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Benson v. Piper

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 31, 2017

Michael D. Benson, Plaintiff,
Emily Johnson Piper, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court, United States Magistrate Judge Tony N. Leung, on Plaintiff's Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, (TRO Motion, ECF No. 33), and Plaintiff's Motion for Amended Temporary Restraining Order, (Amended TRO Motion, ECF No. 49). These motions have been referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for a report and recommendation to the Honorable Donovan W. Frank, United States District Judge for the District of Minnesota, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Rule 72.1. Based on all the files, records, and proceedings herein, and for the reasons set forth below, this Court recommends that Plaintiff's motions be denied and this case be stayed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Michael D. Benson filed his “Complaint for Violations of Civil Rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983” on January 27, 2017, bringing claims against 39 individuals- including Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Johnson Piper, facility directors and supervisors, clinical supervisors, and security counselors-involved in the operation the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (“MSOP”) facility located in Moose Lake, Minnesota. (Compl., ECF No. 1). Benson asserts Defendants are “harassing and retaliating against [him] with ‘special punishments' for exercising his constitutionally protected rights.” (Compl. ¶ 10). Broadly put, Benson asserts Defendants are retaliating against him for filing a previous lawsuit in this District, Michael D. Benson v. Emily Johnson Piper, et al., Case No. 16-cv-509 (DWF/TNL). (Compl. ¶ 10). In his previous suit, Benson challenges MSOP's badge policy as violating his First Amendment rights. Michael D. Benson v. Emily Johnson Piper, et al., Case No. 16-cv-509 (DWF/TNL).[1]After being served with the present complaint, Defendants moved to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 24). Contemporaneously with filing his response to Defendants' motion to dismiss, Benson filed his TRO Motion.

         In his TRO Motion, Benson seeks to “enjoin Defendants from disposing/destroying [his] personal property held in Property.” (TRO Motion, at 1). Benson asserts he is being held at MSOP Unit Omega 2 which “only allows one . . . bin of personal property while all other units allow three . . . bins and [a] TV.” (TRO Motion, at 1). Benson asserts that, given this policy, his “two bins of property with TV” will be disposed or destroyed on August 2, 2017 unless moved to another housing unit. (TRO Motion, at 1). Benson cites MSOP Property Policy No. 420-5250 (Nov. 1, 2016), [2] which allows for storage of property for up to 90 days, during which time “[c]lients must choose a disposition within 90 days of property storage.” (TRO Motion, at 1). Benson asserts Defendants have “never explained or provided a hearing to explain why [he] is being held in Omega 2 jail as pleaded in the Complaint.” (TRO Motion, at 1).

         Defendants oppose Benson's TRO Motion, arguing that the motion is not sufficiently related to Benson's underlying complaint, that the motion is moot, and it fails on the merits. (ECF No. 40). In response, Benson filed an Amended TRO Motion and supporting memorandum, in which he agrees his original TRO Motion is moot. (ECF No. 50, at 3) (“[T]he Defendants moved the Plaintiff to the Omega Three Unit on 23 Jun 17, which negated the need for the TRO.”). In the Amended TRO Motion, however, Benson shifts the relief he seeks to the following: enjoining Defendants from denying Benson access to religious services; enjoining Defendants from denying Benson access to the gym; and providing a stern warning to Defendants concerning retaliation. (Amended TRO Motion, at 1).

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standard

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 65(a), a court “may issue a preliminary injunction only on notice to the adverse party.” The court may issue a temporary restraining order without notice to the adverse party only if “specific facts . . . clearly show that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result to the movant before the adverse party can be heard in opposition” and the movant shows efforts made to give notice and the reasons why notice should not be required. Fed.R.Civ.P. 65(b)(1). The “standard for issuing a TRO or a preliminary injunction is the same.” C.S. McCrossan Constr., Inc. v. Minnesota Dept. of Transp., 946 F.Supp.2d 851, 857 n.10 (D. Minn. 2013) (citing S.B. McLaughling & Co. v. Tudor Oaks Condo. Project, 877 F.2d 707, 708-09 (8th Cir. 1989)); see Carlson v. City of Duluth, 958 F.Supp.2d 1040, 1052 n.1 (D. Minn. 2013) (construing ambiguous motion for preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order as motion for preliminary injunction where defendant had noticed its appearance and submitted briefing and because standard was same between motions). Here, Defendants have had an opportunity to respond to Plaintiff's original TRO motion, so the Court will consider Plaintiff's original TRO motion as seeking a preliminary injunction. C.S. McCrossan Constr., 946 F.Supp.2d at 857 n.10; Carlson, 958 F.Supp.2d at 1052 n.1.

