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Mangiaracina v. Penzone

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

March 3, 2017

Nick Mangiaracina, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Paul Penzone; Craig Garcia, named as: Sgt. Garcia #A7747; Unknown Hansen, Officer of the MCSO; Eddie De La Rosa, Sgt./ A7779; Anthony Mank, Sgt./ A4767; John Beddome, Sgt./ A4986; Jesse Nyland, Inmate Classification/ A7875; Dean Wagner, Inmate Classification/ A5441; Unknown Harmon, named as Captain Harmon; Unknown Garcia, named as Lt. Garcia #A4226; Bill Williams, External Reffern; Unknown Wade, named as BHO Sgt. Wade; Unknown Parties, named as John/Jane Does 1-10 Mesa Police Department and John/Jane Does 1-100 County of Maricopa; Unknown Party, named as MCSO BHO on Grevince #12-03278; Maricopa County, County of Maricopa John/Jane 1-100 Defendant; Unknown Parties, John Doe #1, John Does #3-14; Unknown Capanaro, Captain at 4th Avenue Jail in April 2012; MCSO SMURC Board, John and Jane Does 15-20, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued and Submitted June 6, 2016 Seattle, Washington

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, D.C. No. 2:13-cv-00709-NVW-SPL Neil V. Wake, District Judge, Presiding

          Harry Williams IV (argued), Law Office of Harry Williams, Seattle, Washington, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          James Kenneth Mangum (argued), Deputy County Attorney; William G. Montgomery, County Attorney; Civil Services Division, Maricopa County Attorney's Office, Phoenix, Arizona; for Defendants-Appellees.

          Corene Kendrick and Donald Specter, Prison Law Office, Berkeley, California; David M. Porter, Co-Chair, NADCL Amicus Committee, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Sacramento, California; for Amici Curiae National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Prison Law Office, American Civil Liberties Union, and ACLU of Arizona.

          Before: Richard A. Paez and Jay S. Bybee, Circuit Judges and Jon S. Tigar, [*] District Judge.

         SUMMARY[**]

         Prisoner Civil Rights

         The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's dismissal of a complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, and remanded in an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by a prisoner who alleged First and Sixth Amendment claims arising from jail employees opening his legal mail outside his presence while he was a pretrial detainee.

         The panel reversed the district court's dismissal as to illegal mail openings on two separate occasions. The panel held that under Nordstrom v. Ryan, 762 F.3d 903, 908 (9th Cir. 2014), prisoners have a Sixth Amendment right to be present when legal mail related to a criminal matter is inspected. For the remaining counts, the panel held that the district court correctly determined that plaintiff failed to allege that the mail opened was properly marked as legal mail.

         The panel reversed the dismissal of plaintiff's First Amendment claim, and remanded to the district court for consideration, if necessary, of this claim in light of Hayes v. Idaho Correctional Center, No. 14-35078 (9th Cir. March 3, 2017), filed concurrently with this opinion.

         Concurring in the judgment, Judge Bybee agreed with the conclusion that prisoners have a general Sixth Amendment right to be present when legal mail related to a criminal matter is inspected. He wrote separately to clarify that merely negligent conduct on the part of prison officials is not sufficient to state a claim.

          OPINION

          PAEZ, Circuit Judge

         Nick Mangiaracina appeals the dismissal of his First and Sixth Amendment claims arising from jail employees opening legal mail outside his presence. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

         I.

         At the time of the events described in the operative complaint (the third amended complaint), Nick Mangiaracina was incarcerated as a pre-trial detainee in Maricopa County's Fourth Avenue Jail in Phoenix, Arizona. The jail's stated policy is to open legal mail addressed to a prisoner only in the presence of that prisoner. See Maricopa County Jails, Rules and Regulations for Inmates § 17, at 24.[1] Mangiaracina alleged, however, that his mail was repeatedly opened "outside [his] presence" in contravention of this policy.[2] The complaint included descriptions of nine specific instances of alleged improper mail opening.

