United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
September 8, 2005.
CHARLES TURIANO, Plaintiff,
JEFFREY BEARD, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: SYLVIA RAMBO, Senior District Judge
Plaintiff, Charles Turiano, an inmate at the State Correctional
Institution in Huntingdon ("SCI-Huntingdon"), Pennsylvania,
commenced this pro se action with a civil rights Complaint
filed pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Named as
Defendants are Secretary of Corrections Jeffrey Beard, and
SCI-Huntingdon Superintendent Raymond Lawler. Plaintiff claims
that SCI-Huntingdon has inadequate legal assistance for its
inmates, resulting in a denial of access to the courts. For the
following reasons, the complaint will be dismissed, without
prejudice, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
Plaintiff's complaint will be dismissed as legally frivolous
under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (the "Act"), under the
provisions of Section 1915A. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The Act established new procedures for reviewing
prisoner civil rights complaints. Under Section 1915A, the court
is required to screen civil complaints by prisoners who seek
redress from a governmental entity, or employees or officers of a
governmental entity, and must "dismiss the complaint . . . if the
complaint (1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted. . . ."
28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). The dismissal requirement applies equally to cases that
are factually, as well as legally, frivolous. Neitzke v.
Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989).
An action is legally frivolous if it is based upon an
indisputably meritless legal theory. Wilson v. Rackmill,
878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989). Indisputably meritless legal
theories are those "in which it is . . . readily apparent that
the plaintiff's complaint lacks an arguable basis in law. . . ."
Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir. 1990). "[T]he
frivolousness determination is a discretionary one," and trial
courts "are in the best position" to determine when a complaint
is appropriate for summary dismissal. Denton v. Hernandez,
504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992).
To state a viable § 1983 claim, Plaintiff must establish (1)
that the alleged wrongful conduct was committed by a person
acting under color of state law, and (2) that the conduct
deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured
by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Nicini v.
Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000). Both elements must be present to sustain a § 1983 action.
Because Plaintiff fails to satisfy the second requirement, his
claim lacks merit.
The constitutional principle implicated by Plaintiff's
complaint is the right of access to the courts. It is
well-settled that prison inmates have a constitutional right of
meaningful access to law libraries, legal materials, or legal
services. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821-25 (1977). Failure
to provide inmates with legal research material or trained legal
assistance can establish a constitutional violation. Gluth v.
Kangas, 951 F.2d 1504, 1507 (9th Cir. 1991). However, "Bounds
did not create an abstract, freestanding right to a law library
or legal assistance. . . ." Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343,
351-54 (1996). "The right that Bounds acknowledged was the
(already well-established) right of access to the courts. . . .
[However,] it stressed that [access to law library facilities]
was merely `one constitutionally acceptable method to assure
meaningful access to the courts." Lewis, 518 U.S. at 350-51.
In addition, the right of access to the courts does not extend
to every imaginable area of legal endeavor.
"Bounds does not guarantee inmates to transform
themselves into litigating engines capable of filing
everything from shareholder derivative actions to
slip-and-fall claims. The tools it requires to be
provided are those that the inmates need in order to
attack their sentences, directly or collaterally, and
in order to challenge the conditions of their
confinement. Impairment of any other litigating capacity is simply one of the incidental (and
perfectly constitutional) consequences of conviction
Lewis, 518 U.S. at 355.
In order to set forth a viable claim under Bounds, a
plaintiff must allege an actual injury to his litigation efforts;
to establish actual injury, an inmate plaintiff must demonstrate
that a non-frivolous legal claim had been frustrated or was being
impeded. Id. at 349. This pleading requirement of actual injury
stems "from the doctrine of standing. . . . [I]t is the role of
courts to provide relief to claimants . . . who have suffered, or
will imminently suffer, actual harm. . . ." Id.
Although Plaintiff concedes that SCI-Huntingdon "maintains a
law library with an extensive collection of law books, statutes,
reporters, reference books and computer-generated legal
information" (Doc. 1 at 3), he challenges the sufficiency of
assistance to enable prisoners to utilize the available
resources. Plaintiff's allegations focus on the general prison
population at SCI-Huntingdon, and he argues that a prison policy,
directive 007, provides legal assistance only to "eligible
inmates," and any "prisoner who is not an `eligible inmate' . . .
is not entitled to any legal assistance whatsoever." (Doc. 1 at
3.) Plaintiff states that a prisoner who reads at a ninth-grade
level would not be considered eligible and thus would not qualify
for any legal assistance. (Id.) However, Plaintiff does not
allege that this limitation has directly affected Plaintiff in his litigation efforts, and thus fails to
satisfy the actual injury requirement.
To the contrary, Plaintiff appears to have been largely
successful in his legal actions at SCI-Huntingdon. "While
confined at [SCI-Huntingdon], Plaintiff litigated a civil rights
action. . . . Because he received adequate assistance, . . . he
was able to bring the matter to a successful resolution." (Id.
at 4.) "Plaintiff has received advice and assistance, including
the drafting of his grievances and this initial pleading. . . .
Absent that advice and assistance, however, he would never have
been able to bring this matter to the court's attention." (Id.
Further, Plaintiff alleges that his lack of assistance
precluded him from filing a claim challenging worker conditions
at the prison garment plant. (Id. at 4.) However, Plaintiff is
not working at that facility (Id.) and thus is not personally
affected by the conditions. Therefore, Plaintiff lacks standing
to raise the underlying claim and has not been injured by his
inability to file such an action.
Plaintiff does allege that he suffered injury when his
challenge to a parole denial was dismissed because he did not
have adequate assistance. However, Plaintiff "can read and is a
high school graduate." (Id.) Therefore, he is sufficiently
capable of utilizing the prison library facilities that are
available. The court is convinced that the library facilities
that Plaintiff describes are more than adequate to satisfy the requirements of Bounds, and Plaintiff fails to demonstrate any
impediment that he faces personally. Thus, Plaintiff fails to
show that he has been denied a right of access to the courts.
Consequently, Plaintiff fails to identify any recognized right,
privilege, or immunity secured by statute or the Constitution
that has been abridged by the Defendants' conduct. Thus,
Plaintiff has failed to satisfy the second prerequisite for a §
1983 action, and even the most liberal and accommodating
interpretation of the Plaintiff's complaint will not redeem the
pleading. "[I]t is . . . readily apparent that the plaintiff's
complaint lacks an arguable basis in law. . . ." Roman v.
Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Sultenfuss v.
Snow, 894 F.2d 1277, 1278 (11th Cir. 1990))
Since Plaintiff's complaint is "based on an indisputably
meritless legal theory" it will be dismissed, without prejudice,
as legally frivolous. Wilson, 878 F.2d at 774. Under the
circumstances, this court is confident that service of process is
not only unwarranted, but would waste the increasingly scarce
judicial resources that § 1915A is designed to preserve. See
Roman, 904 F.2d at 195 n. 3. III. Conclusion.
Since Plaintiff has not alleged actual injury resulting from
Defendants' policies, he has not been deprived of his right of
access to the courts and he has failed to allege a deprivation of
a right, privilege, or immunity impaired by Defendants' actions.
Therefore, Plaintiff's claim will be dismissed, without
prejudice, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. An appropriate order will
AND NOW, THEREFORE, in accordance with the foregoing
memorandum, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:
1. The complaint (Doc.1) is DISMISSED, without prejudice, as
frivolous, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
2. The Clerk of Court shall close this case.
3. Any appeal taken from this order will be deemed frivolous,
without probable cause, and not taken in good faith.
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