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Woodfox v. Leblanc

United States District Court, M.D Louisiana

April 14, 2015

ALBERT WOODFOX
v.
JAMES LEBLANC, ET AL

RULING

JAMES J. BRADY, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Albert Woodfox, filed a Complaint (doc. 1) with this Court seeking injunctive, declaratory and monetary relief for violation of the First, Eight, and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, along with state law claims. The Named Defendants, James Leblanc, Howard Prince, Kirt Gurien, and Greg McKey, move for this Court to dismiss all claims arguing that the Complaint fails to assert any claim upon which relief may be granted (doc. 4). There are five unnamed defendants who are not parties to this motion. All responsive briefs have been considered.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for 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 pleading is plausible when the plaintiff pleads "factual content" that allows the Court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id. at 663. When a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability, it "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, U.S. at 557 (2007)). "In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must accept all well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Davis v. Bellsouth Telecomm., 2012 WL 2064699, at *1 (M.D. La. June 7, 2012) (citing Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996)).

FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

i. Plaintiff's First Amendment Activities

As part of Plaintiff's habeas corpus proceedings, an evidentiary hearing was scheduled by this Court on March 14, 2012 for May 29-31, 2012 (doc. 1, at 5). Prior to the hearing a written statement prepared by Mr. Woodfox was read to the media at a press conference. Id. Following this, Defendant LeBlanc issued a statement that the DOC needed to isolate Mr. Woodfox because he was a danger to prison employees, other inmates and visitors. Id. The Middle District of Louisiana ordered Mr. Woodfox's transfer from David Wade Correctional Center to the custody of the Department of Corrections of the State of Louisiana on Friday, May 25, 2012. Id. Mr. Woodfox was ordered to remain in the Department of Corrections custody until Friday, June 1, 2012. Id. Defendant LeBlanc, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections ("DOC"), and Defendant Prince, Warden of Elayn Hunt in St. Gabriel in 2012, were aware of the impending hearing by way of the judicial order of May 8, 2012 and media coverage.

ii. Unconstitutional Confinement at Elayn Hunt

On or about May 25, 2012, the DOC transferred Mr. Woodfox from Wade to Hunt in St. Gabriel, Louisiana (doc. 1, at 5). Upon his arrival, Mr. Woodfox was subject to the intake process and medical staff's evaluation. Defendant Doe #3 gave Mr. Woodfox a Hunt's identification card. An employee from the classification department conducted a literacy test on Mr. Woodfox, which he passed. Id. at 5-6. Mr. Woodfox never appeared before a Hunt classification or disciplinary board. Id. at 6. Defendant Doe #1 brings Mr. Woodfox to the cellblock after completing intake while awaiting placement to a specific cell. Id. During the wait, Mr. Woodfox heard Defendant Doe #1 on a phone call with an unknown prison official (Defendant Doe #2). Woodfox heard Defendant Doe #1 say, "C-Tier, are you sure about that?" After inquiring from an inmate orderly, Mr. Woodfox was told that C-Tier was referred to as "the dungeon." Mr. Woodfox asked Defendant Doe #1, after his phone conversation ended, why he would be placed in the dungeon. To this, Defendant Doe #1 responded, "this comes from a higher up." Mr. Woodfox remained in C-Tier, cell 10 until June 6, 2012, five days beyond what was contemplated by the judicial order. Prior to his transfer to Hunt, Mr. Woodfox had no pending disciplinary reports nor was he subject to any investigation for institutional rule infractions. Mr. Woodfox had not received a single disciplinary write up in several years. Mr. Woodfox was housed in C-Tier for 13 days, where he claims to have been subject of significant and atypical hardships, particularly given that there was no legitimate justification for holding him there.

