United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
JOHN J. McCONNELL, Jr., District Judge.
Plaintiff Wayman Turner filed this lawsuit pro se under 18 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking relief against Defendant A.T. Wall, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections ("RI DOC"), James Weeden, Assistant Director of the RI DOC,  and Joseph DiNitto, Associate Director of RI DOC, related to his classification status at the RI DOC and his subsequent transfer to the Florida Department of Corrections. This is Mr. Turner's second lawsuit in this Court regarding his treatment by RI DOC officials. In the current lawsuit, Mr. Turner has filed original, amended, and supplemental Complaints. (ECF Nos. 1, 19, 19-1). The Complaint essentially alleges that his undesirable classification in a high security, closely managed facility both in Rhode Island and later in Florida after an unwanted transfer to Florida was in retaliation for filing lawsuits against RI DOC officials. Id.
Before the Court are six motions - the State Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended and Supplemental Complaint (ECF No. 35) and Defendant James Weeden's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended and Supplemental Complaint (ECF No. 40); Mr. Turner's Motion for an Order Compelling Discovery (ECF No. 48); Motion for Appointment of Counsel (ECF No. 50); Motion for Enforce and Further Relief (ECF No. 51); and Motion Under Catchall Rule (ECF No. 55). Because Defendants' motions to dismiss, if decided in their favor, are dispositive of Mr. Turner's motions, the Court will turn its attention to those first.
In the first lawsuit, filed in 2006, Mr. Turner alleged that, because of RI DOC negligence, he was assaulted by an inmate who was his known enemy with whom he should not have contact. (C.A. No. 06-505-M; ECF No. 69). After the incident and during the duration of the first suit, Mr. Turner was transferred from the RI DOC to a prison in Virginia. Id. at 4. That lawsuit settled in 2012 and, pursuant to the settlement agreement, Mr. Turner returned to Rhode Island. (C.A. No. 06-505-M; ECF Nos. 140, 150). As specified in the settlement agreement, Mr. Turner was to serve the remainder of his sentence in Rhode Island where he would be assigned to High Security until a classification decision could be made, but the RI DOC retained the right to exercise its discretion regarding his placement in accordance with safety and other concerns. (ECF No. 35-2). Despite assurances from Director Wall that his classification was to happen in a matter of weeks, Mr. Turner remained at High Security for several months. In November 2012, Mr. Weeden wrote to Mr. Turner, indicating that his classification review would take place in January 2013. (ECF No. 1-8 at 2). Mr. Weeden told Mr. Turner that his enemy issues prevent his classification to Maximum Security and his lengthy sentence affects his ability to move through the RI DOC system, but that the Classification Board would determine whether he could be placed in Medium. Id.
On a separate track, in February 2013, Mr. Turner was negotiating a deal with the Rhode Island Attorney General's office. (ECF No. 1-5 at 3-4). State prosecutors agreed to reach out to RI DOC administrators in support of such a transfer to another facility in New England in exchange for his testimony against a defendant in another case. (ECF No. 19-1 at 3). Mr. Turner alleges that he met with a classification counselor and signed transfer papers indicating three New England states as his choices. Id. at 3-4. After meeting with a RI DOC attorney, Mr. Turner alleges that he was told that he "might" be transferred from High Security to Maximum Security. Id. at 4. The next month, the State decided against calling Mr. Turner to testify, presumably extinguishing any negotiations between Mr. Turner, the State, and the RI DOC relative to his New England transfer. (ECF No. 1-5 at 5). Mr. Turner remained in High Security, but heard from the Classification Board on November 14, 2013 that it recommended that he be placed in Medium Security. (ECF No. 1-4 at 6). Director Wall has final approval, however, and he rejected the Board's recommendation and indicated that, based on his institutional record before and after his stay in Virginia, Mr. Turner would remain in High Security. Id. at 7. Director Wall affirmed that decision in February 2014, continuing Mr. Turner's placement there with a 90-day review. Id. Mr. Turner, apparently frustrated with his continued detention in High Security, requested a transfer to a facility outside of Rhode Island in April 2014; he was transferred to the Florida Department of Corrections in June of that year. (ECF No. 19-1 at 5; ECF No. 28-2 at 1).
