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Williams v. Utah Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

September 29, 2017

REGINALD WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
UTAH DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

         • GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS CERTAIN DEFENDANTS AND

         • DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS REMAINING DEFENDANTS

          CHIEF JUDGE DAVID NUFFER United States District Court

         District Judge David Nuffer Plaintiff Reginald Williams (Plaintiff) filed a Complaint [1] alleging that, the Inmate Trust Fund Account (ITFA) administered by the Utah Department of Corrections (UDOC) must pay interest earned on inmate funds to inmates during imprisonment. Plaintiff named multiple defendants, categorized into groups: Zions Defendants and UDOC Defendants.[2]

         On June 14, 2014, the Zions Defendants filed a Motion and Memorandum to Dismiss All Claims Against the Zions Defendants.[3] The Motion to Dismiss was granted.[4]

         UDOC Defendants now seek dismissal, for failure to state a claim, on all claims against them.[5] These claims include: (1)takings and due process violations for withholding interest on ITFA funds; (2) antitrust violations to establish a monopoly, and (3) retaliation for raising these issues.[6] For the reasons stated in this order, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss[7] is GRANTED as to all claims, except the retaliation claim and its related conspiracy allegations, and as to all Defendants, except M. Anderson, Turley, Bussio, Gardner, and Casper (Remaining Defendants).

         In Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to the State Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Plaintiff's Opposition), Plaintiff states he “does not oppose [UDOC] Defendants' motion insofar as it relates to his antitrust claims.” [8] Therefore the antitrust claims are considered withdrawn and the other three claims of due-process and takings violations as to misappropriated earnings of monies in the ITFA and retaliation for raising the trust-fund issues will be considered.

         STANDARDS FOR REVIEW ....................................................................................................... 3

         DUE PROCESS AND TAKINGS CLAIMS .................................................................................. 4

         RETALIATION CLAIM ................................................................................................................ 7

         ORDER ......................................................................................................................................... 10

         STANDARDS FOR REVIEW

         In evaluating the propriety of dismissing claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, all well-pleaded factual assertions as taken as true and regarded in a light most advantageous to the plaintiff. [9] Dismissal is appropriate when, viewing those facts as true, the plaintiff has not posed a "plausible" right to relief. [10] "The burden is on the plaintiff to frame a 'complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' that he or she is entitled to relief."[11] When a civil rights complaint contains "bare assertions, " involving "nothing more than a 'formulaic recitation of the elements' of a constitutional . . . claim, " the Court considers those assertions "conclusory and not entitled to" an assumption of truth. [12] In other words, "the mere metaphysical possibility that some plaintiff could prove some set of facts in support of the pleaded claims is insufficient; the complaint must give the court reason to believe this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims."[13]

         Pro se pleadings are construed "'liberally, ' applying a less stringent standard than is applicable to pleadings filed by lawyers. Th[e] court, however, will not supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiff's complaint or construct a legal theory on a plaintiff's behalf."[14] In the Tenth Circuit reasoned it can reasonably read the pleadings "to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so despite the plaintiff's failure to cite proper legal authority, his confusion of various legal theories, his poor syntax and sentence construction, or his unfamiliarity with pleading requirements."[15] Still, it is not "the proper function of the district court to assume the role of advocate for the pro se litigant."[16]

         DUE PROCESS AND TAKINGS CLAIMS

         Plaintiff asserts that Utah Code Ann. § 64-13-23 (Utah Statute) regarding ITFAs requires “that inmate funds will accrue interest whether in a joint account or in a an account administered by the department of corrections.”[17] Plaintiff further alleges “because the State Defendants do not credit the ITFA accounts with monies earned on the funds, ” his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and his Fifth Amendment right to be free from takins of private property without just compensation were violated. [18]

         In Plaintiff's Opposition, he correctly points out that other circuits have noted, “it is clear that inmates have a property interest in funds held in prison accounts.”[19] However, Plaintiff is arguing that the Utah Statute mandates UDOC Defendants place inmate funds into an interest bearing account and that interest earned should be paid to inmates. [20]

         The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments' guarantees “'apply only when a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest is at stake.'”[21] “To establish such a protected property interest, [Plaintiff] must have a ‘legitimate claim of entitlement' to interest earned on funds in his accounts.”[22] Rothgoes on to say that

property interests . . . are not created by the Constitution. Rather, they are created and their dimensions are defined by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law--rules or understandings that secure certain benefits and that support claims of entitlement to those benefits. [23]

         Thus, it must be determined whether Utah Statute or another independent source entitles Plaintiff to earn and receive interest on his prison account funds. [24]

         The statute[25] upon which Plaintiff bases the entitlement upon is under the title, “Offender's income and finances.” It states in relevant part: “If the funds are placed in a joint account at a federally insured financial institution: any interest accrues to the benefit of the offender account.”[26] The statute goes on to say, “If the funds are placed in an account administered by the department, the department may by rule designate a certain portion of the offender's funds as interest-bearing savings, and another portion as noninterest-bearing to be used for day-to-day expenses.”[27]

         Tenets of statutory construction counsel, if possible, to construe the statute “in such fashion that every word has some operative effect.”[28] Further, the “statute is to be read as a whole, since the meaning of statutory language, plain or not, depends on context.”[29]

         Giving each word in the Utah Statute operative effect, the overall words and tone are deferential, not commanding. These words separately and in context have the connotation of yielding to UDOC's judgment on how to handle the money.

         The Utah Statute[30] certainly gives the UDOC Defendants the authority to choose whether to put the funds in an interest bearing account, but it does not require it. [31] In fact the funds were placed in a non-interest bearing account. [32] Because the UDOC Defendants put inmate funds in a non-interest-bearing account, there is no interest for Plaintiff to claim. Where there is no property interest, there can be no taking of property, nor can there be a property deprivation without due process. [33]

         Plaintiff also alleges that any monies earned on the funds, interest or otherwise, if not credited to the ITFA accounts violates Plaintiff's due process rights. [34] Even if Zions Bank used the funds to make a profit for itself does not mean there was “interest” on the account or that the UDOC Defendants violated the Utah Statute. As UDOC Defendants point out in practicality “a bank may allow us to deposit money with it, which it will use to invest and generate profit. But our account will still be a 0% interest account.”[35] For the reasons stated above, UDOC Defendants are not liable to Plaintiff regarding ITFA interest-constructive or otherwise. These claims are dismissed.

         RETALIATION CLAIM

         Under this claim, Plaintiff asserts that, because he was pursuing this very litigation, certain UDOC Defendants unconstitutionally conspired and retaliated against him through such targeted activities as confiscating his legal materials. [36]

         â€œPrison officials cannot harass or retaliate against inmates for the inmate's exercise of his First Amendment right to access the courts.”[37]

[T]o establish a First Amendment retaliation claim, the following elements must be shown: (1) that the plaintiff was engaged in a constitutionally protected activity; (2) defendant's actions caused injury to plaintiff that would chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in the activity; and (3) the adverse action was substantially motivated as a response to the plaintiff's exercise of constitutionally protected conduct. Shero v. City of Grove, Okla., 510 F.3d 1196, 1203-04 (10th Cir. 2007). Given that “an inmate is not inoculated from the normal conditions of confinement experienced by convicted felons . . . merely because he has engaged in protected activity[, ] . . . a plaintiff must prove that but for the retaliatory motive, the incidents to which he refers, including the disciplinary action, would not have taken place.” Peterson v. Shanks, 149 F.3d 1140, 1144 (10th Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Smith, 899 F.2d at 949-50). [38]

         In their Motion to Dismiss, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has not provided enough specificity on this claim to state a claim upon which ...


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