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O'dell'bey v. Mulligan

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 14, 2019

D'E'MON O'DELL'BEY, Plaintiff,
v.
MULLIGAN, et al., Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff D'e'mon O'dell'bey is a pre-trial detainee in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Correction.[1] He ordered certain books to be shipped to him but prison officials refused to let them into the prison on the ground that they were written in code. O'dell'bey has now filed this lawsuit alleging that defendants violated his constitutional rights. After conducting an initial review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, I will allow O'dell'bey's claims to proceed in part.

         Background

         O'dell'bey has filed this lawsuit against three defendants: William Mulligan, A. Santiago, and the Media Review Board (MRB). The following facts as alleged in the amended complaint are accepted as true only for purposes of this ruling. During the incidents at issue in the complaint, O'dell'bey was detained in a special management unit at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution, where defendant William Mulligan was the unit administrator and warden. Doc. #7 at 3. Defendant Santiago was the Director of Security. Ibid. The defendant Media Review Board (MRB) is also responsible for determining which publications may be admitted into the facility. Ibid.[2]

         Inmates in the special management unit do not have access to a leisure library or legal library, so O'dell'bey could only access reading material by ordering it from outside sources. Id. at 4. O'dell'bey ordered two books that are at issue in his complaint.

         On January 19, 2019, he ordered a book titled Serious Cryptography, by Jean-Philippe Aumasson. Ibid. Mulligan and the MRB rejected the book a month later (presumably when it arrived at the facility), stating that “it was written in code, ” but with no further explanation.[3] On April 16, 2019, however, Santiago reversed this decision, concluding the book was permissible as educational in nature. Id. at 5.

         In the meantime, on February 3, 2019, O'dell'bey ordered another book, The Mathematics of Secrets: Cryptography from Caesar Ciphers to Digital Encryption, but on March 11, 2019, this was also rejected by Mulligan and the MRB. Id. at 4. They stated that the book was “written in code” and “instructed or encouraged [] the commission of criminal activity, ” but they did not provide more details about why the book was rejected or specify which sections of the book were objectionable. Ibid. On April 20, 2019, however, Santiago disagreed with these grounds for rejecting the book but concluded in the alternative that the book should be rejected because “[a]lthough not instructing in the commission of criminal activity, in a correctional environment this information could be used for nefarious purposes.” Id. at 5.

         O'dell'bey disputes the validity of the defendants' reasoning for rejecting his requested publications. He also faults Mulligan and the MRB for failing to advise him of his right to appeal their adverse determinations. He seeks money damages along with declaratory and injunctive relief. Ibid.

         Discussion

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review a prisoner's civil complaint against a governmental entity or governmental actors and “identify cognizable claims or dismiss the compliant, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint-(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” If the prisoner is proceeding pro se, the allegations of the 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).

         In recent years, the Supreme Court has set forth a threshold “plausibility” pleading standard for courts to evaluate the adequacy of allegations in 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). Notwithstanding the rule of liberal interpretation of a pro se complaint, 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).

         Liability of MRB and official capacity and injunctive relief claims

         As a threshold matter, I will dismiss O'dell'bey's § 1983 claims in their entirety against the MRB because it is a board within a state department that is not itself an independent legal entity constituting a “person” subject to suit under § 1983. See Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989); see also Fowler v. City of Stamford, 2019 WL 188695, at *2 (D. Conn. 2019) (division within State of Connecticut agency not a “person” under § 1983); Petaway v. City of New Haven Police Dep't, 541 F.Supp.2d 504, 510 (D. Conn. 2008) (police department not “person” under § 1983).

         I will also dismiss O'dell'bey's § 1983 claims for money damages against Mulligan in his official capacity, because “state officials sued in their official capacities under § 1983 are immune from suit for damages pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment.” Currytto v. Doe, 2019 WL 2062432, at *4 (D. Conn. 2019) (citing Pennhurst State Sch. & ...


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