United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Infinite Allah, Pro Se Plaintiff.
P. Jones United States District Judge
Allah, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil
rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that
prison employees wrongfully searched and confiscated legal
files and religious materials related to his prior civil
action.Upon review of Allah's Complaint, I
conclude that the action must be summarily dismissed with
prejudice for failure to state a claim.
is an inmate at Augusta Correctional Center
(“Augusta”). He is an adherent of the Nation of
Gods and Earths (“NGE”), a belief system that
Allah claims as a religion. The Virginia Department of
Corrections (“VDOC”), however, has classified NGE
inmates as a prison gang, officially referred to as a
Security Threat Group. VDOC policies restrict NGE inmates
from meeting communally, prohibit them from wearing
NGE-related clothing, and prohibit inmates from receiving or
possessing copies of NGE publications and writings. Allah,
through counsel, brought a § 1983 action in this court
in 2012, seeking VDOC recognition of NGE as a religion,
accommodation of his NGE religious practices, and permission
to possess NGE publications and writings. After a bench
trial, I rejected Allah's claims. Allah v.
Virginia, No. 2:12CV00033, 2014 WL 1669331 (W.D. Va.
Apr. 28, 2014), aff'd, 601 F. App'x 201 (4th
Cir.) (unpublished), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 255
to Allah's current Complaint, on November 18, 2013, a
letter arrived at Augusta from the court to Allah, returning
to him some pro se materials that he had mailed to this court
for consideration in the prior Case No. 2:12CV00033. The
letter informed Allah that pleadings in the case should be
filed with the court only “by his then attorney of
record.” Compl. ¶ 47, ECF No. 1. Allah states that
he “was given [an opportunity] to sign the Legal mail
Logbook as receiving said legal mail, but he never received
physical possession of it, upon the defendants reading and
confiscation thereof in his presence.” Id. at
¶ 20. When Allah filed a grievance about the incident,
the response was that “[a]ccording to Sgt. Wilhelm,
Investigator[, ] the mailing did contain gang material which
was confiscated.” V.S. 7, Ex. 1, ECF No. 6. Allah
describes the items confiscated on November 18, 2013, as a
“handwritten dissertation, thesis, and . . . other
created works by [Allah].” Compl. ¶ 54, ECF No. 1.
Allah estimates the monetary value of these items at $40,
525.74, and complains that the confiscation prevented him
from seeking copyright protection. Id. at
¶¶ 52, 56(a).
also alleges that while the direct appeal in his prior case
was pending, he ran short of funds to continue to retain the
attorney who had represented him up to that point in the
case. The attorney shipped the entire case file to Allah, and
it arrived at Augusta on December 30, 2014, in two
medium-sized boxes “clearly marked” as
“legal package[s].” Id. at ¶ 49.
“The defendants never provided [Allah] with notice of
its receipt until May 23, 2015, after it was opened outside
of his presence and seized.” Id. at ¶ 17.
to Allah, the two boxes of case-related materials that
officials searched and seized contained copies of court
filings the attorney had prepared, as well as
“strategic assessment(s) of research into the legal and
anthropological particulars (expert witness' deposition
and writings on the subject at hand) [of] plaintiff's
constitutional and spiritual standing in his civil
action.” Id. at ¶ 18. Allah provides a
list of the “confiscated legal personal intellectual
properties, ” including numerous NGE publications and
Allah's letters and written arguments to the court about
his NGE beliefs. Id. at ¶ 50. Allah alleges
that the seized materials have both monetary and sentimental
value to him.
defendants in this new civil action are Lieutenant Peters,
Sergeant Wilhelm, the prison itself, and the Commonwealth.
Allah's Complaint alleges violations of his First,
Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights related
to the search of legal mail outside of his presence, as well
as to the seizure of certain documents sent from the court
and Allah's former attorney. Liberally construed, his
allegations suggest the following possible claims: (1) By
searching and confiscating Allah's legal materials, the
defendants violated his constitutional rights (a) to
substantive and procedural due process; (b) to engage in
confidential communications with counsel; and (c) to access
the court; (2) The defendants confiscated Allah's
materials in retaliation for his prior lawsuit; and (3) Allah
is entitled to recover physical possession of, or
reimbursement for, his personal property through this action
in detinue under Virginia law. As relief on Claims One and
Two, Allah seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
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. § 1915A(b)(1). A court should
not summarily dismiss an action for failure to state a claim,
unless after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the
plaintiff's complaint as true and drawing all reasonable
factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's
favor, it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any
set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief.
De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 633 (4th
Cir. 2003). Thus, before serving Allah's case on
any of the defendants, I must determine if his allegations
state any claim for relief.
brings his federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1983, a
statute that permits an aggrieved party to file a civil
action against a person for actions taken under color of
state law that violated his constitutional rights. See
Cooper v. Sheehan, 735 F.3d 153, 158 (4th Cir. 2013).
For the reasons stated, I conclude that Allah has no
actionable constitutional claim arising from his allegations
and that all his federal claims must be summarily dismissed
with prejudice under § 1915A(b)(1). Further, I decline
to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Allah's state
law action in detinue and will dismiss this claim without
prejudice. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3).
Federal Rights Not Implicated.
has no legal basis for § 1983 claims against the
Commonwealth or the prison itself, because “neither a
State nor its officials acting in their official capacities
are ‘persons' under § 1983.” Will v.
Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989).
This rule also applies to “governmental entities that
are considered ‘arms of the State' for Eleventh
Amendment purposes.” Id. at 70. Because
Augusta is properly considered an arm of the Commonwealth of
Virginia, it cannot be sued under § 1983. Therefore, I
will summarily dismiss as frivolous Allah's
constitutional claims against the Commonwealth and Augusta.
Peters and Wilhelm, for actions taken in their individual
capacities, are subject to suit under § 1983. For
different reasons, however, Allah also states no actionable
claim against them.
another preliminary matter, Allah had no Fourth Amendment
protection against having his incoming legal mail opened and
searched or read by prison officials. Simply stated,
“the Fourth Amendment proscription against unreasonable
searches does not apply within the confines of the prison
cell.” Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526
Supreme Court has further held that an inmate has no
protected right under the Sixth Amendment to communicate
confidentially or otherwise with his attorney in a civil
case. Wolff v. McDonnell,418 U.S. 539, 576 (1974)
(“As to the Sixth Amendment, its reach is only to
protect the attorney-client relationship from intrusion in
the criminal setting.”). Instead, the Sixth Amendment
provides a criminal defendant a right to the
effective assistance of counsel, including “the ability
to speak candidly and confidentially with counsel free from
unreasonable government interference.” Denius v.
Dunlap, 209 F.3d 944, 953 (7th Cir. 2000). “[A]n
individual enjoys no protection provided by the Sixth
Amendment until the instigation of criminal proceedings
against him.” Id. Because the incoming
mailings at issue in this lawsuit bore no ...