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Tinker v. Menard

United States District Court, D. Vermont

July 25, 2018

Brian Tinker, Plaintiff,
v.
Lisa Menard, Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Corrections; Vermont Department of Corrections, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION (DOCS. 6, 12)

          John M. Conroy, United States Magistrate Judge

         On December 22, 2017, Plaintiff Brian Tinker, initially proceeding pro se, commenced this suit in Vermont state court, challenging several policies allegedly instituted by Defendants Lisa Menard, the Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Corrections, and the Department of Corrections (DOC). (See generally Doc. 1-1.) After Tinker filed his pro se Complaint and Petition in state court, an attorney from the Vermont Prisoners' Rights Office filed an appearance in state court on behalf of Tinker. (See id.) Menard and the DOC properly removed the case to this Court on the basis that Tinker's claims involved federal questions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1.) According to this Court's records, Tinker retains his counsel through the Vermont Prisoners' Rights Office, (Doc. 8); to this point, however, Tinker's pro se Complaint and Petition has not been supplemented or amended by his counsel.

         In that pro se Complaint and Petition, Tinker states that he is currently housed by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (Pennsylvania DOC) pursuant to the Interstate Corrections Compact (Compact). (Doc. 6 at 2, ¶ 5.) Tinker alleges that Menard and the DOC have impermissibly allowed the Pennsylvania DOC to charge inmates a $5 co-pay for medical treatment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and further claims that a photocopying policy implemented by the Vermont DOC's Legal Education Director denied him meaningful access to the courts. (Doc. 1-3 at 2; Doc. 6 at 2.)

         Presently before the Court is Menard and the DOC's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim and for Failure to Join an Indispensable Party. (Doc. 12.) Neither Tinker's counsel nor Tinker has responded to the Motion to Dismiss, even though this Court granted a request to enlarge the time to respond. (Doc. 16.) For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that the Motion to Dismiss be GRANTED and Tinker's Complaint and Petition be DISMISSED.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The spare facts in this case are drawn from Tinker's pro se Complaint and Petition, (Doc. 6), and the documents submitted in support of his pleadings. (Docs. 6-1-6-5.) In deciding Menard and the DOC's Motion to Dismiss, the Court accepts as true the factual assertions stated in Tinker's Complaint and draws all inferences in favor of Tinker. See Desiano v. Warner-Lambert Co., 326 F.3d 339, 341 (2d Cir. 2003); Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152 (2d Cir. 2002).

         As noted above, Tinker is currently in the custody of the Pennsylvania DOC pursuant to the Compact contract between Vermont and Pennsylvania. (Doc. 6 at 2, ¶ 5); see generally Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 28, §§ 1601-1621; 61 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 7101-7103. Tinker contends that the Pennsylvania DOC requires a $5 co-pay for all necessary medical treatment and that this policy has resulted in the ongoing deterioration of his mental health. (See Doc. 6 at 1, ¶¶ 3, 4; Doc. 6-3.) Specifically, Tinker maintains that, where he was previously incarcerated, he received treatment for several severe mental health issues. (Doc. 6-3 ¶ 2.) Under the care of the Pennsylvania DOC, however, he has “been trying to get . . . into mental health and [he] keep[s] getting brushed off.” (Id. ¶ 4.) Tinker argues that Menard and the DOC bear responsibility for the Pennsylvania DOC's policy because they “cannot ‘contract away' their duty to assure that [Vermont DOC] inmates are provided necessary medical care” and that Menard has the duty to “assure that every Vermont Inmate is provided necessary medical treatment.” (Doc. 6 at 1, ¶¶ 1, 2.)

         Tinker also claims that the Vermont DOC Legal Education Director has instituted a policy forbidding prisoners from accessing or photocopying pre-printed legal forms, which deters prisoners from seeking relief in court. (Id. at 2, ¶ 7.) He alleges that the only means of accessing legal forms is by “pay[ing] to obtain a copy of the necessary form, sit[ting] at a screen and copy[ing] out the form by hand then typ[ing] it out, or print[ing] out the form that has large type across the entire page that states, Do not copy or print this page and write out or type the form.” (Id.) According to Tinker, these methods “frustrate and/or deter Vermont inmates from seeking relief from the Courts.” (Id.)

         Based on these two claims, Tinker originally sought both temporary injunctive relief and permanent injunctive relief. This Court previously considered Tinker's claims for temporary injunctive relief, ultimately concluding in a Report and Recommendation that Tinker failed to satisfy the standard for a temporary restraining order under Fed.R.Civ.P. 65. (Doc. 10.) The Report and Recommendation was adopted in full on February 26, 2018. (Doc. 14.)

         The Court now considers Tinker's claims for permanent injunctive relief. (Doc. 6 at 2-3.) Based on the purported constitutional violations described above, Tinker asks this Court to enjoin Menard from continuing the Pennsylvania DOC's $5 co-pay policy, to require Menard to provide Tinker with proper medical care, and to enjoin the Vermont DOC's alleged practice of denying access to pre-printed court forms. (Id. at 3.) Alternatively, Tinker seeks injunctive relief on the basis that Menard and the DOC's actions violated Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 28, § 801, and the Vermont constitution. (Id. at 2.)

         In their Motion to Dismiss, Menard and the DOC first argue that Tinker's claims regarding his medical treatment and the Pennsylvania DOC's co-pay policy should be dismissed because the Pennsylvania DOC is an indispensable party who has not been joined in this matter. (See Doc. 12 at 3.) In support of this argument, Menard and the DOC claim that the Compact, as interpreted by the Vermont Supreme Court, does not provide Menard or the DOC with the authority to alter Tinker's conditions of confinement in the Pennsylvania DOC and that, as result, Tinker cannot obtain the relief he seeks without joining the Pennsylvania DOC as a party. (Id. at 3-5 (citing Gundlah v. Pallito, No. 2010-121, 2010 WL 7789283, at *2 (Vt. Dec. 8, 2010) (unpub. mem.)). In addition, Menard and the DOC contend that Tinker has “fail[ed] to state a deprivation of his right to access to courts under the First Amendment.” (Id. at 6.) Neither Tinker nor his counsel have responded to the Motion to Dismiss.

         Analysis

         In this case, as described above, Tinker raises two constitutional violations as the basis for his claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (1) he argues that Menard and the DOC deprived him of his Eighth Amendment right to adequate medical care by allowing the Pennsylvania DOC to charge a $5 co-pay; and (2), he contends that Menard and the DOC violated his First Amendment right to access to the courts. As a remedy for both purported violations, Tinker seeks permanent injunctive relief, which is essentially the same standard as for a preliminary injunction, [1] except that the plaintiff must demonstrate “actual success” on the merits for the Court to issue a permanent injunction. Amoco Prod. Co. v. Vill. of Gambell, Alaska, 480 U.S. 531, 546 n.12 (1987). As discussed in more detail below, in both cases, Tinker fails to plausibly allege a claim upon which relief can be granted; accordingly, because his claim cannot succeed on the merits, his request for injunctive relief should be denied.

         I. ...


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