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Seelye v. Stephens

filed*fn*: November 17, 1992.

SCOTT RICHARD SEELYE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
STAN STEPHENS, GOVERNOR; CHISHOLM KURT; JACK MCCORMICK, WARDEN, MONTANA STATE PRISON, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Montana. D.C. No. CV-90-89-PGH. Paul G. Hatfield, District Judge, Presiding

Before: Ferguson, O'scannlain, and Rymer, Circuit Judges.

MEMORANDUM

Seelye, an inmate at Montana State Prison, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that prison officials violated his rights by opening certain items of his incoming mail outside his presence. The district court adopted the recommendation of the magistrate Judge that the complaint be dismissed because none of the articles of mail about which Seelye complained was "privileged" according to the prison's Inmate Correspondence Policy, and thus did not need to be opened with Seelye at hand. Seelye argues, however, that since he is a Minnesota state prisoner who was transferred to the Montana State Prison under the Interstate Corrections Compact (the "Compact") he is entitled to all the protections afforded by Minnesota law. He claims that under applicable Minnesota law, prison officials may only open mail of the type in question in the presence of the prisoner to whom it is addressed.

Seelye brought this timely appeal to contest the district court's dismissal of his complaint on the grounds that he had failed to state a cognizable section 1983 claim. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We reverse.

I

Dismissal for failure to state a claim is a ruling of law that we review de novo. Oscar v. University Students Cooperative Ass'n, 965 F.2d 783, 785 (9th Cir. 1992) (en banc). In general, a complaint should not be dismissed "unless it appears beyond doubt that plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Buckey v. Los Angeles, 968 F.2d 791, 794 (9th Cir. 1992).

II

Seelye relies upon Article IV(e) of the Compact, which states:

All inmates who may be confined in an institution pursuant to the provisions of this compact shall be treated in a reasonable and humane manner and shall be treated equally with such similar inmates of the receiving state [i.e., Montana] as may be confined in the same institution. The fact of confinement in a receiving state shall not deprive any inmate so confined of any legal rights which said inmate would have had if confined in an appropriate institution of the sending state [i.e., Minnesota].

MCA46-19-401, Article IV(e). We express no view as to whether Seelye is entitled by this provision to require Montana prison officials to abide by Minnesota law in handling his mail. Compare Pryor v. Brennan, 914 F.2d 921, 926 (7th Cir. 1990) (District of Columbia prisoners transferred to state facilities under Compact were entitled by Article IV(e) to accumulate "good time credits" in accordance with District of Columbia rules), with Stewart v. McManus, 924 F.2d 138, 141 (8th Cir. 1991) (neither the Compact nor contractual arrangements between the states mandated that Kansas disciplinary procedures be applied to transferred Kansas prisoner in Iowa prison). Similarly, we express no view as to whether a violation of rights made applicable by the terms of the Compact would, if found, be sufficient to support a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Compare Cameron v. Mills, 645 F. Supp. 1119, 1125 (S.D. Iowa 1986) (together, terms of Compact and contractual arrangements give transferred prisoner a liberty interest, cognizable under Fourteenth Amendment, in having sending state's disciplinary procedures applied while in receiving state's prison), with Stewart, 924 F.2d at 140-42 (overruling Cameron in holding that Compact creates no Fourteenth Amendment liberty interests, and further holding that Compact is not federal law such that violations thereof can support § 1983 action). We hold only that, having adopted the magistrate's recommendation of dismissal without considering these issues, and having suggested no other grounds for dismissal, the district court was necessarily prevented from finding "beyond doubt" that Seelye could "prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." The claim was therefore dismissed improperly.*fn1

On remand the district court may need to address the following questions, which bear on whether Seelye has stated a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (1) Does the Compact, together with whatever contractual arrangements exist between Minnesota and Montana, give Seelye a protected liberty interest in having the "privileged" status of his correspondence determined under Minnesota law?*fn2 (2) Under the analysis of Cuyler v. Adams, 449 U.S. 433, 440 (1981), has the Compact between these two states been "transformed" into "federal" law? (3) Apart from the terms of the Compact, did the prison's handling of Seelye's mail violate his First Amendment rights to free expression, or his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection, as he alleges? See Sands v. Lewis, 886 F.2d 1166, 1172 (9th Cir. 1989).

III

Seelye has advised the court that all his personal property, including the documentation relevant to this action, was destroyed during a disturbance at the prison. He requests that a complete copy of the court file in this case be provided him. ...


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