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Harrell v. Solano County Jail

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 22, 2017

JOSHUA NEIL HARRELL, Plaintiff,
v.
SOLANO COUNTY JAIL, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          ALLISON CLAIRE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, a state prisoner who spent time at Solano County Jail as an arrestee and pretrial detainee, is proceeding pro se with a civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. By order filed September 30, 2015, plaintiff's second amended complaint was dismissed with leave to amend. ECF No. 29. Plaintiff has now filed a third amended complaint, ECF No. 30. Plaintiff has consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned magistrate judge for all purposes pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Local Rule 305(a). ECF No. 7.

         I. Screening Requirement

         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).

         A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. See Jackson v. Arizona, 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1989); Franklin, 745 F.2d at 1227.

         A complaint must contain more than a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;” it must contain factual allegations sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). “The pleading must contain something more . . . than . . . a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action.” Id. (quoting 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. 235-35 (3d ed. 2004)). “[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 566 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “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.” Id.

         In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Hosp. Bldg. Co. v. Trs. of Rex Hosp., 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976), construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and resolve all doubts in the plaintiff's favor. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969).

         II. Plaintiff's Allegations

         In his third amended complaint, plaintiff alleges that while he was held at Solano County Jail[1] as “an arrestee, a pretrial detainee, and a sentenced prisoner, ” his constitutional rights were violated when he was not allowed to contact his family in Belize, Central America by mail or phone.[2] ECF No. 30 at 5-7; ECF No. 30-1 at 1-3. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that he could not contact his family because the phone system at the jail did not allow international phone calls and the postal system at Solano County Jail did not allow inmates to send international mail. ECF No. 30 at 5-6; ECF No. 30-1 at 2. Because plaintiff was unable to contact his family, he was unable to make bail arrangements, hire an attorney in his Solano County criminal case, recover his trailer home that had been towed, and “pursue non-frivolous claims concerning [his] conviction and/or [his] conditions of confinement.” ECF No. 30 at 6. Plaintiff further alleges that a Solano County Superior Court judge granted him two phone calls to his mother in Belize, yet Solano County Jail Commander Rod Marsh refused to allow him to make the calls, which prevented him from “making arrangements prior to sentencing.” Id. at 6-7.

         III. Right of Access to the Courts

         Plaintiff has a constitutional right of access to the courts, and prison officials may not actively interfere with his right to litigate. Silva v. Di Vittorio, 658 F.3d 1090, 1101-02 (9th Cir. 2011), overruled on other grounds as stated by Richey v. Dahne, 807 F.3d 1202, 1209 n.6 (9th Cir. 2015)). The right is limited to bringing complaints to federal court in direct criminal appeals, habeas petitions, and civil rights actions. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 354 (1996). It is not a right to discover such claims or to litigate them effectively once filed with a court. Id. at 354-55. A plaintiff must show that he suffered an “actual injury, ” i.e. prejudice with respect to contemplated or existing litigation, such as the inability to meet a filing deadline or present a non-frivolous claim. Id. at 348-49. An “actual injury” is one that hinders the plaintiff's ability to pursue a legal claim. Id. at 351.

         In dismissing his second amended complaint with leave to amend, the court informed plaintiff of the following:

Plaintiff's lawsuit is predicated on his complaints about various alleged deficiencies in phone and mail systems at Solano County Jail. Specifically, plaintiff claims he was harmed by (1) his inability to contact his mother by phone through the collect-only phone system; (2) his inability to send his mother international mail; (3) his inability to use the free phone for criminal pro per inmates; and (4) the denial of his requests for legal mail, photocopies, and envelopes.
At the outset, the court notes that plaintiff does not allege that the above deficiencies interfered with his access to retained or appointed counsel. Rather, plaintiff alleges that he was unable to find an attorney to handle “other civil matters” because none of the attorneys he called would accept collect phone calls, and although he attempted to contact ...

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