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Schoff v. Fitzpatrick

United States District Court, D. Maine

January 19, 2017

STEVEN R. SCHOFF, JR., Plaintiff
v.
JOSEPH FITZPATRICK, et al., Defendants

          RECOMMENDED DECISION AFTER SCREENING COMPLAINT PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(E), 1915A

          John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge

         In this action, Plaintiff Steven Schoff, Jr., an inmate in the custody of the Maine Department of Corrections and assigned to the Maine Correctional Center, alleges Defendants illegally seized, opened, and reviewed his “privileged legal mail, ” and retaliated against him based on the information contained in his mail, in violation of his constitutional rights to free speech and due process.

         Plaintiff filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 2), which application the Court granted. (ECF No. 3.) 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 Plaintiff's complaint, I recommend the Court dismiss Plaintiff's claims except for Plaintiff's legal mail claim against Defendant Landry and Plaintiff's retaliation claim against Defendants Luke Monahan and Harvey Bailey.

         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).

         In addition to the review contemplated by § 1915, Plaintiff's complaint is subject to screening under the Prison Litigation Reform Act because Plaintiff currently is incarcerated and seeks redress from governmental entities and officers. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), (c). The § 1915A screening requires courts to “identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint (1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim …; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         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”).

         Factual Background

         According to Plaintiff, on February 2, 2016, Plaintiff was assaulted by another inmate. The inmate who assaulted Plaintiff has been indicted and is currently being prosecuted in state court for attempted murder. (Complaint ¶ 15.) Before the incident, Plaintiff complained that Defendant Penny Bailey, the Unit Manager at the Maine Correctional Center, had released “sensitive information about [Plaintiff] to his eventual assailant and/or his assailant's associates.” (Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff also complained to Defendant Penny Bailey and other corrections staff members that he “was being harassed, bullied and threatened by his eventual assailant and associates.” (Id. ¶ 17.)

         Defendant Verrier, an investigator employed by the Department of Corrections, investigated the crime committed against Plaintiff. Plaintiff refused to cooperate with the investigation so long as Defendant Penny Bailey was involved.[1] (Id. ¶ 19.) On February 8, 2016, Defendant Verrier asked Plaintiff to write a detailed account of the event and mail it to the Cumberland County District Attorney. (Id. ¶ 22.) On February 13, 2016, Plaintiff sent a letter, marked “LEGAL MAIL, ” to the district attorney and expressed reluctance to relate the details for fear of reprisal by Defendant Penny Bailey. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 26.) Plaintiff asserts the letter “was seized, opened and read outside plaintiff's presence, and was disseminated on the prison's ‘CORIS' (Correctional Information System) computer service, by unidentified IPS [Inner Perimeter Security] officers.” (Id. ¶ 24.)

         On February 17, 2016, Plaintiff sent another letter, marked “LEGAL MAIL, ” to the district attorney in which he discussed the history behind the attack. (Id. ¶¶ 27, 29.) In his second letter, Plaintiff provided a narrative in which he admitted trafficking in marijuana and Suboxone within the Maine Correctional Center in 2013. (Id. ¶ 30.) Plaintiff alleges the letter was “seized, opened and read” just as his earlier letter had been. (Id. ¶ 28.)

         Based on Plaintiff's letter detailing his involvement with drugs within the Maine Correctional center, Defendants Monahan and Harvey Bailey issued Plaintiff a disciplinary ticket, and scheduled a hearing on the matter for February 23, 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 30 - 31). Plaintiff requested a continuance of the hearing because he remained on medical quarantine due to symptoms related to his head injury and subsequent surgery. (Id. ¶ 31.) Defendant Captain Welch denied the request and held the hearing as scheduled. (Id.)

         Prior to the hearing, Plaintiff requested certain prisoner witnesses be called to the hearing to testify. (Id. ¶ 32.) Defendant Welch denied the request because the witnesses either had been transferred to other prisons or had been released from custody. (Id.) When Plaintiff received a notice of the disciplinary hearing, Plaintiff presented Defendant Welch with a copy of the Department's mail policy, which prohibited the opening and reading of a prisoner's legal mail. (Id. ¶ 33.) Defendant Welch replied that the issue had “been run all the way up the ladder, ” and that Defendant Warden Landry “says the AG's office told him it was all legal.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff attended the hearing on February 23. At the start, Defendant Welch informed Plaintiff that he would hear the Plaintiff's defense but he “had his ‘marching orders.'” (Id. ¶ 34.) Defendant Welch found Plaintiff guilty of the offense, and imposed a sanction of 30 days in disciplinary segregation, 30 days loss of accumulated good time credit, and a $100 fine. (Id. ¶ 36.) On appeal, Defendant Landry confirmed the guilty finding. (Id. ΒΆ 39.) According to Plaintiff, none ...


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