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Crawley v. Robinson

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

September 27, 2016

DAVID ROBINSON, et al, Defendants.


          Michael F. Urbanski United States District Judge

         Pro se plaintiff David Crawley, an inmate incarcerated at Wallens Ridge State Prison, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Crawley's claims concern his request to be transferred into the Steps to Achieve Reintegration ("STAR") program, a Virginia Department of Corrections program operated at Keen Mountain Correctional Center for offenders who are confined in segregation and, because of an unspecified fear, refuse to return to general population.

         Currently before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 49). This case was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Joel C. Hoppe for case management and consideration of all motions. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), the Magistrate Judge issued a report and recommendation on August 1, 2016 (ECF No. 61), recommending defendants' motion be granted. Crawley moved for an extension of time by which to file objections to the report. The Magistrate Judge granted that request, ordering Crawley to file any objections not later than August 29, 2016. The court received Crawley's objections dated August 27 on August 31, 2016.

         For the reasons stated below, the court will OVERRULE Crawley's objections, ADOPT the report and recommendation in its entirety, and DISMISS this case.


         Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a party to "serve and file specific, written objections" to a magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations within fourteen days of being served with a copy of the report. See also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The Fourth Circuit has held that an objecting party must do so "with sufficient specificity so as reasonably to alert the district court of the true ground for the objection." United States v. Midgette. 478 F.3d 616, 622 (4th Cir.), cert denied. 127 S.Ct. 3032 (2007).

To conclude otherwise would defeat the purpose of requiring objections. We would be permitting a party to appeal any issue that was before the magistrate judge, regardless of the nature and scope of objections made to the magistrate judge's report. Either the district court would then have to review every issue in the magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations or courts of appeals would be required to review issues that the district court never considered. In either case, judicial resources would be wasted and the district court's effectiveness based on help from magistrate judges would be undermined.

Id. The district court must determine de novo any portion of the magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which a proper objection has been made. "The district court may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); accord 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). "General objections that merely reiterate arguments presented to the magistrate judge lack the specificity required under Rule 72, and have the same effect as a failure to object, or as a waiver of such objection." Moon v. BWX Technologies, Inc., 742 F.Supp.2d 827, 829 (W.D. Va. 2010), aff'd. 498 F.App'x 268 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing Veney v. Astrue. 539 F.Supp.2d 841, 845 (W.D. Va. 2008)): see also Thomas v. Arn. 474 U.S. 140, 154 (1985) ("[T]he statute does not require the judge to review an issue de novo if no objections are filed").


         In this § 1983 suit, Crawley alleges defendants disapproved his request for transfer into the STAR program at Keen Mountain and destroyed and/or failed to process, return or respond to his complaints and grievances concerning that transfer request. Crawley claims that in so doing, defendants denied him access to the courts and retaliated against him in violation of the First Amendment, and discriminated against him in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Magistrate Judge concluded defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on these three claims, and Crawley has filed objections to each of the Magistrate Judge's conclusions.


         Crawley's claim that defendants obstructed his access to the courts in violation of the First Amendment is based solely on his allegations that defendants failed to process, return or respond to his letters, complaints and grievances concerning his request to transfer to the STAR program and allegations of retaliation.[1] Specifically, Crawley claims defendant Brenda Ravizee, Ombudsman at Wallens Ridge, failed to process a number of his complaints, Am. Compl., ECF No. 12, at ¶¶ 12-13, 29, 33; that Leslie Fleming, then-Warden of Keen Mountain Correctional Center where the STAR program is run, failed to process or respond to Crawley's grievances and letters concerning his request to transfer into the STAR program, Id. at ¶¶ 14, 16, 26, 38; that Gregory Holloway, then-Warden of Wallens Ridge, failed to respond to Crawley's letters and disregarded Crawley's allegations of discrimination and retaliation, Id. at ¶¶ 15, 34; that Wallens Ridge's Assistant Warden John Combs instructed Ombudsman Ravizee to destroy all documents submitted by Crawley, Id. at ¶¶ 20, 23; and that David Robinson, Chief of Operations of the Virginia Department of Corrections, failed to respond to Crawley's letters concerning retaliation, discrimination and obstruction, Id. at ¶¶ 24, 25. The Magistrate Judge properly found that this First Amendment claim fails as a matter of law because the United States Constitution "creates no entitlement to grievance procedures or access to any such procedure voluntarily established by a state." Adams v. Rice. 40 F.3d 72, 75 (4th Or. 1994). Indeed, "'the fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law.'" Strickler v. Waters, 989 F.2d 1375, 1383 (4th Or. 1993) (quoting Bounds v. Smith. 430 U.S. 817, 828 (1977)). Crawley raises no claim that the law library at Wallens Ridge was inadequate or his access to it was restricted in any way, nor does he allege that defendants' actions hindered his efforts to pursue a legal claim. See Lewis v. Casey. 518 U.S. 343, 351 (1996); Strickler. 989 F.2d at 1383 (inmate must show specific harm or prejudice from the allegedly denied access).

         In his objections, Crawley cites case law for the proposition that the right to petition for a redress of grievances is among the "most precious of the liberties safeguarded by the Bill of Rights." United Mine Workers of Am.. Dist. 12 v. I U.State Bar Ass'n. 389 U.S. 217, 222 (1967); see also Jones v. Williams. 791 F.3d 1023, 1035 (9th Cir. 2015) ("The First Amendment guarantees a prisoner a right to seek redress of grievances from prison authorities and as well as a right of meaningful access to the courts."); Hasan v. U.S. Dep't of Labor. 400 F.3d 1001, 1005 (7th Cir. 2005) ("Prisoners' grievances, unless frivolous, concerning the conditions in which they are being confined are deemed petitions for redress of grievances and thus are protected by the First Amendment."). But Crawley conflates the right of access to the courts and to petition the government for redress of grievances (complaints against an unjust or unfair act) with the right to file administrative grievances through procedures established by the Virginia Department of Corrections. While the former carries constitutional protections, see Am. Civil Liberties Union of Md.. Inc. v. Wicomico Cty.. Md.. 999 F.2d 780, 785 (4th Cir. 1993) ("The filing of a lawsuit carries significant constitutional protections, implicating the First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances, and the right of access to courts."), the Fourth Circuit has held that the latter does not, Adams, 40 F.3d at 75. See also Wall v. Artrip. No. 7:15cv00097, 2016 WL 4939359, at *5 (W.D. Va. Sept. 14, 2016) (holding, in this circuit, "there is no constitutional right to participate in grievance proceedings" (quoting Adams)). But see Gullet v. Wilt. 869 F.2d 593 (4th Cir. 1989) (unpublished table decision) (noting the First Amendment grants rights to free speech and to seek redress from the courts and those rights are implicated by prisoner's claim that he was being transferred in retaliation for filing numerous institutional grievances, but ultimately affirming summary judgment in defendants' favor because evidence established prisoner was transferred for non-retaliatory reasons).

         In any event, the Magistrate Judge correctly concluded that Crawley has shown no specific harm or prejudice resulting from any alleged denial of access to the courts. See Strickler, 989 F.2d at 1383; see also Harden v. Bodiford. 442 F.App'x 893, 896 (4th Cir. 2011) ("In order to establish a claim of denial of access to the courts, an inmate cannot rely on conclusory allegations but must instead allege an actual injury or specific harm ...

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