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Bundy v. United States of America, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Nevada

November 9, 2017

RYAN C. BUNDY, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, INC. et al., Defendants.

          ORDER [ECF NO. 14]

          Jennifer Dorsey, United States District Judge

         Ryan C. Bundy brought this action to challenge his pretrial-detention conditions at the Nevada Southern Detention Center (NSDC) and the facility's strip-search policies and procedures. In pleading his claims, Bundy cast his net wide. He sued the NSDC warden and unnamed correctional officers; its owner CoreCivic; the United States of America, Inc.; former United States Marshal Services (USMS) directors David L. Harlow and Stacia Hylton, and unnamed USMS personnel. He alleged Bivens claims for money damages, a state-law-based claim for assault and battery, and a conspiracy claim, and he seeks injunctive relief from alleged fourth, sixth, eighth, and fourteenth amendment violations.[1]

         The court screened plaintiff's complaint under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), dismissed his Bivens claims largely because they exceed the scope of the narrow right to sue federal officers for money damages carved out by Bivens and its progeny, [2] and granted him leave to amend his Bivens claims against Warden Collins in her individual capacity or against any USMS Doe Defendant if he can plead true facts showing that their personal conduct subjects them to money-damages liability.[3]

         Plaintiff did not amend. Instead, he responded with a “Rule 60(b) motion, or alternatively motion for reconsideration” of the screening order.[4] He offers four reasons that the court erred: (1) the court deprived him of procedural due process by dismissing his claims in a screening order and without allowing him the opportunity to respond; (2) he properly stated a Bivens claim against CoreCivic and USMS Doe Defendants for money damages, or he should at least be given leave to amend those claims; (3) he stated colorable claims against former USMS directors David Harlow and Stacia Hylton by pleading that they were the chief policy makers for their organization at the time the strip-search policy was adopted, and if he didn't, he should get leave to amend to do so; and (4) he meant to plead his civil-rights conspiracy claim in Count five under 42 U.S.C. 1985(2), not (3), and the court should have realized this.[5]The court liberally construes this motion as one for reconsideration under its “inherent procedural power to reconsider, rescind, or modify an interlocutory order for cause seen by it to be sufficient” because the screening order is not a final order or judgment that triggers Rule 60.[6] The court then denies the motion with one exception: the court finds that plaintiff may proceed on a civil-conspiracy claim under 42 U.S.C. 1985(2) once he identifies the CoreCivic and USMS Doe Defendants.


         A. Standard for reconsidering a screening order

         As local rule 59-1(a) explains, “A party seeking reconsideration under this rule must state with particularity the points of law or fact that the court has overlooked or misunderstood. . . . Reconsideration also may be appropriate if (1) there is newly discovered evidence that was not available when the original motion or response was filed, (2) the court committed clear error or the initial decision was manifestly unjust, or (3) there is an intervening change in controlling law.”[7]

         B. The screening process did not deprive the plaintiff of due process.

         Plaintiff first argues that the court violated his procedural due process rights because it dismissed several of his claims “summarily with prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A” and without allowing him to file a response in opposition, to argue his facts, or to argue the law on why he believes the court is wrong.[8]

         The court finds that plaintiff's due-process argument is without merit. Title 28 U.S.C. § 1915A directs the district courts to “review, before docketing, . . . a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner[9] seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.”[10] The statute further directs the court to dismiss any portion of the complaint that is “frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted” or “ seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.”[11] That is exactly what the court did in this case. And although the screening process itself does not allow a back and forth between the plaintiff and the court, a motion for reconsideration is the due-process mechanism for a plaintiff to argue why he believes the court committed legal error in the screening order. That is precisely what the plaintiff has done here. The court did not err by following the statutorily prescribed screening process to dismiss the plaintiff's legally unsupportable claims.

         C. The court did not commit clear error in dismissing plaintiff's Bivens claims for money damages.

         Plaintiff next argues that the court should not have dismissed his money-damages Bivens claim against the CoreCivic and USMS Doe Defendants because “a fact specific analysis [is] necessary to conclude [that] Bivens did not apply to private contract employees operating on the color of federal law, ” and the screening process is not the vehicle for such an analysis.[12] Alternatively, he argues, the court should “instruct” him on what the defects in this claim are and give him leave to cure them.[13]

         The gravamen of plaintiff's legal argument is that the court misapplied Corr. Servs. Corp. v. Malesko[14] to his case because it does not support the dismissal of his claims against the CoreCivic Doe Defendants and the USMS Doe Defendants with prejudice.[15] Plaintiff contends that Minneci v. Pollard suggests that his claims survive screening and should be addressed through Rule 12(b)(6) motions.[16] Having reviewed both Malesko and Minneci, the court finds that the dismissal of these Bivens claims in the screening order was not clearly erroneous. As explained in detail in the screening order, these cases preclude plaintiff from pursuing a Bivens-based money-damages claim against the United States, CoreCivic, or the CoreCivic Doe Defendants, and plaintiff has not persuaded me otherwise by this motion.[17]

         Importantly, the court did not dismiss plaintiff's claims against the USMS Doe Defendants with prejudice. The court explained that the plaintiff may be able to assert a Bivens claim against individual USMS agents, but he hadn't pled the personal-participation facts to support one in his amended complaint.[18] And, for that, the court gave him leave to amend.[19]

         D. Claims against USMS Directors Harlow and Hylton

         Next, plaintiff disagrees with the court's conclusion that he failed to state a plausible claim against former USMS Directors David Harlow and Stacia Hylton.[20]He argues that he stated claims against these defendants in their official capacities by alleging that they were chief policy makers for their organization and that they ratified the unconstitutional policies at the heart of his case. He relies on Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services[21] and argues that, if Monell is not the right hook for his money-damages claims against these defendants, the court should “reconsider and apply liberal construction to his complaint to technically correct the document.”[22]

         The court dismissed these claims for two reasons. First, it was factually impossible. Plaintiff did not allege any facts to show that these former directors-who left their posts nearly a full year before the plaintiff became a pretrial detainee at NSDC based on the dates in the amended complaint-engaged in the type of personal participation necessary for Bivens liability. Second, plaintiff acknowledges that he sues these defendants in their official capacities and that suing these USMS directors in their official capacities is effectively the same as suing the United States of America.[23] But Bivens does not authorize claims for money damages against the United States government or its agencies.[24] So these official-capacity Bivens claims ...

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