ROSS v. YORK COUNTY JAIL
REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION re 1 Complaint filed by JOHN P ROSS. Objections to R&R due by 12/21/2017. By MAGISTRATE JUDGE JOHN C. NIVISON. (CWP)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MAINE
JOHN P. ROSS,
YORK COUNTY JAIL,
RECOMMENDED DECISION AFTER SCREENING COMPLAINT
PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e), 1915A
In this action, Plaintiff John Ross, an inmate in the custody of the Maine Department
of Corrections, alleges that an officer of the York County Jail did not permit Plaintiff to
mail his personal property to an out-of-state recipient before he was transferred to the
Maine State Prison, and informed Plaintiff that his property would be destroyed if someone
did not retrieve it. Plaintiff commenced this action to recover his property or the value of
Plaintiff filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 4), which
application the Court granted. (ECF No. 5.) In accordance with the in forma pauperis
statute, a preliminary review of Plaintiff’s complaint is appropriate.
28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2). Additionally, Plaintiff’s complaint is subject to screening “before docketing,
if feasible or … as soon as practicable after docketing,” because he is “a prisoner seek[ing]
redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.” 28
U.S.C. § 1915A(a).
Following a review of Plaintiff’s complaint, I recommend the Court dismiss the
complaint without prejudice.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The federal in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, is designed to ensure
meaningful access to the federal courts for those persons unable to pay the costs of bringing
an action. When a party is proceeding in forma pauperis, however, “the court shall dismiss
the case at any time if the court determines,” inter alia, that the action is “frivolous or
malicious” or “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted” or “seeks monetary
relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
“Dismissals [under § 1915] are often made sua sponte prior to the issuance of process, so
as to spare prospective defendants the inconvenience and expense of answering such
complaints.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989).
In addition to the review contemplated by § 1915, Plaintiff’s complaint is subject to
screening under the Prison Litigation Reform Act because Plaintiff currently is incarcerated
and seeks redress from governmental entities and officers. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), (c).
The § 1915A screening requires courts to “identify cognizable claims or dismiss the
complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint (1) is frivolous, malicious, or
fails to state a claim …; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from
such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).
When considering whether a complaint states a claim for which relief may be
granted, courts must assume the truth of all well-plead facts and give the plaintiff the
benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom. Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640
F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
Although a pro se plaintiff’s complaint is subject to “less stringent standards than
formal pleadings drafted by lawyers,” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), this is
“not to say that pro se plaintiffs are not required to plead basic facts sufficient to state a
claim,” Ferranti v. Moran, 618 F.2d 888, 890 (1st Cir. 1980). To allege a civil action in
federal court, it is not enough for a plaintiff merely to allege that a defendant acted
unlawfully; a plaintiff must affirmatively allege facts that identify the manner by which the
defendant subjected the plaintiff to a harm for which the law affords a remedy. Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
Plaintiff, who is presently incarcerated at the Downeast Correctional Facility (see
ECF No. 7), alleges that he entered state custody at the York County Jail.1 Subsequently,
Plaintiff was transferred to the Maine State Prison. According to Plaintiff, prior to the
transfer, an officer at the York County Jail asked him to complete certain paper work to
arrange for someone to pick up his personal property. Plaintiff alleges he told the officer
that because he was not a Maine resident, he did not have anyone who could retrieve the
The factual background is drawn from Plaintiff’s complaint. (ECF No. 1.)
Plaintiff was transferred without making any arrangements for the disposition of his
property. Plaintiff alleges the property is now lost because he was informed it would be
destroyed if he did not make arrangements within 30 days of his transfer, which period has
now expired. Plaintiff attached to his complaint a copy of a motion for the return of
property, which motion Plaintiff evidently filed in York County Superior Court in July
2017. Plaintiff’s property consisted of jewelry, articles of clothing, and a cell phone.
Plaintiff filed this action against the York County Jail. While the jail facility is not
a proper defendant, the Court can reasonably construe the complaint to assert a claim
against York County. Plaintiff, however, has not identified a cause of action on which he
seeks to recover.
“‘Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction,’ possessing ‘only that power
authorized by Constitution and statute.’” Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 256 (2013)
(quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). “It
is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the burden of
establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction.” Kokkonen, 511 U.S.
at 377 (citation omitted). “A court is duty-bound to notice, and act upon, defects in its
subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte.” Spooner v. EEN, Inc., 644 F.3d 62, 67 (1st Cir.
2011). A review of Plaintiff’s complaint fails to reveal a basis upon which this Court could
exercise either federal question jurisdiction or diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§
1331 and 1332.
