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Thompson v. Clarke

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

October 5, 2018

PAUL C. THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
H. W. CLARKE, et al., Defendants.


          Norman K. Moon, United States District Judge

         Paul C. Thompson, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The matters before the court are two motions for extension of time, a motion for reconsideration, a motion for preliminary injunction, and a motion for a ruling. See Dkt. Nos. 34, 36, 37, 39, 44. After reviewing the record, I will grant the motions for extension of time, I will deny the motion for reconsideration and the motion for preliminary injunction, and I will dismiss the motion for a ruling as moot.

         I. Miscellaneous Motions

         At the threshold, I will grant both motions for extension of time. Dkt. Nos. 37, 39. Next, I will address the Thompson's motion for reconsideration and motion for a ruling.

         Thompson filed a motion for reconsideration of the court's denial of his motion for extension of time to respond to the defendants' motion to dismiss and/or the motion for partial summary judgment. See Dkt. No. 34. As stated in the May 23, 2018 order, the court has granted Thompson multiple extensions, and informed him that, unless he made a showing of good cause, the court would not grant him any more additional time. He failed to show good cause, and the case proceeded accordingly. Therefore, I will deny the motion for reconsideration. Second, Thompson has moved for “a ruling.” Dkt. No. 44. His patience is noted, and, after this opinion and order, I will have ruled on all pending motions. Therefore, the motion for a ruling is moot.

         II. Preliminary Injunction

         Thompson also filed a motion for preliminary injunction, asserting that (1) he is being improperly detained in the medical department as part of a retaliatory conspiracy to prevent him from accessing his legal materials; (2) his medication is being supplemented with an unknown substance that exacerbates his conditions; (3) he has severe weight loss and his diet should be supplemented; and (4) his incarceration at ROSP and security level are improper and retaliatory.[1]For relief, he requests: (1) that staff either crush his meds in front of him or stop crushing the pills entirely; (2) that medical staff treat his medical issues; (3) access to his medical records; and (4) a lowering of his security level and/or transfer to another VDOC facility or to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.[2]

         Preliminary injunctive relief is an extraordinary remedy that courts should apply sparingly. See Direx Israel, Ltd. v. Breakthrough Med. Corp., 952 F.2d 802, 811 (4th Cir. 1991). As a preliminary injunction temporarily affords an extraordinary remedy prior to trial that can be granted permanently after trial, the party seeking the preliminary injunction must demonstrate: (1) by a “clear showing, ” that he is likely to succeed on the merits at trial; (2) that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief; (3) that the balance of equities tips in his favor; and (4) that an injunction is in the public interest. See Winter v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20-22 (2008).

         An interlocutory injunction is an extraordinary remedy that is not appropriate when the harm complained of does not arise from the harm alleged in the complaint. Omega World Travel v. TWA, 111 F.3d 14, 16 (4th Cir. 1997). The movant must establish a relationship between the injury claimed in the motion and the conduct giving rise to the complaint. Id.; see In re Microsoft Antitrust Litig., 333 F.3d 517, 526 (4th Cir. 2003). “[A] preliminary injunction may never issue to prevent an injury or harm which not even the moving party contends was caused by the wrong claimed in the underlying action.” Omega World Travel, 111 F.3d at 16; Devose v. Herrington, 42 F.3d 470, 471 (8th Cir. 1994).

         To establish a retaliation claim, a plaintiff must allege: (1) that he engaged in constitutionally protected conduct, (2) he suffered an adverse action, and (3) that a causal link exists between the protected conduct and the adverse action. A Soc'y Without a Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2011). An inmate must present more than “naked allegations of reprisal, ” Adams, 40 F.3d at 74, because “every act of discipline by prison officials is by definition ‘retaliatory' in the sense that it responds directly to prisoner misconduct, ” Cochran v. Morris, 73 F.3d 1310, 1317 (4th Cir. 1996). “A plaintiff suffers adverse action if the defendant's allegedly retaliatory conduct would likely deter a person of ordinary firmness from the exercise of [the protected] rights.” Constantine v. Rectors & Visitors of George Mason Univ., 411 F.3d 474, 500 (4th Cir. 2005). This objective inquiry examines the specific facts of each case, taking into account the actors involved and their relationship. Balt. Sun Co. v. Ehrlich, 437 F.3d 410, 416 (4th Cir. 2006). Because “conduct that tends to chill the exercise of constitutional rights might not itself deprive such rights, . . . a plaintiff need not actually be deprived of [his] First Amendment rights in order to establish . . . retaliation.” Constantine, 411 F.3d at 500. Nonetheless, “the plaintiff's actual response to the retaliatory conduct provides some evidence of the tendency of that conduct to chill such activity.” Id.

         The test for causation requires an inmate to show that, but for the exercise of the protected right, the alleged retaliatory act would not have occurred. Peterson v. Shanks, 149 F.3d 1140, 1144 (10th Cir. 1998). An inmate experiencing an adverse action shortly after a correctional officer learns that the prisoner engaged in a protected activity may create an inference of causation, but, generally, mere temporal proximity is “simply too slender a reed on which to rest a Section 1983 retaliatory [] claim.” Wagner v. Wheeler, 13 F.3d 86, 91 (4th Cir. 1993); see also Clark Cty. Sch. Dist. v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268, 273 (2001) (finding an inference of causality only if “the temporal proximity [is] very close”). “The Fourth Circuit has not set forth a specific timeframe for what constitutes very close.” Bowman v. Balt. City Bd. of Sch. Comm'rs, 173 F.Supp.3d 242, 250 (D. Md. 2016). Nevertheless, even if the temporal proximity is insufficient to create an inference of causation, “courts may look to [events that might have occurred during] the intervening period for other evidence of retaliatory animus.” Lettieri v. Equant, Inc., 478 F.3d 640, 650 (4th Cir. 2007).

         At the threshold, Claims 2 and 3 are not related to the underlying suit, because Thompson sues non-medical defendants only.[3] Thompson has not alleged that these defendants, or the underlying claims against these defendants, are related to the crushing of his medications or his weight loss. Those actions are performed and overseen by the medical department, and Thompson may file a separate lawsuit pursuing relief on these claims.[4]

         Meanwhile, in Claims 1 and 4, Thompson either alleges that his access to the courts is being interfered with and/or retaliation is occurring. I note that Thompson fails to specifically allege that Claims 1 and 4, which involve events from another correctional facility in 2014 and 2015 and events in 2018, are related to the underlying complaint, which involve events from ROSP in 2015. However, out of an abundance of caution and the recent expansion of retaliation doctrine, I will analyze the merits of the claims. See Booker v. S.C. Dep't of Corr., 855 F.3d 533, 542 (4th Cir. 2017).

         In Claim 1, Thompson generally alleges that he is being retaliated against and sequestered in the medical department in order to chill his access to the courts. Specifically, Thompson avers that the ROSP staff is unnecessarily confining him to the medical unit in order to separate him from his legal materials, because, while in ...

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