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Nance v. Morales

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

November 8, 2018

JOSE MORALES, Warden, et al., Defendant.


         Plaintiff Mark Nance, an inmate at Coastal State Prison, has submitted a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Complaint alleging that he was denied appropriate access to the prison's law library and that his grievances were not properly handled. See Doc. 1. After rectifying noted deficiencies in his motion to proceed in forma pauperis ('IFP"), docs. 2-4, the Court granted him leave to proceed IFP. Doc. 6. The Court now screens Nance's case under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), which allows a district court to dismiss sua sponte an IFP plaintiffs claims for failure to state a claim before service of process. See also 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (courts must identify "cognizable claims" filed by prisoners or other detainees and dismiss claims which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or seek monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(2) (allowing dismissal on the same four standards provided by § 1915A as to any prisoner suit brought "with respect to prison conditions").

         I. BACKGROUND

         Nance alleges that Coastal State Prison is restricting his access to the law library and hindering his ability to file a grievance addressing that issue.[1] Doc. 1 at 5. However, Nance admits that he has been able to access the library seven times in the last two months, although he notes that the time he spent in the library was less than two hours. Id. And he also states that he was ultimately able to file a grievance, although he did not receive a number or response.[2] Id. As relief, Plaintiff requests that the Court "[o]rder Coastal State Prison to take the S.O.P regulations seriously and stop depriving prison inmates of badly needed Law Library time or visits." Id. at 6.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Nance's Access to the Courts Claim

         Nance's request for library access implicates the constitutionally guaranteed right of inmates to access the courts. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 824-25 (1997); Bey v. Haines, 2016 WL 492316 at *2 (W.D. Wis. Feb. 5, 2016). But, while inmates must be provided access to the courts, they do not enjoy any "abstract, freestanding right to a law library or legal assistance." Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351 (1996). More importantly, Plaintiff must first establish standing to sue by alleging that the impediments imposed on his access to the law library at Coastal State Prison caused him to suffer some actual injury. Id. at 351-55. This requirement "is not satisfied by just any type of frustrated legal claim. Specifically, [Nance] must show that the denial of access to court prejudiced him in a criminal appeal, post-conviction matter, or in a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 'to vindicate basic constitutional rights.'" Gold v. Geo Grp. Inc., 2016 WL 7034404 at *11 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 2, 2016) (citations omitted) (quoting Casey, 518 U.S. at 354; Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 579 (1974)).

         While Nance alleges that he "desperately needed" to access the law library, he neither shows that he was deprived of that access (he states he did indeed access the law library) or that he was harmed (he has pointed to no action for which he needed legal research). Doc. 1 at 5. Plaintiffs claim seems instead to be a generalized argument on why prisoners as a whole should have more easy access to the law library. See Id. at 6 (arguing why further access to law libraries would help inmates prosecute theoretical legal actions). Accurate or not, these statements do not suffice to show actual injury. As Nance has not offered any facts showing that the prison's policies have caused him actual injury, he lacks standing to bring the claim and it should be DISMISSED.

         B. Nance's Grievance Claim

         Nance's claim that he has been hindered in filing a grievance also fails. "Procedural requirements alone do not create a substantive liberty interest, and mere violation of such procedures is not a constitutional violation." Rienholtz v. Campbell, 64 F.Supp.2d 721, 731 (W.D. Tenn. 1999) (citations omitted), see also Massey v. Helman, 259 F.3d 641, 647 (7th Cir. 2001) («[T]he existence of a prison grievance procedure confers no liberty interest on a prisoner."); Adams v. Rice, 40 F.3d 72, 75 (4th Cir. 1994) ("[T]he Constitution creates no entitlement to grievance procedures or access to any such procedure voluntarily established by a state."). "[A]lleged misdeeds regarding grievance procedures do not give rise to stand-alone claims under § 1983." Schlachter v. Strength, 2010 WL 1010746 *5 (S.D. Ga. March 15, 2010) (citing Buckley v. Barlow, 997 F.2d 494, 495 (8th Cir. 1993) (per curiam).

         Nance says that he attempted to file a grievance regarding his access to the law library, but was refused the opportunity by two separate prison counselors. Doc. 1 at 5. He then gave his grievance to a third counselor who filed it, but Nance never received a number or a response. Id. He ultimately contacted the Superintendent about his grievance. Id. at 7. Regardless of whether this series of allegations reflects an issue with the grievance system at Coastal State Prison, federal courts do not "sit as the ultimate appellate tribunal for prison grievance procedures." Reinholtz, 64 F.Supp.2d at 731. Plaintiffs Complaint hinges on whether his grievance was handled properly under the policies of the prison. This Court reviews "whether a constitutional right has been infringed, not whether bureaucratic procedures have been violated." Id. (emphasis in original.) As a result, Plaintiffs Complaint on the processing of his grievances fails to state a claim and should be dismissed.


         Given its facial frivolity, Plaintiffs Complaint should be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE with no re-pleading option warranted. Dysart v. BankTrust, 516 Fed.Appx. 861, 865 (11th Cir. 2013) ("[District court did not err in denying Dysart's request to amend her complaint because an amendment would have been futile."); Langlois v. Traveler's Ins. Co., 401 Fed.Appx. 425, 426-27 (11th Cir. 2010); Simmons v. Edmondson, 225 Fed.Appx. 787, 788-89 (11th Cir. 2007) (district court did not err in dismissing complaint with prejudice without first giving plaintiff leave to amend because no amendment could have overcome the defendants' immunity).[3]

         Meanwhile, it is time for Nance to pay his filing fee. His PLEA paperwork reflects $0 in average monthly deposits and balances. Doc. 8 at 1. He therefore owes a $0 initial partial filing fee. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1) (requiring an initial fee assessment "when funds exist," under a specific 20 percent formula). Plaintiffs custodian (or designee) shall set aside 20 percent of all future deposits to his account, then forward those funds to the Clerk each time the set aside amount reaches $10.00, until the balance of the Court's $350 filing fee has been paid in full.

         The Clerk is DIRECTED to send this Report and Recommendation (R&R) to Nance's account custodian immediately, as this payment directive is nondispositive within the meaning of Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a), so no Rule 72(b) adoption is required. In the event he is transferred to another institution, his present custodian shall forward a copy of this R&R and all financial information concerning payment of the filing fee and costs in this case to Plaintiffs new custodian. The balance due from Plaintiff shall ...

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