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Striz v. Collier

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division

August 29, 2019

AARON STRIZ, TDCJ # 00838215 Plaintiff,
BRIAN COLLIER, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Aaron Striz, an inmate at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice- Correctional Institutions Division (“TDCJ”), filed this civil rights action alleging that he is confined in administrative segregation at the Darrington Unit in violation of the Due Process Clause and other constitutional guarantees. The Court ordered service on three Defendants at TDCJ's Darrington Unit: Warden Butcher, Major Pharr, and Unit Classification Manager Davis. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss (Dkt. 12), to which Plaintiff responded (Dkt. 13). Simultaneously with his response, Plaintiff filed a proposed supplemental pleading (Dkt. 13-1). In addition, Plaintiff has filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint (Dkt. 11), a motion for appointment of counsel (Dkt. 14), and a letter inquiring about whether discovery motions are permitted at this stage of the case (Dkt. 15).

         Plaintiff alleges that he has been confined in administrative segregation for more than 17 years and that TDCJ has no valid penological reason to continue to confine him there. He also alleges that, although he receives regular classification reviews, the hearings are a perfunctory sham. He claims that he has fulfilled every requirement listed by TDCJ for release from administrative segregation and has satisfied all requirements to disassociate from gang membership, but that TDCJ continues to deny him release based on gang affiliation information that TDCJ acknowledges is outdated. He also claims that TDCJ imposes conditions for release, such as completion of the GRAD program, with which TDCJ then makes it impossible for him to comply by denying him admission to the program.

         Plaintiff has filed multiple grievances regarding his classification every year since 2010, at three different TDCJ units, including after every periodic classification review of his housing status. All of the grievances have been denied.

         Plaintiff brings claims for violation of his constitutional rights under the Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Eighth Amendment (Dkt. 1). His proposed amended pleadings seek to add claims under the Ex Post Facto Clause and the First Amendment's prohibition on retaliation (Dkt. 11-1). The proposed amended pleadings also seek to add two new Defendants from the Darrington Unit: Assistant Warden James Powers and Classification Chief Myra M. Montez. Plaintiff's proposed supplemental complaint (Dkt. 13-1) alleges that in February 2019, after he filed this suit, Defendants changed their reason for his confinement in administrative segregation and continue to deny him release to general population. Defendants have not opposed Plaintiff's requests to amend or supplement his pleadings.

         Plaintiff seeks (1) a declaratory judgment that his rights have been violated; (2) injunctive relief in the form of either (a) release from administrative segregation or (b) an order directing TDCJ to allow him to participate in the GRAD program and thus earn his release from administrative segregation; and (3) punitive damages in the amount of $125 for each day he was wrongfully confined in administrative segregation (Dkt. 1; see Dkt. 11-1).

         I. Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 12)

         Defendants Butcher, Pharr, and Davis, the three defendants on whom the Court ordered service, have filed a motion to dismiss (Dkt. 12) and Plaintiff has responded (Dkt. 13). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) may be granted if the pleading “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, courts generally must accept the factual allegations contained in the complaint as true. Harrington v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 563 F.3d 141, 147 (5th Cir. 2009). Federal pleading rules require “only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). The complaint must, however, contain sufficient factual allegations, as opposed to legal conclusions, to state a claim for relief that is “plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009); see Patrick v. Wal-Mart, Inc., 681 F.3d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 2012). The pleadings also must claim that the plaintiff is entitled to relief under a valid legal theory. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989); Geiger v. Jowers, 404 F.3d 371, 373 (5th Cir. 2005).

         Defendants first urge that Plaintiff may not seek monetary damages against Defendants in their official capacities. A claim against a state employee in his or her official capacity is a claim against the State of Texas. See Mayfield v. Tex. Dep't of Crim. Justice, 529 F.3d 599, 604 (5th Cir. 2008). Because the Eleventh Amendment protects the states' sovereign immunity, federal courts lack jurisdiction over suits against a state for money damages unless the state has waived its immunity or Congress has clearly abrogated that immunity. NiGen Biotech, L.L.C., v. Paxton, 804 F.3d 389, 393- 94 (5th Cir. 2015); Moore v. La. Bd. Of Elem. And Secondary Educ., 743 F.3d 959, 963 (5th Cir. 2014). Texas has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity, and Congress did not abrogate that immunity when enacting Section 1983. NiGen, 804 F.3d at 394. Therefore, any claims for money damages against Defendants in their official capacities are subject to dismissal for lack of jurisdiction under the Eleventh Amendment. Plaintiff does not oppose this portion of Defendants' motion, and clarifies in his response that he is not seeking money damages against Defendants in their official capacities (Dkt. 13, at 1). Defendant's motion to dismiss on this issue therefore will be granted under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).

         In all other respects, Defendants' motion to dismiss will be denied without prejudice to Defendants' arguments raised in the motion. Simply put, the motion to dismiss does not comprehensively engage the facts alleged by Plaintiff, including his allegation that he has been confined in administrative segregation for 17 years with perfunctory hearings that offer no realistic possibility of release to general population. Defendants cite authority that confinement in administrative segregation, absent atypical or extraordinary circumstances, does not implicate a constitutional liberty interest (Dkt.12, at 3-4 (citing, e.g., Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472 (1995)). However, as Plaintiff argues in response, Defendants' briefing does not address whether extraordinary circumstances are present in this case, and does not analyze the applicability of other potentially relevant authorities. See, e.g., Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209 (2005); Wilkerson v. Goodwin, 774 F.3d 845 (5th Cir. 2014); Hernandez v. Velasquez, 522 F.3d 556 (5th Cir. 2008). As the Fifth Circuit recently has held, the duration of an inmate's confinement in segregation and the nature of the confinement are relevant under the Sandin test and, in some cases, “effectively indefinite” detention in segregation may constitute an “atypical and significant hardship” under Sandin. See Wilkerson, 774 F.3d at 855. On the current record, the Court cannot assess the applicability of these authorities to Striz's claims.

         Defendants' motion also wholly fails to address Plaintiff's claims under the Equal Protection Clause or the Eighth Amendment.

         For these reasons, Defendants' request that the Court dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims against them with prejudice is not warranted on this record. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); Harrington, 563 F.3d at 147 (in reviewing a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff's claims must be viewed “in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and with every doubt resolved on his behalf”) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Defendants' motion will be denied without prejudice except as specifically granted above.

         II. Motion to Amend (Dkt. 11) and Motion to Supplement (Dkt. 13)

         Plaintiff has filed a motion for leave to amend his pleadings (Dkt. 11) and also seeks to file supplemental pleadings (Dkt. 13-1). ...

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