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Ericson v. Landry

United States District Court, D. Maine

August 25, 2016

ERIC ERICSON, Plaintiff
v.
SCOTT LANDRY, Defendant ERIC ERICSON, Plaintiff
v.
F BURNS, Defendant

          RECOMMENDED DECISION AFTER SCREENING PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915, 1915A

          JOHN C. NIVISON U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Eric Ericson has filed two pleadings in two separate actions with the Court captioned “Certificate of Appealability Memorandum, ” which filings the Court construed as complaints in a civil action.[1] Plaintiff has filed applications to proceed in forma pauperis in both cases, which applications the Court has granted.

         In accordance with the in forma pauperis statute, a preliminary review of Plaintiff's complaint is appropriate. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Additionally, Plaintiff's complaint is subject to screening “before docketing, if feasible or … as soon as practicable after docketing, ” because he is “a prisoner seek[ing] redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.” 29 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).[2]

         Discussion

         A review of Plaintiff's pleadings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) and 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a) reveals that Plaintiff evidently mistakenly believes that this Court has appellate jurisdiction to review rulings made by Maine state courts on his Maine Rule 80C petition (see case 16-cv-00170) and to review rulings made by the state courts on his protection from harassment complaints (see case 16-cv-00171).

         “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They cannot act in the absence of subject matter jurisdiction, and they have a sua sponte duty to confirm the existence of jurisdiction in the face of apparent jurisdictional defects.” United States v. Univ. of Mass., Worcester, 812 F.3d 35, 44 (1st Cir. 2016). This Court lacks jurisdiction to act as an appellate court to review the rulings of state courts. The only federal court with that authority is the United States Supreme Court. Silva v. Massachusetts, 351 Fed.App'x 450, 454 (1st Cir. 2009) (“28 U.S.C. § 1257 vests the United States Supreme Court with exclusive ‘jurisdiction over appeals from final state-court judgments.'” (quoting Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 463 (2006) (per curiam)); see also Lance, 546 U.S. at 460 (“The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents the lower federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over cases brought by ‘state-court losers' challenging ‘state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced.'” (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284, (2005)).

         While the dismissal of Plaintiff's attempt to “appeal” from a state court ruling is appropriate, the Court must be “solicitous of the obstacles that pro se litigants face, ” and “endeavor, within reasonable limits, to guard against the loss of pro se claims due to technical defects.” Dutil v. Murphy, 550 F.3d 154, 158 (1st Cir. 2008). I will, therefore, review whether Plaintiff's pleadings are sufficient to state any independent claims separate from his “appeals.” To state a claim, a complaint must include “a short and plain statement … showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Guadalupe-Baez v. Pesquera, 819 F.3d 509, 514 (1st Cir. 2016). Although the statement need not be detailed, it must provide factual information and not mere “labels and conclusions.” Edlow v. RBW, LLC, 688 F.3d 26, 31 (1st Cir. 2012) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007)). In its assessment of the sufficiency of the allegations, courts accept as true the factual allegations and evaluate whether the facts and any reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the facts suggest a plausible (i.e., non-speculative) basis to conclude that the defendant is liable to the plaintiff on one or more legal grounds. Coll. Hill Prop., LLC v. City of Worcester, 821 F.3d 193 (1st Cir. 2016); Sepulveda- Villarini v. Dep't of Educ. of P.R., 628 F.3d 25, 29 (1st Cir. 2010). A complaint must also contain “a demand for the relief sought.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(3).

         Plaintiff has attached to both of his pleadings a document entitled “Legal Materials, Law Library Computer Addendum.” (ECF Nos. 1-1.) In his addenda, which appear to be the identical or near identical document in both cases, Plaintiff asserts that he has been denied access to legal and religious materials in violation of the Constitution, that he has been placed on emergency observation status to punish him for being disabled and/or to deprive him of access to legal materials and the courts, or that he has been the victim of retaliation.

