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Matney v. Haysi Regional Jail

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

January 13, 2020

HAYSI REGIONAL JAIL, et al., Defendants.


          Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge

         Steven Ray Matney, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Major Billiter, Captain McCoy, and the Haysi Regional Jail (“Haysi”).[1] Defendants filed a motion to dismiss and the motion is ripe for disposition. After reviewing the pleadings, the court grants defendants' motion to dismiss.


         Matney alleges that during a cell search on December 16, 2018, staff at Haysi found pipe tobacco, a cell phone, and portable chargers in Matney's single cell.[2] When an investigator attempted to question Matney about the contraband, Matney “practiced his Fifth Amendment right and ask[ed] for an attorney call.” Matney alleges that he was denied a call to an attorney on the “orders of” defendants Major Billiter and Captain McCoy. Matney was housed in the “booking” area for the next five days and was denied a telephone call each day. On December 21, 2018, Matney was allowed one telephone call. He called his attorney, but the attorney was not in his office, so Matney left a message with the attorney's secretary. Thereafter, Matney was moved to a special housing unit (“SHU”). Matney claims that he was denied additional telephone calls until January 4, 2019. Matney also summarily states that he “just went through a jury trial and [was] hindered from being allowed to contact an appeal attorney as well.”

         Matney alleges that, upon arriving in the SHU, he was given only one shower and no razor during the first five days, was not given recreation for twenty or twenty-five days, and was denied eye glasses, hygiene items, legal work (including transcripts and envelopes), and his personal property. While in the SHU, Matney claims that he was in his cell for twenty-three hours a day, did not have a book or hot meals (his meals are served on Styrofoam trays while other inmates received meals from a plate warmer), was allowed only one telephone call per month, was not allowed to finish his GED, and was not given the opportunity to lower his security classification level.[3] Matney baldly claims that his confinement in the SHU was “mental torture and physical[l]y not healthy.” He states that the defendants are “responsible for the overall operation of” the jail and the “welfare of all the inmates.”

         Matney believes that he was “discriminated against” because he invoked his “Fifth Amendment right” and asked to speak to his attorney following the December 16, 2018 cell search. He argues that his placement in SHU was retaliation “because [he] used [his] constitutional right not to snitch.” Matney claims that other inmates who possessed contraband were moved back to general population housing assignments before him. Matney also alleges that jail staff did not answer his grievances and did not allow him access to the law library for two weeks.

         Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Matney fails to state a § 1983 claim against defendants Major Billiter or Captain McCoy, and that the Haysi Regional Jail is not a proper defendant in a § 1983 action. In response to the motion to dismiss, Matney asserts that Major Billiter and Captain McCoy were present on December 16, 2018, when the investigator attempted to question Matney about the contraband and that both defendants refused to allow Matney to call his attorney when he requested to do so. He also argues that Major Billiter and Captain McCoy were “present [at the facility] every day” and “monitor[] everything that happens within the facility.” Finally, he claims that Captain McCoy answered grievances and visited him while he was housed in the SHU.


         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 plaintiff's 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, “[p]rinciples 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).


         Matney alleges that defendants Major Billiter and Captain McCoy denied him the opportunity to call an attorney after contraband was found in his cell, that they are generally responsible for the operation of the jail and the welfare of inmates, and that Captain McCoy visited him in the SHU and responded to his grievances. The court concludes that Matney's allegations fail to state a plausible claim against Major Billiter or Captain McCoy and, therefore, will grant the motion to dismiss as to the claims against these defendants.

         To the extent Matney alleges that the defendants violated his federal rights by denying him the opportunity to call an attorney concerning his disciplinary charges for the contraband found in his cell, the allegation fails to state a claim. Inmates do not have a right to appointed or retained counsel in prison and jail disciplinary proceedings.[4]Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. ...

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