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RAMIREZ v. HOLMES

March 31, 1996

MARIO RAMIREZ, Plaintiff, against OFFICER W. HOLMES, Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: KOELTL

 JOHN G. KOELTL, District Judge:

 Mario Ramirez, a prisoner presently incarcerated at the New York State Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill, New York, brings this action pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against the defendant identified as "Officer W. Holmes," presumably a New York State Department of Corrections Officer. Ramirez's Amended Complaint sets forth five specific claims. First, Ramirez alleges that, Holmes prevented him from using the prison law library on August 17, 1994. (Am. Compl. P 1.) Second, Ramirez alleges that Holmes prevented him from taking a shower on three occasions in late August 1994. (Am. Compl. P 2.) Third, Ramirez claims that on August 14, 1994 Holmes discriminated against him by "setting me up with drugs," specifically that Holmes stated that he saw the plaintiff smoking marijuana, while the plaintiff maintains that he never smoked or possessed any drugs at all. (Am. Compl. P 3.) Fourth, Ramirez claims that on September 7, 1994 Holmes conducted an allegedly improper search of Ramirez's cell in violation of prison regulations. (Am. Compl. P 3.) Finally, Ramirez claims that Holmes and another Corrections Officer identified as "S. Sasse" threatened Ramirez. (Am. Compl. P 4.)

 The defendant now moves to dismiss the Amended Complaint in its entirety pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

 I.

 On a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of the complaint are accepted as true and all reasonable inferences are construed in the plaintiff's favor. See Branham v. Meachum, 77 F.3d 626, 1996 U.S. App. LEXIS 2853, *5, 1996 WL 75789, at *2 (2d Cir. 1996); Gant v. Wallingford Bd. of Educ., 69 F.3d 669, 673 (2d Cir. 1995); Hernandez v. Coughlin, 18 F.3d 133, 136 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 130 L. Ed. 2d 63, 115 S. Ct. 117 (1994). A court should dismiss a complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) only "if 'it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'" Valmonte v. Bane, 18 F.3d 992, 998 (2d Cir. 1994) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957)). In addition, a pro se complaint such as the one in this case is to be liberally construed and held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 30 L. Ed. 2d 652, 92 S. Ct. 594 (1972); see also Branham, 1996 U.S. App. LEXIS 2853, at *6, 1996 WL 75789, at *2.

 In this case, even taking all of Ramirez's allegations as true, the Amended Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and must be dismissed.

 II.

 Ramirez's first claim is that he was prevented access to the prison law library on August 17, 1994. This allegation does not state a constitutional violation.

 The constitution guarantees prisoners meaningful access to the courts and, absent representation by counsel, reasonable access to a law library is a required part of that access. See Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821, 52 L. Ed. 2d 72, 97 S. Ct. 1491 (1977); Morello v. James, 810 F.2d 344, 346-47 (2d Cir. 1987); Smith v. O'Connor, 901 F. Supp. 644, 648 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) (Sotomayor, J.). But unlimited, unrestricted or unmanaged access at the demand of a prisoner is not required by the constitution. Prison officials may impose reasonable restrictions on use of a prison law library. See, Morello, 810 F.2d at 347 (exercise of right of access to courts may be "shaped and guided by the state but cannot be obstructed"); Jermosen v. Coughlin, No. 89 Civ. 1866, 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3989, *13, 1995 WL 144155, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 30, 1995) (Ward, J.) ("Interferences that merely delay an inmate's ability to work on a pending cause of action or to communicate with the courts do not violate this constitutional right."); see also Oltarzewski v. Ruggiero, 830 F.2d 136 (9th Cir. 1987) (permissible to require escort to use prison law library); Flittie v. Solem, 827 F.2d 276, 280 (8th Cir. 1987) (permissible to prevent domination of library by few inmates). Moreover, where it is alleged that access to a law library has actually been denied, a plaintiff must allege that the deprivation proximately caused some prejudice or denial of a legal claim. See Morello, 810 F.2d at 347; Smith, 901 F. Supp. at 648 (dismissing prisoner complaint over destruction of legal materials because no prejudice alleged); Howard v. Leonardo, 845 F. Supp. 943, 946 (N.D.N.Y. 1994) ("Where an inmate alleges a denial of access on some other claim, i.e., that the actions of an individual prevented him from accessing the law library or meeting a court deadline, then the court must determine whether the prisoner has suffered an actual injury in a pending suit."); Duff v. Coughlin, 794 F. Supp. 521, 524 (S.D.N.Y. 1992) (granting summary judgment against plaintiff where complaint did not identify prejudice suffered and no details were produced).

