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Mitchell v. Perkins

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

October 16, 2019

J.M. PERKINS, et al., Defendants.


          Marcia Morales Howard, Judge

         I. Status

         Plaintiff 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.[1] 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.

         This 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.[2] 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.

         II. Plaintiff's Allegations[3]

         Mitchell's 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. Id.

         Mitchell 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.

         III. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         In 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).

         A “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).

         A court 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).

         IV. Summary of the Arguments

         In the 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.

         Additionally, 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, [4]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 ...

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