Pursuant to section 1331, federal district courts “have original jurisdiction of all
civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28
U.S.C. § 1331. Plaintiff has not asserted a claim based on the United States Constitution,
a federal statute, or a federal treaty. While Plaintiff’s complaint arguably could be
construed to allege a claim for deprivation of property, the Fourteenth Amendment only
prohibits the deprivation of property without due process of law. “To establish a procedural
due process claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must [demonstrate] that [he] was deprived of a
property interest by defendants acting under color of state law and without the availability
of a constitutionally adequate process.” Maymi v. P.R. Ports Auth., 515 F.3d 20, 29 (1st
Cir. 2008). Ordinarily, a procedural due process violation is complete when a deprivation
is imposed through an established state procedure that does not comply with constitutional
procedural standards. Godin v. Machiasport Sch. Dep’t Bd. of Directors, 831 F. Supp. 2d
380, 389 – 90 (D. Me. 2011); see also Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 132 (1990) (“In
situations where the State feasibly can provide a predeprivation hearing before taking
property, it generally must do so regardless of the adequacy of a postdeprivation tort
remedy to compensate for the taking.”). Where, as here, a prisoner alleges that an
individual deprived him of property either through negligence or through intentional
misconduct (sometimes referred to as a “random, unauthorized act”), the Due Process
Clause is only violated if the state does not afford meaningful post-deprivation remedies.
Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 532 – 33 (1984) (“[W]here a loss of property is
occasioned by a random, unauthorized act by a state employee, rather than by an
established state procedure ... it is difficult to conceive of how the State could provide a
meaningful hearing before the deprivation takes place.”) (internal quotations omitted); see
also Parrat v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 543 (1981) (affirming dismissal of due process claim
where “the deprivation occurred as a result of the unauthorized failure of agents of the State
to follow established state procedure” related to the receipt of prisoner packages by mail);
Watson v. Caton, 984 F.2d 537, 541 (1st Cir. 1993) (affirming dismissal of due process
claim based on defendant’s alleged destruction of “non-allowable” property that arrived at
prison by mail, without providing prisoner notice and an opportunity to mail the property
Plaintiff alleges that an officer at the York County Jail misinformed him that he
could not mail his property to an out-of-state recipient. The officer’s alleged conduct can
be fairly characterized as conduct governed by the “random, unauthorized conduct rule.”
As explained above, the random, unauthorized act of a state employee can support a claim
within the Court’s federal question jurisdiction only if the State of Maine does not provide
a meaningful remedy for Plaintiff’s alleged injury.
The Maine Law Court has recognized that a prisoner can appeal to the state courts
from an administrative ruling made by the Department of Corrections on the prisoner’s
grievance. Fleming v. Comm’r Dep’t of Corr., 2002 ME 74, ¶ 9, 795 A.2d 692, 695 (Maine
Rule of Civil Procedure 80C(i) allows not only a review of final agency action, but also an
independent claim for damages where appropriate). In addition, under the Maine Tort
Claims Act, governmental entities are liable for property losses arising from the operation
or maintenance of any public building. 14 M.R.S. § 8104-A(2). Maine law thus affords
an individual an adequate remedy for the negligent or intentional destruction of personal
property in the form of a common law conversion claim. Withers v. Hackett, 1998 ME
164, ¶ 7, 714 A.2d 798, 800. Because the circumstances do not involve the deprivation of
property as the result of an established state procedure, such as a disciplinary proceeding,
and because meaningful state remedies are available for the conversion of personal
property, Plaintiff has failed to state an actionable due process claim.
Pursuant to section 1332, federal district courts also have original jurisdiction
“where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000 … and is between
citizens of different States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). In order for Plaintiff’s claim to come
within this Court’s diversity jurisdiction, Plaintiff and Defendant must have been citizens
of different states on the date the complaint was filed. “In cases involving prisoners, the
courts presume that the prisoner remains a citizen of the state where he was domiciled
before his incarceration ….” Hall v. Curran, 599 F.3d 70, 72 (1st Cir. 2010). Plaintiff has
alleged that he was not a Maine citizen when taken into state custody. Assuming, therefore,
that Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged diversity of citizenship, Plaintiff’s state law claim
could proceed in this Court if the matter in controversy exceeds the value of $75,000.
Plaintiff has not alleged that the value of the property exceeds $75,000, and the property
items identified by Plaintiff in his complaint do not otherwise suggest an aggregate value
in excess of $75,000. Plaintiff, therefore, has not asserted a claim within the Court’s
Based on the foregoing analysis, while Plaintiff might have a claim within the
jurisdiction of the state court, Plaintiff has not asserted an actionable claim within this
Court’s subject matter jurisdiction, Accordingly, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and
28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), I recommend the Court dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint without
A party may file objections to those specified portions of a magistrate
judge's report or proposed findings or recommended decisions entered
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) for which de novo review by the district
court is sought, together with a supporting memorandum, within fourteen
(14) days of being served with a copy thereof.
Failure to file a timely objection shall constitute a waiver of the right
to de novo review by the district court and to appeal the district court's order.
/s/ John C. Nivison
U.S. Magistrate Judge
Dated this 7th day of December, 2017.
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