ALI-X v. ALL THE EMPLOYEES OF MAIL ROOM STAFFS
OPINION FILED. Signed by Chief Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 9/28/16. (js)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE
No. 12-3147 (JBS-KMW)
ALL THE EMPLOYEES OF THE MAIL
ROOM STAFFS, et al.,
KASEEM ALI-X, Plaintiff pro so
New Jersey State Prison
PO Box 861
Trenton, New Jersey 08625
ALEX ZOWIN, Deputy Attorney General
State of New Jersey, Office of the Attorney General
Hughes Justice Complex
25 Market Street
Trenton, New Jersey 08625
Attorney for Defendant Christopher Holmes
SIMANDLE, Chief District Judge:
This matter comes before the Court on Kaseem Ali-X’s
(“Plaintiff”) second motion to amend his complaint. Second
Motion to Amend, Docket Entry 57. Defendant Christopher Holmes
opposes the motion. Opposition, Docket Entry 58. This motion is
being considered on the papers pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P.
78(b). For the reasons stated below, the motion to amend the
complaint is granted in part and denied in part.
Plaintiff filed a complaint on May 29, 2012 alleging that
mail room employees in South Woods State Prison (“SWSP”) opened
his properly-marked incoming legal mail outside of his presence
and that SWSP administrators allowed subordinates to discard his
written complaints about the opening of his mail. Complaint,
Docket Entry 1. On June 8, 2012, the Court granted Plaintiff’s
in forma pauperis application and ordered service upon the named
defendants. Docket Entry 2. The Court additionally ordered
Plaintiff to submit an amended complaint naming the fictitious
defendants within 180 days. Id.
Plaintiff thereafter wrote to Defendant Christopher Holmes,
Administrator of SWSP, to request the names of the mail room
employees who were working on the specific days that he alleges
his mail was opened. Plaintiff provided a copy of this letter to
the Court. Docket Entry 3 at 2. Plaintiff also wrote to Gary
Lanigan, the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, and
Jeffrey Chiesa, the New Jersey Attorney General at that time,
requesting the names so as to serve defendants a copy of the
complaint. Docket Entry 6; Docket Entry 7 at 9. After receiving
no responses to his inquires, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Stay
Proceedings to Enforce a Judgment Pending Discovery. Docket
Entry 7. The Court permitted Plaintiff to file an amended
complaint within 30 days “naming the Administrator of South
Woods State Prison as a nominal Defendant, and naming as
Defendants John Does 1-10, who are the presently unidentified
mail room employees on the nine dates at issue.” March 4, 2013
Order, Docket Entry 8 at 3.
Plaintiff filed a proposed amended complaint on April 2,
2013, naming Holmes, John Does 1-10, and Karen Balicki, also a
SWSP administrator, as defendants. First Motion to Amend, Docket
Entry 9. The Court granted the motion and directed the Clerk’s
Office to file the amended complaint. First Amended Complaint
(“FAC”), Docket Entry 11. In its order, the Court noted that
“[a]fter the named Defendants are served and respond to the
Amended Complaint, Plaintiff will have the opportunity in due
course to seek discovery of the identities of the John Doe
Defendants and to promptly thereafter propose a Second Amended
Complaint that names them.” May 9, 2013 Order, Docket Entry 10
Defendant Holmes filed a motion to dismiss the FAC,1 and
Plaintiff moved to stay adjudication of that motion until he
could conduct discovery and amend his complaint. Motion to
Dismiss, Docket Entry 18; Motion to Stay, Docket Entry 22;
Defendant Balicki has never been served a copy of the
complaint. Notice of Unexecuted Summons, Docket Entry 13.
Motion to Stay/Amend, Docket Entry 25. The Court dismissed the
claims against Holmes in his official capacity but permitted the
individual capacity claims to proceed. April 25, 2014 Opinion,
Docket Entry 27. The Court granted Plaintiff’s motion to amend
his complaint to include a declaration dated January 28, 2014
“alleg[ing] that, from August 2011 to January 2012, he was in
the detention/administrative segregation unit (‘ASU’). While he
was in ASU, he submitted multiple ISRFs,2 personally informed
Holmes twice of the problems with opening of his mail, and
received no response to his ISRFs.” Id. at 13-14.3
Plaintiff filed this motion to amend on February 10, 2016.
