This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Ronaldo S. Ligons,
Dean Hagen, et al.,
Filed September 6, 2005
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C3-04-5363
Ronaldo S. Ligons, #171203, Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater, 970 Pickett Street, Bayport, MN 55003-1490 (pro se appellant)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Mark B. Levinger, Assistant
Attorney General, 1100
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Stoneburner, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court’s order granting summary judgment for respondents, arguing that (1) disciplinary sanctions imposed against him violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, (2) the sanctions are in retaliation for exercising his right of access to the courts, (3) he has been denied due process, and (4) a prior lawsuit does not bar his claim for relief. We agree that appellant is not estopped from pursuing his present cause of action, but because appellant has not raised a genuine fact issue regarding retaliation, the imposition of informal sanctions do not raise a liberty issue, and appellant has not demonstrated that respondents were deliberately indifferent to his health or safety, we affirm.
Pro se appellant
Ronaldo S. Ligons is a prisoner at Minnesota Correctional Facility–Stillwater
(MCF-STW). The events complained of in
this action occurred while appellant was a prisoner at
Appellant contends that while he was at MCF-OPH, several of the respondents, Sergeant Dean Hagen, and Officers Brenda Rivers, Michael Pantera, and Jeff Vars, “wrote false report(s) in a campaign of harassment” against appellant. He further contends that, as a result of these reports, he was subjected to the “informal sanctions” of loss of privileges without due process and denied his “constitutional right of out[‑]of[‑]cell exercise.”
According to respondents, appellant was in the segregation unit at MCF-OPH “during the entire period in 2004 when he was at that institution.” Respondents further note that appellant had committed “disciplinary infractions” before arriving at MCF-OPH resulting in “segregation sentences up to March 29, 2004,” and that he “also accumulated numerous incidences of informal discipline while in the segregation unit.” Respondents note that, unlike formal discipline, informal sanctions “result in a loss of privileges, but no additional time in segregation or in incarceration.” In addition, Mark Ehlenz, a lieutenant at MCF-OPH, stated in an affidavit that “on two different occasions” during appellant’s time in segregation, appellant’s
segregation sentences had expired, which meant that [appellant] was about to leave segregation and join the general population in the facility. In each case, [appellant] refused to leave the segregation unit, actually disobeying a direct order to leave the segregation unit, thereby committing additional disciplinary infractions which required (or permitted) [appellant] to remain in the segregation unit.
Nothing in the record indicates that appellant disputes this account.
Kathy Reid, the health-services administrator at MCF-OPH, acknowledged in an affidavit that, due to his loss of privileges, appellant “did have less opportunity than other inmates in segregation to exercise outside his cell.” But she also stated that the cells are of ample size to allow exercise and that other inmates often exercise in their cells, in addition to engaging in out-of-cell exercise, to keep themselves in shape. Once again, there is nothing in the record indicating that appellant disputes this claim.
Appellant filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that he had “suffered 102 days loss of privileges . . . in a campaign of harassment resulting in headaches, nerve damage in legs [and] feet (diabetic) with threats to eyes, heart, kidneys, etc., [and] stomach and bowel upsets.” He further alleged that this loss of privileges occurred after respondents wrote false reports in “retaliation for exercis[ing his] right of grievance.” He argued that the actions of respondents violated both his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment and the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and sought both damages and injunctive relief.
Respondents moved to dismiss appellant’s complaint as frivolous or malicious, and the district court granted respondents’ motion pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 563.02, subd. 3 (2004). This appeal follows.
As a preliminary
issue, we address the question of mootness.
Appellant is no longer housed at the same correctional facility at which
the actions complained of occurred. This
raises the question of whether appellant’s claim is moot. The determination of whether a cause of
action is moot presents a question of law.
