United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Northeastern Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
E. CLIFTON KNOWLES United States Magistrate Judge.
I. Introduction and Background
This matter is before the Court upon Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. Docket No. 25. In support of their Motion, Defendants have contemporaneously filed a supporting Memorandum of Law (Docket No. 26), a “Statement of Facts in Support” of their Motion (Docket No. 27), and the Declaration of Shannon Harvey with Exhibits (Docket Nos. 28 - 28-11). As ground for their Motion, Defendants argue that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that they are entitled to a judgment as a matter of law because: (1) Plaintiff cannot establish that he suffered the deprivation of any constitutional right; (2) Plaintiff has failed to allege actual injury; and (3) Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C. 1997(e). Docket No. 26.
Plaintiff has not responded to the instant Motion or to Defendants “Statement of Facts in Support, ” nor has he filed his own statement of undisputed facts.
Plaintiff, an inmate at the Overton County Justice Center (“Jail”) at all times relevant to the case at bar, filed this pro se, in forma pauperis action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging that Defendants violated his First Amendment rights to communicate with his family via mail written in Spanish and to receive materials written in Spanish. Docket No. 1. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that, on December 11, 2013, he was denied the right to send a letter to his family because it was written in Spanish, and that, on January 3, 2014, he was denied receipt of a book that was sent to him because it was written in Spanish. Docket No. 1. Plaintiff sues Defendants in their individual and official capacities, and seeks unspecified nominal and punitive damages. Id.
As noted, Defendants argue that they are entitled to a judgment as a matter of law because: (1) Plaintiff cannot establish that he suffered the deprivation of any constitutional right; (2) Plaintiff has failed to allege actual injury; and (3) Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, as required by the PLRA. Docket No. 26. Additionally, Defendants state that they were not served in their official capacities and have therefore responded only in their individual capacities, and they argue that they cannot be held individually liable because respondeat superior claims are not cognizable under §1983. Id.
For the reasons discussed below, the undersigned finds that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that Defendants are entitled to judgments as a matter of law. Accordingly, the undersigned recommends that the instant Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 25) be GRANTED.
II. Undisputed Facts
A. Plaintiff’s Verified Complaint
The Statement of Facts in Plaintiff’s Verified Complaint states in its entirety as follows:
Mail fraud and discrimination. I Juan Carlos Oscura have been denied mail here at the Overton County Jail as well as being denied the right to send mail due to the fact that my family and I communicate in our native language which is Spanish. The staff here at Overton County Jail are not fluent in Spanish nor do they have a translator therefore I am being discriminated against by the Jail and its staff. I feel trapped in an environment where there is a severe language barrier. This is causing me extreme fear and mental anxiety by being incarcerated in a facility that prevents and hinders me from communicating and corresponding with peoples familure [sic] with my language. I believe this is unconstitutional and is a violation of my civil rights as a T.D.O.C. inmate and individual. There have been occasions here at Overton County Jail where I have tried sending mail and it has been returned to me by staff. This has been witnessed by . . . inmate and cellmate Cody Wright. There are also occasions where my mail has been refused, there are rejection notices on file. One occasion on 12/11/2013 my mail was rejected due to the fact it was written in a foreign language, an [sic] another occasion where a book was sent to me in Spanish but denied because of a foreign language on 1/3/2014.
Docket No. 1, p. 5 (ellipses in original).
Plaintiff’s Verified Complaint also states that Plaintiff has written grievances, and that the response to those grievances from the authorities was that he “was told it was their rules, and a security threat.” Id., p. 3.
B. Declaration of Shannon Harvey
At all times relevant to the instant action, Defendant Harvey served as the Jail Administrator for the Overton County Detention Facility (“Jail”). Docket No. 28, Declaration of Shannon Harvey (“Harvey Dec.”), ¶ 2.
Plaintiff was arrested on August 15, 2013, on charges of burglary, theft, and vandalism. Id., ¶ 3; Ex. A. At the time of his booking, Plaintiff was presented with the Inmate Mail Procedure and the Grievance Procedure. Id., ¶ 4; Exs. B, C.
The Jail keeps an Inmate Mail History for all incoming and outgoing mail for an inmate. Id., ¶ 6; Ex. F. On August 16, 2013, Plaintiff sent a letter to an individual at 411 Douglass Avenue in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Id. On August 27, 2013, Plaintiff received a letter from the address to which he had sent his correspondence. Id., ¶ 7; Ex. F. Plaintiff continued to correspond with the persons located at this address during the months of August, September, October, December, January, March, and April. Id., ¶ 8; Ex. F.
On December 11, 2013, Plaintiff was issued an Inmate Mail Rejection Information slip indicating that personal correspondence from A.S. Oscura had been denied because the letter was written in a foreign language and it contained an incomplete sender name. Id., ¶ 9; Ex. G. On December 14, 2013, Plaintiff filed an Inmate Request Report asking to receive the letter that was rejected because it was written in Spanish. Id.; ¶ 10; Ex. H. Defendant Harvey responded that she would look into the matter. Id.
On January 3, 2014, Plaintiff was issued a second Inmate Mail Rejection Information slip indicating that a book from Books-A-Million, published in Spanish, was placed in his property. Id., ¶ 11; Ex. I. On January 6, 2014, Plaintiff submitted a Resident Request Report asking to receive the Book that was placed in his property because it was published in Spanish. Id., ¶ 12; Ex. J. Defendant Harvey responded that it was a security issue and she would investigate. Id. Upon investigation, Defendant Harvey instructed the officers to give Plaintiff any letters or books that were identifiable by their covers as permissible reading material but happened to be written in Spanish. Id., ¶ 13. She further advised that, in the event there were any questions concerning whether mail or books were acceptable, Jail personnel were to bring the items to her for a determination. Id.
The book which was the subject of the January 6, 2014 Request was given to Plaintiff on January 14, 2014. Id., ¶ 14.
Only two items were initially rejected for being written in a foreign language - the letter and the book discussed above. Id., ¶ 16. Both items were provided to Plaintiff ...