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Shabazz v. Dzurenda

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 9, 2016

SHAKA SHABAZZ, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES DZURENDA, ET AL., Defendants.

          RULING AND ORDER

          Michael P. Shea United States District Judge.

         The plaintiff, Shaka Shabazz, is incarcerated at the Cheshire Correctional Institution in Cheshire, Connecticut. He has filed a motion to amend the complaint. The motion is granted. The amended complaint names Commissioner James Dzurenda, District Administrator Angel Quiros, Deputy Warden William Faneuff, Warden Carol Chapdelaine, Captain Corl, and Correctional Officer Allen as defendants. For the reasons set forth below, the amended complaint is dismissed in part.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), the Court must review prisoner civil complaints against governmental actors and “dismiss . . . any portion of [a] complaint [that] is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, ” or that “seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” Id. Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         Although detailed allegations are not required, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A complaint that includes only “‘labels and conclusions, ’ ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action’ or ‘naked assertion[s]’ devoid of ‘further factual enhancement, ’” does not meet the facial plausibility standard. Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 557 (2007)). Although courts still have an obligation to interpret “a pro se complaint liberally, ” the complaint must include sufficient factual allegations to meet the standard of facial plausibility. See Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

         The plaintiff claims that in January 2014, he was incarcerated at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution (“MacDougall-Walker”). On January 31, 2014, Captain Corl and Correctional Officer Allen issued the plaintiff a disciplinary report for Security Tampering and Conspiracy. The charge was based on an envelope addressed to the plaintiff and received in the MacDougall-Walker mail room by Officer Allen. Although the envelope included a handwritten return mailing address indicating that it had been sent by a legitimate attorney, Officer Allen viewed the envelope as being suspicious based on the way the envelope was labeled as legal mail and the fact that the postage stamps on the envelope had not been validated or cancelled by the post office. Due to the suspicious nature of the envelope, Officer Allen reviewed the plaintiff’s recent telephone calls and concluded that a woman who received of a telephone call made by the plaintiff on January 30, 2014, had fraudulently labeled the envelope as legal mail and had sent the envelope to the plaintiff. Officer Allen, Captain Corl, and Deputy Warden Faneuff reviewed the contents of the envelope and noted that it contained instructions and forms from Sovereign Filing Solutions/Secured Party Creditor. According to Captain Corl and a member of the Department of Correction Security Division, an inmate is not permitted to possess these types of documents unless he or she can show good cause for possessing them and he or she has a business that conducts interstate commerce. After reviewing the contents of the letter, Officer Allen confiscated the letter and its contents and allegedly made photocopies of the contents.

         After a hearing on the charge, a disciplinary hearing officer found the plaintiff not guilty of the security tampering charge and did not impose any sanctions. Neither Officer Allen nor the hearing officer returned the envelope that had been confiscated or its contents to the plaintiff. The plaintiff claims that he submitted multiple requests and grievances to Warden Chapdelaine seeking to have the contents of the envelope returned to him. Warden Chapdelaine denied the plaintiff’s grievance regarding the alleged improper conduct of Correctional Officer Allen in handling his legal mail. District Administrator Quiros denied the plaintiff’s appeal of the decision of the Warden.

         The plaintiff sues the defendants in their individual capacities only. He seeks punitive and compensatory damages.

         I. Property Claim

         The plaintiff claims that he attempted to obtain the documents that had been in the envelope mailed to him by an attorney and received by the mail room at MacDougall-Walker on January 31, 2014, but the defendants refused to return the documents to him. Although the plaintiff does not clearly articulate all of his legal claims, the Court interprets one of them to allege a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court has found that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is not violated when a prison inmate loses personal belongings due to the negligent or intentional actions of correctional officers if the state provides an adequate post-deprivation compensatory remedy. See Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 533 (1983); Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 543 (1981).

         The State of Connecticut provides an adequate remedy for the kind of deprivation the plaintiff alleges. See State of Connecticut Department of Correction Administrative Directive 9.6(16) (2013), available at www.ct.gov/dos/LIB/doc/PDF/AD/ad01006.pdf, (providing Department of Correction’s Lost Property Board shall hear and determine any claim by an inmate who seeks compensation not to exceed $3, 500.00 for lost or damaged personal property and that the inmate may present the property claim to the Claims Commissioner after the Board denies the claim in whole or in part); Conn. Gen. Stat. § 4-141 et seq. (providing that claims for payment or refund of money by the state may be presented to the Connecticut Claims Commission); S. v. Webb, 602 F.Supp.2d 374, 386 (D. Conn. 2009) (finding Connecticut has sufficient post-deprivation remedies for seizures of property by state officials). This state remedy is not rendered inadequate simply because plaintiff anticipates a more favorable remedy in federal court or because it may take longer before his case is resolved in the state system. See Hudson, 468 U.S. at 535.

         The plaintiff does not allege that he has attempted to obtain just compensation from the State of Connecticut or that he declined to do so because the State of Connecticut’s remedy for the deprivation of his property was inadequate or unavailable. Thus, the plaintiff’s federal claim that the defendants refused to return the documents enclosed in the letter addressed to him and received by the mail room at MacDougall-Walker on January 31, 2014, fails as a matter of law. The property claim against the defendants is dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).

         II. Access to Courts

         As indicated above, the documents in the envelope that were confiscated on January 31, 2014, were from Sovereign Filing Solutions. The plaintiff claims that he intended to consult with the attorney who mailed him the documents.

         It is well settled that inmates have a First Amendment right of access to the courts. See Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 828 (1977) (modified on other grounds by Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 350 (1996)). To state a claim for denial of access to the courts, the plaintiff is required to demonstrate that he suffered an actual injury as a result of the conduct of the defendants. See Lewis, 518 U.S. at 353. To establish an actual injury, plaintiff must allege facts showing that the defendant took or was responsible for actions that hindered his efforts to pursue a legal claim, prejudiced one of his existing actions, or otherwise actually interfered with his access to the courts. See Monsky v. Moraghan, 127 F.3d 243, 247 (2d Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 823 (1998).

         The plaintiff claims that the documents from Sovereign Filing Solutions were related to a civil action and that being involved in a civil action would not jeopardize the safety of the facility. The plaintiff contends that at some point after the documents from Sovereign Filing Solutions were confiscated by defendant Allen, he attempted to contact the attorney who had mailed him the documents to ask that he re-mail another set of the documents to him, but the attorney “was so shocked by the defendants conduct that he withdrew from the communication/consultation all together.” (ECF No. 10-1 at 11.) The plaintiff has not been able to find another attorney to assist him. There are no facts to suggest that any civil action that the plaintiff might pursue in reliance on the documents from Sovereign Filing Solutions would constitute the type of action that meets the injury requirement in Lewis. “The injury requirement is not satisfied by just any type of frustrated legal claim [and] . . . does not guarantee inmates the wherewithal to transform themselves into litigating engines capable of filing” any type of lawsuit. Rather, the injury must be related to the ability or capacity of prisoners to “attack their sentences, directly or collaterally, and . . . to challenge the ...


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