property issues are not grievable" under ODOC's policy and that the "remedy to exhaustion on a property issue is the lost/stolen personal property claim" process provided in the CCA Property Policy. Pl.'s Am. Br. Ex. 1, at 2; accord S.R. Ex. 1, at 2, 17-18.

D. Discussion

Defendants are entitled to dismissal based upon their theory of nonexhaustion if they show that it is evident from Plaintiff's pleading and other properly considered documents that administrative remedies for Plaintiff's property claims "were, in fact, available" and that Plaintiff failed to exhaust them. See Purkey v. CCA Det. Ctr., 263 F. App'x 723, 726 (10th Cir. 2008). Relying on Plaintiff's statement on his 14-6D Claim Form that he "found out" about the loss of property on January 8, 2014—his date of transfer—Defendants argue the CCA Property Policy required that form to have been filed seven days later—i.e., by January 15, 2014—and Plaintiff's January 29, 2014 filing failed to meet the deadline. See Defs.' Mot. at 4-5.

Liberally construing Plaintiff's pro se pleading, as the Court is required to do, the undersigned disagrees that it is plain from the face of that pleading that the "incident" triggering the seven-day claim period was Plaintiff's arrival at DCF without his property. Notwithstanding Plaintiff's notation of that date, the facts alleged plausibly suggest that property of a transferred inmate would be delivered to a transferee facility some time after the inmate's arrival, as indeed occurred here when much of Plaintiff's property was delivered to him on February 7, 2014. See Pl.'s Am. Br. Ex. 11, at 1. Thus, while Plaintiff may have known on January 8, 2014, that his property was not transferred with him on that date, the undersigned reasonably infers that it was not until some time later that Plaintiff would have concluded that some or all of his property would not be transferred at all. See Pl.'s Am. Br. Ex. 7, at 1 (Plaintiff stating, on 14-6D Claim Form, submitted January 29, 2014, "Found out on this day"). Viewing the allegations and reasonable inferences in favor of Plaintiff, the undersigned cannot say that Plaintiff's January 29, 2014 14-6D Claim Form was plainly untimely.

Alternatively, if the failure to deliver Plaintiff's property at the time of transfer (i.e., on January 8, 2014) is accepted as the triggering "incident" for the seven-day claim period, the facts alleged plausibly suggest that the lateness of Plaintiff's claim would have been obviated by Defendants' subsequent actions. As alleged by Plaintiff, Defendant did not deny Plaintiff's claim (or notify him of any such denial) as required by the CCA Property Policy but, instead, delivered much of Plaintiff's property to him approximately one week after the 14-6D Claim Form was submitted. See Pl.'s Am. Br. Ex. 11, at 1. Those actions are plausibly viewed as a decision to respond to the claim on the merits—by producing the property—which would waive any violation of the seven-day deadline. See Ross, 365 F.3d at 1186 ("If a prison accepts a belated filing, and considers it on the merits, that step makes the filing proper for purposes of state law and avoids exhaustion, default, and timeliness hurdles in federal court."), abrogated on other grounds by Jones, 549 U.S. 199.

Accordingly, Defendants are not entitled to dismissal based upon their defense that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies by submitting an untimely claim. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss should be denied.

These findings do not mean that Defendant may not ultimately prevail on the defense of nonexhaustion of administrative remedies. Under either alternative discussed above, the resulting questions would be whether the CCA Property Policy required Plaintiff to take any additional action upon the February 7, 2014 delivery of some—but not all—of his property, and, if so, whether he did take the required action(s). Those questions are beyond the scope of Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) Motion and their resolution would likely require the consideration of matters beyond the pleadings. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d).

II. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment

The undersigned now turns to Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and recommends that it also be denied.

A. Standard of Review

A motion for summary judgment is a means of testing in advance of trial whether the available evidence would permit a reasonable jury to find in favor of the party asserting a claim. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). The Court must grant summary judgment when "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A party moving for summary judgment has the initial burden of showing that the undisputed material facts require judgment as a matter of law in its favor. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), (e). If the moving party has the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial—e.g., when a plaintiff seeks summary judgment on its claim or a defendant on its affirmative defense—the moving party initially "must establish, as a matter of law, all essential elements of the issue before the nonmoving party can be obligated to bring forward any specific facts alleged to rebut the movant's case." Pelt v. Utah, 539 F.3d 1271, 1280 (10th Cir. 2002); see also Leone v. Owsley, 810 F.3d 1149, 1153-54 (10th Cir. 2015).

B. Discussion

Plaintiff's Motion fails to comply with the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and Local Civil Rule 56.1, including that he "identify[] each claim or defense—or the part of each claim or defense—on which summary judgment is sought" and support his statements with citations to material in the record. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also LCvR 56.1(d) ("Each individual statement by the movant . . . shall be followed by citation, with particularity, to any evidentiary material that the party presents in support of its position to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).").

As the moving party, Plaintiff "bears the initial burden of presenting evidence to show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Trainor v. Apollo Metal Specialties, Inc., 318 F.3d 976, 979 (10th Cir. 20002). Plaintiff "must support a claim that a fact is not genuinely disputed by citing to particular parts of materials in the record." Mayfield v. Harvey Cty Sheriff's Dep't, No. 17-3197, 2018 WL 2017250, at *3 (10th Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted). Here, Plaintiff fails to identify specific claims or cite to a single piece of evidentiary material. See Bones v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc., 366 F.3d 869, 875 (10th Cir. 2004) ("Unsubstantiated allegations carry no probative weight in summary judgment proceedings."); Mayfield, 2018 WL 2017250, at *3 (affirming denial of motion for summary judgment where the motion "cite[d] no evidence supporting [the] factual assertions"). Accordingly, Plaintiff has not met the stringent standard for obtaining summary judgment in his favor on his own claims, and Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment should be denied.

Plaintiff contends that he is entitled to summary judgment solely because Defendants had not, at that time, responded to his claims. See Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 1. Insofar as Plaintiff's Motion may be construed as a Motion for Default Judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2), the Motion should be denied as premature, as default has not been entered under Rule 55(a). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b)(2); Garrett v. Seymour, 217 F. App'x 835, 838 (10th Cir. 2007); Watkins v. Donnelly, 551 F. App'x 953, 958 (10th Cir. 2014). --------

RECOMMENDATION

For the foregoing reasons, the undersigned recommends that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 58) be DENIED. The undersigned also recommends that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 55) be DENIED.

NOTICE OF RIGHT TO OBJECT

The parties are advised of their right to file an objection to the Report and Recommendation with the Clerk of this Court by August 29, 2018, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72. The parties are further advised that failure to timely object to this Report and Recommendation waives the right to appellate review of both factual and legal issues contained herein. See Moore v. United States, 950 F.2d 656, 659 (10th Cir. 1991).

This Report and Recommendation does not dispose of all issues referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge in the present case.

ENTERED this 8th day of August, 2018.

/s/_________


CHARLES B. GOODWIN


UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE