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Winston v. Manis

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

April 15, 2019

CARL MANNIS, et al., Defendants.


          Elizabeth K. Dillon, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff LeAnthony T. Winston, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, naming Warden Carl Mannis, Sergeant Kirby, and Officer O'Fannon, all staff at Wallens Ridge State Prison (Wallens Ridge), as defendants. Winston alleges that the defendants held him past his release date, denied him access to telephones, grievances, and the courts, and that Warden Mannis failed to correct these and other problems. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, and the motion is ripe for disposition. After reviewing the pleadings, the court concludes that defendants' motion must be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Winston alleges that upon arriving at Wallens Ridge on February 13, 2018, he was “discriminated against” when the Assistant Warden had Winston placed “in the hole” and all of his privileges removed without a hearing “because of [his] religious beliefs.” The alleged discrimination continued when a unit manager continued to hold Winston in the hole, even after bed space opened up” and people who were approved after him were released before him. Winston claims that he spoke with defendant Warden Mannis about “the issue, ” the fact that he was “acting as [his] own lawyer, ” and how the “restrictions were affecting [his] case.” He also showed Warden Mannis “proof” that he was being “held past his court ordered released date.” Winston states that Warden Mannis gave Winston “one legal call to check on a deadline, but made no move to help [him with his] other issues.” He further alleges that, “despite seeing [Winston] struggling, [Warden Mannis] still made no move to stop the discrimination, ” and that even while “knowing [Winston's] situation, [Warden Mannis] let three weeks pass without providing [Winston] access to the phone, ” which resulted in one of Winston's cases being dismissed. (Compl. 5, Dkt. No. 1.)

         Winston also alleges that on March 11, 2018, after being notified that he had denied Winston telephone privileges for two days while “everybody else” got to use the telephone, defendant Officer O'Fannon denied Winston access to the telephone for a third day in a row. At approximately 3:00 a.m., Winston spoke with defendant Sgt. Kirby “about [his] issue” and requested a grievance. Winston states that Sgt. Kirby “refused” to give him a grievance form. Winston also alleges that he has been denied meals, outside recreation, showers, and the opportunity to clean his cell “for weeks, ” but does not connect these allegations to any of the named defendants or any person. As relief, Winston seeks $250, 000 and an injunction “ordering that prisoners can't be punished for religious issues.” (Id.)

         In response to defendants' motion to dismiss, Winston asserts that he has had “several cases delayed and dismissed.” In support of this assertion, Winston states that “each defendant was notified that [Winston] was acting prose and that [he] had court deadlines, [and] that [he has] to use [his] family to seek counsel and do legal research since [he] wasn't allowed to have the required access to a law library, or assistance of other prisoners.” He also alleges that prisoners are only allowed to use the telephone “after business hours and only twice a month.” (Resp. Opp. Mot. D. 2-3, Dkt. No. 41.)

         Winston also asserts that he was placed in a “maximum security prison, based solely on [his] religious beliefs, ” and that his placement has denied him “equal opportunity employment” and good time credit earning. He does not describe how the defendants were involved in his prison placement. He further asserts that the Virginia Department of Corrections' (VDOC) grooming policy violates the First Amendment. However, again he does not describe how the defendants are involved with the creation or implementation of the grooming policy. Finally, he asserts that his “detailed description” of his prison conditions “were to be presumed actions of the defendants.” (Id. at 4-5.)


         A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. 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 plaintiffs 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). 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.” Id. 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). 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). Nevertheless, “[principles 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).

         B. Held Past His Release Date

         Winston argues that he is being held past his release date. However, as Winston has been advised multiple times in other cases, such a claim must be raised in a habeas petition and not in a § 1983 action.[1]See Todd v. Baskerville, 712 F.2d 70, 72 (4th Cir. 1983) (citing Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475 (1973)). Accordingly, ...

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