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Kevin Brown v. Brent Reinke

August 28, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Mikel H. Williams United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff filed a Complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging his constitutional rights were violated because he was denied access to courts when Defendants opened and withheld his legal mail. (Dkt. 3.) Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. (Dkt. 17.) All parties have consented to proceed before a U.S. Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. 15). Having reviewed the record, and for the reasons discussed herein, the Court grants the Motion to Dismiss and enters the following Order.


Plaintiff is an inmate housed at the Idaho State Correctional Institution (ISCI). All Defendants are ISCI officials, with the exception of Defendant Loomis, who is a Deputy Attorney General. All are sued in their individual and official capacities.

Plaintiff filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Ada County District Court on January 5, 2010, and as a part of that case, he challenged the Commission of Pardons and Parole's decision to not give him credit for the time he spent on parole. (Dkt. 3, p.6.) Plaintiff alleges that in the course of this action, he did not receive important court papers and documents that were filed in the case, including a motion to dismiss and a court order that dismissed his petition for writ of habeas after he failed to respond. (Dkt. 3, p.5.) Plaintiff claims that he did not receive his mail because it was being routed to the Idaho Department of Correction's (IDOC) central office instead of the ISCI, and the Defendants were opening and withholding his mail. (Id.)

On May 12, 2010 Plaintiff received legal mail addressed to him, but it contained legal documents for Cameron Ball and was returned to the sender. (Id.) On that day, Plaintiff claims he asked Defendant Wright for a copy of the legal mail log, but Wright would not allow Plaintiff to receive a copy. (Dkt. 3, p.7.)

On May 14, 2010, Plaintiff sent a concern form requesting a copy of the legal mail log from the mail room. (Id.); see also (Dkt. 3-1). Plaintiff received a denial of his request on May 18. (Id.) The day after, Plaintiff submitted a grievance on the issue of access to courts, but failed to attach an offender concern form. (Dkt. 17-2, p.5.) Without a concern form attached, the grievance did not meet proper grievance procedure, so it was returned and never processed. (Id.)Plaintiff then filed a grievance with the previous request for copies of the mail log on June 12, 2010, which was denied by Defendant Yordy. (Dkt. 3, p.8.) Then on July 4, 2010, Plaintiff's appeal of that grievance was denied by Defendant Smith. (Id.)

On July 22, 2010, after the denial of his requests, Plaintiff filed a Tort Claim with the Secretary of State against the IDOC for withholding legal mail, claiming that he did not receive mail and was unable to argue his case, resulting in the dismissal. (Dkt. 3-1, p.5.) Plaintiff then filed his Complaint on March 15, 2011, claiming that by opening and withholding his legal mail, Defendants denied him access to courts in violation of his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well those under the First Amendment. (Dkt. 3.)

Defendants now move to dismiss the Complaint on the ground that Plaintiff has failed to allege facts on which relief could be granted under a constitutional theory that Defendants denied him access to courts. (Dkt. 17, p.3). Additionally, Defendants contend that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and has failed to comply with the Idaho Tort Claims Act prior to filing suit. *fn1 (Id.)

The Court will first consider whether Plaintiff properly exhausted his administrative remedies before determining whether he has sufficiently pled a claim for relief.


1. Legal Standard for Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

An essential prerequisite to filing suit is the exhaustion of administrative remedies. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), exhaustion is mandatory before pro se plaintiffs can bring a claim in court. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007). Requiring plaintiffs to exhaust their administrative remedies gives prison officials the chance to "resolve disputes concerning the exercise of their responsibilities before being haled into court." Id. at 204. Until exhaustion is completed properly, a prisoner's case cannot proceed regardless of the sufficiency of claims.

Proper exhaustion includes a prisoner completing the administrative review process in accordance with all the procedural rules. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 88 (2006). While the procedural rules are fairly standard, the level of detail required for a proper grievance varies between systems and claims, but is ultimately under the prison's control, and not the PLRA. Jones, 549 U.S. at 218. If a prison's rules do not state the required detail needed to be considered a proper grievance, a grievance will suffice "if it alerts the prison to the nature of the wrong for which redress is sought." Griffin v. Arpaio, 557 F.3d 1117, 1120 (9th Cir. 2009). Alerting the prison as to the nature of the wrong does not require inclusion of legal terminology or theories, unless they are necessary to give notice to officials of the harm ...

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