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Farrow v. Rachavich

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 27, 2016

C/O RACHAVICH, Defendant


          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Christopher Farrow is currently confined at the Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers, Connecticut (“Osborn”). He brings this pro se § 1983 action against Correctional Officer Rachavich, alleging a denial of his constitutional right of access to the courts and retaliation in violation of his First Amendment rights to free speech and to file a court action. For the reasons set forth below, I conclude that plaintiff has plausibly alleged a claim of First Amendment retaliation, but that his claim for denial of the constitutional right of access to the courts should be dismissed without prejudice to re-filing of an amended complaint.


         The following facts are alleged in the complaint and accepted as true only for purposes of this initial ruling. On February 9, 2016, plaintiff had a conversation with Correctional Officer Rachavich in which plaintiff indicated that he intended to file paperwork with the Claims Commissioner about the conditions of his confinement at Osborn. Defendant asked plaintiff if he was trying “to make us look bad.” Doc. #1 at 2. As plaintiff was leaving his cell, defendant stopped him, told him that his “family” worked at the prison, and suggested to plaintiff that he was not “going to let [him] make the system look bad.” Ibid. Plaintiff responded that it was “nothing personal but the living conditions that we are suffering through are outrageous.” Ibid. Defendant replied that, if it were up to him, nothing would be done by plaintiff to embarrass defendant's co-workers or to make inmates more comfortable. Later that day, while plaintiff was at recreation, defendant entered plaintiff's cell and removed the paperwork pertaining to plaintiff's legal claim.


         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. Moreover, the allegations of a pro se plaintiff's complaint must be read liberally to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest. See Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for pro se litigants).

         In recent years, the Supreme Court has set forth a threshold “plausibility” pleading standard for courts to evaluate the adequacy of federal court complaints. A complaint must allege enough facts-as distinct from legal conclusions-that give rise to plausible grounds for relief. See, e.g., Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Even a pro se complaint may not survive dismissal if its factual allegations do not meet the basic plausibility standard. See, e.g., Fowlkes v. Ironworkers Local 40, 790 F.3d 378, 387 (2d Cir. 2015).

         Claim for Denial of Right of Access to Courts

         The Supreme Court has long recognized a constitutional right of access to the courts, notwithstanding that the right's precise source in the Constitution remains uncertain. See Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 415 n.12 (2002); see also Blake v. Dowe, 36 F.Supp.3d 271, 276-77 (D. Conn. 2014). Whatever its pedigree, a right of access to the courts correlatively means a right to be free from obstruction of this right by the government. Prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts that may not be unreasonably obstructed by the actions of prison officials. See Washington v. James, 782 F.2d 1134, 1138 (2d Cir. 1986).

         To state a claim for denial of access to the courts, a plaintiff must demonstrate that he suffered an actual injury, see Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 353 (1996)-that is, he must allege that “defendant's conduct deprived him of an opportunity to press some nonfrivolous, arguable cause of action in court.” Brown v. Choinski, 2011 WL 1106232, at *5 (D. Conn. 2011). What this means is that “the underlying cause of action, whether anticipated or lost, is an element that must be described in the complaint, just as much as allegations must describe the official acts frustrating the litigation, ” and “the underlying cause of action and its lost remedy must be addressed by allegations in the complaint sufficient to give fair notice to a defendant.” Christopher, 536 U.S. at 415, 416.

         A plaintiff must describe “the predicate claim . . . well enough to apply the ‘nonfrivolous' test and to show that the ‘arguable' nature of the underlying claim is more than hope.” Id. at 416. In this manner, “the complaint should state the underlying claim in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), just as if it were being independently pursued, and a like plain statement should describe any remedy available under the access claim and presently unique to it.” Id. at 417-18 (footnote omitted).

         Here, the complaint is plainly lacking a description of the underlying cause of action that has been allegedly impeded by defendant's alleged misconduct. Plaintiff does no more than note that the confiscated paperwork involved “a claim regarding my condition of confin[e]ment, ” Doc. #1 at 2, without alleging specific dates and facts of the claim in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). In addition, because of the complaint's sparse allegations, there is no way to ascertain if the underlying claim was of arguable merit or was frivolous.

         Because plaintiff's claim of denial of access to the courts has not been adequately pleaded, I will dismiss the claim without prejudice. If plaintiff believes that he is able to allege specific facts concerning the underlying cause of action that was impeded and to show that this action would not have been frivolous, then plaintiff may file an amended complaint within 30 days to allege a claim for denial of his constitutional right of access to the courts.

         First ...

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