See Isaacs v. Am. Iron & Steel
Co., 690 N.W.2d 373, 376 (Minn. App. 2004) (stating that “[t]he issue of
whether a cause of action is moot is a legal issue, which we review de novo”), review denied (
case becomes moot “‘when the issues presented are no longer “live” or the
parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.’” United
States Parole Comm’n v. Geraghty, 445
II. Dismissal of Claim
To apply the
correct standard of review, we must address the procedural posture of the
case. The district court based its order
dismissing appellant’s complaint on Minn. Stat. § 563.02, subd. 3
(2004). Pursuant to this statute, an
action brought by an inmate in forma pauperis “shall be dismissed with
prejudice if it is frivolous or malicious.”
In determining whether an action is frivolous or malicious, the court may consider whether:
(1) the claim has no arguable basis in law or fact; or
(2) the claim is substantially similar to a previous claim that was brought against the same party, arises from the same operative facts, and in which there was an action that operated as an adjudication on the merits.
appellant’s claims, the district court went beyond the pleadings, considering
both a previous case involving appellant and affidavits submitted by
respondents in support of their motion to dismiss. When a district court has considered matters
outside the pleadings, we review the district court’s dismissal under the
summary-judgment standard. Wallin
v. Minn. Dep’t of Corr., 598 N.W.2d 393, 399 (Minn. App. 1999), review denied (Minn. Oct. 21, 1999). In a summary-judgment appeal, we determine if
there are any genuine issues of material fact and if the district court erred
in construing the applicable law. St. Louis Park Post No. 5632 v. City of St. Louis
Park, 687 N.W.2d 405, 407 (Minn. App. 2004), review denied (
To establish a
cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2000), appellant must show that he was
deprived of a right, privilege, or immunity guaranteed by the Constitution or
laws of the
A. Due Process
Appellant first argues that the district court erred in dismissing his
due-process claim. In his complaint,
appellant alleged that respondents wrote “false reports”
leading to the imposition of informal sanctions in violation of his right to
due process. The district court, citing Sandin v. Conner, 515
As an initial matter, we note that appellant’s claim that he was subjected to the complained-of discipline in retaliation for exercising his right of access to the courts states, in and of itself, a valid cause of action under section 1983. See Madewell v. Roberts, 909 F.2d 1203, 1206 (8th Cir. 1990) (noting that “an act in retaliation for the exercise of a constitutionally protected right is actionable under Section 1983 even if the act, when taken for a different reason, would have been proper”). Although not specifically pled, his complaint thus raises a claim that respondents violated his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him for exercising his right to petition for redress of grievances. See Pratt v. Rowland, 65 F.3d 802, 806 (9th Cir. 1995) (noting that retaliation claims implicate First Amendment rights); Wright v. Newsome, 795 F.2d 964, 968 (11th Cir. 1986) (per curiam) (otherwise constitutional actions, when taken in retaliation for filing lawsuits, violate inmate’s right of access to courts and First Amendment rights).
But as the Ninth Circuit has noted:
Because a prisoner’s First Amendment rights are necessarily curtailed, . . . a successful retaliation claim requires a finding that the prison authorities’ retaliatory action did not advance legitimate goals of the correctional institution or was not tailored narrowly enough to achieve such goals. The plaintiff bears the burden of pleading and proving the absence of legitimate correctional goals for the conduct of which he complains.
Pratt, 65 F.3d at 806 (quotation and citation omitted). Here, plaintiff simply makes conclusory allegations of harassment and retaliation. Thus, he has not presented a genuine fact issue regarding his retaliation claim, and the district court did not err in granting summary judgment. Contra Madewell, 909 F.2d at 1206 (reversing the district court’s grant of summary judgment when the parties submitted competing affidavits addressing the issue of retaliation and the district court could resolve the dispute only by making a credibility determination).
We now turn to
appellant’s due-process claim.
Procedural due-process requirements apply only to the deprivation of
liberty and property interests protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the
Constitution. Bd. of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, 408
The Sandin court noted that although
prisoners do not shed all constitutional rights at the prison gate, . . . “[l]awful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights, a retraction justified by the considerations underlying our penal system.” Discipline by prison officials in response to a wide range of misconduct falls within the expected perimeters of the sentence imposed by a court of law.
