Maldonado v. Jacksonville Sheriff's Office et al
ORDER dismissing Plaintiff's Amended Complaint without prejudice subject to his right to file an amended complaint by May 15, 2018; directing the Clerk to send Plaintiff a Civil Rights Complaint Form. Signed by Judge Brian J. Davis on 4/11/2018. (KLC)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
SAMUEL ISA MALDONADO,
Case No. 3:17-cv-1083-J-39JBT
JACKSONVILLE SHERIFF’S OFFICE, et al.,
Plaintiff, a pretrial detainee at the Duval County Jail, initiated this action by filing a
pro se Civil Rights Complaint (Doc. 1) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff has moved to
proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 2). At this Court’s direction, Plaintiff filed an amended
complaint on November 2, 2017 (Doc. 6; Amended Complaint). Plaintiff names as
defendants The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO), Sheriff Mike Williams, Correctional
Officer J.M. Perkins, and a John Doe. Plaintiff alleges that “several” letters marked “legal
mail” were opened and read without a warrant, in violation of the Fourth Amendment and
18 U.S.C. §§ 1702 and 1703. Amended Complaint at 3, 6. Specifically, he asserts that
Defendant Perkins “censored [his] legal mail without a warrant or Defendant Mike
Williams instructed Defendant John [D]oe to open and censor [his] mail.” Alternatively,
Plaintiff alleges the JSO has a policy of opening and reading inmate legal mail in the
absence of a warrant. Id. at 6. Plaintiff provides as an exhibit to his Amended Complaint
copies of four envelopes, which bear a stamp that reads “CENSORED,” and a letter from
JSO responding to his complaint that a member of the Department engaged in
misconduct. See Amended Complaint Ex. (Doc. 6-1). All four envelopes are addressed
to the Clerk of Court and are dated. On two of the envelopes, Plaintiff wrote “legal mail.”
Pursuant to this Court’s screening obligation under the Prison Litigation Reform
Act, a district court shall dismiss a complaint if the court determines that the action is
frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See 28
U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). The standard to assess a complaint under § 1915A(b)(1) is the
same standard applied when ruling on motions to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6),
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d 1483, 1490 (11th Cir.
1997); see also Alba v. Montford, 517 F.3d 1249, 1252 (11th Cir. 2008). “To survive a
motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In reviewing a pro se
plaintiff’s pleadings, a court must liberally construe the plaintiff’s allegations. See Haines
v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Bingham v. Thomas, 654 F.3d 1171, 1175 (11th
Cir. 2011). However, the duty of a court to construe pro se pleadings liberally does not
require the court to serve as “de facto counsel” for the plaintiff. Freeman v. Sec’y, Dept.
of Corr., 679 F. App’x 982, 982 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing GJR Invs., Inc. v. Cty. Of Escambia,
132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998)).
Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is subject to dismissal under the Court’s screening
obligations because he has failed to state a claim. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. §
1983, a plaintiff must allege that (1) the defendant deprived him of a right secured under
the United States Constitution or federal law, and (2) such deprivation occurred under
color of state law. Salvato v. Miley, 790 F.3d 1286, 1295 (11th Cir. 2015); Bingham, 654
F.3d at 1175. More than conclusory and vague allegations are required to state a cause
of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See L.S.T., Inc., v. Crow, 49 F.3d 679, 684 (11th Cir.
1995) (per curiam); Fullman v. Graddick, 739 F.2d 553, 556-57 (11th Cir. 1984). In the
absence of a federal constitutional deprivation or violation of a federal right, a plaintiff
cannot sustain a cause of action. Plaintiff asserts Defendants opened and read his mail
without obtaining a warrant to do so, thereby violating the Fourth Amendment and criminal
statutes prohibiting obstruction, delay, or destruction of mail. Amended Complaint at 5-6.
Plaintiff fails to state a cause of action to the extent he premises his claims on criminal
mail tampering statutes. The statutes Plaintiff cites in his Amended Complaint, 18 U.S.C.
§§ 1702 and 1703, provide for criminal penalties (fine or imprisonment), not private
causes of action. See, e.g., Adams v. Ellis, 197 F.2d 483, 485 (5th Cir. 1952) (recognizing
no private right of action is provided under § 1702); Woods v. McGuire, 954 F.2d 388,
391 (6th Cir. 1992) (recognizing no private right of action is provided under § 1703).