In his proposed Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”), Plaintiff sets
forth the names of the relevant mail room employees. SAC ¶¶ 1034. He also adds new claims, including Fourth Amendment, access
to the courts, retaliation, cruel and unusual punishment, equal
protection, and due process claims. Defendant Holmes objects to
the amendments on the grounds of the statute of limitations and
futility of amendment. Plaintiff did not file a response to the
Inmate Remedy System Forms.
For purposes of this opinion, the First Amended Complaint is
comprised of the amended complaint filed on April 2, 2013 and
the January 28, 2014 declaration.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule 15(a) provides that a party may amend his pleading
once as a matter of course at any time before a responsive
pleading is filed. Once a responsive pleading is filed,
Petitioner may only amend his pleadings with Respondent’s
written consent or by leave of court. Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2).
Respondent does not consent to the amendment. See generally
A court may deny leave to amend a pleading where it court
finds: (1) undue delay; (2) undue prejudice to the non-moving
party; (3) bad faith or dilatory motive; or (4) futility of
amendment. Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 115 (3d Cir. 2000).
“‘Futility' means that the complaint, as amended, would fail to
state a claim upon which relief could be granted.” Id. The Court
applies the same standard of legal sufficiency as applies under
Rule 12(b)(6). “The court should freely give leave when justice
so requires.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 15(a)(2).
Defendant argues the motion should be denied on futility
grounds as the claims raised in the proposed second amended
complaint are barred by the statute of limitations and do not
relate back to the initial complaint.
A. Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations on civil rights claims is
governed by New Jersey's two-year limitations period for
personal injury. See Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 276 (1985);
Dique v. N.J. State Police, 603 F.3d 181, 185 (3d Cir. 2010).
“Under federal law, a cause of action accrues, and the statute
of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff knew or should
have known of the injury upon which its action is based.” Kach
v. Hose, 589 F.3d 626, 634 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal citations
and quotation marks omitted). “The determination of the time at
which a claim accrues is an objective inquiry; we ask not what
the plaintiff actually knew but what a reasonable person should
have known.” Id. In order for the SAC to fall within the statute
of limitations, the date of accrual can be no later than
February 10, 2014.
Here, Plaintiff alleges his injuries occurred during his
time at SWSP between 2009-2012. SAC ¶ 37. Specifically, he
alleges he filed grievances at various points in time in 2010
and 2011 concerning the wrongful opening of his legal mail.4 Id.
He also alleges he “suffered cruel and unusual punishment, while
in administrative segregation [from August 2011 to January
presence on May 24,
2010, as well as on
September 30, 2011.
his legal mail was opened outside of his
June 12, July 9, July 23, and August 13,
April 2, July 11, September 27, and
SAC ¶ 55.
2012].” Id. ¶ 48. He further alleges his mail was opened as an
act of retaliation “because Plaintiff is known for filing
Grievance complaints against the wrongdoings of prison officials
. . . .” Id. ¶ 40. It is clear from the face of the SAC that a
reasonable plaintiff would have known that he had potential
claims long before February 2014 as none of the new claims are
based on facts that have only just been learned; therefore, the
claims in the SAC are barred by the statute of limitations
unless they relate back to the original complaint.
1. Legal Mail Claims
Plaintiff seeks to amend his claims regarding the opening
of his legal mail to include the names of the prison employees
who either opened his legal mail outside of his presence or who
had knowledge of the violations and failed to intervene.5
Rule 15(c) states in relevant part that “[a]n amendment to
a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading
when: the law that provides the applicable statute of
limitations allows relation back.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(A).
New Jersey Rule 4:26–4 provides in pertinent part:
[I]f the defendant's true name is unknown to the
plaintiff, process may issue against the defendant under
These new defendants include: David McKishen, H. Ortiz, I.
