United States District Court, D. South Carolina
ORDER AND NOTICE
V. HODGES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Lee Dodd (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and in
forma pauperis, filed this complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 against Laverne C. McKinney (“Mail Room
Clerk”), Sergeant S. Norris (“Sergeant”),
and Lieutenant W. Kramer (“Lieutenant”)
(collectively “Defendants”) in their official and
individual capacities, alleging violations of his
constitutional rights. Pursuant to the provisions of 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e)
(D.S.C.), the undersigned is authorized to review such
complaints for relief and submit findings and recommendations
to the district judge.
Factual and Procedural Background
is currently incarcerated at the Greenville County Detention
Center (“Detention Center”). [ECF No. 1 at 2].
Defendants are employees of the Detention Center.
Id. at 2-3. Plaintiff claims that on August 23,
2019, an officer distributed mail to him that had previously
been opened. Id. at 6. Plaintiff claims it was legal
mail because it was directed to only be opened by addressee
and to be returned to sender if addressee was not found.
Id. at 5. He alleges he wrote to Mail Room Clerk,
questioning why his legal mail was opened. Id. He
states Mail Room Clerk indicated the mail was not legal mail.
Id. Plaintiff maintains Sergeant and Lieutenant
failed to address the matter after he filed a grievance.
Id. at 4.
alleges Defendants' actions violated his rights under the
First Amendment. Id. at 4. He requests the court
bring charges against Defendants and award him $2.3 million
in compensation. Id. at 7.
Standard of Review
filed his complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, which
permits an indigent litigant to commence an action in federal
court without prepaying the administrative costs of
proceeding with the lawsuit. To protect against possible
abuses of this privilege, the statute allows a district court
to dismiss a case upon a finding that the action fails to
state a claim on which relief may be granted or is frivolous
or malicious. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), (ii). A
finding of frivolity can be made where the complaint lacks an
arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v.
Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992). A claim based on a
meritless legal theory may be dismissed sua sponte under 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). See Neitzke v.
Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989).
complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Pro se complaints are
held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by
attorneys. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th
Cir. 1978). In evaluating a pro se complaint, the
plaintiff's allegations are assumed to be true. Fine
v. City of N.Y., 529 F.2d 70, 74 (2d Cir. 1975). The
mandated liberal construction afforded to pro se pleadings
means that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to
state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it
should do so. A federal court is charged with liberally
construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow
the development of a potentially meritorious case.
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).
requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the
court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege
facts that set forth a claim currently cognizable in a
federal district court. Weller v. Dep't of Soc.
Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 390-91 (4th Cir. 1990). Although
the court must liberally construe a pro se complaint, the
United States Supreme Court has made it clear a plaintiff
must do more than make conclusory statements to state a
claim. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
677‒78 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Rather, the complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim
that is plausible on its face, and the reviewing court need
only accept as true the complaint's factual allegations,
not its legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
Failure to Allege Constitutional Violation Under § 1983
Plaintiff alleges Defendants violated his rights under the
First Amendment by opening and failing to address the opening
of his legal mail. [ECF No. 1 at 4]. To state a plausible
claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, an aggrieved party
must sufficiently allege he was injured by “the
deprivation of any [of his] rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the [United States] Constitution and laws”
by a “person” acting “under color of state
law.” See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see
generally 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller,
Federal Practice and Procedure § 1230 (3d ed.
court has previously found that the opening of an
inmate's incoming personal mail outside his presence does
not constitute a constitutional violation. See Kershaw v.
Padula, C/A No. 6:10-951-MBS-KFM, 2011 WL 1750222, at *5
(D.S.C. Apr. 6, 2011) (citing Sterling-Earl v. Gray,
2006 WL 1318367, at *6-7 (W.D. Va. 2006), adopted by 2011 WL
1700009 (D.S.C. May 4, 2011). However, a different standard
applies to legal, as opposed to personal, mail. See
Altizer v. Deeds, 191 F.3d 540, 548-49 (4th Cir. 1999).
“Inspecting an inmate's legal mail may implicate
the inmate's Sixth Amendment right to communicate freely
with his attorney in a criminal case. “Id. at
549, n. 14 (citing Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539,
appears to claim the mail was legal mail because “IT
CLEARLY STATE[D]” it was “MAIL FOR THE ADDRESSEE
ONLY” and “TO SEND BACK IF ADDRESSEE NOT
FOUND.” [ECF No. 1 at 5]. He has not ...