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Turner v. Wall

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

August 24, 2018




         Wayman Turner, an inmate in the custody of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections ("RIDOC") and proceeding pro se, alleges that the RIDOC director and his employees unlawfully retaliated against him by assigning him a High Security classification at the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institutions and then transferring him to Florida because he had filed a lawsuit against RIDOC. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 162.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court has chronicled many of the facts in this case in a previous order. See ECF No. 74 at 2-5. Because the First Circuit remanded this case on the sole issue of Mr. Turner's claims of retaliation (ECF No. 90), the facts will be limited to those necessary to analyze and decide that issue.

         A. The 2006 Lawsuit

         In 2006, Mr. Turner filed a lawsuit against RIDOC alleging that another inmate who was his known enemy assaulted him and that RIDOC was negligent by housing them together. See Turner v. Wall, No. 06-505 (D.R.I. Nov. 22, 2006), ECF No. 1. Following the assault, RIDOC transferred Mr. Turner to a prison in Virginia, The parties ultimately settled this 2006 lawsuit in March 2012. The settlement agreement provided in part that RIDOC would bring Mr. Turner back to Rhode Island. In relevant part, the settlement agreement stated:

The State of Rhode Island shall cause Wayman Turner to be returned to the custody of the State of Rhode Island, Adult Correction Institutions (ACI), where he will initially be housed at the High Security Facility. Further decisions on classification/housing and/or the terms and conditions of Turner's confinement will be pursuant to the laws of the State of Rhode Island and any applicable Department of Corrections (DOC) policies and procedures, as is the case with the rest of the inmate population. . . . [N]othing contained herein restricts the DOC from transferring or reassessing Turner's classification, which shall be based on the health, safety, welfare, and housing of Turner, other inmates, DOC staff and/or visitors, as is the case with the rest of the inmate population.

ECF No. 163-2 at 5 (emphasis added).

         B. Mr. Turner Returns to Rhode Island - The Classification Board

         Upon his return to Rhode Island in 2012, RIDOC placed him in its High Security Facility.[1] Soon after, Mr. Turner wrote a letter to RIDOC Warden James Weeden stating that he "fe[lt] it would be in [his] best interest" not to transfer directly from High Security to Medium Security, which he predicted "would be rough." ECF No. 163-10 at 2. Rather, Mr. Turner requested that RIDOC transfer him to Maximum Security first before transferring him to Medium Security. He admitted that one of his listed enemies was in Maximum Security, but claimed that this would not be an issue.[2]

         Mr. Turner went before the RIDOC Classification Board on at least six occasions. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-56-31 (explaining duties and role of the Board). Following these hearings, the Classification Board forwarded its recommendations to the RIDOC director, who had final authority to approve or deny the Board's recommendations.[3] See id.

         On two occasions during this period, Director Wall did not follow the recommendations of the majority of the Classification Board concerning Mr. Turner. Director Wall testified that "[i]n reviewing any request regarding Plaintiffs classification or transfer, [he] considered the length of his sentence, the date he would be eligible for parole, his disciplinary history in Rhode Island and Virginia, his ongoing enemy issues, and his instrument custody level score." ECF No. 163-4 at 4. He "did not consider any litigation Plaintiff was involved in." Id. Director Wall also testified that he "made decisions based on the safety of Plaintiff as well as the safe and smooth running of RIDOC." Id.

         After Director Wall rejected the recommendation of the Classification Board for the second time, Mr. Turner sought an explanation. Director Wall wrote to Mr. Turner:

I have reviewed your institutional record with respect to your discipline history. Prior to sending you to the Virginia Department of Corrections you were considered a problematic inmate. Reports from Virginia also suggest that you were engaged in a number of disciplinary actions.

Id. at 23.

         Mr. Turner then wrote back, requesting to stay in Rhode Island. Director Wall informed Mr. Turner that "[i]t is not at present our intention to send you out of state to serve your sentence." Id. at 24. He told Mr. Turner that he was "comfortable with [his] decision to classify [Mr. Turner] to High Security (HS)(B' status with a 90-day review." Id. He explained to Mr. Turner that this "decision was based on [Mr. Turner's] instrument custody level score of twenty (20), [his] sentence length, [his] parole eligibility date as well as [his] institutional record."[4] Id.

         C. Second Lawsuit

         Mr, Turner filed this complaint against Director Wall, Warden Weeden, and Associate Director DiNitto. He alleged that the Defendants "unconstitutionally deprived and turned deliberate indifferent [sic] to Plaintiffs liberty interest in avoiding assignment to High Security Prison (Super Max) ... in retaliation for Plaintiff successfully settling a previous lawsuit." ECF No. 1 at 2-3.

         Mr. Turner also filed a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order seeking "a preliminary injunction, ordering [RIDOC] and its agents, to keep Plaintiff in the Rhode Island prison system until he is through litigating his current Complaint." ECF No. 5 at 2. In a letter to the Court, Mr. Turner claimed that he was requesting an injunction because "if [he was] not granted these motions the Defendants in this case [will] surely move [him] across the country." ECF No. 2"l at 1.

         D. Request to Transfer Out-of-State

         Three days after asking for a Court order to remain in Rhode Island, Mr. Turner requested a voluntary transfer out of Rhode Island. ECF No. 163-7 at 5-8. That same day Mr. Turner sent a letter to Defendant Joseph DiNitto, Associate Director of Classifications at RIDOC, stating that he had "just signed the paperwork to go back out of state." Id. at 8. lie acknowledged that his transfer request could result in him being transferred back to Virginia "or even further away." Id.

         RIDOC is a member of the Interstate Corrections Compact, under which participating states "may share information and enter into contracts for the mutually beneficial transfer of prisoners." See ECF No. 163 at 4. Pursuant to RIDOC policy, it sent Mr. Turner's transfer package to other member states of the Interstate Corrections Compact following his voluntary transfer request.

         The Florida Department of Corrections informed RIDOC that they would accept Mr. Turner as an Interstate Corrections Compact transfer inmate. ECF No.163-7 at 10. This was the first corrections department to accept Mr. Turner. RIDOC thereupon transferred Mr. Turner to the Florida Department of Corrections.[5]

         Mr. Turner arrived at the Florida Department of Corrections and within a few weeks he had filed a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, requesting that the Court order RIDOC to transfer him out of Florida. ECF No. 8. At that time, Mr. Turner had not requested a transfer back to Rhode Island or sought any administrative remedies. The Court denied Mr. Turner's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction because he had not yet exhausted his administrative remedies before seeking the injunction. ECF No. 31. Thereafter, by letter to Associate Director DiNitto, Mr. Turner requested that RIDOC transfer him back to Rhode Island or to a facility elsewhere in New England. ECF No. 36. In accordance with Mr. Turner's ...

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