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Sparkman v. Robbins

United States District Court, D. Montana, Helena Division

October 31, 2018



          John Johnston United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Dylan Sparkman's Complaint (Doc. 2) alleging violations of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights under the United States Constitution. The Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and therefore this matter should be dismissed.


         A. Parties

         Plaintiff Dylan Sparkman is proceeding in forma pauperis and without counsel. He is incarcerated at the Montana State Prison (MSP) in Deer Lodge, Montana. The named Defendants are Meighan Robbins, Christine Slaughter, Myron Beeson, and Reginald Michael. (Complaint, Doc. 2 at 1.)

         B. Statement of Facts

         In November, 2017, Mr. Sparkman was housed in MSP low-security and worked for the low-security dining services. He was participating in sex-offender treatment, which the Board of Pardons and Parole required him to complete before he could be eligible for parole.

         On November 15, 2017, Mr. Sparkman was at work in the low-security dining-hall. At approximately 3:40 p.m., he was carrying dirty dishes into the dish-tank area, when he passed by Defendant Meighan Robbins, a mental health counselor at MSP. Mr. Sparkman accidently bumped into Ms. Robbins' shoulder. He alleges the contact was very minor and he immediately apologized to Ms. Robbins. Ms. Robbins replied “excuse me” and left without further comment.

         Approximately eighty minutes later, Mr. Sparkman was asked by his boss to return to his housing unit. Upon arrival at the housing unit, the on-duty sergeant put Mr. Sparkman into handcuffs and brought him to Locked-Housing (punitive segregation). Mr. Sparkman asked several correctional officers why he was being taken to Locked-Housing but no answer was provided. At approximately 9:00 p.m., Mr. Sparkman was served a major disciplinary infraction for a #4111-Assault on a Staff Member, regarding the earlier incident with Ms. Robbins.

         On November 21, 2017, Disciplinary Hearing Officer Christine Slaughter conducted a disciplinary hearing. Mr. Sparkman read a written statement to DHO Slaughter explaining his version of the incident. DHO Slaughter told Mr. Sparkman that she reviewed the video of the incident and spoke with Ms. Robbins. Ms. Robbins admitted that Mr. Sparkman apologized immediately and that she “thought nothing of it” (regarding the shoulder-bump”). DHO Slaughter told Mr. Sparkman that when reviewing the video, the contact appeared to be minor, but she did not think it was accidental. She indicated that even though the contact was slight, that was enough to find him guilty. She also stated that after the shoulder bump, Mr. Sparkman walked behind Ms. Robbins across the chow hall and stood behind Ms. Robbins for a few minutes. Mr. Sparkman explained he was walking behind Ms. Robbins to get the gloves he needed to serve dinner to the inmates. He told DHO Slaughter that he stood behind Ms. Robbins because she was talking to the Low-Side Dining Supervisor and there was not enough room for him to move past both Ms. Robbins and the supervisor. DHO Slaughter commented that Mr. Sparkman continued to wait even though another inmate walked past Ms. Robbins. Mr. Sparkman explained he was waiting patiently for Ms. Robbins to move because he did not want to risk bumping into her. Mr. Sparkman explained that he did eventually walk past Ms. Robbins, after waiting for about a minute. He stated that when the shoulder bump occurred, he was working, had dirty dishes in his hands, and was putting those dirty dishes into the dish-tank. Mr. Sparkman said Ms. Robbins was walking on the wrong side of the hall when the incident occurred (a railing separates the hall into two sides; one side is for entering the hall and the other is for exiting). He explained that Ms. Robbins entered the cafeteria through the exit side of the hall which is next to the dirty dish slot that Mr. Sparkman was using.

         Mr. Sparkman told DHO Slaughter that he believes the write-up should be dropped entirely or at least be dropped from a major infraction to a minor infraction. He argued that he was never given a warning, that Ms. Robbins did not attempt to correct the behavior before issuing the disciplinary infraction, he did not know he was doing anything wrong because the rule was not properly explained, and he did not have advanced notice nor reason to believe that his conduct was prohibited.

         DHO Slaughter found Mr. Sparkman guilty of a #4111-Assault on a Staff Member and sentenced him to 20 days in punitive segregation. She also referred him to the Unit Management Team which resulted in a security reclassification. Mr. Sparkman argued that the punishment was too severe for such a minor event, but DHO Slaughter would not reconsider the sentence.

         Mr. Sparkman appealed the disciplinary decision arguing there was insufficient evidence and documentation to support the finding, that disciplinary procedures were not followed, and the sanction is excessive.

         On November 22, 2017, the Unit Management Team reclassified Mr. Sparkman. As a result of the reclassification, Mr. Sparkman was terminated from sex offender treatment (which was required before Mr. Sparkman could become parole eligible), he was moved from low-security housing to the more restrictive high-security housing, he lost his job with dining services, and he lost his “clear conduct” which is a factor considered by the parole board.

         On November 29, 2017, Mr. Sparkman signed the reclassification and appealed the decision. On November 30, 2017, Warden Beeson decided Mr. Sparkman's appeal and found that there was insufficient evidence to support the guilty finding for the #4111-Assault on a Staff Member. Warden Beeson reduced the violation from #4111-Assault on a Staff Member to #4235-Threatening Any Other Person.

         On December 5, 2017, Mr. Sparkman was moved from punitive segregation into high-security housing. He received Warden Beeson's appeal decision on December 12, 2017. Even though Warden Beeson claimed to “reduce” the infraction level, none of Mr. Sparkman's liberty interests were restored nor were any of the punishments reduced. Mr. Sparkman immediately wrote to Warden Beeson and asked to reappeal the decision regarding the “reduction” from a #4111 to a #4235. Warden Beeson replied to the Mr. ...

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