United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
DANIEL G. ROGERS, Plaintiff,
S. BENNETT, MS. POWELL, MS. ERWIN, and SERGEANT ALSTON, Defendants.
W. FLANAGAN United States District Judge.
a state inmate, filed this civil rights action pro
se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The matter comes
before the court for frivolity review pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915. Section 1915 provides that courts shall review
complaints in which prisoners seek relief from a governmental
entity or officer, and dismiss such complaints when they are
complaint may be found frivolous because of either legal or
factual deficiencies. First, a complaint is frivolous where
“it lacks an arguable basis . . . in law.”
Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989).
Legally frivolous claims are based on an “indisputably
meritless legal theory” and include “claims of
infringement of a legal interest which clearly does not
exist.” Adams v. Rice, 40 F.3d 72, 74 (4th
Cir. 1994) (quoting Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327). Under
this standard, complaints may be dismissed for failure to
state a claim cognizable in law, although frivolity is a more
lenient standard than that for failure to state a claim under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Neitzke,
490 U.S. at 328. Second, a complaint may be frivolous where
it “lacks an arguable basis . . . in fact.”
Id. at 325. Section 1915 permits federal courts
“to pierce the veil of the complaint's factual
allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual
contentions are clearly baseless.” See Denton v.
Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32 (1992) (citing
Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327).
alleges that he received a letter with a sticker marked
“‘legal letter' from [defendant] Officer
Perry (“Perry”) during regular mail call”on
October 20, 2015. (Compl. ¶ V). Plaintiff then gave the
letter back to defendant Perry and asked her why his legal
mail had been opened. (Id.) Defendant Perry
responded that the mail room had opened the letter.
(Id.) Plaintiff then raised the issue with defendant
Sergeant Alston (“Alston”), and defendant Alston
“stated she could not do anything.”
(Id.) According to plaintiff, defendants Perry and
Alston should have filled out an incident report and reported
the incident to their supervisor. (Id.) Defendants
Perry and Alston, however, failed to report the incident,
which plaintiff asserts is a violation of North Carolina
Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) policy.
(Id.) In particular, plaintiff states that DPS
policy provides that “legal mail shall be opened in the
presence of the inmate” and that “[t]ampering
with incoming and outgoing mail has been a serious problem of
late at Warren Correctional Institution[.] (Id.)
Plaintiff seeks the following relief:
For all staff to be trained on Policy and Procedure
concerning the distribution, handling, opening, searching, as
well as what to do if legal mail has been opened by another
staff member such as, but not limited to writing incident
reports, filing formal complaints with facility head, as well
as Regional Director's Office. I would like that to be a
preliminary and permanent injunction. Also nominal damages in
the amount of $1.00 against each defendant jointly and
severally. Compensatory damages in the amount of $1, 000.00
against each defendant jointly and severally. Punitive
damages in the amount of $12, 000.00 against each defendant
jointly and severally. . . . Plaintiff's cost in this
suit. For all defendants to be removed from their official
positions within Dept. of Public Safety of N.C., and to never
be allowed to hold a job within Dept. of Public Safety. . . .
(Id. ¶ VII).
is correct that legal mail may not be opened outside of the
presence of the prisoner-addressee. See, e.g.,
Wolff v. McDonnell418 U.S. 539, 575-77 (1974). To
state a claim for a legal-mail-related constitutional
violation, a plaintiff must show actual injury. See Lewis
v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 350-54 (1996). To show actual
injury, an inmate must “demonstrate that a nonfrivolous
legal claim had been frustrated or was being impeded.”
Id. at 353 (footnote omitted); Michau v.
Charleston County, S.C., 434 F.3d 725, 728 (4th Cir.
2006). Plaintiff has not alleged that any legal claim has
been frustrated or impeded. Rather, he seeks to hold prison
officials liable for their failure to report the incident.
However, “prison officials' failure to follow
internal prison policies [is] not actionable under [section]
1983 unless the alleged breach of policy rises to the level
of a constitutional violation.” Jackson v.
Sampson, 536 F. App'x 356, 357 (4th Cir. 2013) (per
curiam), cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 925 (2014).
Finally, plaintiff has alleged an isolated incident of mail
mishandling, which does not violate the Constitution.
See, e.g., Buie v. Jones, 717 F.2d 925, 926
(4th Cir. 1983); Davis v. Goord, 320 F.3d 346, 351
(2d Cir. 2003); Pearson v. Simms, 345 F.Supp.2d 515,
519-20 (D. Md. 2003) (“A single act or isolated
incident are normally ...