Reyes, Vastano, T. Miller, C. Pierce, C. Jones, R. Charlesworth,
R. Ayars, D. Ruiz, J. Kilman, E. Brainard, J. Ginyard, Z.
Ennals, C. Williams, B. McIver, P. Davis, D. Wells, B. Malpica,
L. Vastano, J. Elbuef, J. Thompson, J. Seguinot, M. Maniscalo,
and K. Davis. SAC ¶¶ 10-34.
a fictitious name, stating it to be fictitious and adding
N.J. Ct. R. 4:26–4. “[T]here are three principal requirements to
invoke the fictitious party rule: 1) the complaint must contain
a description sufficient to identify the defendant; 2) the
plaintiff must have exercised due diligence to ascertain the
defendant's true name before and after filing the complaint; and
3) application of the fictitious party must not prejudice the
defendant.” Whichard v. Willingboro Twp., No. 13-3606, 2015 WL
5054953, at *4 (D.N.J. Aug. 26, 2015) (citing cases); see also
McGill v. John Does A-Z, 541 F. App'x 225, 227-28 (3d Cir.
The initial complaint identified the potential defendants
as SWSP mail room employees who worked in the mail room on
specific dates, sufficiently identifying those who may be liable
to Plaintiff. Furthermore, Plaintiff clearly exercised due
diligence in attempting to ascertain the true identifies prior
to the expiration of the statute of limitations. He wrote to
Defendant Holmes, Commissioner Lanigan, and former Attorney
General Chiesa in October 18, 2012 seeking the names of the
relevant mail room employees. See Motion to Stay at 5-6. Having
received no responses to his inquires, he filed a motion with
the Court. Docket Item 7. Plaintiff should not be denied the
opportunity to include potentially liable parties merely because
the State refused to disclose their names until years later.
Finally, Defendants make no argument as to how replacing the
John Doe designations with the real names would prejudice them.6
The Court therefore finds that Plaintiff has satisfied the
requirements of New Jersey’s fictitious party rule, and the mail
room defendants shall be added.
2. Other Claims
The other claims raised, with some exceptions, in the SAC
do not relate back to the original complaint.
Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement
claim is based on his time in the ASU. SAC ¶ 49. Although he
mentioned the ASU in his FAC, it was only in reference to his
interactions with Holmes and Holmes’ purported knowledge of the
legal mail issues. January 28, 2014 Declaration ¶¶ 9-10. Nothing
in the FAC sets forth a “common core of operative facts” such
that defendants would be on notice that Plaintiff intended to
challenge the conditions of his confinement in the ASU. See
Glover v. F.D.I.C., 698 F.3d 139, 146 (3d Cir. 2012) (“[I]t is
well-established that the touchstone for relation back is fair
notice . . . .”). Likewise, to the extent Plaintiff attempts to
raise a due process claim based on a disciplinary sanction from
Nothing in this opinion and order should be construed as
denying the new defendants the ability to file a motion to
dismiss based on the statute of limitations.
the law librarian, SAC ¶ 47, that claim also does not have a
common factual core with his complaints about the mail room’s
handling of his legal mail.7
Finally, Plaintiff alleges his mail was opened out of
retaliation for filing grievances against various prison
officials and in violation of his equal protection rights. SAC
¶¶ 40, 62. The fact that these claims arise out of the mail
tampering claim is insufficient for them to relate back.
“[W]here the original pleading does not give a defendant ‘fair
notice of what the plaintiff's [amended] claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests, the purpose of the statute of
limitations has not been satisfied and it is ‘not an original
pleading that [can] be rehabilitated by invoking Rule 15(c).’”
Glover, 698 F.3d at 146 (second and third alterations in
original) (quoting Baldwin Cty. Welcome Ctr. v. Brown, 466 U.S.
147, 149 n.3 (1984)). “[F]actual overlap alone is not enough,
because the original complaint must have given fair notice of
the amended claim to qualify for relation back under Rule
15(c).” Id. at 147. Here, the original complaint only alleged
the mail was opened. It is an entirely new legal theory that the
opening was retaliatory and discriminatory in nature, and
Such a claim would also likely be barred by Heck v. Humphrey,
512 U.S. 477 (1994) and Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641 (1997)
as Plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts for the Court to
infer his disciplinary charges have been overturned.
nothing in the original complaint can fairly be read to put
defendants on notice of these additional theories of liability.
“Rule 15(c) cannot save a complaint that obscures the factual
predicate and legal theory of the amended claim.” Id. at 147-48.
