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Raheem Taylor v. George W. Hayman

February 23, 2011

RAHEEM TAYLOR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GEORGE W. HAYMAN, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hayden, District Judge

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Plaintiff, Raheem Taylor, a state inmate presently confined at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, New Jersey, at the time he submitted this Complaint for filing, seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis. Based on his affidavit of indigence, the Court will grant plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) (1998) and order the Clerk of the Court to file the Complaint.

At this time, the Court must review the Complaint, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A, to determine whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that the Complaint should proceed in part. In addition, plaintiff filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. (Docket entry no. 3). For the reasons set forth below, the motion for a preliminary injunction will be denied without prejudice at this time.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Raheem Taylor ("Taylor"), brings this civil action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the following defendants: George W. Hayman, Commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Corrections ("NJDOC"); Donald Mee, Administrator at East Jersey State Prison ("EJSP"); Cindy Sweeney, Associate Administrator at EJSP; Norman B. Knight, state correctional officer ("SCO") at EJSP; Sgt. Marcus at EJSP; Sgt. R. Mitchell at EJSP; SCO P. Sundquist at EJSP; and the United States Postal Service ("USPS") at Rahway, New Jersey. (Complaint, Caption and ¶¶ 20-27). The following factual allegations are taken from the Complaint, and are accepted for purposes of this screening only. The Court has made no findings as to the veracity of plaintiff's allegations.

Taylor alleges that defendant SCO Knight has subjected plaintiff to retaliatory reprisals after Taylor filed a grievance against Knight. He makes a general allegation that Knight acted through a "pattern of harassment and other adversarial behavior." In particular, Taylor alleges that Knight issued a false disciplinary infraction against plaintiff that resulted in a negative adjustment of Taylor's prison classification status. (Compl., ¶ 29). Taylor also alleges that defendants Mee and Marcus were placed on notice of Knight's actions but they failed to act in remedying the situation. (Compl., ¶¶ 31, 32, 34-37).

Taylor next alleges that from July 8, 2009 and continuing to the present time, his incoming legal mail was opened outside of his presence repeatedly so as to suggest that the conduct by defendants was not done by error or inadvertence. Taylor asserts that this opening of his legal mail violated his attorney/client privilege and operated to chill his confidential and direct communications with counsel. He also claims that the conduct by defendants violated N.J.S.A. 10A:18-3.4. (Compl., ¶¶ 41-56). Further, Taylor complains that he "was forced to request that his federally court-appointed attorney withdraw from his case because of defendant's actions in repeatedly opening easily identifiable privileged correspondence addressed to plaintiff by this particular attorney." (Compl., ¶ 48).

Taylor also alleges that defendants, specifically, defendants Sundquist and Mitchell, interfered with, delayed, censored and obstructed delivery of mail plaintiff addressed to private individuals and organizations outside of the prison, in particular, individuals and organizations supportive of human rights issues. (Compl., ¶¶ 57-70). Taylor claims that his mail was subject to this "unwarranted scrutiny in an effort to pinpoint or identify mail critical of the prison or its employees." (Compl., ¶ 64).

Finally, Taylor alleges that defendants improperly seized and censored a monthly publication called Prison Legal News to which plaintiff is a subscriber. Taylor claims that defendants acted to suppress plaintiff's correspondence that may have reflected unfavorably upon prison management. Taylor also contends that the USPS failed to acknowledge, investigate and deter the defendants' practice of obstructing delivery of plaintiff's mail. (Compl., ¶¶ 71-81).

Taylor asserts that defendants have violated his First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances and his right of free speech association. (Compl., Counts I and IV). He also asserts that he was subjected to retaliation in violation of his First Amendment rights when defendants filed a false disciplinary action against him that resulted in atypical and significant hardship to plaintiff. (Count II). He further asserts pendent state law claims of harassment, oppression and official misconduct. (Count III).

Taylor seeks declaratory and injunctive relief. He also asks for an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages. (Comp., Prayer for Relief).

On or about August 27, 2010, Taylor filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. (Docket entry no. 3). In his motion papers, Taylor acknowledges that he was transferred from the EJSP to the New Jersey State Prison ("NJSP"). He alleges that NJSP officials have continued to censor his outgoing mail. He also complains that his requests for legal library assistance have been delayed or ignored. He asks that defendants be enjoined from further interference with his mail and access to the law library.

II. STANDARDS FOR A SUA SPONTE DISMISSAL

The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), Pub. L. No. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (April 26, 1996), requires a district court to review a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis or seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity. The Court is required to identify cognizable claims and to sua sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, 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. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A. This action is subject to sua sponte screening for dismissal under both 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) an § 1915A.

In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the Court must be mindful to construe it liberally in favor of the plaintiff. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007)(following Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976) and Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972)). See also United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). The Court must "accept as true all of the allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The Court need not, however, credit a pro se plaintiff's "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions." Id.

A complaint is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989) (interpreting the predecessor of § 1915(e)(2), the former § 1915(d)). The standard for evaluating whether a complaint is "frivolous" is an objective one. Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1086-87 (3d Cir. 1995).

A pro se complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim only if it appears "'beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'" Haines, 404 U.S. at 521 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). See also Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93-94 (In a pro se prisoner civil rights complaint, the Court reviewed whether the complaint complied with the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2)).

However, recently, the Supreme Court revised this standard for summary dismissal of a Complaint that fails to state a claim in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). The issue before the Supreme Court was whether Iqbal's civil rights complaint adequately alleged defendants' personal involvement in discriminatory decisions regarding Iqbal's treatment during detention at the Metropolitan Detention Center which, if true, violated his constitutional rights. Id. The Court examined Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which provides that a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."

Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).*fn1 Citing its recent opinion in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), for the proposition that "[a] pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do,' "Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555), the Supreme Court identified two working principles underlying the failure to state a claim standard:

First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice ... . Rule 8 ... does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will ... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. But where 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." Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2).

Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-1950 (citations omitted).

The Court further explained that a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. 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 ...


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