Reneau v. Mahoney
ORDER The Magistrate Judges Recommendation ECF No. 50 is ADOPTED IN FULL; Plaintiffs Objection ECF No. 51 is OVERRULED; Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment ECF No. 25 is DENIED; Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment ECF No. 28 is GRANTED; and The Clerk shall enter judgment in favor of Defendant on all claims. Each party shall bear his or her own costs, by Judge William J. Martinez on 3/25/2014.(evana, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
Judge William J. Martínez
Civil Action No. 13-cv-0125-WJM-KMT
CHESTER LEE RENEAU,
ORDER ADOPTING RECOMMENDATION, DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION
FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, AND GRANTING DEFENDANT’S
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
This matter is before the Court on the February 21, 2014 Recommendation by
U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen M. Tafoya (ECF No. 50) (the “Recommendation”) that
Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 25) be denied and Defendant’s
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 28) be granted. The Recommendation is
incorporated herein by reference. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b).
Plaintiff filed objections to the Recommendation on March 7, 2014. (ECF No. 51.) For
the reasons set forth below, the Recommendation is adopted, Plaintiff’s Objection is
overruled, Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment is denied, and Defendant’s Motion
for Summary Judgment is granted.
The facts are detailed in the Recommendation, which the Court has incorporated
herein. Briefly, Plaintiff is a pro se prisoner currently housed in the Sterling Correctional
Facility. However, the events relevant to this action occurred when Plaintiff was
detained at the Larimer County Detention Center for a probation violation and
revocation. (Compl. (ECF No. 1) p. 5.) Defendant is a deputy with the Larimer County
On January 28, 2012, Plaintiff made a number of statements to Deputy Aaron
Wright about harming members of Judge Thomas French’s (his sentencing judge)
family. (Rec. (ECF No. 50) at 2.) Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff brought two letters to the
jail control room to be mailed, one addressed to Judge French (“French Letter”) and the
other to Danielle Cunningham1 in care of the “Dept. of Probation” (“Cunningham
Letter”). (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff later made additional threatening comments to Deputy
Wright. (Id. at 3.)
Deputy Wright was alarmed by Plaintiff’s comments and passed his concerns
along to the Defendant. (Id.) Defendant retrieved the French Letter and opened it.
(Id.) Defendant was discussing Plaintiff’s actions with her supervisor when she
received a call from Deputy Wright, who informed her that Plaintiff had asked for all of
his mail back so that he could destroy it. (Id.) Plaintiff’s request to retrieve his mail
raised security concerns for Defendant, so she asked another deputy to retrieve
Plaintiff’s mail and bring it to her. (Id.)
Upon receiving the Cunningham letter from the outgoing mail, Defendant opened
it. (Id. at 4.) The Cunningham letter stated that the Plaintiff was going to spend his
It is unclear whether Plaintiff’s probation officer was named Danielle Cummings or
Cunningham. Because this dispute is not material to resolution of this case, the Court adopts
the nomenclature used by the Magistrate Judge, and will refer to the probation officer as
three year jail sentence “contemplating how much fun it’s going to be watching the
judge lose some of this Relatives when I get out.” (Id.) Defendant Mahoney brought
the letters to the Deputy District Attorney, who filed charges against Plaintiff for
retaliation against a judge. (ECF No. 28-9 at 4.) Plaintiff was convicted on those
charges and sentenced to ten additional years in prison. (Rec. at 4.)
In this action, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant’s seizure of the Cunningham Letter
violated his First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Compl. pp. 7-9.) Plaintiff
filed his Motion for Summary Judgment on all claims on April 3, 2013. (ECF No. 25.)
Defendant filed her Motion for Summary Judgment on April 9, 2013. (ECF No. 28.)
Both Motions were referred to Magistrate Judge Tafoya for a recommendation on the
disposition, which was filed on February 21, 2014. (ECF No. 50.) Plaintiff has filed an
objection to the Recommendation. (ECF No. 51.)
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
When a Magistrate Judge issues a recommendation on a dispositive matter,
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(3) requires that the District Judge “determine de
novo any part of the magistrate judge’s [recommendation] that has been properly
objected to.” FED . R. CIV. P. 72(b)(3). An objection is proper if it is filed within fourteen
days of the Magistrate Judge’s recommendations and specific enough to enable the
“district judge to focus attention on those issues—factual and legal—that are at the
heart of the parties’ dispute.” United States v. 2121 East 30th Street, 73 F.3d 1057,
1059 (10th Cir. 1996) (citing Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 147 (1985)). In the absence
of a timely and specific objection, “the district court may review a magistrate . . .