With respect to Plaintiff’s assertion of a Fourth Amendment violation, pre-trial
detainees and prisoners enjoy a lowered expectation of privacy than those who are not
incarcerated. See Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 527-28 (1984) (“[T]he Fourth
Amendment’s proscription against unreasonable searches does not apply within the
confines of the prison cell.”); Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 546, 556-57 (1979) (holding
the warrantless search of a pretrial detainee’s “room” did not violate the Fourth
Amendment). While interference with an inmate’s legal mail may, in some instances,
support a claim brought under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, reading an inmate’s
mail does not give rise to a claim under the Fourth Amendment. See Denton v. Stokes,
620 F. App’x 712, 714 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Hudson, 468 U.S. at 526). This Court’s
sister court recognized in a factually-similar case that a prisoner failed to state a cause of
action under the Fourth Amendment when he alleged that a jail deputy opened his legal
mail outside of his presence. See Rix v. Wells, No. 8:08-CV-1728-T-30MAP, 2008 WL
4279661, at *1-2 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 16, 2008) (“To the extent Plaintiff claims Defendants
violated his constitutional rights by opening his legal mail, his claim is properly analyzed
under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”).
When a court determines that a complaint is subject to dismissal pursuant to its
screening function under § 1915A(b)(1), it generally should grant a pro se plaintiff leave
to amend “unless a more carefully drafted complaint could not state a claim.”
Bank v. Pitt, 928 F.2d 1108, 1112 (11th Cir. 1991), overruled in part by Wagner v. Daewoo
Heavy Indus. Am. Corp., 314 F.3d 541, 542 (11th Cir. 2002) (en banc). While Plaintiff has
not presently stated a cognizable claim under § 1983, the Court is unable to conclude
that he could not potentially state a claim. Thus, the Court will grant him one opportunity
to file an amended complaint. If Plaintiff chooses to file an amended complaint, he should
keep in mind the following legal parameters. First, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is not
a legal entity amenable to suit. Whether a party has the capacity to be sued is determined
by the law of the state in which the district court sits. Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210,
1214–15 (11th Cir. 1992) (stating that certain subdivisions of local or county governments,
such as sheriff's departments and police departments, generally are not legal entities
subject to suit). “A correctional facility or the jail is not a proper defendant in a case
brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Monroe v. Jail, No. 2:15-cv-729-FtM-99MRM, 2015 WL
7777521, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 3, 2015) (citing Chapter 30, Florida Statutes); accord
Mellen v. Florida, No. 3:13-cv-1233-J-34PDB, 2014 WL 5093885, at *8 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 9,
Second, to state an access-to-courts claim under the First and Fourteenth
Amendments, a plaintiff must allege an actual injury. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 34950 (1996); Barbour v. Haley, 471 F.3d 1222, 1225 (11th Cir. 2006). “Actual injury may be
established by demonstrating that an inmate's efforts to pursue a nonfrivolous claim were
frustrated or impeded . . . .” Barbour, 471 F.3d at 1225 (citations omitted). The plaintiff
must show that an underlying nonfrivolous claim was raised, or would have been raised,
in connection with a direct appeal, a collateral attack on her conviction, or a civil rights
action. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 354-57; Cranford v. Nevada Dep’t of Corr., 398 F. App’x 540,
546-47 (11th Cir. 2010). To state a free speech claim under the First and Fourteenth
Amendments, a plaintiff must allege more than an isolated incident of tampering with legal
mail. Rather, a plaintiff must allege defendants engaged in a “pattern and practice” of
opening his legal mail outside of his presence. See Al-Amin v. Smith, 511 F.3d 1317,
1334 (11th Cir. 2008).
In light of the foregoing, Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint will be dismissed, pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), without prejudice subject to his right to file an amended
complaint including sufficient factual allegations to support a cognizable claim under §
Therefore, it is now
Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (Doc. 6) is hereby DISMISSED WITHOUT
PREJUDICE subject to his right to file an amended complaint.
The Clerk shall send Plaintiff a Civil Rights Complaint Form for his use if he
elects to file an amended complaint.
If Plaintiff elects to file an amended complaint, he must do so no later than
May 15, 2018. Plaintiff should place this case number on the amended complaint and he
should write “Second Amended Complaint” on the top of the form. He should also ensure
that he signs the amended complaint and follows the instructions included both in this
Order and on the Civil Rights Complaint Form. Failure to do so may result in dismissal of
this action. When submitting an amended complaint, Plaintiff should submit a service
copy of the complaint for each named defendant. If Plaintiff chooses not to file an
amended complaint by May 15, 2018, the Court will direct the Clerk to dismiss the case
and close the file.
DONE AND ORDERED in Jacksonville, Florida, this 11th day of April, 2018.
c: Samuel Maldonado
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