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Taylor v. Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office

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

December 1, 2017



          Frank D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on initial review of the Complaint, (Doc. No. 1), and Plaintiff's Motion for Temporary Restraining Order/ Preliminary Injunction, (Doc. No. 8). He is proceeding in forma pauperis. (Doc. No. 7).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff Raheem Taylor, an inmate at the Mecklenburg County Jail, has filed civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He names as Defendants: the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office (“MCSO”); Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael; Mecklenburg County Jail Mailroom Staff Hayden; Grievance Coordinator C.Y. Petway; and Sergeant J.W. Keese.

         Construing the Complaint liberally and accepting the allegations as true, Plaintiff began subscribing to Prison Legal News (“PLN”), which provides information and news stories regarding case law development and issues surrounding prison conditions of confinement, in June 2016. He discovered in January 2017, that the PLN issues from November and December 2016, and January 2017, had been summarily rejected by the prison without any valid penological interest and without notice of the rejection to either Plaintiff or the publisher. Defendants have failed to provide Plaintiff with any rational basis to support their blanket ban on PLN, and merely state that prior issues of PLN contained unacceptable content. They are suppressing PLN to suppress its legal/political content which supports the rights of incarcerated individuals and contains commentary critical of penal institutions' practices and policies throughout the United States. Defendants engaged in a deliberate effort to disguise their animus towards PLN by providing vague responses when Plaintiff asked them to identify the specific material or subject-matter that is incompatible with the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office penological and/or rehabilitative objectives. The censorship was due to Defendants' personal prejudice rather than any legitimate interest. Plaintiff's inability to remedy the censorship was exacerbated by Defendants' failure to adopt, implement, and publish a procedural framework providing for notice when a publication is rejected, explanation for the specific basis upon which the publication was found objectionable, and a reasonable opportunity to appeal the rejection through established internal procedures. Sheriff Carmichael, who is the chief decision-maker for MCSO, was made aware of the circumstances surrounding the nondelivery of PLN and failed to take any steps to remedy the wrongdoing of MCSO staff, thereby allowing the censorship to persist. Defendants' actions violated free speech and due process.

         He seeks declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and any further relief the Court deems just, equitable, and appropriate.

         On September 22, 2017, Plaintiff filed a letter to the Court requesting a preliminary injunction/ temporary restraining order to prevent Defendants from banning, censoring, or otherwise obstructing delivery of PLN pending final resolution of this § 1983 action. (Doc. No. 8). He claims that he continues to be denied numerous copies of PLN, often without notice.


         A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy afforded before trial at the discretion of the district court. Pashby v. Delia, 709 F.3d 307, 319 (4th Cir. 2013). It is an extraordinary remedy that is never awarded as of right. Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 24 (2008). In each case, courts “must balance the competing claims of injury and must consider the effect on each party of the granting or withholding of the requested relief.” Amoco Prod. Co. v. Village of Gambell, 480 U.S. 531, 542 (1987). “[C]ourts of equity should pay particular regard for the public consequences in employing the extraordinary remedy of injunction.” Winter, 555 U.S. at 24. To obtain a preliminary injunction, a plaintiff must establish (1) that he is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief; (3) that the balance of equities tips in his favor; and (4) that an injunction is in the public interest. Id. at 20; Di Biase v. SPX Corp., 872 F.3d 224, 229 (4th Cir. 2017).

         Reviewing Plaintiff's motion based on the above factors, Plaintiff is not entitled to a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction. In support of his motion, Plaintiff states that he has been denied numerous issues of PLN, often without notice. However, Plaintiff fails to explain how he is being irreparably harmed during the pendency of the instant action. Nor does he show that he is likely to prevail in this action. Plaintiff has simply not shown that he is entitled to a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction, and his motion will therefore be denied.


         A “court shall dismiss [a prisoner's] case at any time if the court determines that ... the action or appeal ... fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). A complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim “unless ‘after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true and drawing all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor, it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief.'” Veney v. Wyche, 293 F.3d 726, 730 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999)). In its frivolity review, a 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).

         A pro se complaint must be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); see also Smith v. Smith, 589 F.3d 736, 738 (4th Cir. 2009) (“Liberal construction of the pleadings is particularly appropriate where … there is a pro se complaint raising civil rights issues.”). 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). A pro se complaint must still contain sufficient facts “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007); see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (the Twombly plausibility standard applies to all federal civil complaints including those filed under § 1983). This “plausibility standard requires a plaintiff to demonstrate more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). He must articulate facts that, when accepted as true, demonstrate he has stated a claim entitling him to relief. Id.

         IV. ...

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