United States District Court, D. Connecticut
INIITAL REVIEW ORDER
A. Bolden United States District Judge
Kezlyn Mendez, currently incarcerated at the
MacDougall-Walker Correctional Center, filed this Complaint
pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Mr. Mendez's
complaint was received on December 19, 2016, and his motion
to proceed in forma pauperis was granted on December
22, 2016. Defendants are District Administrator Angel Quiros,
Warden Carol Chapdelaine, Mail Room Captain Jane Hall and
Mail Room Officer Bill White. Mr. Mendez alleges that
Defendants improperly opened confidential mail outside his
presence. Although Mr. Mendez names Defendants in both
individual and official capacities, he seeks only damages.
Standard of Review
section 1915A of title 28 of the United States Code, the
Court must review prisoner civil complaints and dismiss any
portion of the complaint that is “frivolous or
malicious, that 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. § 1915A. In
reviewing a pro se complaint, the Court must assume
the truth of the allegations, and interpret them liberally to
“raise the strongest arguments that they
suggest.” Sykes v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399,
403 (2d Cir. 2013); see also Tracy v. Freshwater,
623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules
of solicitude for pro se litigants).
detailed allegations are not required, this Complaint must
include sufficient facts to afford Defendants fair notice of
the claims and the grounds upon which they are based and to
demonstrate a right to relief. Bell Atlantic v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Conclusory
allegations are not sufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The plaintiff must plead
“enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at
October 18, 2015, and October 20, 2015, a letter addressed to
Mr. Mendez from Pamela Davis-Burgess of the Connecticut
Department of Children and Families was allegedly received at
the MacDougall Correctional Institution mailroom. Compl. ECF
No. 1, ¶ 1. Although the letter allegedly was clearly
marked “Legal/Confidential, ” it was allegedly
opened without Mr. Mendez's consent and forwarded to a
third party. Id. The letter allegedly contained
legal documents as well as documents relating to Mr.
Mendez's medical history. Id. at ¶ 2. Mr.
Mendez allegedly found these documents in his medical chart
while he was conducting a chart review. Id. at
¶ 3. The documents were allegedly signed and dated by
several medical staff members. Id.
Mendez was not informed that the documents had arrived and
been opened outside his presence. Compl. ¶ 4. When he
did not receive the documents, Mr. Mendez re-contacted Ms.
Davis-Burgess who reprocessed his request and re-sent the
documents. Id. at ¶ 6.
Mendez alleges that he submitted an Inmate Request regarding
this incident. Compl. ¶ 7. Captain Pain and Defendant
Captain Hall allegedly responded to his request. Id.
He then filed a grievance which was denied. Id. at
8. Mr. Mendez appealed and Defendant Quiros denied the
grievance appeal. Id.
Mendez names Defendants in their official and individual
capacities. However, he seeks only monetary damages as
relief. The Eleventh Amendment divests the district court of
subject matter jurisdiction over claims for money damages
against state officials acting in their official capacities
unless the state has waived this immunity or Congress has
abrogated it. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159,
169 (1985). Section 1983 does not abrogate state sovereign
immunity, see Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 343
(1979), and Mr. Mendez has provided no evidence that the
state has waived immunity. Thus, any claim for damages
against Defendants in their official capacities are dismissed
under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(2).
Mendez characterizes the opening of his mail and viewing of
the medical documents inside of them as a violation of the
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996
(“HIPAA”), Pub. L. No. 104-101, 110 Stat. 1936
(1996). HIPAA, however, does not create a private right of
action and cannot support a claim under Section 1983. See
Rogers v. Rensslaer County Sheriff's Dep't, No.
1:14-CV-01162, 2015 WL 4404788, at *7 (W.D.N.Y. July 17,
2015) (“It is well established that, because there is
no private right of action under HIPAA, a violation of the
Act cannot serve as the basis of a § 1983 claim”)
(citing cases); Warren Pearl Constr. Corp. v. Guardian
Life Ins. Co. of Am., 639 F.Supp.2d 371, 377 (S.D.N.Y.
2009) (“HIPAA does not provide for either an express or
implied private right of action”). Any HIPAA claim
therefore is dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).
First Amendment does protect an inmate's right to send
and receive legal mail. See Davis v. Goord, 320 F.3d
346, 351 (2d Cir. 2003). The Supreme Court in Davis
noted that “as few as two incidents of mail tampering
could constitute an actionable Constitutional violation if
(1) the incidents suggested an ongoing practice of censorship
unjustified by a substantial government interest, or (2) the
tampering unjustifiably chilled the prisoner's right of
access to the courts or impaired the legal representation
received. Id. (citing Washington v. James,
782 F.2d 1134, 1139 (2d Cir. 1986)). As Davis
recognized, courts have “generally required specific
allegations of invidious intent or of actual harm where the
incidents of tampering are few and thus the implication of an
actionable violation is not obvious on its face.”
Davis, 320 F.3d at 351; John v. N.Y.C. Dep't
of Corr., 183 F.Supp.2d 619, 629 (S.D.N.Y. 2002)
(“[I]n order to state a constitutional claim for the
mistreatment of mail, plaintiff must allege facts which show
that defendants acted with invidious intent. …
Additionally, plaintiff must allege that the opening of mail
outside his presence caused him to suffer damage”)
(citing Jermosen v. Coughlin, 877 F.Supp. 864, 870
other words, a single incident of mail tampering is
insufficient to support a constitutional challenge, unless a
prisoner can point to “damages” caused by the
incident, or any other basis to suggest that the alleged
incident “chilled” his or her right of access to
the courts or suggested a policy and practice of mail
tampering. See Morgan v. Montanye, 516 F.2d 1367,
1371-73 (2d Cir. 1975). Indeed, district courts routinely
rely on Morgan to dismiss complaints asserting
claims of unconstitutional opening of legal mail ...