562 F.3d 674 (5th Cir. 2009), 06-20443, Samford v. Dretke

Docket Nº:06-20443.
Citation:562 F.3d 674
Party Name:Scott A. SAMFORD, Jr., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Doug DRETKE; Warden Staples; Doctor Scarmado; Lisa Vatani, Health Provider; Minnie Crouch; Unit Warden of Law Librarian, Defendants-Appellees. Scott A. Samford, Jr., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Douglas Dretke, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:March 03, 2009
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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562 F.3d 674 (5th Cir. 2009)

Scott A. SAMFORD, Jr., Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Doug DRETKE; Warden Staples; Doctor Scarmado; Lisa Vatani, Health Provider; Minnie Crouch; Unit Warden of Law Librarian, Defendants-Appellees.

Scott A. Samford, Jr., Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Douglas Dretke, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 06-20443.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

March 3, 2009

Page 675

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Scott Samford, Amarillo, TX, pro se.

Marjolyn Carol Gardner, Asst. Atty. Gen., Law Enforcement Defense Div., Austin, TX, for Defendants-Appellees and Greg Abbott, Amicus Curiae.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Before KING, STEWART and SOUTHWICK, Circuit Judges.

PER CURIAM:

Scott Samford, Texas prisoner # 835644, appeals the dismissal of his § 1983 suit in which he alleged that defendants improperly prevented him from communicating with his two sons. Samford was convicted of aggravated assault after he brought a handgun to his ex-wife's house when his sons were present and, after threatening to shoot his ex-wife and any police officers that might arrive, shot himself just outside the front door. He survived and pleaded nolo contendere to aggravated assault. The sentencing court initially placed Samford on probation with the condition that he have no contact with his ex-wife and sons, but he violated that condition and was sentenced to 20 years' incarceration. While in prison, Samford's sons were placed on his negative mail list and were removed from his approved visitors list. Proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in the district court, Samford argued that restricting his communication with his sons in these ways violates his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association. The district court, however, dismissed sua sponte Samford's complaint as frivolous and as failing to state a claim. Samford now appeals, and we affirm the judgment of the district court for the following reasons.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Scott Samford (" Samford" ) and Cynthia Samford had two sons, Andrew and Benjamin, before divorcing. After the divorce and on or about August 29, 1997, the boys-eleven and fourteen years old at the time-were at Cynthia's house when Samford arrived brandishing a handgun and threatening to shoot Cynthia, any police officers that Cynthia might call, and himself. He made good on the final threat and shot himself in the neck. After surviving the gunshot, Samford pleaded nolo contendere to aggravated assault on January 15, 1998. In her victim impact statement regarding the assault, Cynthia stated, " [m]y children and myself are in constant fear for our lives due to Scott Samford's behavior and mental condition." Samford was placed on five years' probation on the condition that he have no contact with Cynthia, Andrew, or Benjamin. A few months later, Samford violated this probation condition by contacting his sons and ex-wife and, on June 11, 1998, was sentenced to twenty years' incarceration with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (" TDCJ" ). While in prison, " Cynthia Samford contacted the prison system and attempted to place Andrew and Benjamin Samford on a ‘ negative mail list,’ "

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according to one of Samford's filings. Samford was then informed that Andrew and Benjamin had been placed on his negative mail list; 1 additionally, a letter was sent to Cynthia stating that Andrew and Benjamin had been placed on Samford's negative mail list. Andrew and Benjamin were also removed from Samford's list of approved visitors. Since that time, Samford has repeatedly and unsuccessfully attempted to send letters to Andrew and Benjamin. Some of these letters, according to Samford, have not been returned to him. Further, when Samford's mother attempted to send two photos of the boys to Samford, he was not permitted to receive the photos because the boys were on his negative mail list. The photos were sent back to Samford's mother. Samford does not allege that either Andrew or Benjamin has ever attempted to visit or otherwise communicate with him.

Samford challenged the limitations placed on his communication with Andrew and Benjamin in two separate courts: the District Court for the Northern District of Texas and the District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The related claims were consolidated below.

Samford filed his claim in the District Court for the Northern District of Texas on May 17, 2005. He originally sued Cynthia, arguing that she violated § 1983 by conspiring with public officials to, among other things, prevent him from communicating with his sons. Samford subsequently amended his complaint to include allegations against additional defendants, including Douglas Dretke. All of Samford's claims were dismissed except his claim alleging that Dretke was impermissibly preventing Samford from communicating with Andrew and Benjamin. This remaining claim was transferred to the District Court for the Southern District of Texas, where Samford had filed a related suit.

