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Anctil v. Fitzpatrick

United States District Court, D. Maine

October 24, 2016

STEVE ANCTIL, JR., Plaintiff
JOSEPH FITZPATRICK, et al., Defendants


          John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge

         In this action, Plaintiff Steve Anctil, Jr., an inmate in the custody of the Maine Department of Corrections, alleges that the Department Commissioner (Defendant Fitzpatrick), the Warden of the Maine State Prison (Defendant Liberty), the former warden and current Associate Commissioner (Defendant Bouffard), the Deputy Warden (Defendant Ross), and the Grievance Review Officer (Defendant Atkinson) violated his constitutional rights. (Second Amended Complaint, ECF No. 31.)

         Plaintiff filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 4), which application the Court granted (ECF No. 7). 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.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).

         Following a review of the pleadings, I recommend the Court dismiss all claims asserted against all Defendants, except for one claim Plaintiff has asserted against Defendant Ross.


         Previously, I reviewed Plaintiff's pleadings and recommended dismissal of Plaintiff's complaint because Plaintiff failed to state an actionable claim. (ECF No. 9.) On July 7, 2016, Plaintiff filed a pleading that the Court construed to be an amended complaint. (ECF No. 31.) In this pleading, Plaintiff includes additional facts regarding the matters that caused him to engage in grievance activity. More specifically, Plaintiff attempts to assert claims of loss of property, lack of protection from harm caused by other prisoners, lack of library access, inadequate medical treatment, receipt of opened mail from legal organizations, denial of confidential phone communications with counsel, temporary denial of access to a newspaper, nighttime noise, inadequate laundry, and lack of hot water. Based on the allegations in the amended complaint, Plaintiff purports to assert claims under the First Amendment (access to court, legal mail, and retaliation), the Fourth Amendment (monitored legal telephone calls), the Eighth Amendment (failure to protect, inadequate medical services, noise, and unsanitary conditions), and the Fourteenth Amendment (failure to compensate for damaged or lost property and improper charges to prison account). Plaintiff requests declaratory relief and an award of money damages.

         Standard of Review

         When a party is proceeding in forma pauperis, “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines, ” inter alia, that the action is “frivolous or malicious” or “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). “Dismissals [under § 1915] are often made sua sponte prior to the issuance of process, so as to spare prospective defendants the inconvenience and expense of answering such complaints.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989). Similarly, a lawsuit by a prisoner against a governmental entity and its officers is subject to dismissal, sua sponte, if the complaint “is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).

         When considering whether a complaint states a claim for which relief may be granted, courts must assume the truth of all well-plead facts and give the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom. Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “The relevant question ... in assessing plausibility is not whether the complaint makes any particular factual allegations but, rather, whether ‘the complaint warrant[s] dismissal because it failed in toto to render plaintiffs' entitlement to relief plausible.'” Rodríguez- Reyes v. Molina-Rodríguez, 711 F.3d 49, 55 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 569 n. 14). Although a pro se plaintiff's complaint is subject to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), the complaint may not consist entirely of “conclusory allegations that merely parrot the relevant legal standard, ” Young v. Wells Fargo, N.A., 717 F.3d 224, 231 (1st Cir. 2013). See also Ferranti v. Moran, 618 F.2d 888, 890 (1st Cir. 1980) (explaining that the liberal standard applied to the pleadings of pro se plaintiffs “is not to say that pro se plaintiffs are not required to plead basic facts sufficient to state a claim”).


         A. First Amendment (access to courts, legal mail, retaliation, newspapers)

         1. Access to courts

         Prisoners have a right under the United States Constitution to 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 legal materials. 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 dictate the amount of law library or computer access prison administrators must provide to prisoners, but the Court's responsibility is to address the 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)). See also Bourdon v. Loughren, 386 F.3d 88, 92 (2d Cir. 2004).

         Plaintiff alleges that he mailed a request to the prison librarian on September 15, 2015, for legal materials regarding a civil matter pending in Lewiston District Court[1] and a conditions of confinement claim he intended to file. According to Plaintiff, the prison librarian denied his request because Plaintiff was then subject to disciplinary segregation. Plaintiff asserts that at the time he had more than seven months to serve in segregation. Plaintiff maintains the librarian informed him that he should request an extension of time from the courts if there was a deadline he could not meet. (Second Am. Complaint, Statement of Claims at 3, ECF No. 31-1.) Plaintiff alleges he mailed Defendant Liberty and Defendant Fitzpatrick a letter regarding the issue, but never received a response.

