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Allah v. Commonwealth

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

May 9, 2017

INFINITE ALLAH, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, ET AL., Defendants.

          Infinite Allah, Pro Se Plaintiff.

          OPINION

          James P. Jones United States District Judge

         Infinite 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.[1]Upon review of Allah's Complaint, I conclude that the action must be summarily dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a claim.

         I.

         Allah 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 Apr. 28, 2014), aff'd, 601 F. App'x 201 (4th Cir.) (unpublished), cert.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 (2015).

         According 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].”[2] 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).

         Allah 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.”[3] Id. at ¶ 17.

         According 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.

         The 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.

         II.

         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. § 1915A(b)(1). A court should not summarily dismiss an action for failure to state a claim, however,

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).[4] Thus, before serving Allah's case on any of the defendants, I must determine if his allegations state any claim for relief.

         Allah 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).

         A. Federal Rights Not Implicated.

         Allah 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.

         As 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 (1984).

         The 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 ...


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