Brown v. Matauszak, 09-2259

Decision Date31 January 2011
Docket NumberNo. 09-2259,09-2259
PartiesROY L. BROWN,Plaintiff-Appellant, v. LINDA MATAUSZAK, COLLEEN KOENIG, AND JAN TROMBLEY, WARDEN,Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit



File Name: 11a0060n.06





BEFORE: BOGGS and McKEAGUE, Circuit Judges; QUIST, District Judge.*

McKEAGUE, Circuit Judge. Plaintiff Roy Brown, a Michigan prisoner proceeding pro se, appeals from the dismissal of his § 1983 civil rights claim for violation of his right of access to the courts. The district court concluded that Brown failed to allege an actual injury to sustain a cause of action, and dismissed his claim with prejudice. While Brown presented sufficient facts to allege interference with his legal mail, it is true that neither Brown's complaint nor his response to the motion to dismiss alleges sufficient facts to establish the validity of the underlying claims, as required by precedent. However, Brown has filed with this court the memorandum of law he filed in state court in connection with the underlying claim, which makes clear that he has sufficient facts to demonstrate that the underlying claims were non-frivolous—he simply failed to include thatinformation in his § 1983 pleadings. Therefore, considering the equities of the case and, following several other circuits and prior Sixth Circuit precedent, we REMAND the case to allow Brown to amend his pleadings, in order to include this necessary information.


Brown has been incarcerated in Michigan since he was convicted in 1991 for first-degree murder. He exhausted his direct appeal. In late 2003, Brown sought collateral relief from his conviction and sentence in the state court, through a Motion for Relief from Judgment, pursuant to Michigan Court Rule § 6.500. In this motion, Brown argued that his trial counsel (1) conceded guilt, (2) failed to advance a defense theory, (3) refused to impeach prosecution witnesses, (4) refused to conduct cross-examination, (5) failed to object to hearsay, (6) failed to strike testimony and request curative instructions; (7) gave a deficient closing argument, (8) failed to object to the prosecution's improper cross examination and closing argument, and (9) expressed approval of the trial judge's erroneous jury instruction. He also argued that his appellate counsel was ineffective for (1) failing to provide Brown with transcripts in a timely manner, (2) failing to consult with Brown, and (3) failing to raise the above issues on appeal. Attached to this motion was a 61-page Memorandum of Law in Support, which thoroughly set forth the alleged facts and the law that substantiated his claims.

The trial court denied his petition on July 27, 2004. On April 1, 2005, Brown filed an application with the Michigan Court of Appeals for delayed leave to appeal that denial, 2 which wasdenied on October 17, 2005, for failure to establish entitlement to relief under Michigan Court Rule § 6.508(D). (R.E. 1, Complaint, at 10.) Pursuant to Michigan Court Rule § 7.302(C)(2)(a), Brown then had 56 days to seek leave to appeal the appellate court's decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.

The state court of appeals mailed the order indicating its decision to Brown at the Saginaw Correctional Facility, and it arrived on October 18. However, that same day Brown was transferred to another facility and he never received the order. In February 2006, Brown inquired with the court as to the status of his application, and learned that it had been denied in October—he had already missed the deadline to apply for leave to appeal.3

Brown filed this § 1983 civil rights action in March 2007, naming three employees of Saginaw Correctional Facility as defendants in both their individual and official capacities. He alleged that his right of access to the courts and his right to receive correspondence were violated when the mail room workers intentionally lost or destroyed his legal mail (the order from the Michigan Court of Appeals). Two of the employees claim they attempted to forward the mail to Brown at the Newberry Correctional Facility, but the Newberry staff maintained that they never received it. In any event, Brown never received notice that his case had been decided.