These claims therefore do not relate back.8
To the extent Plaintiff raises a Fourth Amendment challenge
to the opening of his mail, such a claim would relate back to
the original complaint, as would his due process challenge to
the handling of his prison grievances and any access to the
courts claim as the original complaint suffices to put
defendants on notice of these claims. Permitting amendment of
the complaint to include these claims would be futile, however.
In assessing futility under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
15, the Court uses the same standard as Rule 12(b)(6). Great W.
Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 175
(3d Cir. 2010). The Court must examine the proposed amended
pleading and determine whether, after giving Petitioner the
Even if these claims did relate back, they would still not
survive a motion to dismiss as the SAC does not set forth any
facts supporting Plaintiff’s allegations of retaliatory and
discriminatory motives. A complaint must contain “more than an
unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “Threadbare
recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere
conclusory statements do not suffice.” Id.
benefit of all reasonable inferences, the proposed amendment
states a claim for relief on its face.
1. Due Process
Plaintiff alleges defendants Balicki and Middleton violated
his due process rights by “knowingly obstructing the exhaustion
procedures under the Prison Litigation Reform Act . . . .” SAC
¶¶ 37-38; id. ¶ 46. Access to prison grievance procedures,
however, is not a constitutionally-mandated right. Glenn v.
DelBalso, 599 F. App'x 457, 459 (3d Cir. 2015). “[A]llegations
of improprieties in the handling of grievances do not state a
cognizable claim under § 1983.” Id. (citing Massey v. Helman,
259 F.3d 641, 647 (7th Cir. 2001)); see also Hoover v. Watson,
886 F. Supp. 410, 418 (D. Del.) aff'd, 74 F.3d 1226 (3d Cir.
1995) (holding that if a state elects to provide a grievance
mechanism, violations of its procedures do not give rise to a §
1983 claim). As this claim would be dismissed with prejudice as
legally deficient, it would be futile to permit the complaint to
be amended to include it.
2. Fourth Amendment
Plaintiff argues defendants violated the Fourth Amendment.
Although he does not expand on this clam, presumably he is
asserting that the opening of his mail was an unreasonable
search. The Supreme Court has held that “the Fourth Amendment
proscription against unreasonable searches does not apply within
the confines of the prison cell,” Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S.
517, 526 (1984), and numerous lower courts have held that this
applies as well to searches of a prisoner's incoming mail, see,
e.g., Mitchell v. Dupnik, 75 F.3d 517, 522 (9th Cir. 1996)
(holding that pre-trial detainee has no reasonable expectation
of privacy in cell; no Fourth Amendment violation when inmate
not present during search of legal materials); Horacek v. Grey,
2010 WL 914819 at *5 (W.D. Mich. Mar. 12, 2010); Thomas v.
Kramer, 2009 WL 937272 at *2 (E.D. Cal. Apr.7, 2009); Hall v.
Chester, 2008 WL 4657279 at *6 (D. Kan. Oct. 20, 2008); Rix v.
Wells, 2008 WL 4279661 at *2 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 16, 2008). This
claim is more appropriately addressed under the First Amendment.
See Jones v. Brown, 461 F.3d 353, 358–59 (3d Cir. 2006).
3. Access to the Courts
Plaintiff states that defendants have violated his First
and Fourteenth Amendment right to access the courts. “To
establish a cognizable [access to the courts] claim, a prisoner
must demonstrate that he has suffered an actual injury to his
ability to present a claim.” Henry v. Moore, 500 F. App'x 115,
117 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403,
415 (2002)). The relevant injury in an access to the courts
claim is the loss of a non-frivolous claim regarding Plaintiff’s
criminal conviction or the conditions of his confinement.
Christopher, 536 U.S. at 415; Monroe v. Superintendent Coal Twp.
SCI, 597 F. App'x 109, 112-13 (3d Cir. 2015).
Permitting amendment of the complaint to include an access
to the courts claim would be futile as Plaintiff has not alleged
that the opening of his mail caused him to lose a non-frivolous
claim. The claim would therefore have to be dismissed, making
For the reasons stated above, the motion to amend is
granted only to the extent that the names of the mail room
employees shall replace the John Doe defendants. The motion is
otherwise denied as barred by the statute of limitations and as
An accompanying Order will be entered.
September 28, 2016
s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE
Chief U.S. District Judge
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