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Munt v. Roy

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 10, 2019

JOEL MARVIN MUNT, Plaintiff,
v.
TOM ROY, Commissioner of Corrections; MIKE WARNER; and DAVID COWARD, Defendants.

          JOEL MARVIN MUNT, PRO SE.

          LINDSAY LAVOIE, FOR DEFENDANTS.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The above matter comes before the Court on a consolidated review of two Reports and Recommendations. The first Report and Recommendation (“the First R & R”) of Magistrate Judge Steven E. Rau [Doc. No. 58] was filed on June 25, 2018, to which Plaintiff Joel Marvin Munt (“Munt”) timely filed Objections [Doc. No. 61] (“First Objs.”). Defendants Tom Roy, Mike Warner, and David Coward (“Defendants”) filed a response to Munt's Objections, [Doc. No. 62] (“Defs.' Resp.”), and Munt filed a reply to Defendants' response (“Munt Reply”). [Doc. No. 63].

         The second Report and Recommendation (“the Second R & R”) of Magistrate Judge Steven E. Rau [Doc. No. 69] was filed on October 15, 2018, to which Munt timely filed Objections (“Second Objs.” [Doc. No. 71].) Defendants have not filed a response to Munt's Objections to the Second R & R.

         Based on all the files, records, and proceedings herein, the Court: (1) adopts the June 25, 2018 First R & R, as modified; (2) adopts the October 15, 2018 Second R & R in its entirety; (3) grants Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 22]; and (4) denies Munt's motions.[1]

         II. BACKGROUND

         A detailed recitation of the factual and procedural background of this case is found in the First R & R, which the Court incorporates herein by reference. In brief, Munt brings this action alleging a violation of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Compl. at 3 [Doc. No. 1].) Munt alleges that Defendants have instituted policies and regulations which restrict his access to the courts. (Id.) Specifically, Munt takes issue with “(1) onerous copying, printing, and postage policies; (2) inadequate access to legal resources; and (3) overly restrictive policies regarding personal property that prevent inmates from properly maintaining legal work.” (May 3, 2018 Order at [Doc. No. 43]) (summarizing allegations in Complaint at 9-16.)[2]

         III. DISCUSSION

         The district court must undertake an independent, de novo review of those portions of an R & R to which objection is made and “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); see also D. Minn. LR 72.2(b)(3).

         Munt objects to “pretty much the whole R & R.” (First Objs. at 14.) He argues that the magistrate judge erred in recommending dismissal of his Complaint, for the following reasons: (1) contrary to the magistrate judge's findings, the Complaint pleaded sufficient personal involvement of each named Defendant, (id. at 2-3); (2) the Complaint plausibly alleged claims regarding the copying, printing, postage, legal resources and property policies of the Minnesota Department of Corrections (“DOC”), (id. at 3-8); and (3) the magistrate judge applied the wrong standard of review in evaluating the Motion to Dismiss. (Id. at 2, 10, 12-13.) Munt also argues that the magistrate judge erred in recommending a denial of Munt's Motion to Stay, because “Judge Nelson and Magistrate Judge Rau are legally unable to rule on matters in this case.” (Id. at 12.) Finally, Munt argues that because he was unaware of the controlling legal standard applicable to motions for injunctive relief, the magistrate judge erred in recommending the denial of his motions for such relief. (Id. at 7.)[3]

         A. Motion to Dismiss

          “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A complaint states a plausible claim for relief if its ‘factual content . . . allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Braden v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 588 F.3d 585, 594 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Success need not be probable to survive a motion to dismiss, but there must be more than the “sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. However, “legal conclusions or ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action' . . . may properly be set aside.” Braden, 588 F.3d at 594 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         When considering a 12(b)(6) motion, the district court accepts as true all factual allegations in the complaint and grants all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Crooks v. Lynch, 557 F.3d 846, 848 (8th Cir. 2009).[4]

         “[A] pro se complaint must be liberally construed, and ‘pro se litigants are held to a lesser pleading standard than other parties.'” Gertsner v. Sebig, LLC, 386 Fed.Appx. 573, 575 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Whitson v. Stone Cty. Jail, 602 F.3d 920, 922 n.1 (8th Cir. 2010)). “However, this standard does not excuse pro se complaints from ‘alleg[ing] sufficient facts to support the claims advanced.'” Id. (quoting Stone Cty., 602 F.3d at 922 n.1).

