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Munt v. Roy

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

September 13, 2019

Joel Marvin Munt, Plaintiff,
v.
Tom Roy, Eddie Miles, Victor Wanchena, Chris Pawelk, Mike Warner, Susan Norton, Lisa Cox, and Steve Hammer, in their individual and official capacities, Defendants.

          JOEL MARVIN MUNT, PRO SE.

          RACHEL E. BELL-MUNGER, FOR DEFENDANTS.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Joel Marvin Munt's Objections [Doc. No. 50] to the Report and Recommendation (“R&R” [Doc. No. 48]) of Magistrate Judge Steven E. Rau dated June 13, 2019. In the R&R, the magistrate judge recommended: (1) granting Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 24]; (2) granting Defendant Hammer's Motion to Dismiss or Amend the Caption [Doc. No. 32]; (3) denying Plaintiff's Request for a Stay [Doc. No. 42]; and (4) dismissing Plaintiff's Complaint [Doc. No.1] with prejudice. (See R&R at 14-15.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court overrules Plaintiff's Objections in part, sustains them in part, and adopts the R&R.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In July 2018, Plaintiff Joel Marvin Munt filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, who is serving a life sentence for the first-degree murder of his ex-wife, alleges that Defendants, who are officers and employees of the Minnesota Department of Corrections (“DOC”), retaliated against him for exercising his constitutional right of access to the courts.

         A. Related Cases and Filings

         The facts of this case are related to a state court petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by Munt, see Munt v. Miles, No. A18-0740, 2018 WL 6165501, at *1 (Minn.Ct.App. Nov. 26, 2018), review denied, (Minn. Feb. 19, 2019), and to the facts and claims in another federal lawsuit, Munt v. Roy, 17-cv-5215 (SRN/SER).[1] Munt refers to both of these matters in the Complaint in the instant case. (See Compl. [Doc. No. 1] at 8-13, ¶¶ 1, 10, 13 n.7, 18 n. 12, 19, 24 n. 18.)

         The state court habeas petition arose from events that began in November 2017. At that time, Munt gave a corrections officer at MCF-Stillwater a 19-page love letter. Munt, 2018 WL 6165501, at *1. The officer filed an incident report and turned the letter over to prison authorities, who charged Munt with violating several prison regulations. Id. After he admitted to violating DOC rules against abuse/harassment and disorderly conduct, Munt served ten days in segregation as a sanction. Id. Afterwards, Munt sought to challenge this discipline via a habeas petition. Id. The state district court dismissed Munt's habeas petition with prejudice, finding it “frivolous or malicious, ” with “no arguable basis in law or in fact.” Id. The Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed, finding Munt's claims were moot and meritless, id., and, in February 2019, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied review. Id.

         In the related federal lawsuit, Munt v. Roy, Plaintiff asserted § 1983 claims alleging the general denial of access to the courts and legal resources. See Munt v. Roy, 17-cv-5215 (SRN/SER), 2019 WL 157289, at *1 (D. Minn. Jan. 10, 2019). In January 2019, this Court dismissed the suit, finding that Munt failed to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), and failed to sufficiently demonstrate the personal involvement of certain defendants, who were also entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity and qualified immunity. Id. at *2-7. Plaintiff's Complaint in the instant action expressly refers to several filings in the Munt v. Roy matter. (See, e.g., Compl. ¶¶ 13 n.7, 18 n.12, 19 n.13.) Among the documents Munt references are the Affidavit of Susan Norton, Munt v. Roy, 17-cv-5215 (SRN/SER) [Doc. No. 51], and the Affidavit of Lisa Cox, id. [Doc. No. 52].[2] (Compl. ¶¶ 13 n.7, 18 n.12.)

         In her affidavit, Ms. Norton states that in March 2018, Munt requested indigent offender copies of an affidavit (herein after, “the Affidavit”) that he had written and which he planned to submit in his state court habeas action. (Norton Aff. ¶ 5.) Per the DOC's Indigent Offender Policy, [3] Norton first reviewed the document. (Id.) She determined that in the Affidavit, Munt expressed his fixation with, and romantic feelings for, the same corrections officer to whom he had written the November 2017 letter. (Id.) Norton states that DOC policy provides for the confiscation of contraband, which includes any items deemed to present a risk to security, and the DOC deems romantic relationships between offenders and officers a security threat. (Id. ¶ 6.) Norton acknowledges that she confiscated the Affidavit as contraband, wrote an incident report, and logged the writing into evidence. (Id.) As a result of this incident, Norton states that the DOC transferred Munt to Minnesota Correctional Facility (“MCF”)-Oak Park Heights. (Id. ¶ 7.)

