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Bliss v. Hamilton

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

February 13, 2018

RONALD BLISS, Plaintiff,
v.
CASEY HAMILTON, JOE ALLBAUGH, and JOYCERIE AZARIAN, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          GREGORY K. FRIZZELL, CHIEF JUDGE

         On July 28, 2017, Plaintiff, a pro se prisoner presently in custody at William S. Key Correctional Center in Fort Supply, Oklahoma, filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Dkt. 1). His amended motion to proceed in forma pauperis (Dkt. 7) was granted on September 11, 2017, and the initial partial filing fee was paid on October 5, 2017 (Dkt. 12).

         Plaintiff brings this action under the authority of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking monetary and injunctive relief for alleged constitutional violations during his incarceration at Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center (NEOCC), a Department of Corrections (“DOC”) facility located in Vinita, Oklahoma. The three defendants are Casey Hamilton, NEOCC Warden; Joe Allbaugh, DOC Director; and Joycerie Azarian, NEOCC Law Library Supervisor.

         Screening/Dismissal Standards

         Federal courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must identify any cognizable claim and dismiss any claim which is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must present factual allegations, assumed to be true, that “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. A court must accept all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true, even if doubtful in fact, and must construe the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id. at 555. Nonetheless, “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a [plausible] claim of entitlement to relief, ” the cause of action should be dismissed. Id. at 558. Twombly articulated the pleading standard for all civil actions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009). The court applies the same standard of review for dismissals under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) that is employed for Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1217-18 (10th Cir. 2007).

         A pro se plaintiff's complaint must be broadly construed under this standard. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). The generous construction to be given to the pro se litigant's allegations “does not relieve the plaintiff of the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). Notwithstanding a pro se plaintiff's various mistakes or misunderstandings of legal doctrines or procedural requirements, “if a court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so . . . .” Id. A reviewing court need not accept “mere conclusions characterizing pleaded facts.” Bryson v. City of Edmond, 905 F.2d 1386, 1390 (10th Cir. 1990); see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (“While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” (quotations and citations omitted)). The court “will not supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiff's complaint or construct a legal theory on a plaintiff's behalf.” Whitney v. New Mexico, 113 F.3d 1170, 1173-74 (10th Cir. 1997).

         Motion for Appointment of Counsel

         On September 14, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion for appointment of counsel (Dkt. 11). The Court has discretion to appoint an attorney to represent an indigent plaintiff where, under the totality of the circumstances, the denial of counsel would result in a fundamentally unfair proceeding. McCarthy v. Weinberg, 753 F.2d 836, 839-40 (10th Cir. 1985). The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has stated that “if the plaintiff has a colorable claim then the district court should consider the nature of the factual issues raised in the claim and the ability of the plaintiff to investigate the crucial facts.” Rucks v. Boergermann, 57 F.3d 978, 979 (10th Cir. 1995) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). After reviewing the merits of Plaintiff's case, the nature of the factual issues involved, Plaintiff's ability to investigate the crucial facts, the probable type of evidence, Plaintiff's capability to present his case, and the complexity of the legal issues, see Rucks, 57 F.3d at 979; McCarthy, 753 F.2d at 838-40; Maclin v. Freake, 650 F.2d 885, 887-89 (7th Cir. 1981), Plaintiff's request for appointment of counsel is denied. Motion for Extension of Time to Pay Initial Partial Filing Fee On October 6, 2017, Plaintiff submitted a letter requesting an extension of time to pay the initial partial filing fee for this action, which the Court construed as a motion for extension of time for this purpose (Dkt. 13). The record shows that the initial partial filing fee was paid on October 5, 2017 (Dkt. 12). Therefore, Plaintiff's motion for extension of time to pay the initial partial filing fee is deemed moot.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff states the nature of his case as follows:

On July 20, 2017, by virtue of authority vested by Defendant Allbaugh, suspended Plaintiff's law library privileges for (30) days. Which encompasses a properly notified and verifiable court deadline, which pertains to the Okla. Dept. of Corrections, and is due to expire August 12, 2017, within the (30) days. It is Plaintiff's dire beliefs that this is done because of the lawsuit and total disregard to Plaintiff's constitutional rights of access to the courts, and not because of a violation of OP-030117, I.A.4 as claimed.

(Dkt. 1 at 3).

         PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

         Plaintiff alleges in Count I of his complaint that he was denied access to the courts pursuant to a letter he received from Defendant Warden Casey Hamilton, dated July 20, 2017 (Dkt. 1 at 3, 6). The letter was a formal notification of a 30-day law library restriction because of Plaintiff's violation of inmate correspondence guidelines (Dkt. 1 at 6). The letter also advised that if Plaintiff required ...


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