United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Northern Division
L. MALONEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court has granted Plaintiff leave
to proceed in forma pauperis. Under the Prison
Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321
(1996), the Court is required to dismiss any prisoner action
brought under federal law if the complaint is frivolous,
malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant immune
from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A;
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The Court must read
Plaintiff's pro se complaint indulgently,
see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and
accept Plaintiff's allegations as true, unless they are
clearly irrational or wholly incredible. Denton v.
Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992). Applying these
standards, Plaintiff's action will be dismissed for
failure to state a claim.
Nathon Zink, a state prisoner currently incarcerated at the
Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility (AMF), filed this
pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 against Defendant Inspector C. Cummings. In his
complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on September 13, 2016, he
sent a letter to someone named Allayna Murphy in Coloma,
Michigan. Plaintiff states that the letter was seized by
Defendant Cummings, who turned it over to Trooper Steve
Koskela with the Michigan State Police. The letter was used
as to criminally prosecute Plaintiff. Plaintiff states that
he did not receive a Notice of Intent or a hearing regarding
the seizure of his mail, which violated MDOC policy and his
constitutional rights. Plaintiff states that a Notice of
Intent was finally issued on January 6, 2017, three months
after the letter was seized by Defendant Cummings. Plaintiff
seeks damages and equitable relief.
Failure to state a claim
complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it
fails “‘to give the defendant fair notice of what
the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355
U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While a complaint need not contain
detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's allegations
must include more than labels and conclusions.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“Threadbare
recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by
mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). The
court must determine whether the complaint contains
“enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 679. Although the plausibility standard is not equivalent
to a “‘probability requirement, ' . . . it
asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has
acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[W]here
the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more
than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has
alleged - but it has not ‘show[n]' - that the
pleader is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)); see also Hill
v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (holding
that the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard applies
to dismissals of prisoner cases on initial review under 28
U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)).
state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must
allege the violation of a right secured by the federal
Constitution or laws and must show that the deprivation was
committed by a person acting under color of state law.
West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988);
Dominguez v. Corr. Med. Servs., 555 F.3d 543, 549
(6th Cir. 2009). Because § 1983 is a method for
vindicating federal rights, not a source of substantive
rights itself, the first step in an action under § 1983
is to identify the specific constitutional right allegedly
infringed. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271
claims regarding the seizure and use of his outgoing mail to
criminally prosecute him, do not support a First Amendment
claim. A prisoner retains only those First Amendment freedoms
which are “not inconsistent with his status as a
prisoner or with legitimate penological objectives of the
corrections system [ ].” Martin v. Kelley, 803
F.2d 236, 240 n.7 (6th Cir.1986) (quoting Pell v.
Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822 (1974); see Turner v.
Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987). It is well established that
“[l]awful incarceration brings about the necessary
withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights, a
retraction justified by the considerations underlying our
penal system.” Price v. Johnston, 334 U.S.
266, 285 (1948). The limitations on the exercise of
constitutional rights arise both from the fact of
incarceration and from valid penological objectives-including
deterrence of crime, rehabilitation of prisoners, and
institutional security. O'Lone v. Estate of
Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987) (citing Pell,
417 U.S. at 822-823; Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S.
396, 412 (1974)).
asserts that the defendants violated his First Amendment
rights by reading his outgoing letter and turning the letter
over to the Michigan State Police. Inmates have a First
Amendment right to communicate with the outside world by
sending and receiving mail. Thornburg v. Abbott, 490
U.S. 401, 407 (1989); Turner, 482 U.S. at 85. That
right, however, is not absolute. Rather, it is limited by
concerns for institutional security and public safety.
Prisons and jails may impinge upon an inmate's First
Amendment right to send or receive mail so long as their
policies are “reasonably related to legitimate
penalogical interests.” Turner, 482 U.S. at
89. With regard to outgoing mail, such concerns include, but
are “not limited to, escape plans, plans relating to
ongoing criminal activity, and threats of blackmail or
extortion.” Thornburgh, 490 U.S. at 412.
officials do not violate the First Amendment by inspecting
and reading an inmate's outgoing non-legal mail. Frey
v. Raisanen, 2014 WL 545794, at *2 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 11,
2014), citing Caldwell v. Beard, 305 F.App'x 1,
4 (3d Cir.2008) (prison officials did not violate the First
Amendment by reading inmate's outgoing mail to his
family); Altizer v. Deeds, 191 F.3d 540 (4th
Cir.1999) (opening and inspecting inmate's outgoing mail
is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests and
does not violate the First Amendment); Smith v.
Delo, 995 F.2d 827, 830 (8th Cir.1993) (prison officials
are justified in screening outgoing nonlegal mail for escape
plans, contraband, threats, or evidence of illegal activity);
Stow v. Grimaldi, 993 F.2d 1002, 1004-05 (1st
Cir.1993) (state prison practice requiring that
non-privileged outgoing mail be submitted for inspection in
unsealed envelopes did not violate prisoner's
constitutional rights); United States v. Whalen, 940
F.2d 1027, 1035 (7th Cir.1991) (“it is well established
that prisons have sound reasons for reading the outgoing mail
of their inmates”); see also Gaines v. Lane,
790 F.2d 1299, 1304 (7th Cir.1986) (upholding prison
regulations authorizing the inspection of incoming and
outgoing nonlegal mail).
prison officials commit a constitutional violation by reading
prisoners' outgoing nonlegal mail and forwarding matters
of concern to police or prosecutors. See Frey v.
Raisanen, 2014 WL 545794, at *3, citing Busby v.
Dretke, 359 F.3d 708, 721 (5th Cir.2004) (finding that
the First Amendment did not bar jail officials from reading
an inmate's mail and turning letters over to prosecutors
if the jailers found valuable evidence during routine
monitoring); Gassler v. Wood, 14 F.3d 406, 408 n. 5
(8th Cir.1994) (citing cases and finding no First Amendment
violation where prison officials read prisoners' outgoing
nonlegal mail and sent copies to agent investigating their
crimes); Houston v. Hornick, No. 2:08-cv-92, 2008 WL
2699384, *1-2 (W.D. Mich. June 30, 2008) (adopting report and
recommendation dismissing complaint for failure to state a
constitutional claim where prison official read
prisoner's letter to psychiatrist and gave it to police,
which resulted in prisoner's bond revocation and
placement in segregation). Thus, to the extent that Plaintiff
contends that his First Amendment rights were violated by
Defendant's actions in reading his letter and forwarding
it to the Michigan State Police, he fails to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted.
claims that his due process rights were violated by Defendant
Cummings' conduct. Plaintiff cites MDOC Policy Directive
05.03.118, and asserts that he was entitled to a Notice of
Intent and hearing prior to the seizure of his mail. Under
MDOC Policy Directive 05.03.118, a prisoner is entitled to a
prompt hearing on mail which is deemed to be a threat to the
order and security of an institution or to the rehabilitation
of prisoners. Jones v. Michigan Dep't of
Corr., 2011 WL 447017, at *2 (W.D. Mich. Feb. 1,
2011). However, Policy Directive 05.03.118 ¶ F states:
Law enforcement officials shall be contacted immediately
through the appropriate chain of command if mail addressed to
or sent by a prisoner contains evidence of illegal activity.
Upon request of a law enforcement official and approval of
the facility head, notices required to be issued and hearings
required to be conducted pursuant to this policy may ...