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Hardoby v. Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority

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

March 21, 2017



          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge

         Maxwell Tyler Hardoby, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority (“Jail Authority”).[1] Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, and Hardoby responded, making this matter ripe for disposition.[2] Having considered the record, the court will grant in part and deny in part defendant's motion to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Hardoby alleges that on February 15, 2016, upon reviewing his inmate account report, he noticed that on multiple occasions his account had been debited twice for the $1.00 daily housing fee. Because Hardoby could only access the past four to six weeks of his account statements, he requested a hard copy of an itemized summary of his inmate account. Two days later, a jail employee notified Hardoby that the double charges were a “known issue” and would take up to a month to resolve. For the time period between August 2015 and February 2016, Hardoby was overcharged a total of $5.00. He was also charged $3.50 for the 35-page printout of his account that he requested (10¢ per page). Hardoby alleges that he was charged a copy fee as “punishment” for “looking into” the issue with his inmate account. On February 16, 2016, Hardoby requested a refund of the copy fee ($3.50) and overcharged housing fees ($5.00). His request was denied. After Hardoby filed grievances on the issue, he states that he was charged an additional 5¢ per page for the copies of his inmate account. Hardoby alleges that he was charged the additional copy fee in retaliation for his filing of grievances.

         Hardoby also contends that he is not allowed “reasonable access to [the] law library resources.” In support of his claim, Hardoby states that he is only given 30 minutes of access to the library at a time. He argues that this is “not enough time to read even one case.” He also states that he requested copies of three cases and one section of the Virginia Code and did not receive the copies until a week later and that, when he does get printouts of cases, they are summaries of the cases instead of the full text. Hardoby further contends that the jail charges inmates to get copies of cases “despite the issue with limited time to read the materials on the electronic resource.” Following the granting of plaintiff's motion to amend (Dkt. Nos. 7-8), Hardoby's final claim is that the jail will not allow him to have a newspaper subscription of his choice because the jail states that it “presents a security risk.”[3] Instead, he only has access to the two newspapers, “one national and one local, ” which the jail provides to inmates. In response to the motion to dismiss, Hardoby clarifies that the jail provides two copies of USA Today to the pod. Hardoby alleges that the newspapers must be returned within 24 hours, which he argues is not enough time for up to 55 inmates to read them.[4]


         A. Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint to determine whether the plaintiff has properly stated a claim; “it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Legal conclusions in the guise of factual allegations, however, are not entitled to a presumption of truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).

         Although a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations and quotations omitted). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” id., with all the allegations in the complaint taken as true and all reasonable inferences drawn in the plaintiff's favor, Chao v. Rivendell Woods, Inc., 415 F.3d 342, 346 (4th Cir. 2005). Rule 12(b)(6) does “not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Consequently, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. A claim is plausible if the complaint contains “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged, ” and if there is “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         In order to allow for the development of a potentially meritorious claim, federal courts have an obligation to construe pro se pleadings liberally. See, e.g., Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364, 365 (1982) (citation omitted). Moreover, “[l]iberal construction of the pleadings is particularly appropriate where . . . there is a pro se complaint raising civil rights issues.” Smith v. Smith, 589 F.3d 736, 738 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Loe v. Armistead, 582 F.2d 1291, 1295 (4th Cir. 1978)). Nevertheless, “[p]rinciples requiring generous construction of pro se complaints are not . . . without limits.” Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). “A pro se plaintiff still must allege facts that state a cause of action.” Bracey v. Buchanan, 55 F.Supp.2d 416, 421 (E.D. Va. 1999) (quoting Sado v. Leland Memorial Hospital, 933 F.Supp. 490, 493 (D. Md. 1996)).

         B. Account Overcharges, Retaliation, and Photocopy Policy

         Hardoby names only the Jail Authority as a defendant to this action. “Local governing bodies . . . can be sued directly under § 1983 for monetary, declaratory, or injunctive relief where the . . . action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers.” Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of N.Y.C., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). The entity is not liable under § 1983 merely because of the actions of its employee because the doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply. Id. at 691. Thus, a governmental entity, such as a regional jail authority, is liable under § 1983 only when the entity itself is a “moving force” behind the deprivation. Polk Cnty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 326 (1981). That is, the entity's official policy or custom must have played a part in the alleged violation of federal law. Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 817-18 (1985).

         In this case, Hardoby does not sufficiently allege that any official policy or custom of the Jail Authority was responsible for the now-refunded account overcharges of $5.00 or the alleged retaliation. In response to the motion to dismiss, Hardoby alleges that he “has experienced and witnessed many instances of retaliatory behavior by the defendant jail's staff operators.” However, his allegation is insufficient to establish that the alleged retaliation in this case is based on a policy or custom of the Jail Authority. The only alleged incidents of retaliation raised in this case are that Hardoby was charged the 10¢ per page fee “to discourage [him] and/or others from exercising [their] only means of monitoring inmate accounts with a comprehensive scope, ” and that he was charged the additional 5¢ per page fee in retaliation for using the grievance procedure and “expressing his displeasure.” Hardoby “concedes [that] the copy fees assessed to his inmate account may be legal, ” but argues that the jail's “actual policy (10¢ per page) differed from the printed policy (15¢ per page), and the defendant jail only began acting on [its] printed policy as a subsequent remedial action to defend itself against Mr. Hardoby's claim.” Although the “printed policy” is that the jail charges 15¢ per page for copies, Hardoby states that sometimes inmates are not charged for copies, sometimes they are charged 10¢ for copies, and sometimes they are charged 15¢ for copies. He does not allege that there is a consistent pattern to the varying copy fees. The court concludes that Hardoby's allegations are insufficient to establish that any alleged retaliation is based on a policy or custom of the Jail Authority and, thus, will grant the motion to dismiss as to overcharging and retaliation.

         To the extent Hardoby bases his claim that he was charged for photocopies of his inmate account report statements, which he requested in order to verify that his account had been properly debited, pursuant to a Jail Authority policy that requires a charge for copies, his claim fails. Inmates have no specific constitutional right to free or unlimited photocopies. See, e.g., Lyons v. Clark, 694 F.Supp. 184, 188 (E.D. Va. 1988); Cottrell v. Jabe, No. 7:10cv505, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28445, at *37-38, 2012 WL 830469, at *13 (W.D. Va. Feb. 17, 2012); Johnson v. Moore, 948 F.2d 517, 521 (9th Cir.1991); Young v. Larkin, 871 F.Supp. 772, 782 n. 19 (M.D. Penn.1994); Dugar v. Coughlin, 613 F.Supp. 849, 853 (S.D.N.Y.1985). Rather, to make out a claim under § 1983 based on denial of copying privileges, an inmate must show that the denial prevented him from exercising his constitutional right of access to courts. Jones v. Franzen, 697 F.2d 801, 803 (7th Cir. 1983). “The reasonableness of a prison's photocopy policy becomes relevant only after the prisoner has shown that the policy is impeding that access, for if it is unreasonable, but not impeding, he has not made out a prima facie case of violation of his constitutional rights.” Id. ...

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