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Cooper v. Wright

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

December 6, 2016

WARDEN B. A. WRIGHT, ET AL., Defendants.



         This civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 comes before the court on a motion for summary judgment by the defendant prison officials, supported by affidavits. Plaintiff Israel Ray Cooper, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, has responded, making the matter ripe for disposition.[1] After review of the parties' submissions, the court concludes that material factual disputes preclude summary judgment on Cooper's claim that two officers used excessive force against him, and this matter will be set for trial. The court will, however, grant summary judgment for defendants as to Cooper's remaining claims.


         Cooper's submissions allege the following sequence of events related to his claims. On October 22, 2014, River North Correctional Center ("River North") Sergeant ("Sgt.") Lundy and Officer Leagan came to Cooper's cell[2] and allegedly ordered, "[C]uff up or be sprayed with mace." (Compl. 5, ECF No. 1.) Cooper complied. The officers locked him in a shower stall in the segregation unit with his hands still cuffed behind his back. Leagan then sprayed Cooper with mace "even though he posed no threat to . . . safety, " and Sgt. Lundy "began assaulting Cooper's hands while cuffed." (Id.) Cooper alleges that he suffered "nerve damage to [his] hand" during the incident. (Pl's Resp. 1, 4, ECF No. 25.) Cooper received three disciplinary charges-one for attempting to spit at staff and two for possession of contraband.

         After Sgt. Lundy and Leagan moved Cooper to segregation on October 22, they also allegedly searched Cooper's personal property items without preparing a proper inventory and "threw away, lost or misplaced" numerous items. (IcL 2.) Warden Wright ruled Cooper's grievance about this property to be "founded, " because the officers had not provided Cooper with an inventory of his property items. Cooper was reimbursed $82.34 for the monetary value of the missing or damaged property items.

         As a result of the disciplinary charges, Cooper spent two months in segregation. During disciplinary appeal proceedings, Warden Wright reviewed surveillance camera footage of the incident and dismissed the attempted spitting charge for insufficient evidence. Cooper was found not guilty of possessing a sex doll confiscated from his cell. He pleaded guilty, however, to possessing razors that were found in his shoe and contends they were pencil sharpeners, not weapons.

         Cooper also filed grievances about not receiving proper notice of all items confiscated as contraband after the cell search on October 22, and Warden Wright found that this omission had violated policy. Officer Shepherd served Cooper with an incomplete confiscation form on October 22. Shepherd later served a belated confiscation form on November 5, stating that numerous photographs of children had been removed from Cooper's cell. Cooper then had an opportunity to dispute this confiscation through the grievance procedures, but the items have not been returned to him.

         Cooper brought this § 1983 action against Warden Wright, Lieutenant P. A. Tincher, Sgt. Lundy, and Officers Leagan and Shepherd. He raises three claims: (1) Lundy and Leagan fabricated disciplinary charges against Cooper; failed to inventory his personal property items; and lost or destroyed several of his property items; (2) Shepherd violated prison policy regarding notice of confiscated property; and (3) Lundy and Leagan used excessive force against Cooper. Cooper also alleges that the warden and Lt. Tincher are liable as supervisory officials for the violations allegedly committed by their subordinates.


         A. Standard of Review.

         A court should grant summary judgment "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "As to materiality . . . [o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc.. 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. The court must draw all reasonable inferences from the facts in favor of Cooper, the nonmoving party. Williams v. Staples. Inc., 372 F.3d 662, 667 (4th Cir. 2004).

         B. Policy Violations

         Cooper contends that he is entitled to damages under § 1983 because defendants admit that officers failed to follow prison policies on several occasions. To state a cause of action under § 1983, "a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law." West v. Atkins. 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988) (citations omitted). "[I]t is well settled that violations of state law cannot provide the basis for a due process claim" under § 1983. Weller v. Dep't of Social Services, 901 F.2d 387, 392 (4th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). Similarly, a state's failure to abide by its own procedural regulations is not a federal due process issue, Riccio v. Cnty. of Fairfax. Va., 907 F.2d 1459, 1469 (4th Cir. 1990), and is not actionable under § 1983. Thus, Cooper's frustrations that prison officials failed to comply with prison regulations-by not properly completing or serving notice of confiscation or inventory of his personal property items-do not provide a basis for any claim under § 1983.

         Therefore, the court will grant summary judgment for all defendants on Cooper's claims ...

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