[judge’s] report under any standard it deems appropriate.” Summers v. Utah, 927 F.2d
1165, 1167 (10th Cir. 1991) (citing Thomas, 474 U.S. at 150); see also FED . R. CIV. P.
72 Advisory Committee’s Note (“When no timely objection is filed, the court need only
satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record.”).
In addition, Plaintiff is proceeding pro se; thus, the Court must liberally construe
his pleadings. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972). The Court, however,
cannot act as advocate for Plaintiff, who must still comply with the fundamental
requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d
1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991).
Plaintiff’s objection consists of twenty-five pages of rambling complaints about
the Magistrate Judge’s Recommendation. The Court has attempted to organize
Plaintiff’s arguments into discrete categories according to his claims, each of which is
First Amendment Claim
Plaintiff argues that the Magistrate Judge applied the wrong legal standard to his
First Amendment claim by construing it as one for access to the courts instead of
retaliation. (ECF No. 51 at 8.) However, the Magistrate Judge did not characterize
Plaintiff’s First Amendment claim as challenging his access to the courts. Rather, in a
footnote, the Recommendation noted that, to the extent Plaintiff’s First Amendment
claim could possibly be construed as one challenging his access to the courts, Plaintiff
had failed to state a claim. (See Rec. at 14 n.8.)
Next, Plaintiff did not bring a First Amendment retaliation claim in this case. His
Complaint alleges that Defendant unlawfully read his outgoing mail in violation of his
right to freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment. (Compl. p. 8.) The word
retaliation does not occur in this claim. (Id.) Moreover, Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary
Judgment does not mention retaliation or discuss the elements of a First Amendment
retaliation claim. (ECF No. 25.) Because Plaintiff does not bring a retaliation claim in
this case, the Magistrate Judge did not err in failing to analyze that issue. An objection
to a Recommendation is not the appropriate way to raise a new claim in this case. See
Marshall v. Chater, 75 F.3d 1421, 1426 (10th Cir. 1996) (“Issues raised for the first time
in objections to the magistrate judge’s recommendation are deemed waived.”). Thus,
the Court will not address Plaintiff’s newly raised First Amendment retaliation claim.
With regard to the Recommendation’s substantive analysis of Plaintiff’s First
Amendment claim, which examines whether the jail’s policies on handling outgoing mail
complied with constitutional protections, the arguments raised in Plaintiff’s Objection
are the same as those raised in opposition to Defendant’s Motion for Summary
Judgment. (Compare ECF No. 51 at 9-13 with ECF No. 40 at 2-8.) The Court has
considered the issue de novo, and agrees with the Magistrate Judge’s analysis. The
Court finds that the challenged procedures, which were implemented by the Defendant
in this instance, further an important governmental interest and suppress no more
speech than necessary to protect that governmental interest. As such, the Court finds
that Plaintiff has failed to show a genuine dispute of fact as to whether Defendant
violated his First Amendment rights, and Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is
granted as to Plaintiff’s First Amendment claim.
The Recommendation found that Defendant’s warrantless seizure of Plaintiff’s
outgoing mail did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights because prisoners have no
reasonable expectation of privacy. (Rec. at 14-15.) Plaintiff vigorously objects to this
conclusion, and argues repeatedly that the Defendant violated his Fourth Amendment
rights by confiscating this letters without a warrant. (ECF No. 51 at 14-18.) In support
of his argument that prisoners do not lose their Fourth Amendment protections simply
by being imprisoned, Plaintiff cites United States v. Cohen, 796 F.2d 20 (2d Cir. 1986),
in which the court held that a pretrial detainee retained limited Fourth Amendment
rights, which protected him against warrantless cell searches by non-prison officials. In
Cohen, the entities prosecuting him conducted a cell search to obtain additional
evidence to use against him during the prosecution. Id. at 24. The Second Circuit
concluded that the pretrial detainee retained an expectation of privacy against his cell
being searched by the prosecutor. Id. At the same time, however, it noted that the
same search, if conducted by the prison authorities, would not have violated the
detainee’s Fourth Amendment rights. Id.
In this case, it is undisputed that the seizure of Plaintiff’s outgoing mail was done
by jail officials, who were concerned about security given the Plaintiff’s comments about
Judge French’s family and his request to have all of his mail—which had already left the
part of the jail where Plaintiff was housed—returned to him. As such, this case is not
similar to Cohen.
