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Billizone v. Jefferson Parish Correctional Center

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 9, 2015

ERNEST BILLIZONE, SR., ET AL.,
v.
JEFFERSON PARISH CORRECTIONAL CENTER, ET AL., Section

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

SALLY SHUSHAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Ernest Billizone, Sr., a state prisoner, filed this pro se and in forma pauperis civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] Although he listed forty-one of his fellow inmates as coplaintiffs, they were not in fact parties to this lawsuit because they neither signed the complaint nor otherwise indicated a willingness to join this lawsuit and be responsible for the filing fee. Recently, however, one of those inmates, Michael Walker, did in fact submit a signed complaint (which incorporated by reference Billizone's original complaint), [2] as well as an application to proceed as a pauper[3] which has been granted.[4] Accordingly, the Court now considers Walker to be a coplaintiff.[5]

Plaintiffs have named the following defendants: the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center; the Parish of Jefferson; Commissary Supervisor Mary Charles; R. Cyprian; Chief Administrator Sue Ellen Monfra; Sheriff Newell Normand; Keefe Commissary Network Sales; "John Doe Policy Maker"; "All S.I.U. Disciplinary Hearing Officers"; and Lt. Steven Abadie. In this lawsuit, plaintiffs challenge various conditions of their confinement at the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center ("J.P.C.C.").[6]

Federal law mandates that federal courts "review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).[7] Regarding such lawsuits, federal law further requires:

On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint -
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

Additionally, with respect to actions filed in forma pauperis, such as the instant lawsuit, federal law similarly provides:

Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that... the action or appeal -
(i) is frivolous or malicious;
(ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
(iii) seeks monetary damages against a defendant who is immune from such relief.

28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

A complaint is frivolous "if it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact." Reeves v. Collins, 27 F.3d 174, 176 (5th Cir. 1994). In making a determination as to whether a claim is frivolous, the Court has "not only the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989); Macias v. Raul A. (Unknown), Badge No. 153, 23 F.3d 94, 97 (5th Cir. 1994).

A complaint fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted when the plaintiff does not "plead enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litigation, 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007) (citation, footnote, and quotation marks omitted). The United States Supreme Court has explained:

A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement, " but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

Although broadly construing the plaintiffs' complaint, [8] the Court nevertheless finds that, for the following reasons, the complaint should be dismissed as frivolous and/or for failing to state a claim on which relief may be granted.

I. Failure to Provide Transportation to Parole Revocation Hearings

Plaintiffs' first claim is that officers at the J.P.C.C. sometimes fail to provide transportation to scheduled parole revocation hearings for inmates. As a result, the hearings are missed, and the inmates have to wait an additional month until another hearing is held. Although plaintiffs are obviously concerned about this purported failure on the part of prison officials, they do not allege that they have been personally affected by it; instead, they cite an incident in which inmate Dwayne Moses was not taken to such a hearing. However, plaintiffs do not have standing to bring a claim on behalf of another inmate. See, e.g., Gregory v. McKennon, 430 Fed.App'x 306, 310 (5th Cir. 2011); Reeves v. Collins, No. 94-10182, 1994 WL 559050, at *2 (5th Cir. Sept. 23, 1994); Morrison v. Gusman, Civ. Action No. 10-217, 2010 WL 724173, at *4 (E.D. La. Feb. 22, 2010); Diggs v. Nelson Coleman Corr. Ctr., Civ. Action No. 10-97, 2010 WL 1038229, at *7 (E.D. La. Feb. 17, 2010), adopted, 2010 WL 1038230 (E.D. La. Mar. 17, 2010); Scheanette v. Riggins, No. Civ. A. 9:05CV34, 2006 WL 722212, at *9 (E.D. Tex. Mar. 15, 2006). Accordingly, this claim need not be further considered in this action.[9]

II. Mail Service

Plaintiffs next complain that prison officials fail to properly process mail at the facility. Specifically, Billizone alleges that his outgoing mail, including legal mail, has been returned to him by defendant Charles because no postage was affixed and, according to Charles, plaintiff was not entitled to use the indigent mail services. Billizone argues that he does in fact qualify as an indigent inmate. He further complains that the indigent mail program is inadequate, in that a prisoner is allowed only five pieces of indigent mail per week.

