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Johnson v. Secretary of Corrections

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 27, 2018



         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs civil rights complaint (Doc. 2).[1] Plaintiff is incarcerated and appears pro se. After reviewing the complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court will dismiss the complaint and grant Plaintiff thirty (30) days from the entry of this Order to amend his pleading.

         Standards Governing Dismissal of Prisoner Civil Rights Complaints

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) requires the Court to accept all well-pleaded allegations as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 118 (1990); Swanson v. Bixler, 750 F.2d 810, 813 (10th Cir.1984). The complaint must set forth the grounds of a plaintiffs entitlement to relief through more than labels, conclusions and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to state a plausible claim of relief. Id. at 570. A claim is facially plausible if the plaintiff pleads facts sufficient for the court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.

         Where, as here, a prisoner civil rights action is removed from state court, the Court must also perform a screening function under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 A. Under that section, the Court has discretion to dismiss a prisoner civil rights complaint sua sponte "if the complaint ... is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915 A(b). In conducting the § 1915 A review, the pleadings of the pro se prisoner "are to be construed liberally and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). Courts are directed to overlook "failure to cite proper legal authority, ... confusion of various legal theories, ... poor syntax and sentence construction, or ... unfamiliarity with pleading requirements." Id.

         Factual Allegations

         For the limited purpose of this ruling, the Court assumes the following facts taken from Plaintiffs Complaint are true.

         Plaintiff is incarcerated at the Otero County Correction Facility ("OCCF") in Chaparral, New Mexico. See Doc. 1-1, p. 1-2. On February 1, 2016, he "was assigned to work in the laundry room from 5:00 AM to 10:00 AM." See Doc. 1-1, p. 2. At some point Laundry Supervisor J. Ramirez "needed his workers to work until twelve (12) PM." Id. This schedule conflicted with the Islamic religious service Plaintiff attends every Friday from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Id. at p. 2-3. Plaintiff also alleges that working a seven-hour shift is not required by OCCF policy, which allows inmates to accrue good time credits if they perform five hours of work per shift. Id. at p. 2. According to Plaintiff, another policy states any overtime must be approved by the Warden. Id. at p. 3.

         On Friday February 26, 2016, Plaintiff was permitted to leave work at 10:00 a.m. to attend religious services. Id. at p. 4. Plaintiff left two hours before the service to shower, which is permitted by OCCF policy. Id. Ramirez then fired Plaintiff. Id. Classification Supervisor Nolasco reassigned Plaintiff to a Pod Porter job, where he earned 10 cents less per hour and about $25 less per month. Id.

         Thereafter, Ramirez "began a systematic approach to falsify a performance evaluation to cover up the real reason [Plaintiff] was being fired." Id. at p. 3-4. The poor evaluation was not accompanied by a disciplinary report, as required by OCCF policy. Id. at p. 5. Plaintiff further alleges he is African American, and Ramirez is a "known ... racist" and "is trained to discriminate[] against and abuse prisoners...." Id. at p. 3. "Captain Ochoa, Classification Supervisor Nolasco, and Warden Ramirez openly support [Ramirez's] attitude and enable him to openly practice racial and religious discrimination." Id. Although "Warden Simmons ... personally disagrees with" them, she is "unable to openly oppose them" and takes no actions to protect prisoners. Id.

         Plaintiff filed two informal grievances after his termination from the laundry job. Id. at p. 5. Officer Valle investigated the matter, but Plaintiff asserts it was "impossible to conclude what his investigation results are based on." Id. at p. 6. However, a grievance officer (possibly Valle) told Plaintiff he was reassigned "due to [his] religious class interfering with your work." Id. at p. 5.

         Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff filed a pro se Complaint for "racial discrimination, " "religious discrimination, " and "defamation of character" in New Mexico's First Judicial District Court, case no. D-l01-CV-2017-00271. The Complaint seeks $3, 000 in damages from each Defendant and injunctive relief that would allow him to practice his religious beliefs. Id. at p. 7-8. Defendants removed the case to this Court on April 12, 2017. See Doc. 1. Thereafter, Defendants filed the Motion to Dismiss, asserting the Complaint fails to state a claim and that the Otero County Manager is entitled to qualified immunity. See Doc. 2.


         A. Jurisdiction

         As an initial matter, Plaintiff appears to challenge this Court's subject matter and personal jurisdiction over the suit. See Docs. 3, 7. Federal courts have subject matter jurisdiction over an action where: (1) the face of the complaint raises a federal question; or (2) the parties' citizenship is diverse and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332; Karnes v. Boeing Co.,335 F.3d 1189, 1192 (10th Cir. 2003). Plaintiff concedes the Complaint raises federal constitutional claims. See Doc. 3, p. 1 (Plaintiff notes: "the question involved is both a state and federal constitutional question"); Doc. 7, p. 1 (acknowledging "the controversy is also a matter the federal constitutional [must] ...

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