In regard to an inmate’s expectation of privacy, the Supreme Court has held that
“[a] right of privacy in traditional Fourth Amendment terms is fundamentally
incompatible with the close and continual surveillance of inmates and their cells
required to ensure institutional security and internal order.” Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S.
517, 527-28 (1984). In Hudson, the Supreme Court established that prisoners do not
have any reasonable expectation of privacy in their prison cells or in articles that they
have in their possession while in prison. Id. at 525-28. In addition, in relation to
non-privileged prison mail, the Tenth Circuit has held that its “regulation by prison
officials is ‘essentially an administrative matter in which the courts will not intervene.’”
United States v. Gordon, 168 F.3d at 1228 (citing Wilkerson v. Warden of U.S.
Reformatory, El Reno, 465 F.2d 956 (10th Cir. 1972)). In Gordon, the Tenth Circuit
found that an individual sending non-privileged, non-legal mail to an inmate had no
reasonable expectation of privacy in that mail, as the prison regulations provided that
such mail may be inspected at any time. Id. Likewise, in United States v. Walton, 935
F. Supp. 1161, 1164-65 (D. Kan. 1996), the court held that a prisoner had no
reasonable expectation of privacy in non-legal, non-privileged mail once he gave it to a
prison official to deliver.
Given this case law, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to show that he had a
legitimate expectation of privacy in the Cunningham Letter once he turned it over to jail
officials to be mailed out. A prisoner asserting a Fourth Amendment violation has the
burden to show an expectation of privacy in the item wrongfully seized, and this
expectation of privacy is an essential element of the claim. See United States v.
Conway, 73 F.3d 975, 979 (10th Cir. 1995). Because Plaintiff cannot show that he had
an expectation of privacy in the Cunningham Letter, summary judgment in Defendant’s
favor is appropriate on the Fourth Amendment claim.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights to
procedural due process of the law by failing to obtain a search warrant before opening
the Cunningham Letter. (Compl. at 9.) The Recommendation found that Plaintiff had
not shown a Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process violation because he had
not established that he had been deprived of any property or liberty interest. (Rec. at
16.) The Magistrate Judge noted that she had already found that the jail’s mail
regulations were reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest. (Id.)
In his objection, Plaintiff again argues about whether his Fourth Amendment
rights were violated by the seizure of the letter. As the Court has held, Plaintiff did not
have an expectation of privacy in the letter once it was given to jail officials for delivery.
As such, Plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment claims cannot be built off the back of an
alleged Fourth Amendment violation.
Plaintiff also contends that his right to correspond in uncensored
communications is a liberty interest under the Fourteenth Amendment. (ECF No. 51 at
21.) Due process guarantees apply only when an individual is deprived of life, liberty
or property. In Sandin v. Conner, 115 S.Ct. 2293 (1995), the Supreme Court clarified
the circumstances under which a liberty interest will be implicated within the prison
setting. Liberty interests are generally limited to freedom from action which “imposes
atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of
prison life” or action that “will inevitably affect the duration of [a] sentence”. Id. at 2300.
Inspecting an inmate’s non-legal mail prior to mailing does not affect the duration of his
sentence or impose an atypical and significant hardship. Regulation of prison mail
(both incoming and outgoing) is a fact of prison life, which is far from atypical. As such,
the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge’s finding that Plaintiff has failed to show that
he was deprived of a liberty interest.
Additionally, the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge’s finding that, to the
extent Plaintiff has established a liberty interest in his outgoing mail, he has failed to
show that Defendant wrongfully infringed on such interest. “An inmate’s right to receive
mail and other packages may be limited by prison regulations that are reasonably
related to legitimate penological interests.” Steffey, 461 F.3d 1218, 1222 (10th Cir.
2006). Prison security is a legitimate penological interest. The undisputed record
shows that Defendant seized the Cunningham Letter after Plaintiff asked that it be
returned to him, which implicated security issues. As such, the Court finds that Plaintiff
has failed to show that Defendant wrongfully violated any liberty interest.
In sum, Plaintiff has failed to show a genuine dispute of fact as to whether his
Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights were violated. Therefore,
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is granted as to this claim.
For the reasons set forth above, the Court ORDERS as follows:
The Magistrate Judge’s Recommendation (ECF No. 50) is ADOPTED IN FULL;
Plaintiff’s Objection (ECF No. 51) is OVERRULED;
Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 25) is DENIED;
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 28) is GRANTED; and
The Clerk shall enter judgment in favor of Defendant on all claims. Each party
shall bear his or her own costs.
Dated this 25th day of March, 2014.
BY THE COURT:
William J. Martínez
United States District Judge
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