With respect to non-legal mail, this claim clearly fails because an inmate simply "does not have a freestanding constitutional right to free postage." Walker v. Davis, 533 Fed.App'x 471 (5th Cir. 2013), cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 643 (2013); accord Lee v. Perry, No. 93-4291, 1993 WL 185752 (5th Cir. May 19, 1993).

That general rule, however, does not apply to legal mail. Because inmates have a recognized right of access to the courts, indigent inmates must be provided with postage for the purpose of sending legal mail. As the Supreme Court noted in Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 824-25 (1977): "[O]ur decisions have consistently required States to shoulder affirmative obligations to assure all prisoners meaningful access to the courts. It is indisputable that indigent inmates must be provided at state expense with paper and pen to draft legal documents with notarial services to authenticate them, and with stamps to mail them. " Id. at 824-25 (emphasis added). Reflecting on the foregoing language, the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals has nevertheless noted that the right has limitations:

In its opinion in Bounds, the Court also stated that "[i]t is indisputable that indigent inmates must be provided at state expense with paper and pen to draft legal documents... and with stamps to mail them." 430 U.S. at 824-25, 97 S.Ct. at 1496. Although this statement itself was unqualified, we do not read it as requiring that the indigent inmate be provided unlimited free postage, but only that he not be denied "a reasonably adequate" (id. at 825, 97 S.Ct. at 1496) amount of postage to present his claimed violations of fundamental constitutional rights to the courts. Accord Twyman v. Crisp, 584 F.2d 352, 359 (10th Cir. 1978) (per curiam); Guajardo v. Estelle, 580 F.2d 748, 762-63 (5th Cir. 1978); Bach v. Coughlin, 508 F.2d [303, ] 307 [7th Cir. 1974)]. Thus, a state is entitled to adopt reasonable postage regulations in light of, for example, prison budgetary considerations. Id. at 307-08; cf. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. at 825, 97 S.Ct. at 1496 (Court's determination that adequate library facilities must be provided was "not to say that economic factors may not be considered... in choosing the methods used to provide meaningful access").

Chandler v. Coughlin, 763 F.2d 110, 114 (2nd Cir. 1985); accord Myers v. Hundley, 101 F.3d 542, 544 (8th Cir. 1996) ("Inmates do not have a right... to unlimited stamp allowances for legal mail. Instead, the duty to make such arrangements is bounded by the inmates' right of meaningful access to the courts.").

Therefore, it is clear that reasonable limits on the amount of free legal mail an inmate may send are permissible, so long as they do not infringe on an inmate's right to meaningful access to the courts. Here, Billizone attempts to challenge the reasonableness of the limitations in place at the J.P.C.C., arguing that they are too niggardly, at least as applied to him, in light of the fact that he has "6 or 7 different matters in court, from state district courts to federal."[10] However, when an inmate challenges the reasonableness of such limitations, he "must provide some basis for his allegation that the delay or failure in delivering his legal mail deprived him of meaningful access to the courts." White v. White, 886 F.2d 721, 723 (4th Cir. 1989). Therefore, "to state a claim based on delay or interference with the mail, a plaintiff must show actual injury. In this context, an inmate shows an actual injury by establishing that his position as a litigant was prejudiced due to the disputed acts." Weatherspoon v. Ferguson, 302 Fed.App'x 231 (5th Cir. 2008) (citation and quotation marks omitted). In order to demonstrate the prejudice necessary to support such a claim, "a prisoner must show that his ability to pursue a nonfrivolous legal claim was hindered by the actions of the defendants, " such as by providing "concrete evidence to demonstrate that defendants' actions ...


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