United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
FRANK D. WHITNEY, Chief District Judge.
THIS MATTER is before the Court on initial review of Plaintiff's Complaint, filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (Doc. No. 1), and on Plaintiff's Motion to Appoint Counsel, (Doc. No. 5). 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A. The Court has granted Plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis. See (Doc. No. 7).
Pro se Plaintiff Stephen Antwayn Best-El Bey is a North Carolina state court prisoner currently incarcerated at Lanesboro Correctional Institution in Polkton, North Carolina. Plaintiff filed this action on March 26, 2014, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff has named as Defendants E. Paul, identified as Mailroom Staff at Lanesboro; W.T. Hargrave, identified as Administrator of Lanesboro; L.M. Sutton, identified as a member of the Correspondence Review Board, which denied Plaintiff's appeal of the denial of Plaintiff's grievance related to this action; and G.T. Solomon, identified as the Director of Prisons for the State of North Carolina.
In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his First Amendment right to access to the courts and his First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression of religion by confiscating certain documents sent to him from his sister. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that on January 3, 2014, Defendant Paul worked inside of the mailroom at Lanesboro when she withheld some of Plaintiff's incoming mail. Plaintiff alleges that he had sent seven pages of "Nationality Papers" to his sister "to be typed up and to be sent back to me, so that I can proceed with my case in court as proof of the courts not having jurisdiction over me." (Id. at 21). Plaintiff alleges that the documents pertained to his legal rights as a member of the Moorish Science Temple of America. Plaintiff alleges the Nationality Papers that were confiscated "derived from the religious beliefs of the M.S.T.A.'s By-Laws and Constitution." (Doc. No. 1 at 6). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have failed to show how
the language/contents expressed within the censored/withheld correspondence (Proclamation/Declaration of Nationality papers) from his (Plaintiff) sister, which derived from Plaintiff's religious belief in the M.S.T.A.'s By-Laws and Constitution (of the U.S. Moorish American Nation) and civic practices, were validly connected between the alleged penological interest in security' that was necessary to maintain the control' of Lanesboro C.I., to legally justify Defendant Paul's unlawful censorship on 1-3-14, ... causing Plaintiff not to be able to publicly change his nationality' and/or depriving him of his (true) nationality' as a human being.
(Id. at 10) (internal quotation marks in original).
Plaintiff filed a grievance challenging the withholding of his incoming mail, but the grievance was denied on the ground that the withheld documents were not allowed because Plaintiff is classified as a member of a Security Threat Group, and the documents were considered Security Threat Group materials. Plaintiff appealed the grievance response, but the decision was upheld on appeal. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. (Id. at 17-20).
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must review the Complaint to determine whether it is subject to dismissal on the grounds that it is "frivolous or malicious [or] fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Furthermore, § 1915A requires an initial review of a "complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity, " and the court must identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.
In its frivolity review, this Court must determine whether the Complaint raises an indisputably meritless legal theory or is founded upon clearly baseless factual contentions, such as fantastic or delusional scenarios. Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989). Furthermore, a pro se complaint must be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). However, the liberal construction requirement will not permit a district court to ignore a clear failure to allege facts in his Complaint which set forth a claim that is cognizable under federal law. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. , 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990).
While prisoners and detainees have some First Amendment rights in both receiving and sending mail, prison officials may place reasonable restrictions on these rights. See Thornburgh v. Abbott , 490 U.S. 401, 413 (1989). Prison regulations and practices relating to the regulation of incoming mail are analyzed under a reasonableness standard as set forth in Turner v. Safley , 482 U.S. 78, 89-91 (1987). Under that standard, a prison action is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. Turner , 482 U.S. at 89. In determining the reasonableness of a restraint on an inmate's right to receive mail, courts must consider the following factors: (1) whether there is a valid, rational connection between the action and the stated legitimate government interest; (2) whether there are alternative means of exercising the right; (3) whether accommodation of the right will have an adverse impact on guards, other inmates, and prison resources generally; and (4) the absence of ready alternatives. Id. at 89-90. Applying these four factors, Plaintiff fails to state a claim for a violation of his First Amendment right to practice his religion or his right to free speech. Even assuming Plaintiff's factual allegations are true, the withholding of the documents at issue does not impede Plaintiff's right to worship according to his religion, nor does it prohibit him from speech to which he is entitled. Indeed, by Plaintiff's own allegations, the confiscated documents were intended to be used to change his nationality so that he could challenge his state court conviction, not as a means to worship according to his religion. In support of his First Amendment claim, Plaintiff argues that
I follow the religion of Prophet noble Drew Ali, known as Moorish-Science Temple of America. (MSTA). Prophet Noble Drew Ali teaches us our Birth-rights and Divine Creed MSTA is recognized in and outside of the United States of American, and approved by this State's Government's DPS as a practicable religion within many of its facilities and institutions. MSTA [poses] no threat to NCDPS by its followers proclaiming their Nationality. The law aspect of MSTA isn't something that Prison Legal Services ...