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Smith v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 30, 2015

ISAIAH SMITH, Plaintiff,



Pro se plaintiff Isaiah Smith ("Plaintiff") brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants the City of New York and Captain Dauna Webb (collectively "Defendants"), alleging interference with his regular and legal mail. (Compl. (docket entry no. 2).) Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint in its entirety, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.


The following facts are taken from the Complaint and are presumed to be true for the purposes of this motion practice.

Plaintiff was at all relevant times a "court-ordered lock-down" inmate at Manhattan Detention Complex ("MDC"). On October 8, 2013, MDC Officer Vaga brought six pieces of opened mail to Plaintiff's cell. Plaintiff asked Officer Vaga who had opened his mail, and she replied that Defendant Webb had opened the mail. The next day, Plaintiff confronted Defendant Webb about his mail, and Defendant Webb told him that she could open his mail "as long as [he] was in lock-up." (Compl., ¶ II. D.) Thereafter, Plaintiff continued to receive opened mail. (Id.) Three of the pieces of opened mail were legal mail from his attorneys and the Family Court. ( Id., at pg. 4, Inmate Grievance and Request Program ("IGRP") Statement Form.[1])

On October 10, 2013, Plaintiff submitted an Inmate Grievance and Request Program statement. (Compl., at pg. 4.) The Inmate Grievance Review Committee ("IGRC") responded that, "even though [Plaintiff has] no mail restrictions, as per MDC security, all mail for court ordered lock-down inmates is read in order to ensure that it is not violating the court order." (Compl., at pg. 11, IGRC Disposition Form.) In addition, "though [the mail] may be addressed from the attorney, it has to be verified that it is actually from the attorney or legal mail and not from any individual." (Id.) Plaintiff appealed to the commanding officer, who provided a similar response. ("Mail must be read to ensure that [it] is not from another inmate or violating a court order." (Compl., at pg. 6, Commanding Officer's Disposition Form.)) Plaintiff further appealed to the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC"). On January 10, 2014, the CORC accepted Plaintiff's request, and ordered that Plaintiff's mail "would be opened in his presence." (Compl., at pg. 10, CORC Disposition.)

Plaintiff also alleges that "staff in charge of processing inmate mail has occasionally delayed, sabotaged, and trashed [Plaintiff's] out-going mail." (Compl., ¶ V.) Plaintiff sent out a letter each to his foster care worker, William Sanchez, and to his Family Court attorney, Kristine Marshall, on November 16, 2013, and December 16, 2013, respectively. (Compl., at pg. 12, IGRP Statement Form.) The letters were in response to previous correspondence about the adoption of Plaintiff's two children. (Compl., at pgs. 14, 15.) William Sanchez informed Plaintiff during a family visit on November 26, 2013 that he had not received his letter. (Compl., at pg. 12.) On December 27, 2013, Plaintiff received a letter from Kristine Marshall dated, December 19, 2013, indicating that she had not received the letter he had sent out on December 16, 2013. (Compl., at pgs. 12, 13.) Plaintiff asserts that he had written "well in advance" of January 16, 2014, which was the scheduled court date for finalization of the voluntary surrender of his children, "to make a few changes to the terms and conditions so that [he] could better interact with [his] two children, but the letters never left the facility." (Compl., ¶ V.)

On December 28, 2013, Plaintiff filed an IGRP statement form requesting that his letter to his Family Court attorney, Kristine Marshall, be personally mailed by prison staff. (Compl., at pg. 12.) In response, the IGRP forwarded the letter to the MDC Legal Aid office on or about January 9, 2013. The MDC Security Captain stated that all mail received by staff would be sent. (Compl., at pg. 7, IGRP Disposition Form.) The Complaint does not indicate whether the letter reached Kristine Marshall before the court date of January 16, 2014, nor does it indicate the outcome of those proceedings.

Plaintiff seeks to recover damages, alleging that he has suffered mental and emotional harm as a result of the interference with his mail.


In deciding a motion to dismiss a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the allegations in the complaint are accepted as true, and all reasonable inferences are drawn in the plaintiff's favor. McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 191 (2d Cir. 2007); S.E.C. v. Lyon, 529 F.Supp.2d 444, 449 (S.D.N.Y. 2008). To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) ("[O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss."). To state a plausible claim to relief, a complaint's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

The court must interpret the factual allegations of a pro se complaint "to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Grullon v. City of New Haven, 720 F.3d 133, 139 (2d Cir. 2013) (citing Harris v. City of New York, 607 F.3d 18, 24 (2d Cir. 2010)). Nevertheless, the liberal reading accorded to pro se pleadings "is not without limits, and all normal rules of pleading are not absolutely suspended." Stinson v. Sheriff's Dep't., 499 F.Supp. 259, 262 (S.D.N.Y. 1980).

Although litigants generally may not constructively amend their complaints by raising new factual allegations in their opposition papers, see, e.g., Rosado v. Herard, No. 12CV8943-PGG-FM, 2014 WL 1303513, at *11 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 25, 2014), courts often consider such assertions when made by pro se litigants, see, e.g., id.; Rodriguez v. Rodriguez, No. 10CV00891-LGS, 2013 WL 4779639, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 8, 2013).

Plaintiff's Civil Rights Claims

Plaintiff brings his claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides that:
[e]very person who, under the color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory of the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable ...

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