         Prisoners have a right under the United States Constitution to have meaningful access to the courts. “The right of access is a discrete, constitutional right, derived from various constitutional sources [including] the due process clause, the privileges and immunities clause, and the First Amendment.” Simmons v. Dickhaut, 804 F.2d 182, 183 (1st Cir. 1986) (per curiam) (citations omitted). To state a claim for denial of access to the courts, a plaintiff cannot merely allege that prison administrators have provided insufficient access to law materials, a law library, or “law computer.” As explained by the Supreme Court in Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343 (1996), the “role of the courts [is] to provide relief to claimants, … who have suffered, or will imminently suffer, actual harm.” Id. at 349. In other words, it is not the role of this Court to issue orders dictating the minimum amount of law library or computer access prison administrators must provide to prisoners, but to address those claims in which prisoners allege the existence of conditions that have actually denied or will imminently deny “a reasonably adequate opportunity to present claimed violations of fundamental constitutional rights to the courts.” Id. at 351 (quoting Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 825 (1977)). Unless a plaintiff claims that administrators have imposed “[a]n absolute denial of access to all legal materials, ” Sowell v. Vose, 941 F.2d 32, 35 (1st Cir. 1991) (emphasis in original), to state a claim, a plaintiff must provide a short and plain statement that identifies the harm to his or her right to access the courts.[3]

         The First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause protects the rights of prisoners to engage in the exercise of religious practice. Congress reinforced this right under Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq. (RLUIPA), which prohibits governments from “impos[ing] a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution … even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person - (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000cc-1(a). To state a claim, a plaintiff must provide a short and plain statement that identifies the intended religious exercise and the substantial burden imposed on the intended religious exercise. Spratt v. R.I. Dep't of Corr., 482 F.3d 33, 38 (1st Cir. 2007).

         The ADA and Rehabilitation Act “provide, in nearly identical language, that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” Nunes v. Mass. Dep't of Corr., 766 F.3d 136, 144 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12132 and citing 29 U.S.C. § 794(a)). Disability discrimination can take the form of imposing adverse consequences on a prisoner based on the prisoner's disability, or a prison policy that is neutral in its terms but falls more harshly on prisoners with a disability because of the way it operates, or a refusal by the prison administrators to grant the prisoner a reasonable accommodation so that the prisoner can have meaningful access to a prison program or service. Id. To state a claim, a plaintiff must provide a short and plain statement that identifies the disability in question and the relationship between the disability and the policy or practice on which the discrimination claim is based. See, e.g., Toledo v. Sanchez, 454 F.3d 24, 31 (1st Cir. 2006) (“To state a claim for a violation of Title II [of the ADA], a plaintiff must allege: (1) that he is a qualified individual with a disability; (2) that he was either excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of some public entity's services, programs, or activities or was otherwise discriminated against; and (3) that such exclusion, denial of benefits or discrimination was by reason of his disability.”).

         Finally, in the prison context, to establish a claim of first amendment retaliation, an inmate must allege (1) that the inmate engaged in conduct that is protected by the First Amendment; (2) that a defendant took adverse action against the inmate because of the prisoner's protected conduct; and (3) that the adverse action would deter an inmate of ordinary firmness from exercising his or her First Amendment rights. Hannon v. Beard, 645 F.3d 45, 48 (1st Cir.2011); Davis v. Goord, 320 F.3d 346, 352 (2d Cir.2003); Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 398 (6th Cir.1999).

         While Plaintiff has made general allegations in the addenda, he has failed to assert the necessary facts to state an actionable federal claim for relief against the defendants identified in the caption of either case. Significantly, one cannot discern who among the many individuals employed at the Maine State Prison might have engaged in conduct that allegedly deprived Plaintiff of his federal rights.[4] In addition, although Plaintiff seeks judicial relief related to his rights under the First Amendment and federal disability law, his allegations consist of labels and conclusions rather than facts that demonstrate a plausible basis from which a fact finder could determine that Plaintiff's substantive federal rights had been infringed.[5] For example, while he has alleged generally that he was ...


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