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Walton v. Allen

February 10, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Susan Oki Mollway United States District Judge



On August 22, 2008, pro se Plaintiff Kevin Lavelle Walton, a California prisoner incarcerated at Solano State Prison ("SSP") in Solano, California, brought this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis.

Walton claims that, on April 9, 2007, he received court correspondence that had been opened outside his presence. He filed a grievance with SSP and was told that the mail had been opened in error. The staff at SSP apologized for the mistake, accepted responsibility for opening the mail, and promised to better train mailroom employees to prevent similar errors in the future. Walton believes that, following this incident, mailroom staff tampered with his mail, both by destroying legal documents addressed to him and by sending out unauthorized habeas petitions in his name, in retaliation for his claim about improperly opened mail.

Walton believes the opening of his legal mail outside of his presence violates his rights under the First, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments. He also claims that the staff at SSP has violated his right to meaningful access to the courts by tampering with his mail and thereby depriving him of the opportunity to have his post-conviction challenge heard. He has identified A. Allen, the SSP staff member who responded to his original complaint, as the defendant in this case.

After reviewing the petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), this court determines that Walton's Complaint does not state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Walton has not identified any specific actions by A. Allen that deprived Walton of his constitutional rights. Further, Walton does not allege any cognizable damage from any unauthorized opening of his mail, or describe any concrete deprivation of his right of access to the courts. Accordingly, the Complaint is DISMISSED. Walton is granted leave to amend his Complaint to state viable claims no later than March 9, 2009.


Because Walton has filed the present action as a pro se prisoner, this court must screen his Complaint to determine whether it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or whether it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A.

A claim may be brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against one "who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws."

42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Supreme Court has cautioned that this section "is not itself a source of substantive rights, but a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred by those parts of the United States Constitution and federal statutes that it describes." Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145 (1979).

To succeed on his claim, Walton must demonstrate "1) a violation of rights protected by the Constitution or created by federal statute, (2) proximately caused (3) by conduct of a "person" (4) acting under color of state law." Crumpton v. Gates, 947 F.2d 1418, 1420 (9th Cir. 1991).

A. Walton Has Not Alleged That Allen Deprived Him of Any Rights Secured by the Constitution

Walton identifies Allen as the state actor responsible for violating his rights, given his supervisory role in the mailroom where the alleged misconduct took place. Under § 1983, "[a] supervisor may be liable if there exists either (1) his or her personal involvement in the constitutional deprivation, or (2) a sufficient causal connection between the supervisor's wrongful conduct and the constitutional violation." Hansen v. Black, 885 F.2d 642, 648 (9th Cir. 1989) (citing Thompkins v. Belt, 828 F.2d 298, 303-04 (5th Cir. 1987)). Supervisory officials are not vicariously liable for the actions of their subordinates. Id. (citing Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 479 (1986). See also Monell, 436 U.S. at 691-695 (rejecting respondeat superior liability for section 1983 claims).

In his Complaint, Walton does not identify any personal involvement by Allen in the alleged constitutional violations, nor has he described any specific conduct of Allen's that was tied to the alleged violations. He has merely alleged misconduct by the mailroom staff in general and ...

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