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Dodd v. Mckinney

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

October 18, 2019

Antonio Lee Dodd, # 218567/1278 Plaintiff,
Laverne C. McKinney, Sgt. S. Norris, and Lieutenant W. Kramer, Defendants.



         Antonio 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.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff 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.

         Plaintiff 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.

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         Plaintiff 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).

         A 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).

         The 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 678‒79.

         B. Analysis

         1. 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, [1]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. 2014).

         This 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, 575 (1974)).

         Plaintiff 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 ...

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