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Jones v. Norman

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

July 1, 2015

ERIC S. JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
ALAN NORMAN, Cleveland County Sheriff; THOMAS LEWIS, Cleveland County Sheriff's Dep't Lieutenant; FNU DEGREE, Cleveland County Sheriff's Dep't POD Officer; Defendants.

ORDER

FRANK D. WHITNEY, Chief District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on consideration of Plaintiff's pro se complaint, filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's complaint will be dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND

At the time he filed his complaint, Plaintiff was detained in the Cleveland County Detention Center awaiting unspecified charges.[2] Plaintiff alleges that on February 6, 13, and 15, 2013, three pieces of legal mail were opened outside of his presence. After Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding this issue, another piece of legal mail was again opened outside of his presence. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief which would order a change in the detention center's mail handling procedures and for the Cleveland County Sheriff's Department to pay all of his legal fees associated with bringing this action.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

District courts are required to review a complaint under Section 1983 when a prisoner "seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The statute further provides that "the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, 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." § 1915A(b)(1) & (2).

In conducting this review, the 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). While a pro se complaint must be construed liberally, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), this requirement of liberal construction will not permit a district court to ignore a clear failure to allege facts in the complaint which set forth a claim that is cognizable under federal law. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990). Further, the Court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986).

III. DISCUSSION

There is no question that prisoners must have reasonable access to present claims in court. See Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 824-25 (1977). Plaintiff does not, however, make a claim in his complaint that he is being denied any access to the courts, but rather he contends that four pieces of legal mail which were addressed to him were opened outside of his presence. In order to show a denial of access to the courts, a prisoner must demonstrate an actual injury or that a defendant's alleged conduct impeded his right to access the courts. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351-52 (1996). After considering the treatment of the four pieces of legal mail at issue in his complaint, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim under Section 1983.

Finally, Plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief to reform the Cleveland County Sheriff's Department's method of handling legal mail must fail because it appears to be moot in light of Plaintiff's current absconder status. "Simply stated, a case is moot when the issues presented are no longer live' or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome." Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496 (1969) (internal citation omitted).

IV. CONCLUSION

For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief and the complaint will be dismissed. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).

IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that Plaintiff's complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice. (Doc. No. 1).

The Clerk of Court is respectfully directed to close this civil case.


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