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Riley v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 7, 2017

WINSTON RILEY, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT SEMPLE, et al., Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Winston Riley, currently incarcerated at Carl Robinson Correctional Institution, filed this Complaint pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Mr. Riley’s Complaint was received on January 9, 2017, and his motion to proceed in forma pauperis was granted on January 17, 2017. Defendants are Commissioner Scott Semple, Warden Kimberly Weir, Mailroom Officer Miller, Mailroom Officer Jane Doe and Warden Erfe.[1] Mr. Riley alleges that Defendants violated his constitutional rights by opening his legal mail outside of his presence.

         I. Standard of Review

         Under § 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 that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. In reviewing a pro se complaint, the Court must assume the truth of the allegations, and interpret them liberally to “raise the strongest arguments [they] suggest[].” Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007). Although detailed allegations are not required, the complaint must include sufficient facts to afford the 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 570. Nevertheless, it is well-established that “pro se complaints ‘must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.’” Sykes v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)); see also Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for pro se litigants).

         II. Allegations

         Mr. Riley alleges that, before the dates referenced in the complaint, he was transferred from Cheshire Correctional Institution (“Cheshire”) to Carl Robinson Correctional Institution (“Robinson”). He states that Defendants Weir and Miller are assigned to Robinson, Mr. Riley’s current place of incarceration, and Defendants Erfe and Doe are assigned to Cheshire.

         On October 6, 2015, Mr. Riley allegedly received legal mail that had been opened without his signature and outside of his presence. He claims that he brought the issue to the attention of Lieutenant Alexander. The next day, while speaking to his lawyer, Mr. Riley allegedly discovered that a piece of his legal mail was missing. He states that this fact also was brought to Lieutenant Alexander’s attention.

         Mr. Riley alleges that he wrote to Warden Erfe about the missing mail because it had originally been sent to Cheshire. Warden Erfe allegedly responded that there was no record of any legal mail being opened at his facility.

         On May 27, 2016, Mr. Riley allegedly received another piece of legal mail that had been opened without his signature and outside his presence. Mr. Riley alleges that he informed Lieutenant Keaton, who allegedly failed to respond to his initial grievance.

         Mr. Riley alleges that, on August 4, 2016, he again received legal mail that had been opened outside his presence and without his signature. Mr. Riley allegedly informed Lieutenant Oneil. Mr. Riley alleges that, when he asked Lieutenant Oneil to complete an incident report, Lieutenant Oneil took the letter. Later that day, Lieutenant Oneil allegedly informed Mr. Riley that he would not complete an incident report. Mr. Riley alleges that, after Lieutenant Oneil saw who had sent the letter, Lieutenant Oneil stated that the letter was not legal mail.

         III. Discussion

         Mr. Riley contends that Defendants Semple and Weir should have known that opening inmate legal mail is a common practice.[2] He alleges that Defendants Miller and Doe violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights by opening his legal mail on October 6, 2015 and removing pieces of the correspondence. He contends that this action deprived him of his right to free speech, denied him access to the courts, and violated attorney-client privilege. He alleges that Defendant Miller again violated Mr. Riley’s First and Fourth Amendment rights by opening his legal mail on May 27, 2016, and August 4, 2016. Mr. Riley also characterizes these actions as Eighth Amendment violations.

         A. Official Capacity Claims

         Mr. Riley has named all Defendants in personal (individual) and professional (official) capacities. However, he seeks only damages for 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. Riley has provided no evidence that the ...


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