Maldonado v. Nassau Cnty. Sheriff's Office

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
PartiesHAMZA MALDONADO,[1] Plaintiff, v. NASSAU COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, et al., Defendants.
Docket Number3:20-cv-1109-MMH-PDB
Decision Date20 October 2022

Hamza Maldonado, #70478-018, Counsel of Record



I. Status

Plaintiff Hamza Maldonado, a former detainee of the Nassau County Jail who is currently incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Fairton, New Jersey, initiated this action on August 20, 2020 by filing a Complaint (Doc. 3) with exhibits (Docs. 3-1 through 3-8) in the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court in and for Nassau County, Florida. Eight Defendants removed the case to this Court on September 29, 2020.[2] See Notice of Removal (Doc. 1).

Maldonado's claims against ten Defendants remain - (1) the Nassau County Sheriff's Office; (2) Detective Murdock; (3) Detective Beazley; (4) Captain Paula DeLuca; (5) Sergeant Edgy; (6) Sergeant Morgan; (7) Lieutenant Nye; (8) the United States Marshals Service; (9) Anonymous Inmate Howard Jones; and (10) Sergeant Campbell.[3] Id. at 1. In the Complaint, Maldonado alleges that Defendants violated his rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. See generally Doc. 3. As relief Maldonado seeks monetary damages, requests that the Court appoint counsel, and asks the Court to order Defendants to learn basic Muslim faith practices. Id. at 22.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants Nassau County Sheriffs Office, Murdock, Beazley, DeLuca, Edgy, Morgan, Nye, and Campbell's Motion to Dismiss Complaint (Motion; Doc. 6). The Court advised Maldonado that granting a motion to dismiss would be an adjudication of the case that could foreclose subsequent litigation and allowed him to respond. See Order (Doc. 12). Maldonado filed a response in opposition to the Motion (Response; Doc. 16). Thus, Defendants' Motion is ripe for review.

II. Maldonado's Allegations

In the Complaint, Maldonado alleges that on April 22, 2020, jail officials illegally transferred him from the Baker County Jail to the Nassau County Jail “without due process and his life was placed in danger because he was exposed to the deadly coronavirus.” Doc. 3 at 7. According to Maldonado, when he entered the Nassau County Jail, officials allowed Maldonado to keep in his possession his Universal Serial Bus (USB) flash drive. Id. at 7, 11. Maldonado asserts that at some point after his transfer, Defendant Inmate Howard Jones went into Maldonado's cell without permission and stole some printed pornographic photographs. Id. at 17. According to Maldonado, when Jones tried to sell the photos to another inmate, officials confronted Jones about the material, and Jones advised officials that the photos came from Maldonado's USB drive. Id.

Maldonado alleges that Defendants then confiscated his USB drive. He asserts Defendants were allowed to inspect the USB drive for contraband in Maldonado's presence, however, they did not conduct the search in his presence and they illegally “took printouts of its contents without a court order or con[s]ent to do so . . . .” Id. at 7. Maldonado alleges that upon seeing pornographic photos on the USB flash drive, officials deemed the device “contraband” and refused to return the USB flash drive to Maldonado. Id. Maldonado admits that the device contained pornographic or “XXX rated” photographs but argues that the photos were not “contraband,” but were evidence being used in his ongoing civil actions and criminal case. Id. at 12, 17. For example, Maldonado contends that he needs the evidence for discovery in a civil rights action he is pursuing against Baker County Jail officials who allegedly brought the pornographic photos into the jail. Id. at 9, 12-13. He also alleges that the USB flash drive contained other non-illicit documents, including medical records, correspondence between him and his attorney, and “the only legal copy of [Maldonado's] book.” Id. at 11.

Maldonado contends that he explained to officials how he needed access to the documents despite their obscene nature and argues that no jail policy regulating alleged “contraband” takes priority over his right to access his USB flash drive. Id. at 14. According to Maldonado, two months after taking the USB flash drive, Defendant DeLuca allowed Maldonado to access the device, but later modified his access by allowing Maldonado to review the documents only if Defendant “Edgy and Sgt. Hiyers [sic] maintained possession of the device under lock and key when it was not in use. Id. at 8. He also complains that on some unspecified date, Defendant Edgy, Hiyers, or Defendant DeLuca gave the USB flash drive to Defendants Murdock and Beazley without Maldonado's consent, id. at 11, and that Defendant Campbell violated his rights when she conducted cell searches without him being present and took his personal property and photographs during the search, id. at 18-19. As for the United States Marshals Service, Maldonado states that “it is a named Defendant because [Deputy United States Marshals] took illegal possession of Mr. Maldonado's medical and attorney-client legal information without legal authorization.” Id. at 16.

After a liberal reading of the Complaint, Maldonado seemingly asserts that Defendants' actions violated his rights under the First Amendment (retaliation, religion, and access to courts); the Fourth Amendment (illegal search and seizure of property); and the Fourteenth Amendment (due process, equal protection, and deliberate indifference to conditions of confinement). He also argues some of the confiscated documents were protected by attorneyclient privilege, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and copyright law.

III. Motion to Dismiss Standard

In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept the factual allegations set forth in the complaint as true. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In addition, all reasonable inferences should be drawn in favor of the plaintiff. See Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701, 705 (11th Cir. 2010). Nonetheless, the plaintiff must still meet some minimal pleading requirements. Jackson v. Bellsouth Telecomm., 372 F.3d 1250, 1262-63 (11th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). Indeed, while [s]pecific facts are not necessary[,] the complaint should ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.' Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Further, the plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

A plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do[.] Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotations omitted); see also Jackson, 372 F.3d at 1262 (explaining that “conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal”) (internal citation and quotations omitted). Indeed, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions[,] which simply “are not entitled to [an] assumption of truth.” See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 680. Thus, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must determine whether the complaint contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face[.]' Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). And, while [p]ro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be liberally construed,” Tannenbaum v. United States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998), ‘this leniency does not give the court a license to serve as de facto counsel for a party or to rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading in order to sustain an action.' Alford v. Consol. Gov't of Columbus, Ga., 438 Fed.Appx. 837, 839 (11th Cir. 2011)[4] (quoting GJR Invs., Inc. v. Cnty. of Escambia, Fla., 132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998) (internal citation omitted), overruled in part on other grounds as recognized in Randall, 610 F.3d at 706).

IV. Defendants' Motion and Plaintiff's Response

Defendants request dismissal of Maldonado's claims against them for his failure to comply with Rules 8 and 10 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Doc. 6 at 2-6. They also assert that to the extent “one can divine a ‘claim' from the substance of [Maldonado's] [C]omplaint,” it is due to be dismissed because he fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Id. at 6-9. They likewise maintain that the Nassau County Sheriff's Office should be dismissed because it is not a legal entity subject to suit. Id. at 9-10. Finally, they argue that Maldonado is a three-strikes litigant, as defined in the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), and urge the Court to dismiss the action under 28 U.S.C. 1915(g).[5] Id. At 11.

In his Response, Maldonado argues that he states a plausible First Amendment claim about his right to access to courts and religious freedom. Doc. 16 at 2-6. He also asserts that he has alleged a sufficient claim that the confiscation of his intellectual property is a copyright and trademark infringement and that officials' review of the documents amounted to a HIPAA violation. Id. at 7-8.

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