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CRAWFORD-EL v. BRITTON

February 14, 1994

LEONARD ROLLON CRAWFORD-EL, Plaintiff,
v.
PATRICIA BRITTON and DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, 1 Defendants.


Lamberth


The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROYCE C. LAMBERTH

This case comes before this court on defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's fourth amended complaint. Having considered defendants' motion and plaintiff's opposition, this court hereby dismisses plaintiff's fourth amended complaint.

 I. Background

 Plaintiff Leonard Rollon Crawford-El is a District of Columbia prisoner who was transferred out of the District's prisons in 1988 and shuffled from facility to facility due to overcrowding in the District's prison system. At the start of one of those facility-to-facility transfers -- a two-month-long move from the McNeil Island Correctional Center in Steilcoom, Washington on July 28, 1989, to a federal correctional institution in Marianna, Florida, on September 22, 1989, via correctional facilities in Cameron, Missouri; Lorton, Virginia; and Petersburg, Virginia -- Crawford-El had to surrender his property to prison officials for shipping. His property consisted of his papers in federal pro se and in forma pauperis civil actions, papers recording facts relevant to contemplated federal actions for damages, and a photograph he believed necessary for a post-conviction motion in his criminal case, as well as some clothing and other articles. (Fourth Amended Complaint, at P 44.)

 At first, Marianna officials would not permit Crawford-El to receive his boxes because they had been mailed to him outside prison channels. (Pl.'s Opp'n to Motion to Dismiss, at 7.) Crawford-El had to submit an administrative complaint in order to get his property back. In February 1990, he finally did receive his property, about six months after he had surrendered his property to prison officials in Washington state. (Pl.'s Opp'n to Motion to Dismiss, at 8.)

 As a result of defendants' actions, he alleges, he had to incur the first class mail delivery costs of shipping his property from the District of Columbia to Marianna, Florida; the cost of replacing underwear, tennis shoes, soft shoes, and other items in his delayed packages; and suffered mental distress. (Fourth Amended Complaint, at P 45.) For these injuries, Crawford-El seeks declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief.

 In response, defendants have filed a motion to dismiss. The issue before this court now is whether to grant this dispositive motion.

 II. Court of Appeals' Decision

 The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has provided direct guidance for the resolution of this motion to dismiss. In this case's first phase of life, Britton filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint, *fn2" which alleged that Britton had intentionally interfered with Crawford-El's constitutional right of access to the courts. On December 21, 1990, this court denied that motion to dismiss. She appealed and won a reversal and a remand to this court for repleading. See Crawford-El v. Britton, 293 U.S. App. D.C. 47, 951 F.2d 1314 (D.C. Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 121 L. Ed. 2d 29, 113 S. Ct. 62 (1992). *fn3"

 The Court of Appeals held that Crawford-El's complaint did not satisfy the heightened pleading standard for damages suits against government officials alleged to have acted on unconstitutional motives. To survive the motion to dismiss, Crawford-El had to satisfy the heightened pleading standard by making "specific nonconclusory allegations showing that Britton knew his property contained legal materials relating to pending cases and that she diverted his property with the intention of interfering with his litigation." Crawford-El, 951 F.2d at 1319 (emphasis in original). *fn4" The complaint that the Court of Appeals reviewed met this heightened pleading standard. See Crawford-El, 951 F.2d at 1320.

 The Court of Appeals remanded this case for repleading, offering Crawford-El a second chance to state an injury to support his claim of denial of access to the courts. Crawford-El, 951 F.2d at 1322.

 The question now before this court is whether Crawford-El's fourth amended complaint, pled by very able court-appointed counsel, survives defendants' motion to dismiss. Specifically, this court must determine, first, whether on remand Crawford-El has supported his court access claim -- the sole claim reviewed by the Court of Appeals -- with a showing of injury; and second, whether the four new claims that Crawford-El has raised in this fourth amended complaint withstand defendants' motion to dismiss.

