United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Brett Thomas Green, MCF-Rush
City, pro se Plaintiff.
Margaret E. Jacot, Esq., Minnesota Attorney General's Office, counsel for Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
BECKY R. THORSON, Magistrate Judge.
Brett Thomas Green, a state inmate formerly incarcerated at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater, Minnesota, has filed a pro se civil rights suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ( See Doc. Nos. 1, 9.) In his amended complaint,  Green essentially sets forth three claims for relief after correctional officials found him guilty of starting a fire in his prison cell. First, Green alleges that he was denied procedural due process when he was placed in disciplinary segregation for 120 days and ordered to pay $150.00 in restitution as a result of the fire. ( See Doc. No. 9, Am. Compl. at 2; Doc. No. 1, Compl. at 4-5.) Green maintains that he should have been afforded a "major" disciplinary hearing before an impartial three-member panel where he could call witnesses and review surveillance footage, rather than the "minor" hearing that he received. (Doc. No. 9 at 3-4.) Second, Green alleges that the Defendants violated his due process rights when they failed to prevent the loss of his personal property in the fire. ( Id. at 3-4.) Third and finally, Green asserts an Eighth Amendment failure-to-protect claim based on the second- and third-degree burns that he allegedly sustained while attempting to extinguish the fire. ( See id. at 4-5.)
The Defendants have filed a partial motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, specifically seeking to dismiss Green's first due process claim to the extent that it relies on his placement in disciplinary segregation and to dismiss his remaining claims in their entirety. (Doc. No. 13, Defs.' Partial Mot. to Dismiss at 1; Doc. No. 14, Mem. in Supp. of Defs.' Partial Mot. to Dismiss at 1-2, 4-9.) For the reasons discussed below, this Court recommends that the Defendants' partial motion to dismiss be granted.
According to Green, he was awakened at 4:00 a.m. sometime around March 25, 2012,  by an electrical fire that had started in his cell at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater. ( See Doc. No. 9 at 3; Doc. No. 1 at 4.) The fire originated from a faulty electrical outlet that sparked and ignited Green's possessions, including his paperwork and a plastic bowl. (Doc. No. 1 at 4.) Green extinguished the fire using his hands and suffered second- and third-degree burns in the process. ( Id. )
Green was unable to inform prison staff about the fire for forty-five minutes as there were no emergency buttons in his cell and prison staff only circulated on an hourly basis. ( Id. at 5.) Green was later charged by prison officials with arson and, after a "minor" disciplinary hearing, he was found guilty on that charge, sentenced to 120 days of disciplinary segregation, ordered to pay $150.00 in restitution for the damage caused by the fire, and received a significantly higher safety classification. ( See Doc. No. 1 at 4-5; Doc. No. 9 at 3.)
In order to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is sufficiently plausible where it "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Although pro se complaints are liberally construed, "they still must allege sufficient facts to support the claims advanced." Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004).
A. Disciplinary Segregation
Green asserts, in relevant part, that his due process rights were violated when he was placed in disciplinary segregation for 120 days after he was found guilty of arson. (Doc. No. 9 at 2-4.) Green alleges that the prison disciplinary proceedings were inadequate because there was no evidence of his guilt and because he only received a "minor" hearing, rather than a "major" hearing where he could call witnesses, review the surveillance footage of the fire, and have his guilt decided by an impartial three-member panel. ( Id. at 3-4.)
Procedural due process constrains government decisions "which deprive individuals of liberty' or property' interests within the meaning of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendment." Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 332 (1976). Thus, in order to state a procedural due process claim, a plaintiff must show (1) the existence of a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest, and (2) that the defendants deprived him of that interest without constitutionally adequate process. Schmidt v. Des Moines Pub. Schs., 655 F.3d 811, 817 (8th Cir. 2011); see also Kroupa v. Nielsen, 731 F.3d 813, 818 (8th Cir. 2013) (explaining that a "procedural due process claim turns on (1) whether the state actor's decision impacted a protected liberty or property interest, and if so, (2) what process was constitutionally due'"). Absent a protected liberty or property interest, an individual is not constitutionally entitled to any process. See Senty-Haugen v. Goodno, 462 F.3d 876, 886 (8th Cir. 2006) (explaining that courts do not consider what process is due unless the plaintiff has a protected liberty or property interest); see also Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238, 250 (1983) ("Process is not an end in itself. Its constitutional purpose is to protect a substantive interest to which the individual has a legitimate claim of entitlement.... The State may choose to require procedures for reasons other than protection against deprivation of substantive rights, ... but in making that choice the State does not create an independent substantive right.").
To the extent that Green's procedural due process claim relies on his placement in disciplinary segregation for 120 days, he has failed to make a threshold showing that he was deprived of a protected liberty interest. See Ragan v. Lynch, 113 F.3d 875, 876 (8th Cir. 1997) ("A due process claim is cognizable only if there is a recognized liberty or property interest at stake."). Prisoners do not have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in the conditions of their confinement unless those conditions impose an "atypical and significant hardship... in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995). Absent extraordinary length or unusual restrictions, placement in disciplinary or administrative segregation, even without cause, does not constitute an atypical and significant hardship sufficient to implicate due process protections. See Phillips v. Norris, 320 F.3d 844, 847 (8th Cir. 2003) ("We have consistently held that a demotion to segregation, even without ...