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Solis v. Jones-Foster

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

July 2, 2019

FRANK SOLIS PLAINTIFF
v.
DR. MELINE JONES-FOSTER, Doctor, Correct Care Solutions, Southwest Arkansas Community Correction Center “SWACCC”; CORRECT CARE SOLUTIONS, Medical Over SWACCC; MS. REED, ARO SWACCC; and MS. KEENER, Records, SWACCC DEFENDANTS

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          HON. BARRY A. BRYANT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 23) filed by Defendant Carlia Keener. Plaintiff has not filed a response and the time to do so has passed.[1] Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and (3)(2011), the Honorable Susan O. Hickey, Chief United States District Judge, referred this case to the undersigned for the purpose of making a Report and Recommendation.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on February 25, 2019, in the Eastern District of Arkansas. (ECF No. 2). On March 4, 2019, the case was transferred to the Western District, Texarkana Division. (ECF No. 4). Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis was granted that same day. (ECF No. 6). In response to this Court's order (ECF No. 8), Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on April 22, 2019. (ECF No. 11). Plaintiff is currently incarcerated in the Department of Community Correction, Central Arkansas Community Correction Center in Little Rock, Arkansas. The incidents giving rise to Plaintiff's claims occurred while he was incarcerated in the Southwest Arkansas Community Correction Center (“SWACCC”) in Texarkana, Arkansas serving a sentence as a result of a judgment or conviction. (ECF No. 11, p. 3).[2]

         Plaintiff's describes his claim against Defendant Keener as “withholding legal mail and opening and taping back shut” on March 18, 2019. (ECF No. 11, p.1). He goes on to state that several pieces of his legal mail “was held 2 weeks and not given tell I was transferred. Made me sign for it but wouldn't let me see it tell I left unit…” Id. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages and requests a “written apology”. (ECF No. 11, p. 7).

         On May 30, 2019, Defendant Keener filed the instant Motion to Dismiss arguing that Plaintiff failed to state a claim against her upon which relief can be granted. (ECF No. 23). She contends that Plaintiff failed to allege the mail was sent by his attorney or that Defendant Kenner acted with an improper motive when she allegedly opened and delayed delivery of Plaintiff's mail. In addition, Defendant Keener states that Plaintiff has failed to allege that he was prejudiced or harmed by Defendant Kenner's actions. (ECF No. 23).

         II. APPLICABLE LAW

         Rule 8(a) contains the general pleading rules and requires a complaint to present “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “In order to meet this standard, and survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), ‘a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Braden v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 588 F.3d 585, 594 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotations omitted)). “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, 556 U.S. at 678. While the Court will liberally construe a pro se plaintiff's complaint, the plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to support his claims. See Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Interference with legal mail

         Plaintiff alleges Defendant Keener interfered with his legal mail while he was incarcerated in the SWACCC. He claims his mail was held for two weeks and it was opened and taped “back shut”. (ECF No. 11), Inmates have a First Amendment right of free speech to send and receive mail. Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 547 (1984). "The fact of confinement and the needs of the penal institution impose limitations on constitutional rights, including those derived from the First Amendment." Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners'Union, 433 U.S. 119, 125 (1977). "Prisoners' First Amendment rights encompass the right to be free from certain interference with mail correspondence." Davis v. Norris, 249 F.3d 800, 801 (8th Cir. 2001). "Interference with legal mail implicates a prison inmate's right to access to the courts and free speech as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution." Davis v. Goord, 320 F.3d 346, 351 (2d Cir. 2003). "A prison policy that obstructs privileged inmate mail can violate inmates' right of access to the courts." Weiler v. Purkett, 137 F.3d 1047, 1051 (8th Cir. 1998).

         However, an inmate has no standing to pursue a denial of access claim based on interference with legal mail unless he can demonstrate he suffered prejudice or actual injury as a result of the prison officials' conduct. “To prove a violation of the right of meaningful access to the courts, a prisoner must establish that the state has not provided an opportunity to litigate a claim challenging the prisoner's sentence or conditions of confinement in a court of law, which resulted in actual injury, that is, the hindrance of a nonfrivolous and arguably meritorious underlying legal claim.” Hartsfield v. Nichols, 511 F.3d 826, 831 (8th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted).

         Here, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Keener withheld his legal mail from him for two weeks and that once he received the mail it appeared to have been opened and taped shut.[3] First, Plaintiff has not alleged that there was any improper motive on the part of Defendant Keener. In addition, Plaintiff has failed to allege that he suffered any injury or prejudice resulting from the opening or withholding of his legal mail while he was incarcerated in the SWACCC.[4] See e.g., Gardner v. Howard, 109 F.3d 427, 431 (8th Cir. 1997) (claim fails without evidence of improper motive or resulting interference with inmate's right to counsel or access to courts); see also Walker v. Navarro County Jail, 4 F.3d 410, 413 (5th Cir. 1993) (an inmate shows actual injury by establishing his position as a litigant was prejudiced due to the disputed acts). Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against Defendant Keener for denial of access to the courts based on interference with his legal mail.

         B. Official ...


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