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Raymond Roles v. Melodee Armfield

December 3, 2012

RAYMOND ROLES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MELODEE ARMFIELD, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Candy W. Dale United States Magistrate Judge

INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

Raymond Roles' Prisoner Complaint has been conditionally filed by the Clerk of Court due to his status as an inmate and his request for in forma pauperis status. The Court now reviews Plaintiff's Complaint to determine whether it is subject to summary dismissal under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A. Having reviewed the record, the Court enters the following Order.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, an inmate at the Idaho Correctional Center, was involved in an altercation with another inmate on April 20, 2010, after the other inmate came into Plaintiff's cell uninvited. (Complaint, Dkt. 3, Appendix, p. 1.) The two men started to argue, and Plaintiff struck the inmate on the left side of his jaw with a pencil, which broke in half. (Id.) They then exchanged punches and wrestled on the floor until correctional officers arrived and stopped the fight. (Id.)

Based on this altercation, Plaintiff was charged with "aggravated battery" in a prison disciplinary offense report (a "DOR"). (Dkt. 3, Appendix, p. 1.) At his disciplinary hearing, he argued that he was acting in self-defense, but the Disciplinary Hearing Officer, Melodee Armfield, found Plaintiff guilty and imposed 17 days of detention as punishment. (Dkt. 3, Appendix p. 1, "Attached Exhausted Remedies," p. 1.) Plaintiff appealed, arguing that Armfield prevented him from claiming self-defense under Idaho law, but his appeal was denied. (Id.)

As a result of this DOR, which was the first one Plaintiff had received in 15 years, the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole declined to grant him parole and instead determined that another hearing would not be held for five years. (Dkt. 3, p. 2.) Plaintiff also alleges that his security level has been increased and that he was moved into close custody, where he is locked down 22 to 23 hours a day. (Dkt. 3, "Attached Exhausted Remedies," p.5.)

In his Complaint, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff alleges primarily that Armfield's "refusal" to allow him to rely on self-defense as a valid defense to the DOR deprived him of his rights under the 14th Amendment. (Dkt. 3, p. 2.)

STANDARD OF LAW

The Court is required to review complaints filed in forma pauperis or those filed by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate and must dismiss a complaint or any portion thereof that states a claim that is frivolous or malicious, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A(b). A complaint should also be dismissed under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure if the factual assertions in the Complaint, taken as true, are insufficient for the reviewing court plausibly "to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

Plaintiff brings his claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the civil rights statute. To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege a violation of rights protected by the Constitution or created by federal statute proximately caused by conduct of a person acting under color of state law. Crumpton v. Gates, 947 F.2d 1418, 1420 (9th Cir. 1991).

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff contends that his constitutional rights were violated because he was allegedly prevented from claiming self-defense in his prison disciplinary proceeding. (Dkt. 3, p. 2.) For the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim on which relief may be granted on the self-defense theory, but he may proceed with a more limited due process claim that "some evidence" did not support the DOR.

1. Fourteenth Amendment -- Self-Defense

Because Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Armfield's "refusal" to allow him to claim self-defense deprived him of a state created liberty interest that he had under Idaho statute, his claim falls primarily under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The right todue process of law prohibits the government from depriving an individual of life, liberty, or property without following the proper procedures for doing so. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 558-66 (1974). In the prison setting, however, a prisoner can establish a liberty interest that implicates the Due Process Clause only if he can show that state officials or employees take took actions that either affected his sentence in an unexpected manner or imposed a hardship that is "atypical and significant in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 483-84 (1995).

Here, Plaintiff contends that in addition to the 17 days of detention that he was required to served as punishment for the aggravated battery DOR, the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole has since denied parole to him and he has been moved to a much more restrictive housing assignment, apparently indefinitely. The Court will assume, for present purposes, that he has suffered an atypical and significant hardship, meaning that the disciplinary charge implicated a liberty interest and that he was entitled to protection under the Due Process Clause during the disciplinary hearing.

Even when a liberty interest is at stake, prisoners are not entitled to receive the full panoply of rights in a disciplinary hearing that is due a defendant in a criminal matter. Wolff, 418 U.S. at 558-66. They are instead guaranteed only minimal process, which includes: (1) advance written notice of the disciplinary charge; (2) an opportunity to call witnesses and to present documentary evidence in defense of the charges, and (3) a written statement from the fact finders as to the evidence relied on and the reason for the disciplinary action taken. Id. at 563--65. Plaintiff does not contend that he was deprived of these minimal ...


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