Inmate’s complaint ruled long but not strong

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A federal judge didn’t seem to appreciate the substance of an Idaho prisoner’s complaint alleging retaliation for his grievances. That may be because inmate William Gray filed 336 rambling pages of material before the court.

In January 2011, William Gray filed a 112-page complaint. Then he added 224 more pages for the federal court to examine. He sued 39 prison officials from three different prisons in Idaho, including the Idaho Maximum Security Institution, the Idaho Correctional Center and the Idaho Correctional Institute in Orofino.

Gray’s allegations covered many different instances through the years. He alleged that:

In February 2009 after he filed a complaint, he received a disciplinary offense report for having cleaning rags in his cell.

In September 2009 prison officials removed his treasured bird feather – which reminded him of his mother, a bird-lover – from his cell, because of his grievance lawsuits.

In October 2010 prison officials announced his medical condition – hemorrhoids – over the prison radio.

The thrust of most of his allegations is that prison officials violated his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him in various ways after he filed grievances.

After reviewing the exhaustive complaint, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill dismissed it in his May 15 opinion in Gray v. Johnson. “None of these allegations is sufficient to state a constitutional claim,” Winmill wrote.

However, the judge gave Gray a window of opportunity to file an amended complaint within the next 30 days. It would have to specify the name and job title of each prison official that allegedly violated Gray’s rights; facts showing the person is a government official; the dates on which the conduct took place; and other information.

Winmill further emphasized that “not every retaliatory action by an official can be considered an adverse action that chills the exercise of protected speech.” The judge distinguished between prison officials’ actions that are minor violations and those that constitute real retaliation.

It remains to be seen whether inmate Gray can identify with specificity the alleged constitutional violations committed by particular prison officials. He may want to do so in fewer than 336 pages.

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