 In this case, the Amended Complaint sets forth a single incident when Holmes allegedly prevented Ramirez from using the law library. There is no allegation, however, that Ramirez suffered any prejudice from being unable to visit the library that day. There is no allegation of why Ramirez sought to use the law library or what legal claims or proceedings he was pursuing. Nor is it alleged that Ramirez was unreasonably prevented from using the library. There is no allegation that Ramirez could not have used the library at another time, or indeed that he was denied access to the library on any other occasion. While Ramirez does allege that Holmes used a belittling racial epithet, he has failed to allege any injury or harm resulting from his inability to use the library on the single occasion he cites. In fact, Ramirez does not allege that he was pursuing or intended to pursue a legal matter at the time he was allegedly denied use of the law library, and the lack of such an allegation is fatal to his claim. See Smith, 901 F. Supp. at 649 (complaint dismissed where allegations did not show how denial of access, even if done deliberately and maliciously, "materially prejudiced a pending legal action or one that [the plaintiff] sought to file in the courts"); Derrick v. Melendez, No. 91 Civ. 3075, 1992 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18320, 1992 WL 373474 (S.D.N.Y.) (Sand, J.) (complaint dismissed despite conclusory allegations of retaliatory motive where allegations did not include mention of prejudice from isolated incident denying plaintiff use of legal text), aff'd, 9 F.3d 1536 (2d Cir. 1993)(table). Therefore, Ramirez's first claim based on denial of access to the law library on August 17, 1994 is dismissed.

 Ramirez's second claim is based on three occasions where Holmes allegedly denied the plaintiff the opportunity for a shower. The Court construes this claim as an allegation that Ramirez was denied his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. See U.S. Const. amend. VIII; see also Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660, 666, 8 L. Ed. 2d 758, 82 S. Ct. 1417 (1962)(applying Eighth Amendment to states through Fourteenth Amendment due process clause).

 To state such a claim based on prison conditions, a plaintiff must allege a sufficiently serious deprivation under an objective standard and that the prison official acted with deliberate indifference. See Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8, 117 L. Ed. 2d 156, 112 S. Ct. 995 (1992); Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 297-98, 115 L. Ed. 2d 271, 111 S. Ct. 2321 (1991). A sufficiently serious deprivation occurs when "a prison official's act or omission . . . result[s] in the denial of the 'minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.'" Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298. In addition, the deliberate indifference element requires that the prison official "knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to inmate health or safety." Branham, 1996 U.S. App. LEXIS 2853, at *13, 1996 WL 75789, at *5 (quoting Hathaway v. Coughlin, 37 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 115 S. Ct. 1108 (1995); see also Malsh v. Austin, 901 F. Supp. 757, 762-63 (S.D.N.Y. 1995).

 The denial of a shower on each of three isolated occasions does not constitute a sufficiently serious deprivation, nor can it be said that a prison official who denied an inmate a shower on three occasions acted with deliberate indifference to the inmate's health and safety. In fact, there are no allegations in this case of restrictive confinement or the frequency with which Ramirez was allowed to bathe. Courts have found that prisoners who asserted far more serious deprivations did not state a claim for violation of their Eighth Amendment rights. See, e.g., Arce v. Walker, 907 F. Supp. 658, 662-63 (W.D.N.Y. 1995) (failure to provide exercise for eighteen days did not constitute Eighth Amendment violation); Graham v. Kuhlmann, No. 88 Civ. 6618, 1990 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16938, *13, 1990 WL 210298, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 12, 1990) (Martin, J.) (shave and shower once per week provided minimally adequate hygiene). See also Davenport v. DeRobertis, 844 ...


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