The district court, agreeing with a magistrate judge's recommendation, dismissed Brown's case sua sponte for failure to state a claim for denial of access to the courts. The court relied on Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378 (6th Cir. 1999) (en banc) (per curiam), which held that "[a] prisoner's right to access the courts extends to direct appeals, habeas corpus applications, and civil rights claims only." Id. at 391. The magistrate judge noted that the underlying claim, and thus underlying injury, of Brown's claim did not arise from a direct appeal, habeas application, or civil rights claim, and therefore recommended that the complaint be sua sponte dismissed for failure to state a claim. Brown filed objections to this report, but the court concluded that Brown failed to state a claim for a violation of his right to receive correspondence, and dismissed Brown's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b), and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1).

On appeal, Brown asserted that the district court erred in concluding that state prisoners do not have a constitutional right of access to the courts when filing a state collateral attack on their state court convictions. A Rule 34 panel of this court affirmed the district court's decision in part, and vacated and remanded in part. The panel found that the district court's interpretation of "habeas corpus applications" in Thaddeus-X to only include federal habeas petitions and true direct appeals was too narrow. It noted that Thaddeus-X made this statement after quoting from Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 349 (1996), which limited the types of frustrated legal claims that can satisfy the actual injury requirement: "The tools [the Constitution] requires to be provided are those that the inmates need in order to attack their sentences, directly or collaterally, and in order to challenge theconditions of their confinement. Impairment of any other litigating capacity is simply one of the incidental (and perfectly constitutional) consequences of conviction and incarceration." 518 U.S. at 355 (emphasis in original). The panel concluded that a prisoner has the right of access to the courts to mount collateral attacks against his convictions whether in state or federal court, Brown v. Matauszak, No. 08-1761, slip op. at 4 (6th Cir. Jan. 21, 2009), and that Brown therefore did appear to have stated a claim for denial of access to the courts by alleging an injury regarding the missed deadline. The court concluded, however, that "[t]he question remains... as to whether Brown suffered actual prejudice from this circumstance."Id.

On remand, the case was again referred to a magistrate judge. The defendants moved to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), arguing that Brown failed to establish an actual injury and therefore had no standing. They asserted that Brown did not set forth allegations sufficient to demonstrate loss of a non-frivolous claim. Brown responded that he raised non-frivolous issues in his motion for relief from judgment. In his Response to the Motion to Dismiss, Brown listed (for the first time in this litigation) the causes of action that he sought to pursue in state court. Yet he still simply listed the claims that he raised in his motion for relief from judgmenthe did not provide or explain the factual bases for any of these claims.

The magistrate judge recommended dismissal for both failure to establish standing, and failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). He noted that "a complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if the complaint does not plead 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on itsface, '" (R.E. 43, Rep. & Rec. at 2, quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)), and that a plaintiff's obligation is to provide the grounds for relief, not just "labels and conclusions." (Id. at 3.) The Report and Recommendation went on to reason that a right-of-access claim can proceed only if the prisoner demonstrates "actual injury" by showing that he had a non-frivolous claim; without such a showing of injury, a plaintiff lacks standing and fails to state a cognizable claim. After establishing these standards, the magistrate judge noted that the complaint here "addresses the fact that the [state court] deadline was not met, but does not allege what issues Plaintiff sought to raise in the motion," and therefore recommended the complaint be dismissed because "he asserts nothing more than conclusory allegations of harm." The magistrate judge then noted that "[p]laintiff fares no better, I suggest, under a review of his response to the motion," because "his references to the issues raised in his motion for relief from judgment in the state courts are at best cursory.... Plaintiff fails to provide either factual context or factual support for his bare conclusions."

The district court adopted the report and dismissed the case. It stated that "[p]laintiffs complaint contains only conclusory claims of actual injury resulting from Defendants' alleged interference with his legal mail.... Plaintiff fails, however, to set forth facts to establish the validity of the claims he sought to present in that appeal." It therefore stated that he "failed to allege an actual injury to sustain a cause of action." In doing so, the district court did not state under which rule it dismissed the complaint, but since it stated that he "failed to allege an actual injury" and that h...

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