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Silva v. Williams

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 22, 2019

GERALD J. SILVA, Plaintiff,
D.K. WILLIAMS, Defendant.



         On October 26, 2018, the plaintiff, Gerald J. Silva, a pro se inmate currently confined at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury (“FCI Danbury”), Connecticut, brought a civil rights action under Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), against the warden of FCI Danbury, D.K. Williams. Compl. (ECF No. 1) at 1-2. The plaintiff seeks monetary and injunctive relief against the defendant for “garnishing inmates' wages” and “price gouging” items in the prison commissary. Id. at 5-6. For the following reasons, the complaint is dismissed.

         I. Standard of Review

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review prisoner civil complaints and dismiss any portion of the complaint 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. Although detailed allegations are not required, the complaint must include sufficient facts to afford the defendants fair notice of the claims and the grounds upon which they are based and to demonstrate a right to relief. Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Conclusory allegations are not sufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the [C]ourt to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 556). Nevertheless, it is well-established that “[p]ro se complaints ‘must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'” Sykes v. Bank of America, 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)); see also Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for pro se litigants).

         II. Factual Allegations

         According to the plaintiff, the staff at FCI Danbury, under the administration of the defendant, “have been garnishing inmates' wages reportedly for the purpose of balancing [the facility's] budget.” Compl. ¶ 3. Inmates do not know the amount of payment they will receive until the end of each pay period. Id. at ¶ 4. As a result, they are unable to plan their living situations at FCI Danbury and are often unable to purchase necessary items through the commissary. Id. at ¶¶ 5-6. The practice of garnishing inmate wages at FCI Danbury has been ongoing since 2015, but it has become “more persistent and egregious over the past year.” Id. at ¶ 7. Many inmates have voiced their concerns about the situation, but they fear reprisal if they file suit in the courts. Id. at ¶ 8. Inmates have also alleged that the defendant and her staff have engaged in “illegal price [gouging]” of products in the commissary. Id. at ¶ 11. For example, an MP3 player which costs $88.90 in the commissary retails for only $12.00 outside the facility. Id.

         III. Analysis

         The plaintiff brings this action against the defendant in her individual and official capacities under Bivens, 403 U.S. 388. Compl. at 2. He requests that this lawsuit be designated as a class action for all inmates at FCI Danbury who have been affected by the garnishing of wages and/or the “price gouging” of items in the commissary. See Id. at ¶¶ 9, 11. The case must be dismissed because plaintiff fails to allege facts showing standing, and he also does not state a plausible constitutional claim of “price gouging.”

         First, the plaintiff fails to establish standing to bring suit because he never alleges that he suffered any cognizable injury as a result of the defendant's conduct. He alleges that the defendant and her staff “have been garnishing inmates' wages, ” but he never alleges that he was one of those inmates. Nor does he allege that he purchased any products at the commissary or was otherwise a victim of “price gouging.”

         Article III of the United States Constitution “gives the federal courts jurisdiction over only ‘cases and controversies,' and the doctrine of standing serves to identify those disputes which are appropriately resolved through the judicial process.” Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 154-55 (1990). In order to establish standing under Article III, the plaintiff must show “(1) an injury in fact, (2) a causal connection between that injury and the complained-of-conduct, and (3) a likelihood that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.” Cohen v. Rosicki, Rosicki & Assocs. P.C., 897 F.3d 75, 80 (2d Cir. 2018) (quoting Lujan v. Defs. Of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992)).

         The plaintiff fails the first requirement in this case because he fails to allege that he, himself, suffered any injury in fact. The Court cannot discern from the allegations whether the plaintiff is seeking to bring this case only on behalf of other inmates at FCI Danbury or as a result of his own injury. Thus, the complaint fails to demonstrate the plaintiff's standing and must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

         Second, with respect to the plaintiff's allegation that the defendant and her staff are “price gouging” items in the commissary, he has failed to state a plausible claim. Courts in this Circuit have held that “prisoners have no constitutional right to access a commissary.” Montalvo v. Lamy, 139 F.Supp.3d 597, 606 (W.D.N.Y. 2015); see also Torres v. Droun, No. 3:01-CV-1844 (DJS) (TPS), 2004 WL 721729, at *7 (D. Conn. Mar. 30, 2004) (“plaintiff has no constitutional right to purchase items from the commissary or outside vendors”). Therefore, even if the plaintiff had standing, his claim regarding inmates' ability to purchase items through the commissary is not cognizable.

         Nonetheless, the Court will dismiss the case without prejudice and permit plaintiff to file an amended complaint. In particular, the Court finds that if the plaintiff can allege facts showing that he has standing, his claim under Bivens based on the “garnishing [of] inmates' wages” may state a claim for violation of a constitutional right. Bivens authorizes claims for damages against federal officials in their individual capacities for damages only where the conduct is found to violate the claimant's constitutional rights. Dunn v. U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons, No. 3:03-CV-1928 (JBA), 2006 WL 695805, at *4 (D. Conn. Mar. 20, 2006) (citing Ellis v. Blum, 643 F.2d 68, 84 (2d Cir. 1981)); see also M.E.S., Inc. v. Snell, 712 F.3d 666, 671 (2d Cir. 2013) (Bivens claim limited to alleged constitutional violations).

         It is well established that “‘[t]he Constitution of the United States does not create a property or liberty interest in prison employment.'” Campbell v. Quiros, No. 3:17-CV-946 (CSH), 2018 WL 888723, at *9 (D. Conn. Feb. 13, 2018) (quoting Richard v. Fischer, 38 F.Supp.3d 340, 352 (W.D.N.Y. 2014)). Accordingly, the plaintiff's property rights, in this case earned wages, must stem from an independent source of law (i.e. federal statute or regulation). See Onwuazombe v. Dodrill, No. 07-CIV-873 (DLC), 2008 WL 1758641, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 16, 2008). In order to state a deprivation of a property interest, the plaintiff “must have more than a unilateral expectation; [h]e must, instead, have a legitimate claim of entitlement” to those wages. Id. (quoting Bd. Of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972)). “A court will find there to be a property interest if the relevant statutes and regulations ‘meaningfully channel [] official discretion by mandating a defined administrative ...

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