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Michael B. Williams v. Marissa Bigot

May 13, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael J. Seng United States Magistrate Judge




Plaintiff Michael B. Williams proceeds pro se and in form pauperis in this civil rights action filed April 18, 2013 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff is civilly committed to Coalinga State Hospital. The Complaint is now before the Court for screening.


The in forma pauperis statutes provide that "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, ------ U.S. --------, --------, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009), citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), and courts "are not required to indulge unwarranted inferences." Doe I v. Wal--Mart Stores, Inc., 572 F.3d 677, 681 (9th Cir. 2009). While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusion are not. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.

Under § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate that each defendant personally participated in the deprivation of his rights. Jones v. Williams, 297 F.3d 930, 934 (9th Cir. 2002). This requires the presentation of factual allegations sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949--50; Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). The mere possibility of misconduct falls short of meeting this plausibility standard. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949--50; Moss, 572 F.3d at 969.


Plaintiff has named Marissa Bigot, a Psychiatric Technician, and Daniel Wagoner, Hospital Patient Rights Advocate, as Defendants in this action. Plaintiff alleges as follows:*fn1

A. Claims Against Defendant Bigot

Plaintiff asserts Defendant Bigot has a practice of opening, reading, storing, seizing, or destroying his incoming and outgoing confidential, legal and non-legal mail outside Plaintiff's presence; retaliating against him for exercising his First Amendment right to file related grievances, preventing his free speech; and interfering with his right to access the court in Williams v. Philllps,*fn2 pending with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

B. Claims Against Defendant Wagoner

Plaintiff asserts Defendant Wagoner denied him due process in grievance proceedings by concealing and failing to consider exculpatory evidence favorable to Plaintiff, denying due process and violating his rights under Brady v. Maryland, 373, U.S. 83 (1963).

C . Relief Sought

Plaintiff seeks an order enjoining Defendants (1) from censoring and delaying his mail, (2) to establish an office of Patients' Rights Advocate at Coalinga State Hospital, (3) from retaliating against him.

Plaintiff also seeks a declaration that his Brady rights were clearly established at times relevant; appointment of counsel; and damages and costs.*fn3


The Fourteenth Amendment provides the standard for evaluating the constitutionally protected interests of individuals who have been involuntarily committed to a state facility. Rivera v. Rogers, 224 Fed.Appx. 148, 150-51 (3d Cir. 2007); see Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 312 (1982). In determining whether the constitutional rights of an involuntarily committed individual have been violated, the court must balance the individual's liberty interests against the relevant state interests with deference shown to the judgment exercised by qualified professionals. Id. at 321-22. Plaintiff's First Amendment claim is rightly analyzed under prisoner rights case law. See Rivera at 150 ("Given that Rivera has been convicted of a crime and is being detained in the Special Treatment Unit because of his classification as a sexually violent predator under New Jersey's Sexually Violent Predator Act, his status is similar to that of a prisoner and we agree with the District Court's decision to proceed with its analysis of his First Amendment claim by looking to case law interpreting a prisoner's rights.").

A. Mail Claims

1. Legal Standards

"[A] prison inmate retains those First Amendment rights that are not inconsistent with his status as a prisoner or with the legitimate penological objectives of the corrections system." Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822 (1974). "[T]he constitutional rights that prisoners possess are more limited in scope than the constitutional rights held by individuals in society at large. In the First Amendment context . . . some rights are simply inconsistent with the status of a prison or 'with the legitimate penological objectives of the corrections system.' " Shaw v. Murphy, 532 U.S. 223, 229 (2001), quoting Pell, 417 U.S. at 822.

While prisoners and those involuntarily committed have a First Amendment right to send and receive mail, Witherow v. Paff, 52 F.3d 264, 265 (9th Cir. 1995); Jones v. Brown, 461 F.3d 353, 358 (3d Cir. 2006), the right to receive mail is subject to substantial limitation and a regulation or policy infringing on the right will be upheld if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. Prison Legal News v. Lehman, 397 F.3d 692, 699 (9th Cir. 2005), citing Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987).

2. Mail Claims Fail

Plaintiff does not explain the nature and extent of interference with his mail. He does not explain what reason prison officials gave for the interference. It is unclear whether the alleged interference conforms with facility practice and prison regulations. Plaintiff also fails to describe his various grievances concerning the handling of his mail, such as: what actions were complained of; what transpired during and resulted from the grievance proceedings; whether he appealed the results and, if so, what happened on appeal.

The mere fact that prison officials open and conduct a visual inspection of a prisoner's legal and non-legal correspondence does not alone state a claim for violation of a prisoner's constitutional rights. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 576-77 (1974); Mitchell v. Dupnick, 75 F.3d 517, 523 (9th Cir. 1996); see also Rivera, 224 Fed.Appx. at 151 (a policy that allows staff to open packages not marked as "legal mail" to check for contraband does not violate the First Amendment); Keenan v. Hall, 83 F.3d 1083, 1094 (9th Cir. 1996) (legal mail may be inspected per established institution procedures; Royse v. Superior Court), 779 F.2d 573 (9th Cir. 1986) (legal mail may be inspected for ...

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