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Haendel v. Virginia Department of Corrections

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

September 24, 2019

DAN HAENDEL, Plaintiff,


          Joel C. Hoppe, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Dan Haendel is a kosher-observant Jew who was incarcerated at Coffeewood Correctional Center (“CWCC”) until September 13, 2018. Am. Compl. 2, ECF No. 31-1. In June 2018, Haendel filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”) and fifteen individual prison officials violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. See Id . at 10–19.[1] The remaining individual Defendants[2] filed a motion to partially dismiss the Amended Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Procedure, ECF No. 41, which has been fully briefed and argued, ECF Nos. 42, 45, 54. The motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Standard of Review

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss challenges whether a complaint sets out a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677–78 (2009) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). To survive under Rule 12(b)(6), the “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 678 (quotation marks omitted). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense” understanding of the plaintiff’s cause of action. Id. at 679; see Iodice v. United States, 289 F.3d 270, 281 (4th Cir. 2002) (“Dismissal of a complaint for failure to state facts supporting each of the elements of a claim is, of course, proper.”). “When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; see Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322–23 (2007) (a court reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion must consider the complaint in its entirety, accept all well-pleaded facts as true, and draw reasonable inferences from those facts in the plaintiff’s favor). This “plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ’” but it does demand “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         II. Background[3]

         Haendel is an attorney[4] who was serving a five-year prison sentence when he filed this action. He spent three years at CWCC, during which time he allegedly was “subjected to many violations of his Jewish dietary laws and holiday observations” and “several retaliatory and discriminatory acts . . . for his Jewish identity” and for filing a prior § 1983 action against some of the same defendants, all in violation of the First Amendment. More specifically, Haendel asserts that Defendants Ivan Gilmore, Douglas Gourdine, Food Services Manager Martin, and Investigator Butler each played a role in “[e]liminating” Jewish New Year and Shavuot services in 2017–2018, failing to offer kosher meals in CWCC’s dining hall during Passover 2018, and/or confiscating kosher food that a local synagogue had donated to Haendel for Passover. See Am. Compl. 2–3, 7–9, 10–12, 18–19. Haendel also asserts that Defendants Sargent Sacra and Officer Walters charged him with “non-existent” disciplinary infractions because he is Jewish and, separately, to punish him for filing prison grievances and the earlier lawsuit. See Id . at 6, 12, 14, 19–20. Haendel was found guilty of those charges after a hearing. See Id . at 3 (citing Compl. Ex. 1, ECF No. 1-1, at 1–22). In February 2018, a CWCC counselor[5] relied on these convictions, which were upheld on appeal, when calculating Haendel’s Annual Review “raw score” and “revoke[d] . . . nine days of good time” credit. Id. (citing Compl. Ex. 1, at 40–57). Defendant Chief of Housing Walker overruled another official’s “recommendation to restore” the credits, id. at 11, because Walker knew the Jewish New Year fell on two of the nine days, id. at 17–18, and he wanted Haendel to spend another holiday in prison, id. at 20. Haendel seeks damages and retrospective injunctive relief. Id. at 20–21.

         Haendel also challenges the allegedly miscalculated Annual Review score, plus certain aspects of VDOC’s inmate grievance procedure, on Fourteenth Amendment due process grounds. See generally Id . at 1–5, 7, 9–11, 13–14, 17–18, 20. The counselor’s initial scoring error-followed by different Defendants either denying or mishandling Haendel’s written requests to fix it-meant Haendel was released from VDOC custody nine days later than he had expected. See Id . Haendel seeks damages, retrospective injunctive relief, and an order striking down VDOC’s current “5-day appeal timeframe for regular grievances” and “requir[ing] VDOC to provide at least a 15-day timeframe” for all inmates to submit their grievance appeals to the Regional Ombudsman. Id. at 20.

         Defendants’ motion to dismiss primarily challenges Haendel’s due-process claims. Defendants Harold Clarke and David Robinson note that they are referenced in the Amended Complaint’s caption and list of named defendants, but that Haendel does not allege facts suggesting they were personally involved in any of the underlying misconduct. Defs.’ Br. in Supp. 2, 4. Defendants Assistant Warden Hicks and Operations Manager Soutter, both of whom allegedly “responded unfavorably to [Haendel’s] grievances and/or disciplinary appeals, ” chiefly assert that “they are entitled to quasi-judicial immunity” against damages claims arising out of such conduct. Id. at 2. The other Defendants argue that the Amended Complaint “fails to state a plausible due process claim against” any of them in their individual capacities because Haendel “alleged-at most-a misapplication of VDOC policy” governing the “appropriate mathematical calculation of [his] Annual Review score.” Id. at 2–3, 6–7. Finally, Defendants ask the Court to dismiss all official-capacity claims as moot. Id. at 7.

         III. Analysis

         A § 1983 claim has two basic elements: “[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). The facts needed to state a plausible right to relief under § 1983 will depend on the specific constitutional provision at issue, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677; Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330 (1986); Loftus v. Bobzien, 848 F.3d 278, 285 (4th Cir. 2017), the capacity in which the plaintiff sued the named defendant, Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165–68 (1985); and, relatedly, the nature of relief sought against that defendant, Biggs v. Meadows, 66 F.3d 56, 60–61 (4th Cir. 1995). See, e.g., Brown v. Montoya, 662 F.3d 1152, 1161 n.5 (10th Cir. 2011) (“Section 1983 plaintiffs may sue individual-capacity defendants only for money damages and official-capacity defendants only for injunctive relief.”); Lewis v. Bd. of Educ. of Talbot Cty., 262 F.Supp.2d 608, 612 (D. Md. 2003) (explaining that “individuals sued in their official capacity as state agents cannot be held liable for damages or retrospective injunctive relief, ” but “may be sued for prospective injunctive relief” (citing Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651 (1974)). With that framework in mind, we turn to Defendants’ arguments why parts of Haendel’s Amended Complaint fail to state a § 1983 claim for which relief can be granted against them.

         A. Individual Capacity Claims

         Some of Haendel’s claims “seek to impose personal liability upon, ” and recover money from, Defendants for actions they took under color of state law, Graham, 473 U.S. at 165. See Am. Compl. 20–21. Because “there is no respondeat superior liability in § 1983 actions, ” Love-Lane v. Martin, 355 F.3d 766, 782 (4th Cir. 2004), Haendel must allege facts showing that “each [g]overnment-official defendant, through the official’s own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676.

         1. Personal Involvement

         “[S]upervisory officials may be held [personally] liable in certain circumstances for the constitutional injuries inflicted by their subordinates.” Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d 791, 798 (4th Cir. 1994). This “liability is not premised upon respondeat superior[, ] but upon a recognition that supervisory indifference or tacit authorization of subordinates’ misconduct may be a causative factor in the constitutional injuries they inflict on those committed to their care.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). “[S]upervisory liability can extend to the highest levels of state government” so long as the plaintiff can “pinpoint[] the persons in the decisionmaking chain whose deliberate ...

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