         Whether the Court should issue a preliminary injunction “involves consideration of (1) the threat of irreparable harm to the movant; (2) the state of balance between this harm and the injury that granting the injunction will inflict on other parties litigant; (3) the probability that movant will succeed on the merits; and (4) the public interest.” Dataphase Systems, Inc. v. CL Sys., Inc., 640 F.2d 109, 114 (8th Cir. 1981) (en banc). “A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy and the burden of establishing the propriety of an injunction is on the movant.” Watkins, Inc. v. Lewis, 346 F.3d 841, 844 (8th Cir. 2003) (internal citations omitted). “A court issues a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit to preserve the status quo and prevent irreparable harm until the court has an opportunity to rule on the lawsuit's merits.” Devose v. Herrington, 42 F.3d 470, 471 (8th Cir. 1994) (per curiam); see Kelley v. First Westroads Bank, 840 F.2d 554, 558 (8th Cir. 1988) (“[T]he well-established function of a temporary restraining order is to maintain the status quo.”). “The burden is especially heavy where . . . the moving party seeks not to maintain the status quo, but to obtain relief similar to that which it could obtain after a trial on the merits.” Brooks v. Roy, 881 F.Supp.2d 1034, 1049 (D. Minn. 2012) (citing Sanborn Mfg. Co. v. Campbell Hausfeld/Scott Feltzer Co., 997 F.2d 484, 486 (8th Cir. 1993)).

         Moreover, in “the prison context, a request for injunctive relief must always be viewed with great caution because ‘judicial restraint is especially called for in dealing with the complex and intractable problems of prison administration.'” Goff v. Harper, 60 F.3d 518, 520 (8th Cir. 1995) (quoting Rogers v. Scurr, 676 F.2d 1211, 1214 (8th Cir. 1982)). These same concerns are present where the administration of a facility housing civilly committed sex offenders is concerned. See Senty-Haugen v. Goodno, 462 F.3d 876, 887 (8th Cir. 2006) (explaining that “federal courts are to give deference to state officials managing a secure facility, and [Minnesota Sex] Offender Program staff have a substantial interest in providing efficient procedures to address security issues”) (citations omitted); see also Aune v. Ludeman, Case No. 09-cv-15 (JNE/SRN), 2009 WL 1586739, at *2 (D. Minn. June 3, 2009) (citing deference principles in the context of considering a civilly committed individual's motion for a preliminary injunction). The “courts should not get involved unless either a constitutional violation has already occurred or the threat of such a violation is both real and immediate.” Goff, 60 F.3d at 521 (quoting Rogers, 676 F.2d at 1214).

         B. Benson's TRO Motion

         Benson was placed in MSOP's Unit Omega 2 on December 8, 2016 “in response to a series of problematic behaviors” that included refusing to leave MSOP's High Security Area (“HSA”). (Aff. of Jana Brister Korby ¶ 2, Ex. 1, at 1, ECF No. 45). On December 28, 2016, Benson's “behavioral issues had resolved” to allow his return to regular housing. (Korby Aff. ¶ 4). Benson, however, refused to leave Unit Omega 2. (Korby Aff. ¶ 2, Ex. 1, at 1). Benson was moved from Unit Omega 2 to Unit Omega 3 on June 23, 2017, “to create space for other MSOP clients whose behavioral problems warranted placements on Units Omega 1 & 2.” (Korby Aff. ¶ 5).[3] Now, Benson refuses to leave Unit Omega 3 and return to regular housing. (Korby Aff. ¶ 6).

         MSOP clients housed in Unit Omega 2 are permitted one storage bin of personal possessions. (Johnson Aff. ¶ 2, Ex. 1). MSOP clients housed in Unit Omega 3 or regular housing may have three storage bins of personal possessions and a television. (Johnson Aff. ¶ 2, Ex. 1). Before Benson was moved to Unit Omega 3, he was informed on May 2, 2017, that if he chose to remain in Unit Omega 2, he would need to be in compliance with the associated property restrictions. (Johnson Aff. ¶¶ 4-5).

         Through his TRO Motion, Benson seeks to prevent the destruction of two property bins and a television pursuant to MSOP property retention policy. Benson's TRO Motion is based on the premise that he will lose property on August 2, 2017, 90 days following the May 2, 2017 notification. (TRO Motion, at 1). Benson has since been moved to Unit Omega 3, which has a less restrictive property policy than Unit Omega 2. Under the property policy of Unit Omega 3, Benson will not lose the property he seeks to protect in his motion. Accordingly, Benson's TRO Motion is moot. See, e.g., Pratt v. Corrections Corp. of America, 267 F. App'x 482, 483 (8th Cir. 2008) (holding prisoner's claim for equitable and declaratory remedy was moot where prisoner was no longer subject to the challenged conditions); Smith v. Hundley, 190 F.3d 852, 855 (8th Cir. 1999) (same); Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d 1334 (8th Cir. 1985) (same). Moreover, Benson himself concedes that his TRO Motion is moot in his memorandum accompanying his Amended TRO Motion. (ECF No. 50, at 2, 3, 7). Therefore, the Court recommends denying Plaintiff's Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, (ECF No. 33), as moot. Given the mootness as agreed by the parties, the Court need not analyze Defendants' remaining arguments that Benson's TRO Motion is not sufficiently related to his underlying claims or that it lacks merit.

         C. Benson's ...

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