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Michael Eugene Hollis v. Margaret Mims

October 14, 2011

MICHAEL EUGENE HOLLIS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARGARET MIMS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND (ECF No. 1) AMENDED COMPLAINT DUE WITHIN THIRTY DAYS SCREENING ORDER

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff Michael Eugene Hollis ("Plaintiff") is a federal prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff filed this action on May 9, 2011. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff's Complaint is now before the Court for screening.

For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

II. SCREENING REQUIREMENTS

The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious," that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). "Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal . . . fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusions are not. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.

III. SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT*fn1

Plaintiff alleges violations of the First and Eighth Amendments: denial of access to courts and unconstitutionally cold jail temperatures/inadequate lighting. Plaintiff names the following individuals as Defendants: Margaret Mims, John/Jane Does, FNU Dawson, and FNU Calvert.

Plaintiff alleges the following: Between August 22, 2008 and June 16, 2009, Plaintiff was denied adequate access to the law library by Defendants Mims and Doe. Plaintiff could not pursue injunctive relief.

Beginning in November 2008, Plaintiff began suffering numbness and arthritis from the cold temperatures in the jail. On November 23, 2008, Plaintiff filed a grievance asking for additional clothing to keep warm. Plaintiff saw a doctor and was told to get "custody" to give him additional clothing. On November 29, 2008, Plaintiff spoke with Duncan who told Plaintiff that medical had to provide additional clothing or blankets. Plaintiff filed another grievance which was denied by Defendant Doe. On December 2, 2008, Defendants Dawson and Calvert spoke with Plaintiff about his grievances.

From March 23, 2009 until May 7, 2009, Plaintiff was provided inadequate lighting in his cell. The low lighting caused Plaintiff to suffer eye strain, headaches, and depression. Plaintiff was informed by a prison official that it would be fixed. However, it was never fixed, so Plaintiff filed multiple grievances.

Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, and compensatory and punitive damages.

IV. ANALYSIS

The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides:

Every person who, under color of [state law] . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution . . . shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "Section 1983 . . . creates a cause of action for violations of the federal Constitution and laws." Sweaney v. Ada County, Idaho, 119 F.3d 1385, 1391 (9th Cir. 1997) (internal quotations omitted).

A. Library Access Policy and Procedure

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Mims's and Doe's policies and procedures governing law library access was improper and lead to inadequate library access. Plaintiff states that Mims and Doe had a policy of denying library access. Plaintiff claims that Defendants denied him access even though he clearly demonstrated a need for legal resources. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Mims and Doe also refused to produce his inmate account statement so he could proceed in a 2009 action with in forma pauperis status.

Inmates have a fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 346 (1996). However, the right is limited to direct criminal appeals, habeas petitions, and civil rights actions. Id. at 354. Claims for denial of access to the courts may arise from the frustration or hindrance of "a litigating opportunity yet to be gained" (forward-looking access claim) or from the loss of a meritorious suit that cannot now be tried (backward-looking claim). Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 412-15 (2002). Forward-looking claims allege "that systemic official action frustrates a plaintiff or plaintiff class in preparing and filing suits at the present time." Christopher, 536 U.S. at 413. In these cases that have yet to be litigated, "the justification for recognizing that [forward-looking] claim, is to place the plaintiff in a position to pursue a separate claim for relief once the frustrating condition has been removed." Id. As part of the requirement to plead an injury, a plaintiff must allege that "a non-frivolous legal claim had been frustrated or was being impeded." Lewis, 518 U.S. at 353; see also Christopher, 536 U.S. at 415. Simply stating that a claim is "non-frivolous" due to the action of a government official will not satisfy the actual injury requirement. Christopher, 536 U.S. at 415. Rather, the non-frivolous "underlying cause of action and its lost remedy must be addressed by allegations in the complaint sufficient to give fair notice to a defendant." Id. at 416. The plaintiff must describe this "predicate claim . . . well enough to apply the 'non-frivolous' test and to show that the 'arguable' nature of the underlying claim is more than hope." Id. The complaint should "state the underlying claim in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) just as if it were being independently pursued, and a like plain statement should describe any remedy available under the access claim and presently unique to it." Id. at 417-18; see Lewis, 518 U.S. at 353 n. 3 ("Depriving someone of an arguable (though not yet established) claim inflicts actual injury because it deprives him of something of value-arguable claims are settled, bought and sold. Depriving someone of a frivolous claim, on the other hand, deprives him of nothing at all, except perhaps the punishment of Rule 11 sanctions.").

When a prisoner asserts that he was denied access to the courts and seeks a remedy for a lost opportunity to present a legal claim, he must show: (1) the loss of a non-frivolous or arguable underlying claim; (2) the official acts that frustrated the litigation; and (3) a remedy that may be awarded as recompense but that is not otherwise available in a future suit. Phillips v. Hust, 477 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Christopher, 536 U.S. at 413-414, overruled on other grounds, Hust v. Phillips, 129 S.Ct. 1036 (2009)).

Having reviewed the allegations in the Complaint, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for denial of access to the courts. Plaintiff fails to describe in detail any action that he has been unable to pursue and also fails to show how such action would not be frivolous. Plaintiff merely states that he clearly demonstrated a need for legal resources, but he does not state how. He merely states that he was unable to pursue injunctive relief and that he was hindered in getting a prisoner trust account ...


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