United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
Morales Howard, Judge
Rico Lamont Mitchell, an inmate of the Florida penal system,
initiated this action on June 29, 2017, by filing a pro se
Civil Rights Complaint (Doc. 1). Mitchell filed an Amended
Complaint (Doc. 7) on August 2, 2017, a Second Amended
Complaint (SAC; Doc. 16) on December 6, 2017, a Third Amended
Complaint (Doc. 35) on November 14, 2018, and a Fourth
Amended Complaint (Doc. 38) on February 13, 2019. The Court
granted Mitchell's motion for leave to file a fifth
amended complaint and directed the Clerk to file Doc. 46-1 as
the Fifth Amended Complaint (FAC; Doc. 50). See
Order (Doc. 49). In the FAC, Mitchell asserts claims pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the following Defendants:
(1) J.M. Perkins, a clerk in the mail room at the Pretrial
Detention Facility (Jail) in Jacksonville, Florida; (2)
Sergeant Clark, a supervisor in the Jail's mail room; (3)
Lieutenant Smith, a supervisor in the Jail's mail room;
(4) Detective Eileen Simpson; and (5) Sergeant
Peoples. He asserts that Defendants either tampered
with his incoming and outgoing mail or failed to stop the
violations. As relief, Mitchell requests compensatory and
punitive damages as well as declaratory relief.
matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss (Motion; Doc. 51). They submitted exhibits in support
of the Motion. See Def. Exs., Docs. 51-1 through
51-3. The Court advised Mitchell that granting a
motion to dismiss would be an adjudication of the case that
could foreclose subsequent litigation on the matter and gave
him an opportunity to respond. See Order (Doc. 10).
Mitchell filed a response in opposition to the Motion.
See Response (Doc. 54). Thus, Defendants' Motion
is ripe for review.
First Amendment claims are based on three incidents: (1)
Defendant Simpson's July 21, 2016 directive to Sergeant
Peoples to obtain outgoing and incoming mail addressed to
Mitchell; (2) Defendant Perkins October 14, 2016 tampering
with incoming legal mail addressed to Mitchell from his
attorney; and (3) Defendant Perkins March 23, 2017 tampering
with outgoing non-legal mail addressed to Cynthia Caudill
(Mitchell's wife). As to the underlying facts, Mitchell
asserts that Defendant Simpson ordered Sergeant Peoples on
July 21, 2016, to obtain and seize Mitchell's incoming
and outgoing mail without Mitchell's knowledge and
consent. See FAC at 10. He states that Peoples
followed Simpson's directive. See id. Next,
Mitchell alleges that Defendant Perkins delivered
Mitchell's properly marked legal mail from his attorney
(Sandra Young) on October 14, 2016. See id. at 8.
According to Mitchell, when he noticed that the envelope had
been opened outside of his presence, Perkins told him that he
had taken photographs out of the envelope, and they would be
stored with Mitchell's property. See id.
Mitchell believes that Perkins read some of his legal mail
because he inquired about the nature of Mitchell's case.
See id. Mitchell avers that he gave Perkins a letter
with an envelope addressed to Caudill on March 23, 2017.
See id. at 8-9. He asserts that his letter to
Caudill was “switch[ed] out” with someone
else's letters, and therefore, Caudill received another
inmate's letters inside the envelope addressed to her.
asserts that he spoke to Defendant Clark on April 4, and May
7, 2017. See id. at 9. He maintains that Clark
intercepted grievances that Mitchell had submitted to Smith
and Peoples, and Clark warned Mitchell to stop writing
grievances. See id. Mitchell avers that Smith talked
to him on April 11th about a written employee complaint
Mitchell had submitted. See id. He maintains that he
suffered headaches as a result of Defendants' actions,
and he “felt” threatened, embarrassed, and
depressed as his marriage went “downhill.”
Id. at 6.
Motion to Dismiss Standard
ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept the
factual allegations set forth in the complaint as true.
See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009);
Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 n.1
(2002); see also Lotierzo v. Woman's World
Med. Ctr., Inc., 278 F.3d 1180, 1182 (11th Cir. 2002).
In addition, all reasonable inferences should be drawn in
favor of the plaintiff. See Randall v. Scott, 610
F.3d 701, 705 (11th Cir. 2010). Nonetheless, the plaintiff
must still meet some minimal pleading requirements.
Jackson v. Bellsouth Telecomm., 372 F.3d 1250, 1262
63 (11th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). Indeed, while
“[s]pecific facts are not necessary[, ]” the
complaint should “‘give the defendant fair notice
of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89,
93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Further, the
plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim
that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550
U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the
pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
“plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of
his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and
conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action will not do[.]” Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555 (internal quotations omitted); see also
Jackson, 372 F.3d at 1262 (explaining that
“conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of
facts or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not
prevent dismissal”) (internal citation and quotations
omitted). Indeed, “the tenet that a court must accept
as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is
inapplicable to legal conclusions[, ]” which simply
“are not entitled to [an] assumption of truth.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 680. Thus, in ruling on a
motion to dismiss, the Court must determine whether the
complaint contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted
as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible
on its face[.]'” Id. at 678 (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). And, while “[p]ro
se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than
pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be
liberally construed, ” Tannenbaum v. United
States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998),
“‘this leniency does not give the court a license
to serve as de facto counsel for a party or to rewrite an
otherwise deficient pleading in order to sustain an
action.'” Alford v. Consol. Gov't of
Columbus, Ga., 438 Fed.Appx. 837, 839 (11th Cir. 2011)
(quoting GJR Invs., Inc. v. Cty. of Escambia, Fla.,
132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998) (internal citation
omitted), overruled in part on other grounds as
recognized in Randall, 610 F.3d at 706).
considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b), Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure (Rule(s)), is generally limited to
the facts contained in the operative complaint and any
attached exhibits, including documents referred to in the
complaint that are central to the plaintiff's claims.
See Wilchombe v. TeeVee Toons, Inc., 555 F.3d 949,
959 (11th Cir. 2009). Nevertheless, when reviewing a motion
to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “a document outside the
four corners of the complaint may still be considered if it
is central to the plaintiff's claims and is undisputed in
terms of authenticity.” Maxcess, Inc. v. Lucent
Techs., Inc., 433 F.3d 1337, 1340 n.3 (11th Cir. 2005)
(citing Horsley v. Feldt, 304 F.3d 1125, 1135 (11th
Cir. 2002)); Day v. Taylor, 400 F.3d 1272, 1275-76
(11th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted).
Summary of the Arguments
Motion, Defendants maintain that Mitchell fails to assert
facts to state plausible claims against them for violations
of the First Amendment. See Motion at 6-14.
Defendants assert that they are entitled to qualified
immunity. See id. They submitted the following
exhibits in support of the Motion: (1) Jacksonville
Sheriff's Office (JSO) Order, Contraband Control and
Handling, effective date November 1, 2018, see Doc.
51-1; (2) JSO Property Record Receipt, dated May 23, 2018,
see Doc. 51-2; and (3) the docket in Mitchell's
state-court criminal case number 16-2016-CF-004644-AXXX-MA,
see Doc. 51-3. Defendants urge the Court to consider
these “public records” as part of the Motion.
Motion at 6 n.7. Additionally, they maintain that the Court
should consider an excerpt from Defendant Simpson's
police report (Simpson's Report) that Mitchell included
in his SAC, see Doc. 16 at 8, as well as the
transcript of Mitchell's state-court plea proceeding,
see Doc. 36-1, that Defendants previously attached
to a motion to dismiss. See Motion at 6 n.7. In his