Mr. Woodfox was subject to extreme restrictions while housed in C-Tier. Id. Mr. Woodfox was held in lockdown isolation the entirety of every day, except for a 15 minute shower every day; and except for the three days he was allowed out to appear in court. Id. at 6-7. Mr. Woodfox did not have access to the canteen or to a television during this period. Id. at 7. Mr. Woodfox was not permitted to make any phone calls, participate in any outdoor yard exercise, or visit with his friends or family. On information and belief, Mr. Woodfox was served inedible frozen food covered in ice. Mr. Woodfox was deprived of clothing and personal hygiene effects he brought with him for the move. Hunt officials required Mr. Woodfox wear leg irons when he left his cell, including when he went for a shower, yet his socks were confiscated. Therefore, he had nothing to protect his angles from this tool of confinement, leaving him with bruises and cuts on his ankles. In the dungeon, Mr. Woodfox was subject to high noise levels and other inmates yelling, moaning, and speaking to themselves during the day and night. While confined at Hunt, Mr. Woodfox was exposed to extreme heat. The confinement area was not temperature controlled and had one fan that remained pointed at the floor for the extent of Mr. Woodfox's stay at C-tier. Id. at 8. According to local weather data, the temperatures outside during Mr. Woodfox's stay reached above 90 degrees. During his confinement at Hunt, Mr. Woodfox was denied social vitiation, including a pre-approved visit scheduled at Wade with a friend who travelled from outside the United States for the visit. On June 5, 2012, Defendants Prince and McKay, along with other unknown police officials, briefly spoke to Mr. Woodfox and identified no legitimate grounds for his house in C-tier. Mr. Woodfox complained about his conditions to Defendant Does #3-5 during his stay at Hunt. Notice was never provided to Mr. Woodfox from DOC or Hunt officials explaining the decision for such restrictive housing. Mr. Woodfox was never given the opportunity to contest the "decision to house him in the most punitive and severe conditions within Elayn Hunt" (doc. 1, at 8). Upon his return to Wade, Mr. Woodfox submitted a complaint about his "unjustified placement in the dungeon while at Elayn Hunt, " and has since exhausted all administrative remedies available. Id.

iii. Harm Suffered

Mr. Woodfox suffered from fatigue and exhaustion due to a combination of factors, including the extreme noise from other inmates, extreme heat, and deprivation of edible food, all of which kept him from sleeping. Id. at 9. Mr. Woodfox was already at a greater risk for fatigue due to his preexisting medical conditions. Mr. Woodfox's suffering from exhaustion and fatigue affected him during his evidentiary hearing, making it difficult for Mr. Woodfox to stay awake during the proceedings and assist his attorneys throughout the proceedings. Mr. Woodfox suffered emotional and mental anguish as a result of his C-Tier confinement for thirteen days. The anguish affected his ability to physically follow and assist his attorneys in the court proceedings. Mr. Woodfox suffered cuts and bruises from the iron leg shackles he was forced to wear without socks. This pain too distracted Mr. Woodfox throughout his evidentiary hearing. Id. at 9-10. Mr. Woodfox was deprived of pre-approved social contact

Mr. Woodfox would not have suffered in these ways if he had been placed is housing that was "not more restrictive than necessary, instead of in housing ordinarily reserved for inmates who have been properly sentenced by a disciplinary board to punitive isolation cells" (doc. 1, at 10). Mr. Woodfox urges that the Defendants "directed or facilitated this targeted mistreatment of Mr. Woodfox in retaliation for exercising his constitutionally protected rights to access the courts, free speech and association, and because of Defendants' perceptions of Mr. Woodfox's political views and associations, and particular opinions." Id. Mr. Woodfox believes that Defendant LeBlanc knew that Mr. Woodfox was wrongfully placed in such unnecessarily restrictive confinement but did nothing to rectify the circumstances. Defendants' placement of Mr. Woodfox in C-Tier was done with "deliberate indifference, and in reckless disregard for or knowing violation of his rights." Id. Defendants' acts and omissions caused Mr. Woodfox to suffer from "1) the retaliation he experienced as a result of his First Amendment activities; 2) the atypical, disorienting conditions imposed upon him without notice or ...


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