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Eversole v. Curran

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division

March 7, 2017

AUSTIN DYLAN EVERSOLE, TDCJ #01626507, Plaintiff,
v.
NFN CURRAN, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          George C. Hanks, Jr. United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Austin Dylan Eversole (TDCJ #01626507), an inmate in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Correctional Institutions Division ("TDCJ"), has filed a pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and is proceeding in forma pauperis. He asserts that the defendants, officials at TDCJ's Clemens Unit, denied him access to the courts and retaliated against him for his attempts to assert his legal rights. He has filed an amended complaint and two legal briefs (Dkt. 6, Dkt. 7, and Dkt. 8). The Court ordered two defendants to answer: Inmate Property Officer Margaret Curran ("Curran") and Access-to-Courts Supervisor Tracy Mogford ("Mogford"). Curran and Mogford have filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) (Dkt. 33). Eversole has not responded, though his deadline has long since passed. The Court will grant the defendants' motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2010, Eversole pled guilty to murder, criminal solicitation to commit capital murder, burglary of a habitation, theft of a firearm, and theft; he received prison terms of 40, 20, and 2 years. See Northern District of Texas Case Number 3:11-CV-1478 (Eversole's federal habeas proceeding) at Dkt. 42. Eversole filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, which Judge Lynn of the Northern District of Texas, on the recommendation of Judge Toliver, dismissed as time-barred and, alternatively, meritless. See Northern District of Texas Case Number 3:11-CV-1478 at Dkt. 42 and Dkt. 50. The claims in this civil rights lawsuit stem from that habeas proceeding.[1]

         Eversole claims that the defendants first impeded his ability to pursue habeas relief by denying him access to a legal storage box and delaying his legal mail and then retaliated against him for requesting the storage box by confiscating some of his personal property (Dkt. 6 at pp. 10-14). Eversole also claims that, after he filed a grievance related to the confiscation, the defendants tried to incite resentment toward him in other inmates by confiscating their personal property as well (Dkt. 6 at pp. 10-14).

         II. RULE 12(c)

         The defendants have filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). The standard for dismissal under Rule 12(c) is the same as that for dismissal for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Johnson v. Johnson, 385 F.3d 503, 529 (5th Cir. 2004). A complaint can be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) if the factual allegations it contains, taken as true, do not state a claim that is plausible on its face. Amacker v. Renaissance Asset Mgmt., LLC, 657 F.3d 252, 254 (5th Cir. 2011). As the Fifth Circuit has further clarified:

A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. This includes the basic requirement that the facts plausibly establish each required element for each legal claim. However, a complaint is insufficient if it offers only labels and conclusions, or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action. Coleman v. Sweetin, 745 F.3d 756, 763-64 (5th Cir. 2014) (quotation marks and citations omitted).

         Eversole proceeds pro se in this case. Courts construe pleadings filed by pro se litigants under a less stringent standard of review. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972) (per curiam). Under this standard, "[a] document filed pro se is 'to be liberally construed, ' Estelle [v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)], and 'a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Nevertheless, the federal pleading standard aptly summarized by the Fifth Circuit in Coleman still applies to pro se litigants (such as the plaintiff in Coleman, who was a pro se prisoner like Eversole)-"[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (observing that courts "are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation").

         III. ACCESS TO COURTS

         Under the applicable legal standard, Eversole has not stated a viable claim for denial of his right to access the courts.

         Prisoners have a Constitutional right to meaningful access to the courts. McDonald v. Steward, 132 F.3d 225, 230 (5th Cir. 1998). However, that right of access "is not unlimited"-it "encompasses only a reasonably adequate opportunity to file nonfrivolous legal claims challenging [the prisoners'] convictions or conditions of confinement." Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 325 (5th Cir. 1999). Interference with that opportunity must be intentional to be actionable; negligence on the part of the defendant is not enough to state a claim. Richardson v. McDonnell, 841 F.2d 120, 121-22 (5th Cir. 1988); see also Snyder v. Nolen, 380 F.3d 279, 291 n. 11 (7th Cir. 2004) ("[A]n allegation of simple negligence will not support a claim that an official has denied an individual of access to the courts."); Pink v. Lester, 52 F.3d 73, 76 (4th Cir. 1995). The plaintiff must also prove an actual injury-i.e., the legal claim or appeal foreclosed by the defendant's intentional conduct must be nonfrivolous and arguable to an extent that constitutes "more than hope." Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 415-16 (2002); see also Ruiz v. United States, 160 F.3d 273, 275 (5th Cir. 1998) (holding that a federal prisoner's access- to-courts claim based on prison officials' failure to deliver a final judgment to him was properly dismissed when the appeal from that judgment "was ultimately frivolous"). Even if there is an actual injury, "delays in receiving legal materials or legal assistance, . . . so long as they are the product of prison regulations reasonably related to legitimate penological interests, ... are not of constitutional significance[.]" Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 361-62 (1996); see also Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987) ("[W]hen a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.").

         Eversole's allegations, even assuming that they meet the threshold of establishing intentional interference with his right of access to the courts, do not show the required harm. Eversole's federal habeas petition was dismissed as time-barred; but it was also dismissed in the alternative on the merits, and it is clear that Judge Toliver and Judge Lynn considered Eversole's substantive arguments notwithstanding the time bar. See Northern District of Texas Case Number 3:11-CV-1478 at Dkt. 42 and Dkt. 50. Judge Toliver's recommendation, in particular, discusses Eversole's substantive arguments extensively. See Northern District of Texas Case Number 3:11-CV-1478 at Dkt. 42, pp. 11-17. Eversole has not pointed to any claim, let alone any nonfrivolous claim, that was foreclosed by the defendants' conduct. Eversole's claims for denial of access to the courts fail.

         IV. ...


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