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Gradford v. McDougall

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 30, 2017

WILLIAM JAMES GRADFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
MCDOUGALL, Defendant.

          ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND

          Michael J. Seng UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff is a county jail inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis (―IFP-). He filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on April 24, 2017. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff's complaint is before the Court for screening. He has declined Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (ECF No. 4.) No other parties have appeared.

         I. Screening Requirement

         The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an 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).

         II. Pleading Standard

         Section 1983 provides a cause of action against any person who deprives an individual of federally guaranteed rights ―under color- of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (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) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusions are not. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Under section 1983, 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, 556 U.S. at 678-79; Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). Prisoners proceeding pro se in civil rights actions are entitled to have their pleadings liberally construed and to have any doubt resolved in their favor, Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted), but nevertheless, the mere possibility of misconduct falls short of meeting the plausibility standard, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Moss, 572 F.3d at 969.

         III. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff is currently detained at the Stanislaus County Public Safety Center in Modesto, California. He brings this suit against Deputy McDougall for interfering with Plaintiff's legal mail. His allegations may be summarized as follows:

         On February 11, 2017, Deputy McDougall removed five pieces of Plaintiff's outgoing legal mail, including a piece directed to Plaintiff's criminal attorney, from the outgoing mailbox of Unit E. Defendant called Plaintiff over to his desk, then broke the seals of each envelope, removed the contents, read them, searched them for contraband, replaced them in their envelopes, sealed and signed them, all without Plaintiff's permission. Earlier that same day, Deputy Freddie had already searched these envelopes for contraband, sealed them, and signed them. Plaintiff complains that his right of access to the Court has been violated and he has lost the opportunity to have a ―fair or just- civil or criminal trial or a chance to prove his innocence in his pending criminal case.

         Plaintiff has already filed a civil suit against Deputy McDougall complaining about other instances of tampering. He seeks 1.5 million dollars in damages.

         IV. Discussion

         A. Legal Mail

         Inmates have a ―First Amendment right to send and receive mail.- Witherow v. Paff, 52 F.3d 264, 265 (9th Cir. 1995). The censorship of outgoing prisoner mail is justified if the following criteria are met: (1) the regulation furthers ―an important or substantial government interest unrelated to the suppression of expression- and (2) ―the limitation on First Amendment freedoms must be no greater than is necessary or essential to the protection of the particular governmental interest involved.- Procunier ...


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