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Behling v. Foley

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Amarillo Division

January 16, 2020

SCOTT T. BEHLING, TDCJ-CID No. 664060, Plaintiff,
v.
NFN FOLEY, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION DISMISSING CIVIL RIGHTS COMPLAINT

          MATTHEW J. KACSMARYK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff SCOTT T. BEHLING, acting pro se and while a prisoner incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division, has filed suit pursuant to Title 42, United States Code, Section 1983 complaining against the above-referenced defendants and has been granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, plaintiffs civil rights complaint is DISMISSED.

         JUDICIAL REVIEW

         When a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility brings an action with respect to prison conditions under any federal law, the Court may evaluate the complaint and dismiss it without service of process, AH v. Higgs, 892 F.2d 438, 440 (5th Cir. 1990), if it is frivolous[1], malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A; 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The same standards will support dismissal of a suit brought under any federal law by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility, where such suit concerns prison conditions. 42 U.S.C. 1997e(c)(1). A Spears hearing need not be conducted for every pro se complaint.[2] Wilson v. Barrientos, 926 F.2d 480, 483 n.4 (5th Cir. 1991).[3]

         PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS

         Plaintiff is a Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) inmate housed at the Clements Unit in Amarillo, Texas. Plaintiff brings this suit against multiple defendants: Senior Warden Foley, Assistant Warden Andrews, former Senior Warden Martin, former Assistant Warden Beach, and Mail Room Supervisor Geneta K. Glenn of the TDCJ Clements Unit. (ECF No. 18-1). According to his complaint, plaintiff inherited a sum of money upon the death of his father. This money was eventually deposited into his inmate trust account following probate proceedings. Plaintiff claims that defendant Glenn blocked access to his inmate trust account funds through her negligent handling of his legal mail.

         According to documents filed as attachments to his complaint, plaintiff claims defendant Glenn failed to properly apply postage to a critical document mailed to his probate attorney, and the document was returned to his unit of incarceration. Plaintiff further claims he was not notified in a timely fashion about the return of his mail for insufficient postage. Plaintiff further argues that all remaining defendants, based on their positions as supervisors or former supervisors at the Clements Unit, are responsible for failures of the mail room staff to appropriately handle his legal mail. Although not specifically stated, plaintiff also appears to argue defendants are deliberately blocking his access to his inmate trust account. Plaintiff also implies that defendants acted in conspiracy with the United States Post Office to cause a delay in his legal mail, but he does not name the United States Post Office or any postal employee as a defendant. Compare ECF No. 9, with ECF No. 3. The Court interprets plaintiffs claims to state (1) a claim for denial of access-to-the-courts based on defendants' failure to properly handle plaintiffs legal mail, and (2) a claim for deprivation of plaintiff s property interests without due process of law based on the ability to access his inmate trust account.

         ANALYSIS

         Access-to-the-Courts: Legal Mail

         A cause of action may be stated under Title 42, United States Code, section 1983 where prison officials intentionally withhold mail destined for the courts, where there is the additional allegation that the intentional delay of legal mail damaged the prisoner's legal position. Jackson v. Procunier, 789 F.2d 307 (5th Cir. 1986). Nevertheless, conduct which is merely negligent does not meet the standard for liability under section 1983. Daniels v. Williams, MA U.S. 327, 331-34 (1986).

         Plaintiff must demonstrate an actual injury stemming from the alleged unconstitutional act. Dunham v. Wainwright, No. A-15-CA-1018-RP, 2017 WL 571515, at *3 (W.D. Tex. Feb. 13, 2017), aff'd, 713 Fed.Appx. 334 (5th Cir. 2018) (citing Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351-54 (1996); Ruiz v. United States, 160 F.3d 273, 275 (5th Cir. 1998); Chriceol v. Phillips, 169 F.3d 313 (5th Cir. 1999))." 'Actual injury' is 'actual prejudice with respect to contemplated or existing litigation, such as the inability to meet a filing deadline or to present a claim.'" Dunham, 2017 WL 571515, at *3 (citing Lewis, 518 U.S. at 348). If a litigant's position is not prejudiced by the claimed violation, his claim of denial of access-to-the-courts is not valid. Dunham, 2017 WL 571515, at *3 (citing Henthorn v. Swinson, 955 F.2d 351, 354 (5th Cir.), cert, denied, 504 U.S. 988 (1992)).

         Plaintiff argues that defendant Glenn had the affirmative obligation to place the proper amount of postage on his legal mail. Even by his complaint, plaintiff indicates that the failure to properly handle his legal mail was based on negligence. Plaintiff makes no allegations of intentional misconduct by defendant Glenn, nor does he allege any facts that give the Court a reason to interpret his claim as one of intentional misconduct.

         Further, all remaining defendants are sued in their capacity as supervisors of the Clements Unit or defendant Glenn. "A supervisory official may be held liable under section 1983 for the wrongful acts of a subordinate 'when [the supervisory official] breaches a duty imposed by state or local law, and this breach causes plaintiffs constitutional injury.'" Smith v. Brenoettsy, 158 F.3d 908 (5th Cir. 1998)(quoting Smith v. Adams, 537 F.2d 829, 831 (5th Cir. 1976). To hold a supervisory official liable, the plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) the supervisor either failed to supervise or train the subordinate official; (2) a causal link exists between the failure to train or supervise and the violation of the plaintiffs rights; and (3) the failure to train or supervise amounts to deliberate indifference. Hinshaw v. Doffer, 785 F.2d 1260, 1263 (5th Cir. 1986). For an official to act with deliberate indifference, he "must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994); Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294 (1991). Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for any of the supervisor defendants under this standard.

         The Court further finds that any failure by the defendant Glenn to follow the proper procedure to complete the postage process is at most a negligent act, and the negligent deprivation of property by prison officials does not create a civil rights claim. See Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 328, 332-33 (1986) ("[T]he Due Process Clause is simply not implicated by a negligent act of an official causing unintended loss of or injury to life, liberty, or property."); Ortiz v. Giles ...


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