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Casey v. Snoderly

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia, Elkins

May 8, 2017




         On this day, the above-styled matter came before the Court for consideration of the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge James E. Seibert [Doc. 40]. Pursuant to this Court's Local Rules, this action was referred to Magistrate Judge Seibert for submission of a proposed report and a recommendation (“R&R”). Magistrate Judge Seibert filed his R&R on March 28, 2017. In that filing, the magistrate judge recommended that this Court grant defendant's Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment [Doc. 23], and deny and dismiss plaintiff's Complaint [Doc.1] with prejudice.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c), this Court is required to make a de novo review of those portions of the magistrate judge's findings to which objection is timely made. However, the Court is not required to review, under a de novo or any other standard, the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge as to those portions of the findings or recommendation to which no objections are addressed. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985). In addition, failure to file timely objections constitutes a waiver of de novo review and the right to appeal this Court's Order. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Farmer v. McBride, 177 Fed.Appx. 327, 330-331 (4th Cir. 2006); Snyder v. Ridenour, 889 F.2d 1363, 1366 (4th Cir. 1989); United States v. Schronce, 727 F.2d 91, 94 (4th Cir. 1984). Plaintiff timely filed his Objections [Doc. 42] on April 5, 2017. Accordingly, this Court will conduct a de novo review of the portions of the magistrate judge's R&R to which plaintiff objects. The remainder of the R&R will be reviewed for clear error.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Lashaun Casey (“Casey” or “plaintiff”), initiated this action on November 9, 2016, by filing a pro se civil rights Complaint against defendant Jackoline Snoderly (“Snoderly” or “defendant”) pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) [Doc. 1].[1] While plaintiff is currently incarcerated at USP Big Sandy in Inez, KY [Doc. 25] and filed this action while incarcerated at USP Lewisburg in Lewisburg, PA, the incidents at the center of Casey's Complaint allegedly occurred while he was incarcerated at USP Hazelton [Doc. 1]. Casey is serving a life sentence for violating: (1) 18 U.S.C. § 2119(3): taking a motor vehicle from a person through force which resulted in death; and (2) 18 U.S.C. § 924(j): unlawful use of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence [Doc. 24-1 at 2-3].

         In his Complaint, plaintiff raises a claim of “deliberate indifference” to his legal mail [Doc. 1-2 at 7]. Substantively, Casey contends that on December 9, 2014, defendant arrived at his Special Housing Unit (“SHU”) cell with a piece of purported legal mail from “Joannie Plaza, ” his lawyer, a federal public defender from the District of Puerto Rico [Id. at 3]. He avers that the envelope was clearly stamped “Legal Mail” with his attorney's name and address at the bottom left corner, and that defendant “knowingly and intentionally started to read” the letter after opening the same in his presence [Id. at 3-4]. Thereafter, he contends that defendant took the letter away because it was written in Spanish, and would review the letter within 24 hours [Id. at 4].

         He further contends the letter was never given to him within 24 hours that defendant promised, and that he has yet to ever receive the letter [Id.]. Further, he asserts that he continuously asked defendant about the status of his letter when she visited his cell on her weekly rounds, and that she either denied any knowledge of the letter's whereabouts or did not respond at all [Id. at 4 - 5]. Plaintiff contends that the camera on the unit would support his claims [Id. at 5]. He further contends that his cell mate during that time, Luis Fernandez Lopez, witnessed the alleged acts and attached an affidavit from Lopez which purportedly supports his claim [Id.].[2] Plaintiff also alleges that he has fully exhausted the requisite administrative and legal remedies prior to filing this claim, a topic which will be discussed in greater detail below [Id. at 5-7]. He contends that defendant's actions violated Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) Program Statement 5265.11 and BOP rules and regulations [Doc. 1-2 at 8]. Therefore, he contends that defendant violated his First, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights, invaded his legal privacy, and caused him to suffer psychological injury, including depression [Id. at 8 - 10].

         Defendant, for her part, contends that one of her duties as Correctional Counselor for the Special Housing Unit, where plaintiff was assigned at all times material to the allegations in the Complaint, was to deliver legal mail to inmates assigned to her unit [Doc. 24-2 at 1]. Defendant admits that she remembers the inmate and the incident in question, and that she did, indeed, bring Casey a letter addressed to him and marked as legal mail [Id.]. Per Bureau policy, specifically Program Statement 5800.16, she opened the envelope in the presence of Casey, and did a cursory search for contraband [Id.]. At that time, she noticed that while the envelope was marked as arriving from a courthouse in Puerto Rico, inside of the envelope was a handwritten letter that included a salutation with the letters X and O's [Id.]. Furthermore, the letter was in Spanish, and she can not read in that language [Id. 1-2]. Because she thought this might be a personal letter instead of legal mail, she brought the letter back to the mailroom for their review and any action they thought was appropriate [Id. at 2]. She did not have any other involvement with this letter [Id.]. Thereafter, plaintiff filed this cause of action as noted above.

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Motion to Dismiss:

         A complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege “‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007) (emphasis added).” Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). When reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court must assume all of the allegations to be true, must resolve all doubts and inferences in favor of the plaintiffs, and must view the allegations in a light most favorable to the plaintiffs. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243-44 (4th Cir. 1999).

         When rendering its decision, the Court should consider only the allegations contained in the Complaint, the exhibits to the Complaint, matters of public record, and other similar materials that are subject to judicial notice. See Anheuser-Busch, Inc. v. Schmoke, 63 F.3d 1305, 1312 (4th Cir. 1995). In Twombly, the Supreme Court, noting that “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, ” Id. at 1964-65, upheld the dismissal of a complaint where the plaintiffs did not “nudge[ ] their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Id. at 1974.

         B. Summary Judgment:

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 provides that summary judgment is appropriate “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing the absence of any genuine issues of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). “The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with facts sufficient to create a triable issue of fact.” Temkin ...

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