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Richey v. Sullivan

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

July 14, 2014



J. RICHARD CREATURA, Magistrate Judge.

This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights matter has been referred to United States Magistrate Judge J. Richard Creatura pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(A) and 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rules MJR 1, MJR 3, and MJR 4.

Before the Court are cross motions for summary judgment (Dkt. 12 and 13). The Court recommends denying plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and granting defendants' motion for summary judgment. The penological reasons for not allowing an inmate to obtain unused greeting cards from unapproved sources are obvious and readily apparent. Further, plaintiff's own exhibits cite a decision from 1992 recognizing that a prohibition on receiving blank cards is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests (Dkt. 12, p. 13). In light of this authority of which plaintiff was aware, the Court concludes that this action was filed for an improper purpose and is frivolous and malicious.


During the relevant period of the complaint, plaintiff was a prisoner at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Defendants Sullivan and Matsen were mailroom employees at the facility. Plaintiff alleges that defendants Sullivan and Matsen improperly rejected incoming mail consisting of two greeting cards (Dkt. 5, p. 4). Plaintiff has placed copies of the cards into the record and the content of the cards is not in dispute (Dkt. 12, pp. 7-9). The sender of the cards did not write anything in them or sign them (Dkt. 12, pp. 7-9). Defendants rejected the cards because they considered them "blank" (Dkt. 13-1 p. 28). Further, before filing this action, plaintiff knew that defendants' definition of "blank" meant unused or unsigned ( id. ). In a letter rejecting plaintiff's appeal dated October 14, 2013 - over two months before plaintiff filed this action on January 16, 2014 - Roy Gonzalez, Correctional Manager, gave plaintiff defendants' definition of the term "blank" (Dkt. 13-1, page 28). Despite knowing how defendants applied the term, plaintiff filed this action claiming the cards were not blank because the cards "expressed pictorial communication." (Dkt. 5, p. 4).

Plaintiff alleges that defendants' actions violate his First Amendment right to receive mail (Dkt. 5, p. 4). Defendants argue that the rejection of plaintiff's mail furthered legitimate penological goals and was therefore constitutional (Dkt. 13, pp. 6-9). Defendants also raise the affirmative defense of qualified immunity (Dkt. 13, p. 9).


In federal court, summary judgment is required pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact. Tarin v. County of Los Angeles, 123 F.3d 1259, 1263 (9th Cir.1997). Once a party has moved for summary judgment Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and identify facts that show that a genuine issue for trial exists. Id. at 323-24; Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

To state a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a complaint must allege: (i) the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law and (ii) the conduct deprived a person of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981), overruled on other grounds, Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327 (1986). 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is the appropriate avenue to remedy an alleged wrong only if both of these elements are present. Haygood v. Younger, 769 F.2d 1350, 1354 (9th Cir. 1985).

A complaint is frivolous if "it lacks an arguable basis in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Leave to amend is not necessary if it is clear that the deficiencies in the complaint cannot be cured by amendment. Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1228 n.9 (9th Cir. 1984).

The standard for dismissal as "malicious" has not been well defined by case law but some guidance exists. In Abdul-Akbar v. Department of Corrections, 910 F.Supp. 986, 999 (D. Del. 1995), the District Court in Delaware considered the malicious standard and stated:

A separate standard for maliciousness is not as well established. Deutsch [ v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1086] merely states that a district court must engage in a subjective inquiry into the litigant's motivations at the time of the filing of the lawsuit to determine whether the action is an attempt to vex, injure, or harass the defendants.' Id. Other Circuits, however, have offered more objective instances of malicious claims. For example, a district court may dismiss a complaint as malicious if it threatens violence or contains disrespectful references to the court. Crisafi v. Holland, 655 F.2d 1305 (D.C.Cir. 1981); see also Phillips v. Carey, 638 F.2d 207, 208 (10th Cir. 1981) (stating that courts may dismiss pleadings with abusive or offensive language pursuant to the court's inherent powers under FRCP 12(f)). In addition, a district court may dismiss a complaint as malicious if it is plainly abusive of the judicial process or merely repeats pending or previously litigated claims. Id .; Van Meter v. Morgan, 518 F.2d 366 (8th Cir. 1975); Duhart v. Carlson, 469 F.2d 471 (10th Cir. 1972).

Other courts have found the term "malicious" means irresponsible or harassing litigation. Daves v. Scranton, 66 F.R.D. 5 (E.D. Pa. 1975). The Pennsylvania District Court Stated:

The legal standard of "frivolous or malicious" is not capable of precise definition for it is a standard intended for administration within the broad discretion of the court and to be applied with reasonable restraint but as a practical response to irresponsible litigation which would otherwise be ...

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