United States District Court, D. North Dakota
plaintiff, Travis Andrew Michel (“Michel”)
initiated the above-entitled action pro se on
November 9, 2016, with the submission of an application to
proceed in forma pauperis, which the court granted,
and a complaint. On November 21, 2016, he filed notice of his
consent to the undersigned. On December 19, 2016, Michel
filed what the court construed as a motion to substitute
Capt. Lisa Wicks in place of the Burleigh County Detention
Center as the named defendant in this action. The court
granted the motion. This matter is now before the court for
initial review as mandated by 28 U.S. § 1915A.
was a pretrial detainee at the Burleigh County Detention
Center when he initiated this action in November 2016. He
asserts in his complaint that staff at the Burleigh County
Detention Center opened legal mail outside of his presence.
Specifically, he alleges:
They (Jarod C.O) brought me my legal mail already opened. It
was not opened in front of me. Nurse Amanda witnessed it and
it is also on camera Sgt. Michael I talked to on Attorney
Line. I also asked for a copy of grievance and not received
No. 5) (errors in original). He seeks to recover $250, 000 in
STANDARD GOVERNING INITIAL REVIEW
Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”)
requires an initial court screening of all civil actions
brought by prisoners that relate to prison conditions or that
seek redress from a governmental entity, officer, or
employee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The screening is
required even when the prisoner has paid the filing fee.
Lewis v. Estes, Case No. 00-1304, 242 F.3d 375
(table); 2000 WL 1673382, at *1 (8th Cir. Nov. 8, 2000)
(unpublished per curiam). The purpose of the
screening requirement is to weed out claims that clearly lack
merit with the hope that this will help to lessen the burdens
imposed by the ever-rising numbers of prisoner suits, which
too often are frivolous and without merit. Jones v.
Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 202-03 (2007); Woodford v.
Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 83-84 (2006). In conducting the
screening, the court must dismiss a complaint or portion
thereof if its claims are legally frivolous or malicious,
fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek
monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such
relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e
42 U.S.C. § 1983 nor the PLRA imposes any heightened
pleading requirements. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. at
211-12. Consequently, in order to state a cognizable claim,
the complaint need only meet the minimum requirements of
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), which are that it contain “a
short and plain statement of the claim showing that the
pleader is entitled to relief.” Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam).
court is obligated to construe a pro se complaint
liberally and hold it to a less stringent standard than what
normally would be required of attorneys. Id.;
see also Federal Express Corp. v. Holowecki, 552
U.S. 389, 402 (2008). This does not mean that the court must
accept everything or anything that is filed by pro
se prisoners, however. In enacting the screening
requirement, Congress obviously expected it to be more than
an a ritualistic exercise and that courts would only allow to
go forward those claims that are cognizable, that seek relief
from a non-immune party, and that are not obviously frivolous
the minimal pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2) for stating
a cognizable claim, something more is required than simply
expressing a desire for relief and declaring an entitlement
to it. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 556 n.3 (2007). The complaint must state enough to
“‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . .
. claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'”
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 93 (quoting Bell
Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555). And, even though the
complaint is to be liberally construed, it must also contain
enough to satisfy Bell Atlantic's
“plausibility standard.” E.g.,
Ventura-Vera v. Dewitt, 417 F. App'x 591, 592,
2011 WL 2184269, *1 (8th Cir. 2011) (unpublished per curiam)
(citing Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir.
2007) for the appropriate post-Bell Atlantic
standard); see also Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912,
914 (8th Cir. 2004) (pro se complaints must allege
sufficient facts to state a claim). Complaints that offer
nothing more than labels and conclusions or a formulaic
recitation of the elements are not sufficient. Frivolous
claims are those that are clearly baseless, fanciful,
fantastic, or delusional. See Denton v. Hernandez,
504 U.S. 25, 32-34 (1992).
state a cognizable claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must
normally allege a violation of a right secured by the
Constitution or the laws of the United States and that the
alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under
color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48
(1988); Walker v. Reed, 104 F.3d 156, 157 (8th Cir.
1997). Even under liberal pleading standards, a pro
se litigant, at the very least, must invoke rights under
the Constitution or federal law in order to plead a §
1983 claim. Walker v. Reed, 104 F.3d at 157-58.
even though the court is obligated to construe pro
se complaints liberally, the court is not required to
ignore facts that are pled by a prisoner when they undermine
the prisoner's claim. The court may accept as true all
facts pled in the complaint and conclude from them that there
is no claim as a matter of law. E.g., Thompson
v. Ill. Dep't of Prof'l Regulation, 300 F.3d
750, 753-54 (7th Cir. 2002) (citing other cases)
with legal mail implicates a prisoner's (1) right to
court access, and (2) right to free speech as guaranteed by
the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
See Davis v. Goord, 320 F.3d 346, 351 (2d Cir.
2003); Sallier v. Brooks, 343 F.3d 868, 873 (6th
Cir. 2003). To state a cognizable court access claim, a
prisoner must allege that he suffered an injury as a result
of the defendant's actions. Turner v. Douglas,
No. 1:06cv00058, 2007 WL 87628, at * 1 (E.D. Ark. Jan. 10,
2007) (adopting a magistrate judge's recommended
dismissal of a prisoner's claim on initial review);
see also Thomsen v. Ross, 368 F.Supp.2d 961, 975 (D.
Minn. 2005); Davis v. Goord, 320 F.3d at 351 (2d
Cir. 2003). To state a cognizable First Amendment claim, a
prisoner must allege an ongoing practice by prison officials
of interfering with his mail or that he has otherwise
suffered harm as a result of the interference. Davis v.
Goord, 320 F.3d at 351 (2d Cir. 2003) (“Davis'
allegations of two instances of mail interference are
insufficient to state a claim for denial of access to the
courts because Davis has not alleged that the interference
with his mail either constituted an ongoing practice of
unjustified censorship or caused him to miss court deadlines
or in any way prejudiced his legal actions . . . . Similarly,
Davis fails to state a constitutional claim for violating his
right to send and receive legal mail because he alleges
neither the establishment of an ...