Circuit has likewise held that there is “no liberty interest in avoiding
administrative segregation unless the conditions of . . . confinement
present . . . atypical, significant deprivation.” Wycoff
v. Nichols, 94 F.3d 1187, 1190 (8th Cir. 1996) (quotation omitted). In so holding, the court noted that the record
contained nothing to suggest that the conditions of the plaintiff’s segregation
were “atypical” of ordinary conditions of confinement.
is nothing in the record here to indicate that the conditions of appellant’s
segregation were atypical. Thus, he had
no protected liberty interest in avoiding such segregation or in maintaining
privileges during segregation.
B. Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Appellant also contends the district court erred in dismissing his Eighth Amendment claim. We begin by addressing the issue of collateral estoppel. Citing Ligons v. Ramstad-Hvass, No. C2-01-774, 2002 WL 15703 (Minn. App. Jan. 8, 2002) (Ligons I), respondents argue that the district court properly dismissed appellant’s claim because it “had already been litigated adversely to [a]ppellant.”
In Ligons I, appellant, who was at the time
incarcerated at MCF-STW, filed suit alleging, in part, that “respondents’
actions in refusing to exempt him from a ‘no work, no play’ policy, under which
all nonexempt inmates who refuse[d] to work [were] confined to their cells for
23 hours per day,” violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and
Christopher Ceman, M.D., a physician at MCF-STW who has examined and treated appellant many times, submitted an affidavit that states, in part: “[t]here is no medical reason why [appellant] cannot work” and “[a]s I have told [him] on numerous occasions, work would be good for him because the physical activity of work would provide him with an opportunity to exercise, which would help control his diabetes.” Dr. Ceman further stated that if appellant “continues to refuse to work” and is confined to his cell for 23 hours per day, he still “has an opportunity to obtain the necessary physical activity during his one hour of free time per day and throughout the day by doing various exercises within his cell.”
. . . .
Appellant claims that the 23-hour confinement prevents him from exercising and exacerbates his diabetes. As Dr. Ceman noted, however, only appellant’s refusal to work prevents him from enjoying outdoor privileges and nothing prevents appellant from exercising in his cell. When, as here, the medical records indicate that treatment was provided, and physician affidavits state that the care provided was adequate or reasonable, an inmate “cannot create a question of fact by merely stating that [he] did not feel [he] received adequate care.”
collateral estoppel precludes litigation of an issue is a mixed question of law
and fact that we review de novo. Care Inst., Inc.-
1) the issue must be identical to one in a prior adjudication; 2) there was a final judgment on the merits; 3) the estopped party was a party or was in privity with a party to the prior adjudication; and 4) the estopped party was given a full and fair opportunity to be heard on the adjudicated issue.
Care Inst., 612 N.W.2d at 448.
Here, we focus
on the first element—whether the issue litigated is identical with the issue
litigated in the prior adjudication. In Ligons I, we addressed the issue of
appellant’s confinement to his cell for 23 hours per day. 2002 WL 15703, at *2,*4. In this case, appellant argues that “[t]his
litigation involves 24[-]hour lock-up and a complete denial of out[-]of[-]cell
exercise.” Although this distinction is
not readily apparent from appellant’s complaint, we recognize that pro se
pleadings are to be liberally construed.
See State ex rel. Farrington v.
