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Owens v. Pretznow

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

February 28, 2018

EDDIE OWENS, Plaintiff,
v.
CRAIG PRETZNOW, ET AL., Defendants.

          ORDER OF SUMMARY DISMISSAL

          VICTORIA A. ROBERTS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Eddie Owens, presently incarcerated at the Oakland County Jail, filed a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He names three defendants: two Oakland County Jail law librarians (defendants Pretznow and Larry); and a Captain with the Oakland County Sheriff's Department (defendant Childs). Plaintiff claims that defendants denied him his right of access to the courts, retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights, engaged in a conspiracy to retaliate against him, and caused him emotional, physical and mental distress. Plaintiff seeks injunctive, declaratory, and monetary relief. The complaint will be dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

         II. Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a complaint set forth “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” as well as “a demand for the relief sought.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), (3). The purpose of this rule is 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) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). While this notice pleading standard does not require “detailed” factual allegations, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, it does require more than the bare assertion of legal conclusions or “an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         Plaintiff was granted leave to proceed without prepayment of the filing fee for this action. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), the Court is required to sua sponte dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint before service on a defendant if it determines that the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Similarly, the Court is required to dismiss a complaint seeking redress against government entities, officers, and employees that it finds to be frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). A complaint is frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989).

         To state a federal civil rights claim, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) he was deprived of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the federal Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color of state law. Flagg Bros. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 155-57 (1978). A pro se civil rights complaint is to be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972).

         III. Discussion

         A. Right of Access to the Courts Claim

         First, Plaintiff argues he was denied access to the courts. He claims defendants limited his access to the law library and failed to provide him with requested legal materials, hindering his ability to defend against the criminal charges which landed him in jail.

         Prisoners have a constitutionally-protected right of access to the courts under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 354 (1996). There is no generalized “right to litigate” which is protected by the First Amendment, and “a prisoner's right to access the courts extends to direct appeals, habeas corpus applications, and civil rights claims only.” Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 391 (6th Cir. 1999). An access to the courts claim has “unique pleading requirements: a plaintiff must plead a case within a case, alleging the law and facts sufficient to establish both the interference with his access to the courts, and the non-frivolous nature of the claim that was lost.” Brown v. Matauszak, 415 Fed. App'x 608, 612 (6th Cir. 2011). A complaint is insufficient to meet this pleading standard “if it tenders ‘naked assertions' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557. Moreover, “[i]n order to state a claim for interference with access to the courts, ... a plaintiff must show actual injury.” Harbin-Bey v. Rutter, 420 F.3d 571, 578 (6th Cir. 2005), citing Thaddeus-X, 175 F.3d at 394.

         Plaintiff is represented by counsel in the state court criminal proceeding. See Complaint at 3, ECF No. 1, Pg. ID 3. A prisoner who is represented by counsel has no freestanding right to access a jail law library. “[P]rison law libraries and legal assistance programs are not ends in themselves, but only the means for ensuring ‘a reasonably adequate opportunity to present claimed violations of fundamental constitutional rights to the courts.'” Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351, quoting Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 825 (1977). A prisoner's right of access to the courts is fully protected “when a state provides that prisoner with either the legal tools necessary to defend himself, e.g., a state-provided law library, or the assistance of legally trained personnel.” Holt v. Pitts, 702 F.2d 639, 640 (6th Cir. 1983) (emphasis supplied), citing Bounds, 430 U.S. 817; Avery v. Johnson, 393 U.S. 483 (1969). Plaintiff acknowledges he was represented by counsel in his criminal case. His right of access to the courts was adequately protected.

         B. Retaliation Claim

         Plaintiff argues that defendants retaliated against him for “assisting every inmate in cell block C-1-B with their court ...


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