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Burchfield v. Walcott

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

October 26, 2016

BRADLEY CRAIG BURCHFIELD PLAINTIFF
v.
DEPUTY CHRIS WALCOTT and SHERIFF BENNY SIMMONS DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          Susan O. Hickey United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is the Report and Recommendation filed August 16, 2016, by the Honorable Barry A. Bryant, United States Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Arkansas. (ECF No. 31). Judge Bryant recommends that Plaintiff Bradley Craig Burchfield's Motion to Order for a Preliminary Injunction and a Temporary Restraining Order (ECF No. 27) be denied. Plaintiff has timely filed objections to the Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 39). The Court finds this matter ripe for consideration.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case is a § 1983 action brought by Plaintiff, suing Defendants Chris Walcott and Benny Simmons in both their official and personal capacities.[2] Plaintiff alleges that while he was awaiting state charges and incarcerated in the Sevier County Detention Center (“SCDC”) in De Queen, Arkansas, SCDC did not have a law library. Plaintiff states that it is SCDC's policy to provide access to law library materials through appointed counsel and free phone calls to counsel. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants denied him access to a law library at SCDC, which in combination with an allegedly insufficient public defender, deprived Plaintiff of meaningful access to the courts. The record shows that Plaintiff is no longer incarcerated at SCDC, and is currently incarcerated at the Arkansas Department of Correction - East Arkansas Regional Unit in Marianna, Arkansas. (ECF No. 17). This remains Plaintiff's address of record.

         On May 24, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present pro se case in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. On May 27, 2016, the case was transferred to the Western District of Arkansas. On August 9, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion asking the Court to enjoin Defendants and others from “barring defendants in criminal proceedings being held at the Sevier County Detention Center from the use of the law library.”[3] (ECF No. 27). Plaintiff argued that he fears he will be transferred back to SCDC for trial and that he will be held in administrative segregation, thus denying him use of the law library. He claims that denial of access could prevent him from representing himself at trial.

         On August 10, 2016, Defendants filed a response to Plaintiff's motion, with an accompanying brief in support. (ECF Nos. 29-30). Defendants argued that Plaintiff failed to meet his burden of proving that a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order should be issued. Defendants argued in the alternative that Plaintiff's motion is moot because Plaintiff is no longer incarcerated at SCDC.

         On August 23, 2016, Plaintiff filed a reply to Defendants' response.[4] (ECF No. 37). Plaintiff argued that his motion is not moot because he will be transferred to SCDC at some point. Plaintiff reiterated his argument that denial of access to a law library will impede his ability to litigate his criminal case. Plaintiff argued that the threat of this occurring is “both real and immediate, ” and claimed that “[o]ne inmate was locked in solitary confinement and denied his legal mail for several months.” (ECF No. 37). Plaintiff's reply also argued that his equal protection rights were violated because inmates with more serious charges were given the same plea-bargain offer made to him.[5]

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) & (3), the Court referred this case to Judge Bryant for the purpose of making a Report and Recommendation. On August 16, 2016, Judge Bryant issued a Report and Recommendation, recommending that Plaintiff's motion be denied. (ECF No. 31). Judge Bryant recommended that Plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief is moot due to the fact that he is no longer incarcerated at SCDC. Judge Bryant recommended that, even if the claim was not moot, Plaintiff failed to provide any evidence to demonstrate he will sustain irreparable harm if the Court does not issue injunctive relief. Judge Bryant also recommended that it is questionable whether Plaintiff will succeed on the merits of his claim against SCDC for denial of access to the law library. Judge Bryant concluded that Plaintiff's motion should be denied. On August 29, 2016, Plaintiff timely filed objections to the Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 39).

         II. DISCUSSION

         Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs preliminary injunctions and temporary restraining orders. The determination of whether a preliminary injunction is warranted 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 . . .; (3) the probability that [the] movant will succeed on the merits; and (4) the public interest.” Dataphase Sys., Inc. v. C L Sys., Inc., 640 F.2d 109, 114 (8th Cir. 1981). “The party seeking injunctive relief bears the burden of proving all the Dataphase factors.” Watkins Inc. v. Lewis, 346 F.3d 841, 844 (8th Cir. 2003). Importantly, a movant's “[f]ailure to show irreparable harm is an independently sufficient ground upon which to deny a preliminary injunction.” Id.

         In a 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) (internal quotation marks omitted). 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.” Id. at 521.

         According to 28 U.S.C. § 646(b)(1), the Court will conduct a de novo review of all issues related to Plaintiff's specific objections. Plaintiff's objections are largely unresponsive to Judge Bryant's recommendations, but Plaintiff does specifically object to the recommendation that Plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief was rendered moot by his transfer from SCDC. Plaintiff does not explicitly object to Judge Bryant's recommendation that Plaintiff has failed to show he will suffer irreparable harm absent an injunction and that he is likely to succeed on the merits, but as discussed below, these arguments may be inferred from the objections.

         A. Mootness of Plaintiff's Claim for Injunctive Relief

         Judge Bryant recommended that Plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction was rendered moot by his transfer from SCDC. Plaintiff objected, stating that he has an upcoming trial in Sevier County, Arkansas, and asserting that he will be transferred to SCDC for the trial; thus “this subject could re-occur which would argue the point of being moot.” (ECF No. 39). Plaintiff also stated that there are other pre-trial detainees in SCDC who are suffering the same treatment.[6]

         The Eighth Circuit provides that a prisoner's request for injunctive relief is generally rendered moot by the prisoner's transfer to a different facility in which the alleged unlawful condition does not exist. See Smith v. Hundley, 190 F.3d 852, 855 (8th Cir. 1999); Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d 1334, 1337 (8th Cir. 1985). However, in exceptional situations, the Eighth Circuit has recognized a “capable-of-repetition-yet-evading-review” exception to prisoners' otherwise moot injunctive-relief requests where: (1) the challenged action is too short in duration to be fully litigated prior to cessation or expiration; and (2) there is a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party will be subject to ...


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