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Shelton v. Martin

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 19, 2019

RODNEY SHELTON, Plaintiff,
v.
C.O. MARTIN, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         Rodney Shelton, a prisoner currently incarcerated at SCI-Rockview, has filed an amended complaint asserting claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on the destruction of personal property at SCI-Graterford, and the resulting denial of Shelton's access to the court. (ECF No. 7.) For the reasons set forth herein, the Court will dismiss Shelton's claims with prejudice.

         I

         According to Shelton's original Complaint, he was an inmate at SCI-Graterford on June 29, 2018. He alleges that on that date, Correction Officer Martin disposed of items including “case discovery, testimony notes, exhibits, personal hand-written notes and 5 post dated pictures, ” and that Defendant John Doe spoke in a manner suggesting that inmates' property would be sold at auction. (ECF No. 2 at 4.)[1] Shelton claimed that, as a result of the loss of his legal materials, he was unable to pursue claims seeking to prove his innocence. (Id. at 5.) Shelton filed a grievance based on the loss of his property, but the grievance was denied. (Id. at 7.) Accordingly, he filed this lawsuit against Martin and John Doe to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his First Amendment right to access the court and his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. (Id. at 3.)

         After granting Shelton leave to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court screened the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 1915(e)(2)(B). The Court concluded that Shelton had failed to state a claim for denial of access to the courts because Shelton's Complaint did not describe the underlying cause of action, “an element that must be described in the complaint.” Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 02, 415 (2002);[2] (see also ECF No. 5 at 3-4.) However, the Court granted Shelton leave to file an amended complaint. (Id. at 4; ECF No. 6.)

         Shelton has filed an Amended Complaint, again naming Defendant Martin and a John Doe Defendant. (ECF No. 7.) He again advances Fourteenth Amendment Due Process and First Amendment access to the court claims based on the destruction of his legal materials, including photographs and contact information. (Id. at 3, 5, 12.) He alleges he lost “case discovery, testimony notes, exhibits, personal hand-written notes, and over 30 post dated pictures that were very important and were to be newly discovered evidence.” (Id. at 12.) He claims that the loss of these materials “has obstructed [his] opportunity to litigate a claim to challenge [his] sentence in the court of law, ” and “inhibited [his] opportunity to present a past legal claim that is ‘nonfrivolous' and ‘arguable.'” (Id.) He seeks compensatory damages. (Id. at 5.)

         II

         Because Shelton is proceeding in forma pauperis, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) applies. This requires the Court to dismiss the Amended Complaint if it fails to state a claim. Whether the Amended Complaint fails to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), see Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999), which requires the Court to determine whether the complaint contains “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) (quotations omitted). Conclusory allegations do not suffice. Id. As Shelton is proceeding pro se, the Court must construe his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).

         III

         “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         A

         Notwithstanding the Court's dismissal with prejudice of his due process claim based on the deprivation of his personal property, (see ECF No. 5 at 2-3, ) Shelton purports to renew the claim in his Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 7 at 12.) The Court can only reiterate that, because the prison grievance system and Pennsylvania law provide Shelton with adequate remedies, there is no basis for a due process claim and the claim, once again, will be dismissed with prejudice.

         B

         Shelton's Amended Complaint includes an amended access to courts claim. (ECF No. 7 at 4, 5, 12.) “Under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, prisoners retain a right of access to the courts.” Monroe v. Beard, 536 F.3d 198, 205 (3d Cir. 2008). “A prisoner making an access-to-the-courts claim is required to show that the denial of access caused actual injury.” Jackson v. Whalen, 568 Fed.Appx. 85, 87 (3d Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (quoting Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 350 (1996)). In other words, a prisoner claiming that he was denied access to the courts must allege an injury traceable to the conditions of which he complains. Diaz v. Holder, 532 Fed.Appx. 61, 63 (3d Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (affirming dismissal of denial of access claims where plaintiff failed to tie alleged deficiencies in library to harm in underlying action). In general, an actual injury occurs when a prisoner demonstrates that a “nonfrivolous” and “arguable” claim was lost because of the denial of access to the courts. Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 415 (2002). “[T]he underlying cause of action, . . . is an element that must be described ...


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