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Tomaszycki v. Avila

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

May 22, 2018

DUSTIN WILLIAM TOMASZYCKI Plaintiff,
v.
UNKNOWN AVILA et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          Paul L. Maloney, United States District Judge.

         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996) (PLRA), 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, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's complaint against the only remaining defendant, Defendant Avila, for failure to state a claim.

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at Saginaw Correctional Facility (SRF) in Freeland, Saginaw County, Michigan. The events about which he complains, however, occurred at the Lakeland Correctional Facility (LCF) in Coldwater, Branch County, Michigan, and at the Lapeer County Circuit Court.

         Plaintiff originally filed his action in the Eastern District of Michigan, naming the following Defendants: LCF Correctional Officer (unknown) Avila; former Lapeer County Prosecutor Timothy Turkelson; and retired 67th District Court Judge John L. Conover, who was presiding by appointment in the Lapeer County Circuit Court. In an opinion and order issued on April 19, 2018 (ECF No. 7), the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed Defendants Turkelson and Conover, because both were immune from suit based on the allegations of the complaint. The court transferred the remainder of the action to this Court, where venue was proper.

         Plaintiff alleges that, on June 23, 2015, he was scheduled to appear for a jury trial in the Lapeer County Circuit Court on several counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC I). Plaintiff alleges that he was representing himself in the proceedings. He complains that he was awakened at 4:30 a.m. to be transported to the court for trial. Despite advising Defendant Avila that he was representing himself at trial and that he required his legal materials for that representation, Defendant Avila refused to allow him to bring those materials with him.[1]

         Plaintiff alleges that, on the first day of trial, he was deprived of his notes and prepared questions during the conduct of voir dire. He alleges that the trial court instructed correctional officers that they must assist Plaintiff to bring his legal materials on the remaining days of trial.[2] Plaintiff contends that not having his legal materials during voir dire violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to access the courts. He also claims that Defendant Avila's actions constituted the common law torts of trespass and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief, together with compensatory and punitive damages.

         II. Failure to state a claim

         A 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)).

         To 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); Street v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810, 814 (6th Cir. 1996). 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 (1994).

         Plaintiff claims that Defendant Avila denied him access to the courts by refusing to permit Plaintiff to bring his legal materials to his criminal trial, at which he was scheduled to represent himself. It is well established that prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977). The principal issue in Bounds was whether the states must protect the right of access to the courts by providing law libraries or alternative sources of legal information for prisoners. Id. at 817. The Court further noted that in addition to law libraries or alternative sources of legal knowledge, the states must provide indigent inmates with “paper and pen to draft legal documents, notarial services to authenticate them, and with stamps to mail them.” Id. at 824-25. The right of access to the courts also prohibits prison officials from erecting barriers that may impede the inmate's access to the courts. See Knop v. Johnson, 977 F.2d 996, 1009 (6th Cir. 1992).

         An indigent prisoner's constitutional right to legal resources and materials is not, however, without limit. In order to state a viable claim for interference with his access to the courts, a plaintiff must show “actual injury.” Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 349 (1996); see also Talley-Bey v. Knebl, 168 F.3d 884, 886 (6th Cir. 1999); Knop, 977 F.2d at 1000. In other words, a plaintiff must plead and demonstrate that the shortcomings in the prison legal assistance program or lack of legal materials have hindered, or are presently ...


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