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Gray v. Cochran

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

August 1, 2014

MONDELL SANKIEL GRAY, Plaintiff,
v.
SAM COCHRAN, et al., Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

SONJA F. BIVINS, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, a Mobile County Metro Jail ("Metro Jail") pretrial detainee proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This action has been referred to the undersigned for appropriate action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72.2(c)(4). It is recommended that this action be dismissed with prejudice as frivolous, prior to service of process, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), or in the alternative, that it be dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

I. Complaint. (Doc. 1).

Plaintiff identified as Defendants, Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran and Metro Jail Warden Trey Oliver, III. (Doc. 1 at 5). Plaintiff's Complaint against them is extremely brief. The following are Plaintiff's pertinent allegations.

Plaintiff, who discharged his appointed criminal defense counsel due to ineffectiveness and denial of access to the courts, complains that the Metro Jail has no access to a law library. (Doc. 1 at 4). As a pretrial detainee, he complains that he cannot obtain information concerning legal and civil rights and needs this information because the Mobile County courts deny most pro se filings. (Id.). For relief, Plaintiff seeks $250, 000 in punitive damages and $500, 000 in compensatory damages "against all defendants in professional and/or personal capacity."

II. Standards of Review Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court is reviewing his Complaint (Doc. 1) under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), a claim may be dismissed as "frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact." Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 325, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 1831-32, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989). A claim is frivolous as a matter of law where, inter alia, the defendants are immune from suit, id. at 327, 109 S.Ct. at 1833, or the claim seeks to enforce a right that clearly does not exist. Id.

Moreover, a complaint may be dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Mitchell v. Farcass , 112 F.3d 1483, 1490 (11th Cir. 1997). To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the allegations must show plausibility. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1966, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). That is, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and must be a "plain statement' possess[ing] enough heft to sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, 557, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 1966 (second brackets in original). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id.

When considering a pro se litigant's allegations, a court holds them to a more lenient standard than those of an attorney, Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 595-596, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972), but it does not have "license... to rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading [by a pro se litigant] in order to sustain an action." GJR Investments v. County of Escambia, Fla. , 132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998), overruled on other grounds by Randall v. Scott , 610 F.3d 791, 710 (11th Cir. 2010) (relying on Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937). Furthermore, a court treats as true factual allegations, but it does not treat as true conclusory assertions or a recitation of a cause of action's elements. Iqbal, 566 U.S. at 681, 129 S.Ct. at 1951. In addition, a pro se litigant "is subject to the relevant law and rules of court including the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure." Moon v. Newsome , 863 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 863 (1989).

III. Discussion.

A. Claim for Denial of Access to Courts.

Plaintiff's claim is for denial of access to the courts. Christopher v. Harbury , 536 U.S. 403, 415 n.12, 122 S.Ct. 2179, 2187 n.12, 153 L.Ed.2d 413 (2002) (recognizing that a right of access to courts arises from the First, Fourth, or Fourteenth Amendments). In the pivotal case of Bounds v. Smith , 430 U.S. 817, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 52 L.Ed.2d 72 (1977), the Court held that "the fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law." Id. at 346, 352, 116 S.Ct. at 2177 , 2180. Later, in the case of Lewis v. Casey , 518 U.S. 343, 354, 116 S.Ct. 2174, 2181-82, 135 L.Ed.2d 606 (1996), the Court observed that an inmate's right of access to the courts can be fulfill in different ways, for example, access to law libraries, a system of court-provided forms, or minimal access to legal advice. Id. at 352, 116 S.Ct. at 2180. The Lewis Court also clarified that the Bounds decision "did not create an abstract, freestanding right to a law library or legal assistance[.]" Id. at 351, 116 S.Ct. at 2180. The Lewis Court noted "law libraries and legal assistance programs are not ends in themselves, but only the means for ensuring a reasonably adequate opportunity to present claimed violations of fundamental constitutional rights to the courts." Id . (quotation marks omitted).

The Lewis Court went on to hold that "the inmate therefore must go one step further and demonstrate that the alleged shortcomings in the library or legal assistance program hindered his efforts to pursue a legal claim." Id. at 351, 116 S.Ct. at 2180. The inmate must show that he sustained an actual injury by showing that he was frustrated or impeded in attacking his conviction, directly or collaterally, or in a civil rights action seeking to vindicate basic constitutional rights. Id. at 354, 355, 116 S.Ct. at 2181-82; see Cunningham v. District Attorney's Office for Escambia Cnty. , 592 F.3d 1237, 1271 (11th Cir. 2010) ("The injury requirement means that the plaintiff must have an underlying cause of action the vindication of which is prevented by the denial of access to the courts."). The inmate must further show that the claim that he was advancing was a nonfrivolous claim. Lewis , 518 U.S. at 353, 116 S.Ct. at 2181.

This underlying claim "must be described well enough to apply the nonfrivolous' test and to show that the arguable' nature of the underlying claim is more than hope." Christopher , 536 U.S. at 415-16, 122 S.Ct. at 2187. "Impairment of any other litigating capacity is simply one of the incidental (and perfectly constitutional) ...


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