         Norton also asserts that Munt sent several “kites” (i.e., inmates' written requests) to her and other MCF-Stillwater staff regarding the confiscation of the Affidavit, transfer, and loss of items of personal property. (Id. ¶ 8.) Norton states that MCF-Stillwater Warden Eddie Miles responded to Munt's kite about the confiscation of the Affidavit, explaining that the document demonstrated a security risk to the officer and was properly confiscated under the DOC's Contraband Policy. (Id. ¶ 9.)

         As to Munt's personal property, Norton states that Associate MCF-Stillwater Warden Victor Wanchena informed Munt that the prison's Property Department staff packed his belongings pursuant to the DOC's Property Policy. (Id. ¶ 10.) Further, Associate Warden Wanchena told Munt that a bin containing his legal materials was sent to MCF-Oak Park Heights, and he directed Munt to the disposition form that Munt had received about his property. (Id.) Warden Miles also responded to Munt, reiterating Associate Warden Wanchena's points, and informing him that offenders are not permitted to pack their own belongings. (Id.)

         Ms. Norton attached exhibits to her affidavit, including the incident report, some of Munt's kites, Defendants' responses to kites, and prison policies. (See generally, Norton Aff. Exs. 1-5).) The kites and Defendants' responses to them concern the confiscation of the Affidavit, the Indigent Offender Policy, Munt's transfer, and the packing of his belongings prior to transfer. (See id.)

         As noted, the Complaint also refers to the Cox Affidavit. (Compl. ¶ 18 n.12.) Ms. Cox is a correctional officer in MCF-Stillwater's Property Department. (Cox Aff. ¶ 1.) She states that Property Department staff inspect and process all incoming and outgoing offender property. (Id. ¶ 4.) With respect to the property of an inmate who is pending transfer, staff inventory the inmate's property, consistent with DOC Policy 302.250, entitled “Offender Property.” (Id. at ¶¶ 4-5.) The DOC places a two-storage-bin limit on the quantity of offenders' personal property. (Id. ¶ 6.) Cox inventoried Munt's property bins on March 9, 2018, and completed a Property Disposition Form, (id. ¶ 5), which she attached to her affidavit. (Cox Aff., Ex. 1 [Doc. No. 52-1] (Property Disposition Form).) The Property Disposition Form lists “misc. papers” among the items removed. (Id.) Ms. Cox attests that documents marked as legal documents were put in a separate bin and sent to MCF-Oak Park Heights. (Cox Aff. ¶ 6.) Munt's miscellaneous papers, which included letters, cards, and calendars, apparently exceeded the two-bin property limit. (Id., Ex. 1 (Property Disposition Form).) Staff shipped them to one of Munt's family members whom he had designated to receive them. (Id.)

         B. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Munt contends that Defendants at MCF-Stillwater placed him in segregation and transferred him to a different prison “in retaliation for my affidavit.” (Compl. at 15, ¶¶ 30- 31.) Consistent with the Norton Affidavit, Munt alleges that after he requested a copy of the Affidavit in late February 2018, (id. at 8, ¶ 1), DOC Paralegal Susan Norton and MCF-Stillwater Associate Warden Wanchena reviewed the document. (Id. at 9-11, ¶¶ 4, 13.) Based on Ms. Norton's review, Munt acknowledges that she wrote an incident report on March 1, 2018, recommending Plaintiff's detention. (Id.) Munt was placed in segregation later that day. (Id. at 9, ¶ 7.) Munt alleges that in a related case, Munt v. Roy, 17-cv-5215 (SRN/SER), the DOC has “admitted” that it confiscated the Affidavit, placed him in segregation, and transferred him because of the Affidavit. (Id. at 12, ¶ 19.)

         Munt further contends that while in segregation, Defendants failed to process and respond to various kites that he filed with respect to his placement in segregation. (Id. at 11, ¶¶ 14-16.) He also alleges that Defendants impeded his access to the courts by restricting and/or depriving his access to legal resources and papers while he was in segregation. (Id. at 15, ¶ 32.) In connection with his prison transfer, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants “very loosely” packed his belongings and intentionally removed certain items, which he describes as “everything I needed to meaningfully continue pursuing my cases.” (Id. at 16, ¶ 34.)

         In this suit, Munt seeks injunctive relief, including the return of the Affidavit and all of his paperwork, declaratory relief, and compensatory damages. (Id., Prayer for Relief at 18-35.)

         C. R&R

         Ruling on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss in the R&R, Magistrate Judge Rau found that Munt's retaliation claims fail because he does not plausibly allege that Defendants took adverse actions against him purely out of a retaliatory motive. (R&R at 6-8.) He further found that Munt fails to plausibly allege a separate claim for denial of access to courts, as he does not allege any actual injury resulting from restricted access to legal materials, the confiscated Affidavit, or lost legal materials. (Id. at 8-9.)

