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Thomasson v. Premo

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

June 2, 2017

JEREMIAH THOMASSON, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFF PREMO, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL W. MOSMAN Chief United States District Judge.

         Mr. Thomasson brings two claims against Defendants, both related to alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [82], arguing that they are entitled to judgment in their favor on both of Mr. Thomasson's claims. Mr. Thomasson responded in opposition [87], and Defendants replied [90]. For the reasons stated below, I GRANT Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [82].

         BACKGROUND

         Mr. Thomasson is an inmate serving a sentence with the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC). He is currently housed in a "supermax" facility in Florida under an agreement between Oregon and Florida pursuant to an Interstate Corrections Compact. Mr. Thomasson is on "Close Management" status in Florida, and as a result, he claims he is held in solitary isolation for 23 hours a day.

         Prior to Mr. Thomasson's transfer to Florida, he was housed in administrative segregation at a prison in Oregon. He claims he was housed there for 26 days before he received a notice of hearing on February 13, 2014. While Mr. Thomasson does not dispute that he received the notice, he believes it was deficient because it was addressed to another inmate. A few days after his hearing, Mr. Thomasson was transferred to Florida.

         The reasons behind Mr. Thomasson's stay in administrative segregation or transfer to a state penitentiary in Florida are not at issue in this case. Regardless of the reasons, Mr. Thomasson claims that Defendants have violated his Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights by (1) putting him in solitary confinement without explanation, (2) failing to provide him with adequate notice of a hearing, and (3) transferring him to Florida without a hearing. In addition, Mr. Thomasson claims that the transfer has impeded his access to the courts because he does not have access to Oregon law materials in Florida, which violates his constitutional rights.

         Mr. Thomasson seeks to hold several individuals connected to the Oregon Department of Corrections liable for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Specifically, he brings claims against (1) Jeff Premo, the Superintendent of an Oregon State Prison, (2) Collete S. Peters, the Director of Corrections as the Oregon Department of Corrections, (3) Doug Yancey, a member of the Security Threat Management Unit at an Oregon State Prison, and (4) Michael F. Gower, the Assistant Director of Corrections at the Oregon Department of Corrections. Both claims are brought against all four individuals in their personal and official capacity.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The initial burden for a motion for summary judgment is on the moving party to identify the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once that burden is satisfied, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to demonstrate, through the production of evidence listed in Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1), that there remains a "genuine issue for trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. The non-moving party may not rely upon the pleading allegations, Brinson v. Linda Rose Joint Venture, 53 F.3d 1044, 1049 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P 56(e)), or 'iinsupported conjecture or conclusory statements, " Hernandez v. SpacelabsMed. Inc., 343 F.3d 1107, 1112 (9th Cir. 2003). All reasonable doubts and inferences to be drawn from the facts are to be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         DISCUSSION

         Mr. Thomasson brings two claims against Defendants. In Claim I, Mr. Thomasson alleges that Defendants violated his procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. In Claim n, Mr. Thomasson alleges that Defendants violated his First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights by failing to provide him with access to a library with materials on Oregon law, thereby obstructing his access to the courts. Defendants argue they are entitled to summary judgment on both claims because Mr. Thomasson has failed to show that they violated his constitutional rights. Even if there is a factual dispute as to whether they violated Mr. Thomasson's constitutional rights, Defendants argue they are entitled to qualified immunity. For the reasons explained below, I find that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on both claims. Because Defendants are entitled to smnmary judgment on the merits of the claims, I do not consider whether they are entitled to qualified immunity.

         I. Procedural Due Process Violations

         Mr. Thomasson argues Defendants violated his procedural due process rights by (1) putting him in solitary confinement for 26 days without explanation or adequate notice of a hearing, and (2) sending him to a prison in Florida, where he remains in solitary isolation. Defendants argue they are entitled to summary judgment on this claim under both theories because Mr. Thomasson has failed to show they violated a protected liberty interest, either under the Due Process Clause itself or under state law. See LaFleur v. Nooth, 2:12-CV-00637-SI, 2014 WL 1236138, at *3 (D. Or. Mar. 25, 2014) ("The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects liberty interests that arise either under the clause itself or under state law." (citing Chappell v. Manderville, 706 F.3d 1052, 1062 (9th Cir. 2013)). For the following reasons, Mr. Thomasson has failed to show that Defendants violated a liberty interest created under the Due Process Clause itself or under state law. As such, I GRANT summary judgment in Defendants' favor on Claim I.

         A. Due Process Violation Arising From the Clause Itself

         The Due Process Clause in itself "does not protect every change in the conditions of confinement having a substantial adverse impact on the prisoner." Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 478 (1995) (citation omitted); see also Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221 (2005) ("[T]he Constitution itself does not give rise to a liberty interest in avoiding transfer to more adverse conditions of confinement."(citation omitted)). Standing alone, it "does not confer a liberty interest in freedom from the conditions or degree of confinement ordinarily contemplated by a prison sentence." LaFleur, 2014 WL 1236138, at *3; see also Sandin, 515 U.S. At 480 (explaining that the Due Process Clause "confers no liberty interest in freedom from state action taken within the [criminal] sentence imposed." (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted)). "[A]s long as the conditions or degree of confinement to which the prisoner is subjected is within the sentence imposed upon him ... the Due Process Clause does not in itself subject an inmate's treatment by prison authorities to judicial oversight." Chappell, 706 F.3d at 1063 (quoting Montanye v. Haymes, 427 U.S. 236, 242 (1976)).

         A prisoner's transfer to a maximum security facility or a prison with more burdensome conditions is "within the normal limits or range of custody" that a state may impose and not itself a due process violation. Sandin, at 478 (citation omitted). This is so because even if "life in one prison is much more disagreeable than in another, " such circumstances do not themselves implicate a Fourteenth Amendment liberty interest. Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 225 (1976) ("Transfers between institutions ... are made for a variety of reasons and often involve no more than informed predictions as to what would [] best seive institutional security or the safely and welfare of the inmate."); see also Olim v. Wakinekoiia, 461 U.S. 238, 245-46 (1983) (adopting Meachum for interstate transfers and explaining that "an imnate has no justifiable expectation . . . that he will be incarcerated in any particular State"). Similarly, temporary placement in administrative segregation does not itself constitute a due process violation. May v. Baldwin, 109 F.3d 557, 565 (9th Cir. 1997).

         Here, under Meachum, Sandin, Olim, and May, it is clear that Mr. Thomasson's claims grounded in his placement in administrative segregation and transfer to Florida do not, standing alone, rise to the level of a constitutional due process violation. Accordingly, Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Claim I on the theory that they violated Mr. Thomasson's Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights simply by placing him in administrative segregation and then transferring him to Florida.

         B. State-Created ...


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