United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Preston Blake, a New Mexico inmate proceeding pro se, asserts
claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Lea County
Correctional Facility, Geo Group Inc., Lea County
Correctional Facility wardens R. Smith and J. Beaird, and
correctional officers L. Rivas and Puente. PRISONER'S
CIVIL RIGHTS COMPLAINT (“Complaint”) (Doc. No.
1). In Count I, Plaintiff alleges due process violations
arising from a prison disciplinary hearing and appeal.
Id. at 2-3. In Count II, Plaintiff alleges First,
Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment violations stemming from the
purported confiscation and destruction of his property,
including legal documents. Id. at 3. Finally, in
Count III, Plaintiff claims that Defendants interfered with
his access to the courts by prohibiting him from accessing
the prison law library. Id. at 4. For the reasons
below, the Court sua sponte will dismiss
Plaintiff's claims against defendants Lea County
Correctional Facility and Geo Group Inc. The Court further
concludes that Plaintiff states valid claims in Count II,
specifically with respect to Plaintiff's First and
Fourteenth Amendment access to the courts and retaliation
claims. The Court will dismiss Plaintiff's remaining
claims without prejudice.
August 1, 2016, Plaintiff received a visitor at Lea County
Correctional Facility. Complaint at 13. Correctional
officers, suspicious that the visitor may be attempting to
smuggle contraband into the prison, interviewed the visitor.
Id. During the interview, the visitor confessed to
carrying contraband on her person. Id. Following a
search, correctional officers discovered that the visitor
carried thirteen strips of suboxone and 2.32 grams of
methamphetamine into the prison. Id. Subsequently,
correctional officers filed an inmate misconduct report
charging Plaintiff with dealing in dangerous drugs.
Id. Plaintiff asserts that on the same day
correctional officer Defendant Puente confiscated
Plaintiff's personal property, including a television,
headphones, game console, clothes, supplies, and documents.
Id. at 3.
August 9, 2016, Plaintiff was the subject of a disciplinary
hearing on the charge of dealing in dangerous drugs.
Id. at 19. Plaintiff contends that Defendant Rivas,
a disciplinary officer, prevented Plaintiff from calling
witnesses at the disciplinary hearing. Id. 1-3.
Plaintiff maintains that Defendant Rivas denied Plaintiff
assistance in the preparation of his defense and prevented
Plaintiff from collecting evidence in advance of the hearing.
Finally, he alleges that Defendant Rivas did not present any
of the evidence identified on the inmate misconduct report.
Id. at 3, 13. Even so, Defendant Rivas ultimately
found Plaintiff guilty of dealing in dangerous drugs.
Id. at 19. As sanctions, Defendant Rivas recommended
thirty days of disciplinary segregation and 365 days of
visitation, commissary, and phone suspension. Id.
Plaintiff also claims he “lost approximately six weeks
of good time.” Id. at 8.
filed an appeal of Defendant Rivas's disciplinary
determination. Plaintiff claimed that: (1) the officers did
not follow disciplinary polies; (2) the evidence did not
support the decision; (3) the sanctions were excessive; and
(4) new information would change the outcome of the decision.
Id. at 27. Defendant Smith, Lea County Correctional
Facility warden, denied Plaintiff's appeal on all four
thirty days in disciplinary segregation, on August 1, 2016,
Plaintiff received two trash bags containing the documents
confiscated by Defendant Puente. Id. at 8. The
documents purportedly included legal papers such as an
alleged statement from an alibi witness and a petition for
writ of habeas corpus. Id. at 3. Those documents,
however, were “torn and trashed.” Id.
According to Plaintiff, Defendant Puente acted with a
retaliatory motive-Plaintiff had filed grievances against
Defendant Puente in the past. Id. at 8. Plaintiff
also claims that Defendant Beaird, warden secretary, saw the
trashed documents after correctional officers returned them
to Plaintiff. Id. at 8-9. According to Plaintiff,
Defendant Beaird later returned to Plaintiff's cell and
confiscated the documents in an alleged conspiracy to cover
up Defendant Puente's actions. Id. at 9.
has since been transferred to a different correctional
facility. See Id. at 4. Even so, Plaintiff claims
that from August 1, 2016, to the date he was transferred, he
was denied access to the law library at Lea County
Correctional Facility. Id. Specifically, he asserts
that while in segregation he could not access computers for
legal research. Id. He further claims that most
books have been removed from the law library or are on
restricted access. Id.
August 8, 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint in federal
district court asserting that Defendants violated his civil
rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. at 2. In
Count I, Plaintiff claims that Defendants Rivas and Smith
violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth
Amendment based on their conduct during the disciplinary
hearing and appeal. Id. at 8. He also appears to
challenge his sanctions under the Due Process Clause.
Id. In Count II, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant
Puente violated his equal protection and due process rights
under the Fourteenth Amendment and denied him access to the
courts in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Id. at 8-9. Finally, in Count III, Plaintiff claims
that Defendants injured his First and Fourteenth Amendment
rights when they denied him access to the prison law library.
Court has the discretion to dismiss an in forma pauperis
complaint sua sponte under 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2) “at any time if . . . the action . . . is
frivolous or malicious; [or] fails to state a claim on which
relief may be granted.” The Court also may dismiss a
complaint sua sponte under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(6) for failure to state
a claim if “it is ‘patently obvious' that the
plaintiff could not prevail on the facts alleged, and
allowing him an opportunity to amend his complaint would be
futile.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110
(10th Cir. 1991) (quoting McKinney v. Oklahoma, Dep't
of Human Services, 925 F.2d 363, 365 (10th Cir. 1991)).
A plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim
to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
“[A] court must accept as true all of the allegations
contained in a complaint, ” and those factual
allegations must “allow[ ] the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at
556). In reviewing Plaintiff's pro se complaint, the
Court liberally construes the allegations. See Garrett v.
Selby Connor Maddux & Janer, 425 F.3d 836, 840 (10th
Cir. 2005). The Court will not, however, “assume the
role of the advocate for the pro se litigant.”
Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110.
Section 1983 requirements
cause of action under section 1983 requires the deprivation
of a civil right by a ‘person' acting under color
of state law.” McLaughlin v. Bd. of Trustees,
215 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2000). The plaintiff must
allege that each government official, through the
official's own individual actions, has personally
violated the Constitution. See Trask v. Franco, 446
F.3d 1036, 1046 (10th Cir. 1998). Here, Plaintiff alleges
that the individual defendants,  acting under color of state
law, deprived him of his civil rights. Complaint at 1-2, 7.
Accordingly, Plaintiff satisfies the preliminary requirements
under § 1983 to bring claims against the individual
respect to the remaining two defendants, Plaintiff has failed
to state a valid claim. Lea County Correctional Facility is a
detention center and, thus, is not a suable entity for
purposes of § 1983. See White v. Utah, 5
Fed.Appx. 852, 853 (10th Cir. 2001) (upholding dismissal of
suit against county jail because there was “no
statutory or case authority supporting a direct action
against a county's subdivisions, including its
jails”). Geo Group Inc. is a private entity.
Generally, private entities are only liable if they
promulgated a policy that caused a deprivation of
constitutional rights. See Hinton v. City of Elwood,
Kan., 997 F.2d 774, 782 (10th Cir. 1993); Dodd v.
Richardson, 614 F.3d 1185, 1195 (10th ...