320 F.3d 346 (2nd Cir. 2003), 01-0116, Davis v. Goord

Docket Nº:01-0116
Citation:320 F.3d 346
Party Name:Davis v. Goord
Case Date:February 11, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

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320 F.3d 346 (2nd Cir. 2003)

Robert DAVIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Glenn S. GOORD; Christopher Artuz; Sabina Kaplan; John P. Keane; Mervat Makram; Frank Lancellotti; Janice Diehl; Thomas Briggs; Tim Terbush; and Thomas Egan, Defendants-Appellants.

No. 01-0116.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

February 11, 2003

Argued Sept. 4, 2002.

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Robert S. Davis, pro se, Comstock, NY.

Allison Penn, Assistant Solicitor General, State of New York, New York, N.Y. (Caitlin J. Halligan, Solicitor General; Michael S. Belohlavek, Deputy Solicitor General; Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General of the State of New York, New York, NY, on the brief), for Defendants-Appellants.

Before: CALABRESI and B.D. PARKER, JR., Circuit Judges, and STEIN, District Judge.1

STEIN, District Judge.


The following facts are as alleged in the complaint:

In May 1998, Robert Davis, then an inmate at Green Haven Correctional Facility, a New York state maximum security prison, filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Artuz, Kaplan and other prison officials. Soon thereafter, Davis was transferred to a medium security prison, Woodbourne Correctional Facility.

Upon his arrival at Woodbourne, defendants Drs. Lancellotti and Makram— medical doctors at Woodbourne—allegedly delayed placing Davis on his "medically prescribed high fiber diet," and instead gave him medication that, in combination with the delay, had the effect of worsening his medical condition. When Davis told Lancellotti and Makram about his worsened condition, they ignored him and told him that "they had heard all about [him]." When Davis reported the prison doctors to the prison grievance office for refusing to provide his high fiber diet, Lancellotti and Makram gave him a medical appointment and made him "sit in a prison waiting area for approximately 3 hours" before refusing to see him. They also allegedly treated Davis in a "sarcastic"

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and "disrespectful" manner by "calling [him] stupid," failed to respect his medical confidentiality by sending the results of a blood test to prison administrative officials and eventually ordered the prison cafeteria to stop providing his high fiber diet.

Subsequently, Davis filed a grievance with defendant Keane, the superintendent at Woodbourne, because the grievance office, supervised by defendant Terbush, had allegedly ignored his earlier grievance against Drs. Lancellotti and Makram. In retaliation for this grievance, Keane allegedly had Davis' cell searched while Terbush "vindictively hid" the earlier grievance against the prison doctors, forcing Davis to file yet another grievance to have his prior grievance "excavated from Terbush's hidden files." Later, when Davis filed yet an additional grievance against Lancellotti, his cell was again searched.

In addition, on one occasion defendant Diehl, the senior mailroom clerk at Woodbourne, allegedly opened a letter from Davis, addressed to a state court, outside his presence. She subsequently returned the letter to him, claiming that he had failed to follow procedures for addressing legal mail; namely, that Davis had failed to spell out the name of Woodbourne Correctional Facility in full on his return address. On another occasion, Diehl opened incoming legal mail outside Davis' presence. Davis contends that Keane permitted Diehl to interfere with his legal mail.

Defendants moved to dismiss Davis' complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On March 22, 2001, Judge Brieant issued a Memorandum and Order dismissing Davis' complaint, with prejudice, in its entirety. Although Judge Brieant dealt with a panoply of allegations in the complaint, only two remain at issue subsequent to our March 5, 2002 Order: whether defendants improperly interfered with Davis' legal mail and whether defendants retaliated against him for having filed grievances. With respect to these issues, Judge Brieant did not explicitly address Davis' claim of interference with his legal mail in his Memorandum and Order of March 22, 2001, and dismissed the alleged retaliation incidents as "petty charges against the management of the institution."

This appeal followed, with Davis contending principally that the complaint adequately sets forth claims upon which relief can be granted. Defendants contend that Davis failed to allege any facts showing that the incidents of interference with his legal mail prejudiced his access to the courts and that his retaliation claims do not meet the pleading standard required to allege retaliation properly.


A. The Legal Standards

A plaintiffs claims can be dismissed for failure to state a claim only if we find that "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957). Morever, because Davis' "complaint alleges civil rights violations and he proceeded pro se in the district court, we must construe his complaint with particular generosity." Morales v. Mackalm, 278 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2002) (per curiam) (citing Vital v. Interfaith Med. Ctr., 168 F.3d 615, 619 (2d Cir. 1999)). With those standards in mind, we turn to Davis' contentions.

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B. Interference with Legal Mail

Interference with legal mail implicates a prison inmate's rights to access to the courts and free speech as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. To state a claim for denial of access to the courts—in this case due to interference with legal mail—a plaintiff must allege that the defendant "took or was responsible for actions that 'hindered [a plaintiff's] efforts to pursue a legal claim.'" Morisky v. Moraghan, 127 F.3d 243, 247 (2d Cir. 1997) (citing Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351, 116 S.Ct. 2174, 2180, 135 L.Ed.2d 606 (1996)); see also Cancel v. Goord, No. 00 Civ.2042, 2001 WL 303713, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 29, 2001) ("[I]n order to survive a motion to dismiss a plaintiff must allege not only that the defendant's alleged conduct was deliberate and malicious, but also that the defendant's actions resulted in actual injury to the plaintiff such as the dismissal of an otherwise meritorious legal claim.") (citing Lewis, 518 U.S. at 353, 116 S.Ct. at 2181).

In addition to the right of access to the courts, a prisoner's right to the free flow of incoming and outgoing mail is protected by the First Amendment. See Heimerle v. Attorney General, 753 F.2d 10, 12-13 (2d Cir. 1985); Hudson v. Greiner, No. 99 Civ. 12339, 2000 WL 1838324, at * 5 (S.D.N.Y. Dec.13, 2000). Restrictions on prisoners' mail are justified only if they "further[ ] one or more of the substantial governmental interests of security, order, and rehabilitation . . . [and] must be no greater than is necessary or essential to the protection of the particular governmental interest involved." Washington v. James, 782 F.2d 1134, 1139 (2d Cir. 1986) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). In balancing the competing interests implicated in restrictions on prison mail, courts have consistently afforded greater protection to legal mail than to non-legal mail, as well as greater protection to outgoing mail than to incoming mail. See Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 413, 109 S.Ct. 1874, 1881-82, 104 L.Ed.2d 459 (1989); Washington, 782 F.2d at 1138-39; Davidson v. Scully, 694 F.2d 50, 53 (2d Cir. 1982).

While a prisoner has a right to be present when his legal mail is opened, Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 574-76, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 2983-85, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974), an isolated incident of mail tampering is usually insufficient to establish a constitutional violation. See Morgan v. Montanye, 516 F.2d 1367, 1371 (2d Cir. 1975); Washington, 782 F.2d at 1139. Rather, the inmate must show that prison officials "regularly and unjustifiably interfered with the incoming legal mail." Cancel, 2001 WL 303713 at *6 (citing Washington, 782 F.2d at 1139).

In Washington, we determined that as few as two incidents of mail tampering could constitute an actionable violation (1) if the incidents suggested an ongoing practice of censorship unjustified by a substantial government interest, or (2) if the tampering unjustifiably chilled the prisoner's right of access to the courts or impaired the legal representation received. 782 F.2d...

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