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Manns v. Smith

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

August 1, 2018

DAN SMITH, ET AL., Defendants.

          Benjamin Manns, Pro Se Plaintiff;

          Benjamin D. Johnson, Johnson, Ayers & Matthews P.L.C., Roanoke, Virginia, for Defendants.


          James P. Jones United States District Judge

         The plaintiff, Benjamin Manns, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, brought this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He alleges that because of his race, a jail official did not allow him telephone calls to arrange a furlough for a family member's funeral. The defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss, and Manns has responded. After review of the record, I conclude that the defendants' motion must be granted in part and denied in part.


         Manns, an African-American, was incarcerated as a pretrial detainee at the Patrick County Jail in the fall of 2017. On September 11, 2017, Manns learned from a newspaper obituary that his father-in-law had died. Manns had enjoyed a close relationship with his father-in-law. For three days, Manns made verbal and written requests to jail officials, asking to use the telephone to call to his family about the death and about arranging for a lawyer to obtain a court-ordered funeral furlough. Jail officials, who are all white, ignored Manns' requests for telephone calls and for grievance forms. By contrast, a white inmate had been immediately granted an opportunity to call his family after learning that his nephew had died.

         On September 14, Manns asked Lieutenant Jones for a grievance form, and the officer refused to provide one. Manns filed handwritten documents titled “Formal Complaint Form” and “Grievance Form, ” complaining about all of these frustrations. ECF No. 11. In response to one of these complaints, an officer wrote: “Lt Jones was asked about you coming up and using the phone . . . and he said no.” Id.

         Liberally construed, Mann's submissions assert that: (1) Lieutenant Jones discriminated against Manns on the basis of race by denying him telephone access with family to arrange for a funeral furlough, (2) Jones denied Manns a grievance form; and (3) these violations of Manns' rights occurred because Dan Smith, the Patrick County Sherriff, failed to train and supervise his subordinates. Manns argues that these actions violated his federal and state constitutional rights. The defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and Manns has responded.[1]


         A district court should dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the Complaint as true and drawing all reasonable factual inferences in the plaintiff's favor, the complaint does not allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly. 550 U.S. at 570. To state a claim 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).

         It is well established that “inmates have no constitutional entitlement or due process interest in access to a grievance procedure.” Booker v. S.C. Dep't of Corr., 855 F.3d 533, 541 (4th Cir. 2017). Thus, Manns has no federally protected interest or constitutional entitlement to the jail's grievance procedures. I will grant the defendants' Motion to Dismiss as to Manns' § 1983 claims about his inability to file grievances.

         I must also dismiss Manns' claims under state law. He states merely that “Defendants Smith and Jones actions also violated Article 1, sections 1, 2, 3, 7, 11, and 12 of Virginia's Constitution.” Compl. 5, ECF No. 1-1. Manns offers no indication that he has a private right of action under these provisions by which to raise separate, supplemental state law claims of race discrimination or denial of access to a grievance procedure. See, e.g., Doe v. Rector & Visitors of George Mason Univ., 132 F.Supp.3d 712 (E.D. Va. 2015) (explaining limitations on private right of action under Virginia Constitution). I may not undertake to construct such claims for him. See, e.g., Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993) (“While the courts liberally construe pro se pleadings as a matter of course, judges are not also required to construct a party's legal arguments for him.”).[2]

         Manns also cannot prevail on any claim for monetary damages against the defendants in their official capacities. See Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58 (1989). I will grant the defendants' motion as to all official capacity claims. I will consider separately Manns' other claims against the defendants in their personal capacities.

         “Inmates have no specific constitutional right to a furlough, whether for visitation of sick relatives or attendance of funerals.” Hipes v. Braxton, 878 F.Supp. 56, 57 (W.D. Va. 1995). They do, however, “retain their First Amendment rights to communicate with family and friends, ” and to reasonable access to the telephone for that purpose, subject to limitations related to security or other legitimate penological concerns. Washington v. Reno, 35 F.3d 1093, 1100 (6th Cir. 1994). Moreover, inmates are entitled to equal protection of the law, and even an otherwise ...

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