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Minyard v. Hooks

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

April 23, 2018

JAMES A. MINYARD, Plaintiff,
ERIK A HOOKS, et al., Defendants.


          Frank D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on initial review of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, (Doc. No. 18), as well as on Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment, (Doc. No. 19). Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis. See (Doc. No. 14).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff James A. Minyard, who is incarcerated at the Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution, filed a civil rights suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He was granted leave to file an Amended Complaint which is presently before the Court for screening. He names as Defendants: North Carolina Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) Secretary Erik A. Hooks; DPS Deputy Secretary W. David Guice; DPS Western District Director David Mitchell; and Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution Superintendent Carlos Hernandez in their individual and official capacities. (Doc. No. 18 at 2-3).

         Construing the Amended Compliant liberally and accepting the allegations as true, Defendants began opening legal mail and taking parts of newspapers paid for by Plaintiff that presented no threat to prison, staff, or inmates, beginning on July 16, 2015, and continuing until present. This was done outside of Federal law, State law, and Prison Policy. “All staff, ” including floor officers, unit managers, the Superintendent, the Director and Assistant Director of Western District Office, and Secretary Hooks “were all aware of this issue and did nothing to stop it.” (Doc. No. 18 at 5).

         Plaintiff seeks to “[h]old Defendants accountable” for knowingly violating Plaintiff's rights, the costs of this action, $672 for the newspapers Plaintiff was unable to read, and punitive damages.


         Because Plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must review the Complaint to determine whether it is subject to dismissal on the grounds that it is “(i) frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). 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 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)).

         A pro se complaint must be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972) (a pro se complaint, however inartfully pled, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers); 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.


         (1) Parties

         A state official can be in a § 1983 suit in three ways: in his personal capacity, his official capacity, or in a more limited way, his supervisory capacity. King v. Rubenstein, 825 F.3d 206, 223-24 (4th Cir. 2016). For personal liability, “it is enough to show that the official, acting under color of state law, caused the deprivation of a federal right.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). In an official-capacity suit, however, “[m]ore is required:” the suit is “treated as a suit against the entity, ” which must then be a “‘moving force' behind the deprivation, ” id. (quoting Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 326 (1981)); thus, the entity's “‘policy or custom' must have played a part in the violation of federal law, ” id. (quoting Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)). Meanwhile, a supervisor can be liable where (1) he knew that his subordinate “was engaged in conduct that posed a pervasive and unreasonable risk of constitutional injury;” (2) his response showed “deliberate indifference to or tacit authorization of the alleged offensive practices;” and (3) that there was an “affirmative causal link” between his inaction and the constitutional injury.” Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d 791, 799 (4th Cir. 1994) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Plaintiff has named all of the Defendants in their official and individual capacities. He alleges that violations occurred and that Defendants knew about them via grievances and letters. However, he does not allege that any of the Defendants deprived Plaintiff of his First Amendment rights through his own personal actions, so he has failed to state a claim against them in their individual capacities. Nor does Plaintiff allege that the incidents occurred as a result of the Defendants' customs or policies so there is no basis for Monell liability.

         Plaintiff's allegations are, however, minimally sufficient to state supervisory liability. He alleges that he was repeatedly deprived of his newspaper and that legal mail was opened at the Avery-Mitchell C.I., that he informed Defendants about these incidents in grievances and letters, and that their failure to act allowed these incidents to ...

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