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Hoffmann v. Oliveros

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 11, 2019

KASEY F HOFFMANN, Plaintiff,
v.
E OLIVEROS, Defendant.

          ORDER OF SERVICE

          JAMES DONATO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, a state prisoner, proceeds with a pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that was removed from state court. The second amended complaint was dismissed with leave to amend and plaintiff has filed a third amended complaint.

         DISCUSSION

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal 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 Cir. 1990).

         Federal 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.” Although 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 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, 679 (2009).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         LEGAL CLAIMS

         Plaintiff alleges that he was denied access to state court, his mail was improperly screened and handled and defendant retaliated against him. Prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 350 (1996); Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977). To establish a claim for any violation of the right of access to the courts, the prisoner must prove that there was an inadequacy in the prison's legal access program that caused him an actual injury. See Lewis, 518 U.S. at 350-55. To prove an actual injury, the prisoner must show that the inadequacy in the prison's program hindered his efforts to pursue a non-frivolous claim concerning his conviction or conditions of confinement. See id. at 354-55.

         The inspection for contraband of non-legal mail does not violate a prisoner's constitutional rights. See Witherow v. Paff, 52 F.3d at 264, 265-66 (9th Cir. 1995) (upholding inspection of outgoing mail); Smith v. Boyd, 945 F.2d 1041, 1043 (8th Cir. 1991) (upholding inspection of incoming mail); Gaines v. Lane, 790 F.2d 1299, 1304 (7th Cir. 1986) (upholding inspection of outgoing and incoming mail). Neither the Supreme Court nor the Ninth Circuit has determined whether prison officials are entitled to read inmates' outgoing and incoming non-legal mail.

         Prison 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).[1] 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). The Sixth Amendment also protects the right of a prisoner to be present while legal mail relating to criminal proceedings is opened. Mangiaracina v. Penzone, 849 F.3d 1191, 1195 (9th Cir. 2017). A plaintiff need not allege a longstanding practice of having his mail opened outside his presence in order to state a claim for relief. Hayes, 849 F.3d at 1218 (allegation that protected mail was opened outside plaintiff's presence on two separate occasions sufficient to state First Amendment claim); Mangiaracina, 849 F.3d at 1202 (absence of a clear pattern beyond two incidents of mail opening did not preclude Sixth Amendment relief). Nor is a plaintiff required to show any actual injury beyond the violation itself. Hayes, 849 F.3d at 1212. If prison officials open legal mail outside a prisoner's presence, they must establish that legitimate penological interests justify the policy or practice. Hayes, 849 F.3d at 1213; see also O'Keefe, 82 F.3d at 327 (mail policy that allows prison mailroom employees to open and read grievances sent by prisoners to state agencies outside prisoners' presence reasonable means to further legitimate penological interests).

         “Within the prison context, a viable claim of First Amendment retaliation entails five basic elements: (1) An assertion that a state actor took some adverse action against an inmate (2) because of (3) that prisoner's protected conduct, and that such action (4) chilled the inmate's exercise of his First Amendment rights, and (5) the action did not reasonably advance a legitimate correctional goal.” Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 567-68 (9th Cir. 2005) (footnote omitted). Accord Pratt v. Rowland, 65 F.3d 802, 806 (9th Cir. 1995) (prisoner suing prison officials under § 1983 for retaliation must allege that he was retaliated against for exercising his constitutional rights and that the retaliatory action did not advance legitimate penological goals, such as preserving institutional order and discipline). The prisoner must show that the type of activity he was engaged in was constitutionally protected, that the protected conduct was a substantial or motivating factor for the alleged retaliatory action, and that the retaliatory action advanced no legitimate penological interest. Hines v. Gomez, 108 F.3d 265, 267-68 (9th Cir. 1997) (inferring retaliatory motive from circumstantial evidence).

         Plaintiff alleges that defendant on various occasions interrupted his mail to state court. However, plaintiff was involved in litigation regarding his children and Lassen County Child Support Services. Plaintiff has failed to show an actual injury in his efforts to pursue a non-frivolous claim concerning his conviction or conditions of confinement. His claim regarding access to the courts is dismissed with prejudice.

         Plaintiff also states that defendant improperly screened and handled his confidential and legal mail on several occasions between May 25 and May 30, 2018. To the extent he raises claims regarding non-legal mail, those claims are dismissed for failure to state a claim because plaintiff has failed to provide sufficient allegations and neither the Supreme Court nor the Ninth Circuit has determined whether prison officials are entitled to read inmates' outgoing and incoming non-legal mail. With respect to ...


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