In August of 2014, Mr. Turner filed an Amended Complaint and a Supplemental Complaint, seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF Nos. 19, 19-1). The Amended Complaint seeks injunctive relief and money damages from Director Wall, Mr. Weeden, and Mr. DiNitto in their individual and official capacities, due to Mr. Turner's classification in RI DOC's High Security facility. (ECF No. 19 at 1-3). Mr. Turner alleges that he was placed and retained at High Security in retaliation for filing and settling the 2006 lawsuit, in violation of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Id. at 2. The Supplemental Complaint asserts that the same Defendants retaliated against Mr. Turner by transferring him to the Florida prison system where he is placed on a restricted close management ("CM") status in violation of the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. (ECF No. 19-1 at 2-5). In the Supplemental Complaint, he seeks an injunction ordering the RI DOC to return him to Rhode Island or to another prison in New England. Id. at 2.
Defendants Director Wall and Mr. DiNitto seek dismissal of the Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. (ECF Nos. 35, 40). They make four arguments: (i) the Complaint is procedurally defective; (ii) Mr. Turner lacks standing to challenge his previous placement in High Security at the RI DOC; (iii) Mr. Turner does not have a constitutional right to a particular classification status or prison placement; and (iv) Mr. Turner fails to state a claim for retaliation. Id. Mr. Weeden seeks dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) based on the same four arguments above, but also argues that there are insufficient facts alleged to support a claim against him, specifically referencing the letter he sent Mr. Turner in November of 2012 regarding the Classification Board. (ECF No. 40-1 at 7).
In his objection to both motions to dismiss, Mr. Turner raises his pro se status and seeks the Court's leniency in construing the allegations in his Complaint. (ECF No. 44 at 7). He contends that he has stated several claims, including a viable retaliation claim under § 1983, a conspiracy claim for denial of access to the courts, and a claim for violation of his First Amendment rights. Id. at 8, 11, 12, 13. Mr. Turner contends that Defendants ignored several alternatives to his placement in High Security and in Florida, demonstrating their "goal and motive" to "retaliate against" him. Id. at 15.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
When analyzing a motion to dismiss, this Court must "accept as true all the factual allegations in the complaint and construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.'" Sanchez v. Pereira-Castillo, 590 F.3d 31, 41 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting Alternative Energy, Inc. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 267 F.3d 30, 33 (1st Cir. 2001)). "To avoid dismissal, a complaint must provide a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Garcia-Catalán v. United States, 734 F.3d 100, 102 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). In cases with multiple defendants, the court "must determine whether, as to each defendant, a plaintiff's pleadings are sufficient to state a claim on which relief can be granted." Sanchez, 590 F.3d at 48 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)).
Although the Court must review pleadings of a pro se plaintiff liberally, Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976), the Court need not credit bald assertions or unverifiable conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). At this stage, Mr. Turner "need not demonstrate that [he] is likely to prevail, but [his] claim must suggest more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.'" Garcia-Catalán, 734 F.3d at 102-03 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). The "complaint must contain more than a rote recital of the elements of a cause of action, ' but need not include detailed factual allegations.'" Rodriguez-Vives v. P.R. Firefighters Corps of P.R., 743 F.3d 278, 283 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting Rodriguez-Reyes v. Molina-Rodriguez, 711 F.3d 49, 53 (1st Cir. 2013)).
Plausibility is analyzed in two steps. Garcia-Catalán, 734 F.3d at 103. "First, the court must distinguish the complaint's factual allegations (which must be accepted as true) from its conclusory legal allegations (which need not be credited).'" Id. (quoting Morales-Cruz v. Univ. of P.R., 676 F.3d 220, 224 (1st Cir. 2012)). "Second, the court must determine whether the factual allegations are sufficient to support the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'" Garcia-Catalán, 734 F.3d at 103 (quoting Haley v. City of Boston, 657 F.3d 39, 46 (1st Cir. 2011)). However, the First Circuit has cautioned courts against applying "the plausibility standard too mechanically' and fail[ing] to read complaints as a whole.'" Rodriguez-Vives, 743 F.3d at 283 (quoting Garcia-Catalán, 734 F.3d at 101, 103). "In ...