The Eighth Circuit has recently discussed the requirements for maintaining an action for violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
To sustain [a] claim [for violation of Eighth Amendment rights], [plaintiff] needs to show unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, as well as a deprivation denying the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities. [Plaintiff] must also show that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his health or safety and that they acted maliciously for the purpose of causing him harm.
v. Norris, 320 F.3d 844, 848 (8th Cir. 2003) (quotations and citations
omitted). “In considering an alleged
deprivation of adequate exercise, courts must consider several factors
including: (1) the opportunity to be out of the cell; (2) the availability of
recreation within the cell; (3) the size of the cell; and (4) the duration of
confinement.” Wishon v. Gammon, 978 F.2d 446, 449 (8th Cir. 1992). “[L]ack of exercise may be a constitutional
violation if one’s muscles are allowed to atrophy or if an inmate’s health is
In Pearson v. Ramos, 237 F.3d 881, 884 (7th Cir. 2001), the Seventh Circuit upheld a “90-day threshold for considering a denial of out-of-cell exercise opportunities a possible violation of the cruel and unusual punishments clause” and concluded that “a denial of yard privileges for no more than 90 days at a stretch is not cruel and unusual punishment.” Here, appellant alleges that he was denied out-of-cell exercise for “102 days.” But appellant does not deny that on “two different occasions” he “refused to leave the segregation unit” upon the expiration of his segregation sentences. Neither does appellant deny respondents’ contention that he could have exercised in his cell. Thus, any ill effects arising from lack of exercise stem, at least in part, from appellant’s own actions. On this record, the district court did not err in dismissing appellant’s complaint. Cf. Hosna v. Groose, 80 F.3d 298, 306 (8th Cir. 1996) (affirming district court’s ruling in favor of defendant where prisoner did not make use of the exercise opportunities provided to him); Wishon, 978 F.2d at 449 (noting that prisoner did not use all of the recreation time available to him and had the opportunity to exercise in his cell).
prevail on his Eighth Amendment claim, appellant must also prove that
respondents were deliberately indifferent to his health and safety. Phillips,
320 F.3d at 848. To show “deliberate
indifference,” appellant must demonstrate that “[prison] official[s] kn[ew] of
and disregard[ed] an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official[s]
must both [have been] aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn
that a substantial risk of serious harm exist[ed], and [they] must also [have] draw[n]
the inference.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511
respondents have submitted medical records demonstrating that appellant
received medical attention on a regular basis.
Appellant was seen by a physician approximately once a month and by a
nurse “on a daily basis because [appellant] needed insulin injections and
frequent monitoring.” The record also
indicates that appellant’s concerns regarding his diabetes were addressed and
that he was told that “there was enough space in his room to provide the
exercise [he] needed.” Appellant has
offered no evidence tending to show that his care was not adequate or that
prison officials were deliberately indifferent to appellant’s condition. On this record, appellant cannot demonstrate
that respondents “disregard[ed] an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.” Farmer,
 Respondents affirm that appellant was entitled to a disciplinary hearing on each of the formal disciplinary charges. Appellant does not contend that he was denied due process with respect to these formal charges.
his complaint, appellant also alleged an equal-protection violation. He has not raised this issue on appeal, and
it is, therefore, waived. Melina v. Chaplin, 327 N.W.2d 19, 20 (
his brief, appellant states that “[t]his case was filed as a class action,” but
no class has been certified in this case, nor has appellant moved for such
certification. We also note that
although the district court has the authority to certify a class action sua
sponte, this has not happened in this case.
See In re Fed. Skywalk Cases,
680 F.2d 1175, 1188 (8th Cir. 1982) (Heaney, J., dissenting) (noting that a
court may “elect to certify a class and select a class representative even if
no party seeks a class action” and citing relevant cases). Accordingly, the present case is not properly
a class action. See Baxter v. Palmigiano, 425
note that where, as here, the dismissal is based on section 563.02, the statute
specifically authorizes the district court to consider whether the claim is
substantially similar to a previous adjudication on the merits.
Appellant also argues that the district court erred in dismissing his
“charge[s]” against respondents for violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.43
(2004). But section 609.43 is part of
the criminal code. It is well settled
that a private citizen may not commence and maintain private prosecutions for
alleged violations of the criminal law. State ex rel. Wild v. Otis, 257 N.W.2d
361, 364-65 (