         Generally, courts may not consider matters outside the pleadings on a 12(b)(6) motion. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). However, courts may take judicial notice of matters in the public record. See Levy v. Ohl, 477 F.3d 988, 991 (8th Cir. 2007) (citing Nixon v. Coeur D'Alene Tribe, 164 F.3d 1102, 1107 (8th Cir. 1999)). Here, the Court examines the allegations in the Complaint and takes note of Munt's litigation in this District, as his lawsuits are matters of public record, without the need to convert Defendants' motion into a motion for summary judgment.

         1. Section 1983

          Pursuant to 42 § 1983, an individual may bring a civil action against state actors to “vindicate rights conferred by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” Wilson v. Spain, 209 F.3d 713, 715 (8th Cir. 2000). Here, although Munt fails to identify the particular constitutional amendments that Defendants allegedly violated, his access-to-courts claims appear to implicate the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.[5] See Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821-22 (1977).

         The Court agrees with the magistrate judge's determination that Lewis v. Casey forecloses many of Munt's claims for relief. (First R & R at 19) (citing Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343 (1996).) As noted by Magistrate Judge Rau, Lewis stands for the proposition that there is no per se “right to a law library or legal assistance.” 518 U.S. at 350. The Constitution “does not guarantee inmates the wherewithal to transform themselves into litigating engines.” Id. at 355. Nor can a prisoner “establish relevant actual injury simply by establishing that his prison's law library or legal assistance program is subpar in some theoretical sense.” Id. at 351. Rather, a prisoner must assert facially plausible allegations that a “nonfrivolous[6] legal claim [was] frustrated or was being impeded” by the defendants. Id. at 353.

         a. Copying, Printing, and Postage

         In his Complaint, Munt alleges generally that DOC policies regarding photocopies, printing of documents, and mail have hindered his ability to file a larger lawsuit. (Compl. at 9-12, 14.) He contends that the price of copying is onerous considering the volume of supporting materials that he seeks to file, (id. at 9-10), the weekly 50-page limit of printed materials hinders his ability to serve process and produce evidence in a prospective trial, (id. at 10-12), and that there are no reasonable repayment plans for postage expenses. (Id. at 12.)

         The Court agrees with the magistrate judge that these allegations fail to state a claim that is plausible on its face. As noted in the First R & R, Munt's status as an in forma pauperis litigant[7] removes his burden of issuing and serving process, as this burden shifts to the Court. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d). Munt's allegations concerning the expense and burden of serving process are thus inapposite.

         Munt also emphasizes that the printing and copying policies cause him significant delay in filing various documents with the Court. (First Objs. at 4.) However, as noted in the First R & R, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide that parties may move for extensions of time. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(b). These extensions provide Munt with a reasonable mechanism to continue to timely file various documents in this suit and others. Indeed, the First R & R notes many instances in which Munt requested and was granted extensions. (First R & R at 23-25.) Munt's claims regarding printing and copying are not plausibly cognizable.

         Munt's allegations regarding postage are also not cognizable, as he does not allege that the postage policy prevents him from filing documents with the Court. As noted in the First R & R, his Complaint alleges the opposite: “[i]f there is more postage than you have money [in your account, the mail] still goes out.” (Compl. at 12) (emphasis added). Given that there is no allegation that postage policies are an impediment to Munt's access to the Courts, Munt's claim regarding postage is not plausibly cognizable.

         The Court thus agrees with the First R & R, that even viewing these policies collectively, it is not plausible “that a combination of the copying, printing, and postage policies impeded Munt's ‘opportunit[ies] to present claimed violations of fundamental constitutional rights to the courts.'” (First R & R at 22, quoting Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351.) As Magistrate Judge Rau also observed, “Munt's filing activity in this case alone demonstrates the implausible nature of his allegations.” (Id.) (citing Doc. Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 32, 33, 34, 35, 38, 39, 41, 42, 46, 47, 48, 55).

         b. Legal Resources

         Munt further alleges that the DOC policies regarding access to legal resources impede his access to the courts. (Compl. at 13-14) (“With the current 2.5 hours per week [restriction] and my backlog of pleadings, it will take me years before the materials for this case are ready to file, unless relief is granted.”). Defendants note that Munt does not deny that he has access to a law library, computer, and legal materials. (Defs.' Resp. at 7.) ...


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