 III. Constitutional Right of Court Access

 In his fourth amended complaint, Crawford-El pleads again the three injuries he alleged in the complaint the Court of Appeals reviewed. He restates his two pecuniary injuries -- the cost of shipping his packages to himself, and the cost of replacing some clothing -- and elaborates upon a third injury of "mental distress" caused by "the stressful communications with officials and family members, the deprivation of pictures of loved ones, worry that his property might permanently or indefinitely be withheld from him, worry that his pending legal proceedings would be prejudiced, and worry that his pursuit of the administrative complaint in FCI Marianna [to be allowed to receive the packages as mailed from his mother] would adversely affect his relationships with FCI Marianna staff." (Fourth Amended Complaint, at P 45.)

 The Court of Appeals has explicitly held that these three injuries do not flow from any deprivation of Crawford-El's court access right (see Crawford-El, 951 F.2d at 1322), and that they do not support a claim seeking relief "for an isolated episode of interference with [the] right of access to . . . legal materials." Crawford-El, 951 F.2d at 1321.

 Yet instead of alleging merely a single, isolated episode of a violation of the right to court access, Crawford-El's fourth amended complaint alleges that defendants systematically deprived him and prisoners like him of their of legal materials out of pervasive ignorance or indifference to court access rights. (Pl.s' Opp'n to Motion to Dismiss, at 21.) He argues that an allegation of a failure of the entire system need not be supported by a showing of actual injury. The systemic failure itself is injury enough. See, e.g., Chandler v. Baird, 926 F.2d 1057, 1063 (11th Cir. 1991); Sowell v. Vose, 941 F.2d 32, 34 (1st Cir. 1991).

 To avoid the usual requirement of demonstrating actual injury, Crawford-El must allege systemic deprivation, challenging, for example, "the basic adequacy of materials and legal assistance made available to all or subgroups of the prison population. . . . [or] conditions [that] obviously go to the heart of any meaningful access to libraries, counsel, or courts." Chandler, 926 F.2d at 1063. Deprivations "of a minor and short-lived nature" that do not "implicate general policies" are not enough. Id. at 1063.

 However, Crawford-El's allegations of injury simply do not show that defendants habitually frustrated prisoners' court access rights. *fn5" His strongest allegation of systemic injury states that defendants have a policy of seizing prisoner property during prisoner transfers without regard for whether such property contains active legal files, *fn6" pursuant to which he will soon suffer another lengthy separation from his legal materials when he is returned to federal custody upon termination of this case. *fn7"

 Yet even this allegation does not implicate a general policy that deprives prisoners from access to the courts. Most prisoners were not separated from their materials (legal or otherwise) for very long; as Crawford-El concedes, other prisoners had received their property by August or September 1989, shortly after they arrived at Lorton and only one or two months after separation from their property in Washington state. (Fourth Amended Complaint, at PP 25, 26.)

 Further, although Crawford-El was separated from his materials longer than most, even that separation proved to be a minor and short-lived impediment to court access. He does not allege that he was totally deprived of legal materials. Presumably, he was able to use prison legal libraries and other legal resources while he waited for his materials to be returned to him. Further, his ability to request extensions of time from the courts handling his cases prevented the separation from his legal documents from becoming a serious impediment to his access to the courts.

 His weaker allegations of systemic injury are simply off the mark. In his opposition to the motion to dismiss, Crawford-El cites several paragraphs of his fourth amended complaint in support of a showing of systemic injury. Yet none of them shows that he or others like him were systemically denied access to the courts or to legal materials. For example, three of the cited allegations show Britton's disdain for Crawford-El and her cavalier attitude toward her duties, but they do not indicate that he or other prisoners were actually deprived of materials necessary for pursuing legal matters. *fn8" Similarly unpersuasive is his allegation that during the transfer from Cameron, Missouri, to Lorton, Britton lost a separate parcel of Crawford-El's full of non-legal documents: his canteen items, a letter with pictures, and stamps. (Fourth Amended Complaint, at PP 21-23.) That loss did not deprive him of legal materials nor limit his access to the courts. Lastly, his final cited allegation seems more supportive of defendants' position that his. *fn9"

 Because Crawford-El has alleged no actual injury, and because he has not satisfactorily alleged systemic injury, Crawford-El's ...


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