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Sykes v. Ratledge

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

May 7, 2018

C. RATLEDGE, et al, Defendants.


          Hon. Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge.

         William Sykes, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, commenced this action pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 389 (1971).[1] Plaintiff names staff associated with the United States Penitentiary in Lee County, Virginia ("USP Lee"), as defendants. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated due process and inflicted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Fifth and Eighth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, to which Plaintiff responded, making the motion ripe for disposition. After reviewing the record, the court dismisses any claim about the pending disciplinary charge for lack of jurisdiction and grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the remaining claims.


         Plaintiffs alleges that Defendants violated his constitutional rights when they issued two allegedly false incident reports, placed him in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU"), and subsequently transferred him to a Special Management Unit ("SMU"). The first incident report, #2874480, concerns an assault on another inmate (the "Assault Charge"), and the second incident report, #2894898, concerns making a sexual proposal or threats to another (the "Proposal Charge"). Plaintiff also generally alleges that the isolating conditions of confinement he experienced in the SHU and SMU are cruel and unusual punishments.


         On July 18, 2016, Plaintiff was moved to the SHU while staff investigated a fight among inmates. Based on video evidence, defendant Lt. Allen charged Plaintiff on July 26, 2016, with the Assault Charge. A few days later, defendant Hughes, as a member of the Unit Discipline Committee[2] ("UDC"), referred the charge to a Disciplinary Hearing Officer ("DHO") for adjudication. Defendant Mollica reviewed the charge as the DHO and remanded the charge for further investigation.

         On August 12, 2016, Lt. Allen amended the charged with more details about the victim's injuries and re-issued the charge to Plaintiff. Another UDC convened on August 22, 2016, and referred the amended charge to a DHO for adjudication. Although she served as a UDC member for the original charge, Hughes also served as the DHO of the amended charge and found Plaintiff guilty on September 16, 2016.[3] Upon administrative review of the proceedings, however, Hughes' adjudication was remanded for a rehearing with a different DHO. The charge remained pending as of Defendants' motion for summary judgment, and Plaintiff has not alleged that he has since been convicted of the charge.


         On September 11, 2016, defendant Anderson charged Plaintiff with "Making a Sexual Proposal or Threats to Another." Plaintiff allegedly gave Anderson legal a greeting card titled, "Thinking of You Today, " that read:

Today is the day that I give thanks and Supreme Honor [f]rom me to you, to secure you and myself as well I wish it was a better way [f]or us to communicate so neither one of us can get in trouble. However when I [f]irst came into contact with you I noticed that you have the [s]oul and [i]mage of a [g]oddess with the spirit of an [a]ngel. It would be selfish of me if I didn't give thanks and appreciation to you for all the over looked hard-work you do around here no matter the cost or consequences enclosed with it. As you ran across my mind I couldn't do nothing [b]ut smile because the energy you give off is so positive and [f]ruitful, willing and always caring [f]or others with respect that's always unappreciated. Furthermore I pray that this touches your heart with no love or respect lost because if I didn't have you I don't know where I'll be.

         The UDC referred the charge to a DHO, who found Plaintiff guilty of "Conduct Disruptive to the Orderly Operation of the Institution, " most like "Making a Sexual Proposal." The imposed sanctions included the loss of twenty-seven days' good conduct time.


         Plaintiff filed five administrative remedies during the approximate time of the charges.[4]Plaintiff filed remedy #886813-R1 (the "First Remedy") with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Office ("Regional Office") on December 8, 2016. Plaintiff complained about Mollica and Hughes being DHOs for the Assault Charge and claimed that the Warden of USP Lee never responded to a BP-9 he purportedly filed on September 27, 2016. Regional Office staff did not believe the First Remedy constituted a "sensitive" issue, rejected the First Remedy at intake on December 23, 2016, and returned it to him to file with the Warden.[5] Plaintiff did not do so.

         Plaintiff filed remedy #888354-R1 (the "Second Remedy") with the Regional Office on January 9, 2017, to challenge the Assault Charge. Regional Office staff rejected it at intake on January 11, 2017, because it included more than one "continuation" page and advised ...

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