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Riley v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 3, 2017

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

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER RE: AMENDED COMPLAINT

          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. He asserted First Amendment claims for denial of access to the courts and interference with legal mail, a Fourth Amendment claim for interception of legal mail, and a general Eighth Amendment claim. On February 7, 2017, the Court filed an Initial Review Order. The Court dismissed all claims against Defendants Erfe and Doe, all claims against Defendants in official capacity, and Mr. Riley's Fourth and Eighth Amendment claims.

         The Court afforded Mr. Riley the opportunity to file an Amended Complaint asserting his First Amendment claims provided he could allege fact supporting those claims. See Initial Review Order at 8, ECF. No. 7. In response to the Order, Mr. Riley has filed an Amended Complaint, naming as Defendants Scott Semple, Kimberly Weir, Mailroom Officer Miller, Correctional Officer Miller and Lieutenant Oneil.[1] He alleges that Defendants violated his First Amendment right of access to the courts by opening his legal mail outside of his presence, and he also references claims for retaliation and denial of due process. The Court now reviews the merit of the claim in the Amended Complaint.

         I. Standard of Review

         Under 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 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

         Defendant Semple is the Commissioner of Correction. Defendants Weir, both Millers, and Oneil are assigned to Carl Robinson Correctional Institution (“Robinson”), Mr. Riley's current place of incarceration.

         On May 27, 2016, Mr. Riley allegedly received legal mail that had been opened by Correctional Officer Miller without his signature and outside of his presence. Mr. Riley claims that he brought the matter to the attention of Lieutenant Keaton, who allegedly failed to respond to Mr. Riley's grievance. Mr. Riley assumes that his mail was opened in retaliation for previous complaints he made against Mailroom Officer Miller. Mr. Riley alleges that, following this incident, he “lost faith in the DOC's policy regarding legal mail, ” became fearful of further retaliation and was discouraged and intimidated from exercising his right of access to the courts. Am. Compl. at 4, ECF No. 8.

         On August 4, 2016, Mr. Riley allegedly received legal mail that had been opened without his signature and outside of his presence by Mailroom Officer Miller. He brought the issue to the attention of Defendant Lieutenant Oneil. A few minutes later, Defendant Oneil allegedly called Mr. Riley to the officer's desk and stated that he would not prepare an incident report because the letter was not legal mail.

         Mr. Riley alleges that Defendant Warden Weir was aware of the practice of opening legal mail outside of his presence because Mr. Riley had brought this issue to her attention in late October 2015. Defendant Weir allegedly told Mr. Riley to submit an Inmate Request to her. Mr. Riley claims that he did so, but he never received a response. Mr. Riley alleges that Defendants Weir and Semple should have known that Defendant Weir's failure to respond would cause him irreparable damage to his right of access to the courts.

         III. Discussion

         A. First Amendment Claim for Interference with Legal Mail

         An amended complaint completely replaces the original complaint. See Arce v. Walker, 139 F.3d 329, 332 n.4 (2d Cir. 1998) (“It is well established that an amended complaint ordinarily supersedes the original complaint and renders it of no legal effect.” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). In the Initial Review Order, the Court specifically described two First Amendment claims, denial of access to the courts and interference with legal mail. Although he was permitted leave to amend his Complaint with regard to both First Amendment claims, Mr. Riley has chosen to assert only the claim for denial of access to the courts in his Amended Complaint. Thus, the claim for interference with legal mail is considered abandoned.

         Even if the claim were not abandoned, it should be dismissed. As the Court previously explained, to establish a violation of his right to free speech, Mr. Riley must show that Defendants “regularly and unjustifiably interfered” with his legal mail. McFadden v. Fischer, Nos. 13-CV-559-FPG & 16-CV-6105-FPG, 2016 WL 5661824, at *12 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Davis v. Goord, 320 F.3d 346, 351 (2d Cir. 2003)). Where, as here, the incidents of mail tampering are few in number, Mr. Riley must ...


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