On June 8, 2005, Samford filed suit in the District Court for the Southern District of Texas. He brought claims under § 1983 and argued that Dretke, Warden Staples, Dr. Scarmado, Lisa Vatani, Minnie Crouch, and the law librarian (" defendants" ) violated his constitutional rights by denying him medically based work restrictions, refusing to issue him adequate legal supplies and storage for such supplies, and preventing him from communicating with his sons. Samford sought damages and injunctive relief for these alleged violations. After considering Samford's more than forty filings, the district court dismissed all the claims sua sponte under 28 U.S.C. § § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) & (ii) on April 28, 2006.

Samford now appeals the dismissal of his § 1983 claim concerning the restrictions on communicating with his sons. He argues that the district court erred in concluding that defendants Dretke, Crouch, and Warden Staples did not violate his First Amendment rights by preventing his communication with Andrew and Benjamin through enforcing his negative mail list and by removing Andrew and Benjamin from his approved visitors list.2 The Texas

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Attorney General, at our invitation, filed an amicus brief in support of defendants.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When a district court dismisses a complaint both as frivolous and as failing to state a claim under § § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) & (ii), we review the dismissal de novo. See Longoria, 507 F.3d at 901. To determine if a complaint fails to state a claim, we apply the same standard of review applicable to dismissals made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and will uphold a dismissal if, " taking the plaintiff's allegations as true, it appears that no relief could be granted based on the plaintiff's alleged facts." Harris v. Hegmann, 198 F.3d 153, 156 (5th Cir.1999) (internal quotation marks omitted). Alternatively, a claim may be dismissed as frivolous if " it lacks any arguable basis in law or fact." Id. " ‘ A complaint lacks an arguable basis in law if it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, such as if the complaint alleges violation of a legal interest which clearly does not exist.’ " Id. (quoting Harper v. Showers, 174 F.3d 716, 718 (5th Cir.1999)). A complaint lacks an arguable basis in fact when " the facts alleged are fantastic or delusional scenarios or the legal theory upon which a complaint relies is indisputably meritless." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

Samford appears before this court for a fourth time after stating meritless claims in three prior civil rights suits. See Samford v. Staples, 231 Fed.Appx. 374 (5th Cir.2007); Samford v. Staples, 249 Fed.Appx. 1001 (5th Cir.2007); Samford v. Bowers, No. 00-10246, 2000 WL 1741640 (5th Cir. Nov. 16, 2000). His current complaint challenges the enforcement of his negative mail list and the removal of his sons from his approved visitors list. As in his previous suits, Samford's contentions fail to state a claim.

A. Enforcing Samford's Negative Mail List

Samford avers that defendants violated his First Amendment rights by restricting his communication with Andrew and Benjamin. His claims regarding defendants' intercepting his outgoing non-legal mail to his sons, defendants' refusing to return the intercepted letters, and defendants' preventing Samford from receiving photos of his sons all center on defendants' practices in enforcing Samford's negative mail list.3

" [I]n determining the constitutional validity of prison practices that impinge upon a prisoner's rights with respect to mail, the appropriate inquiry is whether the practice is reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest." Brewer v. Wilkinson, 3 F.3d 816, 824 (5th Cir.1993) (applying the standard articulated in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 96 L.Ed.2d 64 (1987)). Although the Supreme Court has indicated that this standard applies to limitations on prisoners' incoming mail and that the standard articulated in Procunier v. Martinez 4 applies to

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limitations on prisoners' outgoing mail, see Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 413-14, 109 S.Ct. 1874, 104 L.Ed.2d 459 (1989), a panel of this court has interpreted Thornburgh to apply the reasonableness standard set forth in Turner in both instances, see Brewer, 3 F.3d at 824 (" Although the Court appeared to draw a distinction between incoming and outgoing mail ..., its ‘ reading’ of Martinez in Thornburgh suggests that Turner's ‘ legitimate penological interest’ test would also be applied to outgoing mail." ); see also id. at 825-26 (applying the " legitimate penological interest" test to plaintiffs' challenges concerning defendants' practice of inspecting outgoing mail). The panel reasoned that Thornburgh ' s distinction between incoming and outgoing...

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