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Chatman v. Clarke

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

December 29, 2016

CHRISTOPHER L. CHATMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
HAROLD CLARKE, DIRECTOR, ET AL Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge

         Christopher L. Chatman, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that excluding him from access to email in prison violates his First Amendment rights. Upon review of the record, the court finds that the action must be summarily dismissed.

         Background

         Chatman alleges the following sequence of facts related to his claims. Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC") officials have classified Chatman as Security Level S, long-term segregation. He has been incarcerated in a long-term segregation unit at Red Onion State Prison ("Red Onion") since April 7, 2016.

         VDOC inmates were recently granted an opportunity to participate in a web-based program that allows them to send and receive secure email messages. Most inmates can receive or send such messages from a kiosk dedicated for the purpose, with postage-like stamps required for outgoing messages. Per the VDOC policy on inmate correspondence, "Secure messaging is a privilege. [O]ffenders assigned to a Special Housing Unit will not be provided access to the kiosk to retrieve or send their secure messages." (Compl. Ex. A at 1, ECF No. 1-1.) This policy also provides: "Offenders assigned to long term segregation facilities will not have access to kiosks but may access secure messaging" by facility mailroom staff printing and delivering messages to the offender through the facility mail." (Id.) (emphasis added).

         In May 2016, Chatman filed a request for Red Onion mailroom staff to have copies of his incoming messages printed out and delivered to him, per VDOC policy. Defendant Shortridge, Red Onion's operations manager, responded: Special Housing Unit will not be provided access to kiosk." (Compl. 3, ECF No. 1.) Chatman then filed a grievance on the matter. In the Level I response, a supervisory official deemed the grievance unfounded and wrote:

LOP 830.A establishes kiosk access as an incentive for Security Level "S" offenders to progress in the [Red Onion] Segregation Reduction Step-Down Program. Kiosk privileges are earned once Security Level "S" offenders have successfully completed the requirements of their assigned pathway (SM or EVI), had a reduction in Security level from Security Level "S" to Security Level 6 and are housed in Step-Down Phase 1 or EVI Closed pods. Due to your current Security Level "S" assignment, you do not have access to secure messages.

(Id. Ex., at 9, ECF No. 1-1.) Chatman appealed. At Level II, a regional administrator wrote:

The Level I response from Red Onion State Prison is inappropriate. Procedural violations are noted. [OP] 803.1 Offender Correspondence is the governing authority.
The decision of the Level I respondent is reversed to FOUNDED. The administrative remedy is to print out your messages and deliver them to you. Level II is the last level of appeal for this grievance.

(Id. Ex., at 10.) Nevertheless, Shortridge has continued to refuse to deliver Chatman's messages to him under Red Onion's Step-Down Procedure.

         Chatman filed this § 1983 action against Shortridge, seeking declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief. He also sues the Red Onion warden and the director of the VDOC for failing to ensure that he can receive his secure kiosk messages as provided by policy.

         Discussion

         The court is required to dismiss any action or claim filed by a prisoner against a governmental entity or officer if the court determines the action or claim is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915 A(b)(1). In order to state a claim in any federal civil action, the plaintiffs "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " to one that is "plausible on ...


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