         Although Plaintiff alleges the denial of court access and identifies a then-pending legal matter, Plaintiff fails to assert a constitutional claim because he did not assert any facts that would suggest that the state court matter involved a constitutional right, or that Plaintiff has suffered actual harm in the legal matter due to the alleged lack of access to legal materials.[2] Plaintiff, therefore, has not asserted a claim based on the denial of access to court.

         2. Legal mail

         “In addition to the right of access to the courts, a prisoner's right to the free flow of incoming and outgoing mail is protected by the First Amendment.” Davis v. Goord, 320 F.3d 346, 351 (2d Cir. 2003). “In balancing the competing interests implicated in restrictions on prison mail, courts have consistently afforded greater protection to legal mail than to non-legal mail, as well as greater protection to outgoing mail than to incoming mail.” Id.

         Plaintiff alleges that he received mail from the Volunteer Lawyers Project “regarding legal materials [he] requested for a pending family matter civil case, ” and that the mail was already opened. (Second Am. Compl. at 4.) He also alleges that he received opened mail from the Maine Human Rights Commission “regarding legal materials [he] requested for further condition of confinement claims.” (Id.) Plaintiff makes similar allegations regarding mail he received from the Office for Civil Rights and the Center for Constitutional Rights. (Id. at 6 - 7.)

         Prisoners have a right to communicate in confidence with counsel, including in civil matters. When mail is involved, the right is generally preserved by opening properly identified legal mail in the presence of the prisoner. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 576 - 77 (1974); Am. Civil Liberties Union Fund of Michigan v. Livingston Cty., 796 F.3d 636, 643 (6th Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 1246, 194 L.Ed.2d 184 (2016). The Constitution, however, does not guarantee that all mail sent to a prisoner by a civil rights or legal aid organization be opened in the presence of the prisoner. Jenkins v. Huntley, 235 Fed. App'x 374, 376 (7th Cir. 2007) (affirming summary dismissal of claim based on opening and inspection of “legal mail” from state attorney's office and from attorney discipline commission); Sallier v. Brooks, 343 F.3d 868, 874 (6th Cir. 2003) (“Not all mail that a prisoner receives from a legal source will implicate constitutionally protected legal mail rights. Indeed, even mail from a legal source may have little or nothing to do with protecting a prisoner's access to the courts and other governmental entities to redress grievances or with protecting an inmate's relationship with an attorney.”) See also Brewer v. Wilkinson, 3 F.3d 816, 825 (5th Cir. 1993) (“The opening of incoming legal mail outside an inmate's presence for the purpose of inspecting for contraband does not violate a prisoner's constitutional rights.” (applying Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 413 - 14 (1989), and Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)).

         Here, Plaintiff has not alleged that mail from an attorney engaged to represent him was opened outside his presence. Furthermore, even if the Court were to construe the constitutional protection to require Plaintiff to be present under the circumstances he described, Plaintiff has not asserted any facts that would support the conclusion that he was prejudiced by the opening of his mail.

         3. Retaliation

         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 inmate'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).

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Bouffard, evidently when he was the warden of the Maine State Prison, “failed to protect [Plaintiff] against known retaliation by prison staff for exercising [the] right of access to the courts.” (Request for Relief at 1, ECF No. 31-2.) A supervisory officer is not liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for every unconstitutional act of a subordinate. To be liable, there must be an affirmative link between the supervisor and the alleged conduct. Maldonado v. Fontanes, 568 F.3d 263, 275 (1st Cir. 2009). An affirmative link could be established through evidence of “supervisory encouragement, condonation or acquiescence or gross negligence amounting to deliberate indifference.” Id.

         Plaintiff has not alleged any facts that would support a finding of the necessary affirmative link between Defendant Bouffard and the alleged conduct. Plaintiff, therefore, has failed to state an actionable claim against Defendant Bouffard.[3]

         4. ...

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