         In addition, Magistrate Judge Rau found that Munt fails to allege that Defendant Roy, the former Commissioner of the DOC, was personally involved in any of the alleged constitutional violations. (Id. at 10-11.) He also found that because Munt fails to allege constitutional violations, Defendants are either entitled to qualified immunity, or Munt's pleading deficiencies deprive the Court of the ability to fully analyze the question of qualified immunity. (Id. at 11.)

         Also, while Munt broadly refers to state law claims, stating, “The court also has supplemental jurisdiction over the state claims under 28 U.S.C. section 1367, ” (Compl. at 4), Magistrate Judge Rau found that he fails to specify any such claims. (R&R at 12.) Because the magistrate judge recommended the dismissal of all federal claims over which the Court has original jurisdiction, he also recommended that the Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any state law claims. (Id. at 12) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3)).

         The magistrate judge also found that Eleventh Amendment immunity bars any claims for compensatory damages against Defendants in their official capacities, (id. at 12), and claims for injunctive relief against Defendants in their individual capacities. (Id. at 12-13.)

         In addition to addressing Defendants' collective motion to dismiss, the magistrate judge also considered Defendant Hammer's Motion to Dismiss or Amend the Caption. (Id. at 13.) Magistrate Judge Rau noted that Munt himself agrees that the addition of Hammer to the Complaint was a typographical error and that he should be dismissed from the lawsuit. (Id.)

         Also, Magistrate Judge Rau denied Munt's motion to stay the proceedings pending an appeal. (Id. at 13-14.) He found that, on balance, the equities favor the denial of a stay. (Id.)

         Finally, because the magistrate judge concluded that Munt fails to state a claim, he recommended that Defendants' motion be granted and the case be dismissed with prejudice. (Id. at 14-15.)

         D. Objections

         Munt objects to nearly all aspects of the R&R.[4] He presents several procedural arguments, asserting that the magistrate judge applied the wrong standard of review, considered materials outside the pleadings, and improperly favored Defendants' arguments concerning the Affidavit. (Objs. at 1, 3, 5.) Similarly, Munt argues, Magistrate Judge Rau erred by deciding issues of disputed fact, (id. at 5, 9-10), and “muddied the waters” by considering matters only relevant to other suits filed by Munt. (Id. at 3-4.)

         Munt also presents an array of factual and legal arguments. He asserts that the magistrate judge misconstrued his Complaint to assert a stand-alone access-to-courts claim. (Id. at 2, 12.) He states, “No such claim was raised, though Plaintiff stated he intended to amend [the Complaint] to include such a claim.” (Id. at 12.) Rather, Munt argues, the allegations in question simply support his claims of retaliation, (id. at 12-14), and the magistrate judge thus failed to consider, as retaliatory acts, his lack of legal resources and access in segregation and loss of legal papers during his transfer. (Id. at 2.) In spite of this clarification, Munt nevertheless challenges the magistrate judge's finding on a stand-alone access-to-courts claim that he suffered no harm. (Id. at 12-13.)

         As to his retaliation claim, Munt disputes the magistrate judge's finding that he fails to sufficiently allege a retaliatory motive, arguing that “at no time did Defendants present anything to indicate any of the adverse actions would have occurred ‘but for' the protected conduct.” (Id. at 8.) In support of his argument that he sufficiently alleges Defendants' retaliatory motive, Munt asks the Court to make certain inferences and points to particular allegations. For instance, he argues that he is entitled to an adverse inference of improper motive based on Defendants' alleged destruction of his Affidavit. (Id. at 5.) Also, Munt argues that in connection with the Affidavit, Defendants did not charge him with breaking any current rule. (Id. at 10-11.) The lack of any charges, he contends, supports an inference that Defendants retaliated against him based on his challenge to past discipline. (Id.) Similarly, he states that the alleged retaliatory acts occurred in close temporal proximity to the seizure of the Affidavit, suggesting that his effort to access the court supports a finding of an improper but-for motive for Defendants' actions. (Id. at 7-8.) In addition, he faults the magistrate judge for failing to acknowledge a purported statement from Warden Miles that in the future, Defendants would respond in the same manner if Munt “file[d] something that [staff] didn't like, ” (id. at 7), and for finding that the Affidavit was contraband. (Id. at 8-9.) Furthermore, he argues that by writing the Affidavit, he was not engaging in repetitive, violative conduct, but was merely attempting to appeal the discipline resulting from the seizure of the first letter. (Id. at 6-8, 10.)

         Munt also objects to the magistrate judge's rulings regarding: (1) Commissioner Roy's lack of personal involvement, (id. at 15); (2) qualified immunity, (id. at 16-17); (3) whether he brings claims against Defendants in both their individual and official capacities, (id. at 17); (4) the viability of his state law claim, (id. ); (5) denial of a stay, (id. at 17-20); and (6) the failure to explain the recommendation for dismissal with prejudice. (Id. at 20.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         The district court must conduct a de novo review of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation on dispositive motions to which specific objections have ...


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