Gaskins v. Dickhaut

Decision Date26 July 2012
Docket NumberCivil Case No. 11–cv–10782.
Citation881 F.Supp.2d 223
PartiesTony GASKINS, Plaintiff, v. Superintendent Thomas DICKHAUT and Treasurer Amy Owens, as employees of the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts


Tony B. Gaskins, Norfolk, MA, pro se.

Kevin A. Anahory, Department of Correction, Boston, MA, for Defendants.


GORTON, District Judge.

I. Background

Plaintiff Tony Gaskins, a prisoner of the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (“DOC”), filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Superintendent Thomas Dickhaut and Treasurer Amy Owens of the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center (SBCC) violated his constitutional right of access to the courts. Specifically, the Complaint alleges that the SBCC refused to provide him postage for five legal envelopes and instead of mailing those envelopes, returned them to him. Plaintiff also challenges DOC regulations which provide that an inmate is not indigent, and therefore ineligible for free postage, if he has more than $10 in his prison account during a sixty-day period. See103 Code Mass. Regs. §§ 481.06, 481.10, 481.11 (2011). He contends that the regulations are draconian and unilaterally seeks to have the amount modified to $45. Plaintiff also seeks other injunctive and declaratory relief as well as punitive damages.

In the course of screening plaintiff's pro se Complaint, the Court pointed out that plaintiff's right-of-access claim did not include an allegation of actual harm and, accordingly, directed plaintiff to show cause in writing why the Complaint should not be summarily dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiff filed a timely response, clarifying that the SBCC's refusal to provide postage and to mail his letters interfered with the ongoing appeal of his conviction, whereupon the Court directed the defendants to file a pleading responsive to the Complaint. In due course, defendants filed the pending motion to dismiss.

II. Motion to DismissA. Standard

To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to state a claim for relief that is actionable as a matter of law and “plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Assessing plausibility is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense” to determine whether the well-pled facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to “permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. In considering the merits of a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Langadinos v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 199 F.3d 68, 69 (1st Cir.2000). Although courts are to construe liberally the allegations of pro se plaintiffs and review them under a more forgiving standard, courts must refrain from conjuring up unpled allegations to give life to a phantom cause of action. McDonald v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir.1979).

B. Application

Inmates have a constitutional right of access to the courts, which includes the right of indigent inmates to free postage to mail certain legal documents. See Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 824–25, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 52 L.Ed.2d 72 (1977). To state a constitutional claim under Bounds, a plaintiff must 1) identify a policy or practice that denies inmates meaningful access to the courts and 2) allege that the specific policy or practice actually hindered him from pursuing a legal claim. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 350–51, 116 S.Ct. 2174, 135 L.Ed.2d 606 (1996).

Plaintiff models his Bounds claim off of a successful challenge to the indigency policy of the Arizona Department of Corrections. See Gluth v. Kangas, 951 F.2d 1504 (9th Cir.1991). Under that policy, an inmate was not classified as indigent unless his prison account balance was less than $12 and his income from all sources during the previous 30–day period did not exceed $12. Id. at 1508. The certified class of inmates argued that the policy denied them meaningful access to the courts, alleging specifically that

[n]on-indigent inmates without funds have cases that go unfiled or have been dismissed due to the high cost of postage, legal copies, and legal supplies.

Id. at 1509 n. 2. Finding that the state's $12 indigency threshold failed to accommodate those inmates who have no money to purchase legal supplies when needed, the Ninth Circuit struck it down as inconsistent with the right of access articulated in Bounds.Id. at 1508–09.


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3 cases
  • Holloman v. Clarke
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts
    • March 23, 2017 the courts against Mendosa because he does not allege any facts describing a policy, practice or harm. See Gaskins v. Dickhaut , 881 F.Supp.2d 223, 225 (D. Mass. 2012).Accordingly, all claims against Mendosa will be dismissed.8. Defendant Luis SpencerHolloman's claims against defendant L......
  • Holloman v. Clarke
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts
    • September 22, 2016
    ...his pursuit of a legal claim and, consequently, he does not state a claim for denial of access to the courts. See Gaskins v. Dickhaut , 881 F.Supp.2d 223, 225 (D.Mass.2012).3. Claim Against Daigneault for Retaliation Holloman alleges that defendant Daigneault retaliated against him in viola......
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