APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
(D.C. Civil No. 95-06173)
BEFORE: GREENBERG, LEWIS and MCKEE, Circuit Judges
Submitted Under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a)
Appellant, Lorenzo Oliver, is an inmate at the Adult Diagnostic & Treatment Center at Avenel, New Jersey ("ADTC"). Oliver, acting pro se, appeals from an order of the district court granting the summary judgment motions of Appellees, the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, the Superintendent of ADTC and various individual correction officers at ADTC (collectively "Defendants"). *fn1 Oliver sought relief against the Defendants under 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 1983, alleging equal protection and due process violations and deprivation of access to the courts. We will affirm.
Oliver's section 1983 claim arises from an incident among Oliver, an ADTC corrections officer and an orange. On September 9, 1995, Sergeant Thomas Moran saw Oliver approaching the outdoor recreational area of the ADTC with an orange in his hand. Moran instructed Oliver to throw the orange away or take it back to his cell. Oliver responded, "You've got to be f---ing kidding me" and proceeded into the yard. Oliver then apparently became loud and boisterous and threw the orange into the garbage. Moran ordered Oliver to retrieve the orange from the trash and take it up to his cell. When Oliver refused to comply with this order, Moran charged him with refusing to obey an order in violation of New Jersey Administrative Code 10A:4-4.1.256.
A hearing officer found Oliver guilty on this charge and sanctioned him to a 30-day loss of recreational privileges. Oliver appealed the guilty finding through the appropriate state appellate channels, alleging a due process violation and a claim that Moran had violated his civil rights. The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, upheld the hearing officer's decision.
On December 4, 1995, Oliver filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, again alleging various civil rights violations. Specifically, Oliver alleged that Sergeant Moran had discriminated against him on the basis of race when Moran issued the disciplinary charge against Oliver for disobeying an order. *fn2 Oliver also alleged that officers at ADTC had on three separate occasions returned his outgoing mail to him without mailing it and on at least one occasion had opened his outgoing mail. *fn3 In his complaint, Oliver did not allege any actual injury caused by the Defendants' alleged interference with his mail.
The Defendants moved for partial summary judgment on the claims arising directly from the orange incident, arguing that those claims were barred by the doctrine of res judicata. The district court granted the Defendants' motion, finding that the New Jersey courts had already adjudicated Oliver's due process and equal protection claims. Oliver v. Fauver, Civ. No. 95-6173, slip op. at 7-8 (D.N.J. Aug. 16, 1996) ("[I]t is evident that [Oliver] seeks to relitigate a claim that has been finally adjudicated in the state court system.").
Soon after the district court's entry of summary judgment in favor of the Defendants, they filed another motion for summary judgment on Oliver's remaining claim relating to the Defendants' alleged interference with his access to the courts. Again, the district court granted the Defendants' motion. Relying on the Supreme Court's recent opinion in Lewis v. Casey, 116 S. Ct. 2174, 2179 (1996), the district court held that Oliver could not prevail on his access-to-the-courts claim because he had failed to allege actual injury caused by the alleged interference. Oliver v. Fauver, Civ. No. 95-6173, letter op. at 2 (D.N.J. Sept. 13, 1996). The court further noted that, notwithstanding ...