         Mangiaracina alleged that in September 2011, he received a letter from his attorney that had been "opened and taped shut." He further alleged that on March 23, 2012, he "mailed a [manila] envelope that was sealed to [his] attorney. . . ." While an officer was sorting mail later that evening, Mangiaracina saw that his letter had been opened. Mangiaracina was then "allowed to reseal it and it was mailed."

         On November 9, 2012, a jail employee opened an incoming letter from Mangiaracina's attorney. Mangiaracina attached the mail room's response to his grievance regarding the incident, which stated: "The mailroom documents any legal mail that come[s] in torn-open or damaged. According to our records you[r] legal mail was delivered to the 4th Ave. Jail sealed and un-opened." A second response from the jail stated that during mail distribution, "it was noted that inmate Mangiaracina's legal mail envelope had been cut open and stapled closed prior to it being delivered to [the Fourth Avenue Jail]. . . . [T]he reason [it was open] was unknown" to the employee responding to the grievance, "as it had been delivered to [the Fourth Avenue Jail] that way for distribution."

         Mangiaracina also described several incidents of improper mail opening in January 2013. He alleged that two outgoing letters to his attorneys were opened on January 9. With respect to one of these letters, Mangiaracina explained that he had complained to a correctional officer, who "said he knew about it and [said] it was de[a]lt with." Mangiaracina alleged that a few days later, an incoming letter from an attorney was improperly opened. On January 22, 2013, a jail employee again "opened a letter going out to [his] attorney."

         According to the complaint, problems with the handling of Mangiaracina's legal mail persisted despite his repeated complaints and grievances. He alleged that on February 27, 2013, a jail employee "opened a letter going out to" his attorney. Finally, on March 12, 2013, a jail employee opened an incoming letter from an attorney. Mangiaracina attached his grievance related to the March 12 incident, which explained that the "legal mail was opened [and] taped shut prior to delivery to inmate, " and that it "came up in [the] mail that way." Mangiaracina received the same response from the mailroom that he had received with respect to the November 9, 2012 incident: "The mailroom documents any legal mail that come[s] in torn-open or damaged. According to our records you[r] legal mail was delivered to the 4th Ave. Jail sealed and un-opened." There was no further response explaining whether (or why) the mail was opened at the jail prior to delivery.

         In Mangiaracina's complaint, he further alleged that he had "[six] pending trials in superior court[] and [one] federal case pending."[3] In describing his injury resulting from the improper opening of his legal mail, Mangiaracina alleged that he and his two "attorneys are af[]raid to communicate by mail which is hard as I have so many cases and so much pap[]erwork to go back and forth." He further explained that his "right to confidentiality and privacy was violated" and that his "defense strategy and [his] rights in general were just shredded." Mangiaracina also reported that an officer had told him that "they can open [legal mail] outside our presence if they want to, " that "there is no law against it, " and that "they just do it in our presence as a [courtesy]."

         Mangiaracina initially filed suit in Arizona superior court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his First and Sixth Amendment rights by a number of jail employees and John Doe defendants. Defendants removed the case to federal court. The district court found that removal was proper and dismissed the original complaint for failure to state a claim, but granted Mangiaracina leave to amend. After a series of amendments, the court ultimately dismissed Mangiaracina's Third Amended Complaint with prejudice. The district court noted that Mangiaracina had failed to specifically allege that the pieces of mail were marked as "legal mail" and that, for most of the instances, he failed to explain how he knew the mail was opened outside his presence. The court acknowledged that Mangiaracina did provide additional details for the incidents occurring in September 2011, on March 23, 2012, and on November 9, 2012. The court concluded, however, that even assuming the three items were properly marked as legal mail, these "isolated incidents" did not violate Mangiaracina's constitutional rights. Mangiaracina timely appealed.

         II.

         We review de novo a district court's dismissal of a complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A for failure to state a claim. Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000). We construe all facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and we construe a pro se complaint liberally. Nordstrom v. Ryan, 762 F.3d 903, 908 (9th Cir. 2014). "Pro se complaints . . . may only be dismissed if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can ...


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