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Saleem v. Bonds

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 29, 2019

ABDUL WALI SALEEM, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIE BONDS, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          ROBERT B. KUGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Abdul Wali Saleem, is a prisoner confined at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, New Jersey. He is proceeding pro se with a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. At this time, the Court must screen 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 suit. For the reasons stated in this Opinion, the Court will permit the complaint to proceed in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court will construe the allegations of the complaint as true for the purpose of this Opinion. Plaintiff names the following individuals as Defendants: (1) Administrator Willie Bonds; (2) unknown officers(s)[1] of the South Wood State Prison mail room staff; and (3) an Islamic chaplain, Dr. Yusef.

         According to the brief allegations in the complaint, at some point prior to August 26, 2016, Unknown Officer opened Plaintiffs incoming mail, which contained “pictures depicting homosexuals.” (ECF No. 1, at 6). Unknown Officer then showed the pictures to, among other people, Defendant Yusef, an Islamic chaplain at the prison. On August 26, 2016, officers turned Plaintiff away from prayer services at the direction of Defendant Yusef.

         Thereafter, Plaintiff wrote to the commissioner's office, the special investigation division, and the prison administrator, Defendant Bonds. Plaintiff does not elaborate on the contents of those writings, the results thereof, or whether anyone is still denying Plaintiff access to religious services.

         Plaintiff now raises Fourth Amendment search and First Amendment free exercise claims against the Defendants, alleging that the opening of his mail violated the Fourth Amendment and that the refusal to allow him to join prayer service violated the First Amendment. The complaint only requests compensation for the past, not present, violation of his right to practice his religion. (ECF No. 1, at 5-7). As for injunctive relief, Plaintiff seeks the termination of Unknown Officer's employment and separate prayer services for Shiite Muslims.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         District courts must review complaints in civil actions in which a plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). District courts may sua sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, is 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 Id. According to the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, “a pleading that offers ‘labels or conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a claim, [2] the complaint must allege “sufficient factual matter” to show that the claim is facially plausible. See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). “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 [alleged] misconduct.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Moreover, while courts liberally construe pro se pleadings, “pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim.” Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his civil rights guaranteed under the United States Constitution. To succeed on a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must allege two things: first, a violation of a right under the Constitution, and second, that a “person” acting under color of state law committed the violation. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Piecknick v. Com. of Pa., 36 F.3d 1250, 1255-56 (3d. Cir. 1994).

         A. Claims Against Unknown Officer

         Plaintiff argues that Unknown Officer violated Plaintiffs Fourth Amendment rights when he opened Plaintiffs mail. (ECF No. 1, at 4). The Supreme Court has held, however, that “the Fourth Amendment proscription against unreasonable searches does not apply within the confines of the prison cell, ” Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526 (1984). Numerous courts, including from this District, have held that Hudson also applies to searches of a prisoner's incoming mail. See, e.g., Ali-X v. All the Employees of the Mail Room Staffs, No. 12-3147, 2016 WL 5660459, at *4 (D.N.J. Sept. 28, 2016) (collecting cases); Cooper v. Atl. Cty. Justice Facility, No. 15-575, 2015 ...


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