United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER OF DISMISSAL WITH LEAVE TO AMEND
PHYLLIS J. HAMILTON, United States District Judge
a state prisoner, has filed a pro se civil rights complaint
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He has been granted leave to
proceed in forma pauperis.
courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in
which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity or
officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A(a). In its review the court must identify any
cognizable claims, and dismiss any claims which are
frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief
may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who
is immune from such relief. Id. at 1915A(b)(1), (2).
Pro se pleadings must be liberally construed. Balistreri
v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th
Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only "a short
and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief." "Specific facts are not
necessary; the statement need only '"give the
defendant fair notice of what the . . . . claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests."'" Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (citations omitted).
Although in order to state a claim a complaint “does
not need detailed factual allegations, . . . a
plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds'
of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than
labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do. . . . Factual
allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above
the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted). A
complaint must proffer "enough facts to state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at
570. The United States Supreme Court has recently explained
the “plausible on its face” standard of
Twombly: “While legal conclusions can provide
the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by
factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual
allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then
determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement
to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must
allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by
the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated,
and (2) that the alleged deprivation was committed by a
person acting under the color of state law. West v.
Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
alleges that prison officials improperly read his legal mail.
officials may institute procedures for inspecting
“legal mail, ” e.g., mail sent between attorneys
and prisoners, see Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539,
576-77 (1974) (incoming mail from attorneys), and mail sent
from prisoners to the courts, see Royse v. Superior
Court, 779 F.2d 573, 574-75 (9th Cir. 1986) (outgoing
mail to court). But “prisoners have a protected First
Amendment interest in having properly marked legal mail
opened only in their presence.” Hayes v. Idaho
Correctional Center, 849 F.3d 1204, 1211 (9th Cir.
2017). See also O'Keefe v. Van Boening, 82 F.3d
322, 325 (9th Cir. 1996) (the opening and inspecting of
"legal mail" outside the presence of the prisoner
may have an impermissible "chilling" effect on the
constitutional right to petition the government).
prison officials may open and inspect mail to a prisoner from
courts outside the prisoner's presence because mail from
courts, as opposed to mail from a prisoner's lawyer, is
not “legal mail.” Hayes, 849 F.3d 1204
at 1211; Keenan v. Hall, 83 F.3d 1083, 1094 (9th
Cir. 1996), amended, 135 F.3d 1318 (9th Cir. 1998). With
minute exceptions, correspondence from a court to a litigant
is a public document. See Martin v. Brewer, 830 F.2d
76, 78 (7th Cir. 1987).
states that prison officials opened a letter sent from the
California Supreme Court, outside of plaintiff's
presence. As noted above, mail sent from the court to a
prisoner is not legal mail. In addition, the letter sent by
the California Supreme Court was sent on August 19, 2016, and
contained the address of the prison and the case number,
“S236826”. However, the California Supreme Court
neglected to put plaintiff's name or his prison
identification number on the envelope. Complaint at 15.
Prison officials told plaintiff that the envelope was opened
in order to ascertain who it should be directed to. Complaint
plaintiff identified what was in the envelope. The California
Supreme Court docket does not identify what was sent to
plaintiff on August 19, 2016. On August 18, 2016, the
California Supreme Court received a motion from plaintiff
regarding his pending habeas petition, so it is possible that
the mail was related to that motion or just an acknowledgment
that the court received the motion.
has not presented a cognizable claim because mail sent from
the courts is not legal mail. To the extent prison officials
violated a prison regulation, that does not present a
constitutional claim. The complaint is dismissed with leave
to amend to provide more information. Plaintiff may also wish