United States District Court, D. Colorado
PHILIP A. BRIMMER, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on the Recommendation and Order of United States Magistrate Judge [Docket No. 44] (the "Recommendation") filed on November 6, 2013. The magistrate judge recommends that the Court grant the Motion to Dismiss [Docket No. 22] filed by defendant Lira Sims, as well as deny Plaintiff's Rule 60 Motion for Relief from Order [Docket No. 12]. The magistrate judge also denied as moot the Motion for Trial by the Court on Plaintiff's Request for Declaratory Judgment [Docket No. 42] filed by plaintiff. On November 25, 2013, plaintiff filed timely objections [Docket No. 46] to the Recommendation. Therefore, the Court will "determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).
In light of plaintiff's pro se status, the Court reviews his filings liberally. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 n. 3 (10th Cir. 1991). Because the Recommendation contains a detailed statement of the case, the Court will only discuss the facts relevant to the resolution of plaintiff's objections. See Docket No. 44.
I. MOTION TO DISMISS
A. Denial of Access to Court
The Recommendation found that plaintiff failed to sufficiently allege a claim for denial of access to courts. Docket No. 44 at 8. Specifically, the Recommendation concluded that plaintiff failed to allege that Ms. Sims' actions hindered his ability to pursue specific legal claims and, to the extent plaintiff alleges that Ms. Sims was required to modify plaintiff's probation, Colorado law provides probation officers with no authority to modify probation conditions. Id. at 7-8.
It is "established beyond doubt that prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts, " which extends to prisoners asserting civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821, 827 (1977). The right of access is jointly protected by the petition clause of the First Amendment, City of New York v. Beretta U.S.A. Corp., 524 F.3d 384, 397 (2d Cir. 2008); the Sixth Amendment, Arney v. Simmons, 26 F.Supp.2d 1288 (D. Kan. 1998); and the privileges and immunities and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Smith v. Maschner, 899 F.2d 940, 947 (10th Cir. 1990). This right "is violated where government officials obstruct legitimate efforts to seek judicial redress." Beretta, 524 F.3d at 397 (citing Whalen v. Cnty. of Fulton, 126 F.3d 400, 406-07 (2d Cir. 1997) (internal citations omitted)). However, § 1983 liability may "only be imposed upon those defendants whose own individual actions cause a constitutional deprivation...." Dodds v. Richardson, 614 F.3d 1185, 1200 (10th Cir. 2010); see also Colvin v. Schaublin, 113 F.Appx. 655, 658 (6th Cir. 2004) (unpublished) (holding that defendants were not liable where their actions did not cause denial of access to law library).
To raise a denial of access to court claim, plaintiff "must show that [defendant's actions] resulted in actual injury' by frustrat[ing], ' imped[ing], ' or hinder[ing] his efforts to pursue a [nonfrivolous] legal claim.'" Simkins v. Bruce, 406 F.3d 1239, 1243 (10th Cir. 2005) (quoting Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351-53 (1996)). Conclusory allegations of injury will not suffice. Cosco v. Uphoff, 195 F.3d 1221, 1224 (10th Cir. 1999); cf. Simkins, 406 F.3d at 1243-44 (recognizing a sufficient showing of actual injury where prisoner demonstrated specific impact on prosecution of particular case).
As a condition of his probation, plaintiff was required to complete a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program and reside at the Stout Street Foundation. Docket No. 41 at 9. It is undisputed that the Stout Street facility does not allow residents to initiate legal proceedings. Docket No. 29 at 2, § 2. Plaintiff alleges that, shortly after being assigned to the Stout Street facility, he received a copy of a police report relating to his arrest and was made aware that his attorney may have been ineffective during criminal proceedings. Docket No. 41 at 9. At that point, plaintiff alleges that he decided to file motions challenging his sentence and conviction pursuant to Colorado Rule of Criminal Procedure 35 and to file an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenging the arresting officers' actions. Id. Plaintiff claims that Stout Street's restrictions on legal communications made it futile for him to access the state court system. Id. at 10. Plaintiff alleges that he asked Ms. Sims to temporarily remove him from the program so that he could pursue his legal claims. Id. Plaintiff argues that Ms. Sims refused his request and failed to relay to the sentencing court his request to be placed in a position to file legal correspondence. Id. at 12.
Even assuming that Stout Street's restrictions on legal correspondence resulted in actual injury to plaintiff's efforts to pursue nonfrivolous legal claims, plaintiff has entirely failed to allege that Ms. Sims personally had any role in creating or enforcing those restrictions. See Holt v. Werholtz, 185 F.Appx. 737, 740 (10th Cir. 2006) (unpublished) ("assuming [plaintiff] has shown an actual injury, he has not shown that this injury resulted from the defendant's actions"). Thus, to the extent plaintiff's claimed injury resulted from the Stout Street facility's restrictions on legal correspondence, plaintiff's claim against Ms. Sims fails.
Plaintiff's access to court claim also fails to the extent it is based on Ms. Sims' alleged refusal to modify the conditions of plaintiff's probation in order to permit him to leave the Stout Street facility. Even if plaintiff's probation conditions requiring him to remain at the Stout Street facility constituted an actionable denial of access to the courts, plaintiff cites no authority granting Ms. Sims the ability to unilaterally modify the terms of his probation. To the contrary, pursuant to Colo Rev. Stat. §§ 18-1.3-203, 18-1.3-204, the discretion to set or modify the conditions of a plaintiff's probation lies with the sentencing court. See also People v. Guatney, 214 P.3d 1049, 1052 (Colo. 2009) (granting and revoking probation "is entirely discretionary with the sentencing court"). Because Ms. Sims had no authority to unilaterally modify plaintiff's probation conditions, she had no ability to cause plaintiff's claimed constitutional injury. See Dodd, 614 F.3d at 1199. Thus, to the extent plaintiff's claim is based on Ms. Sims' failure to modify the conditions of his probation, plaintiff's claim against Ms. Sims fails. See David v. City & Cnty. of Denver, 101 F.3d 1344, 1353 (10th Cir. 1996) (holding that defendant is liable in § 1983 action only if he "exercised power possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law'" (quoting West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49 (1988))).
Plaintiff further argues that he was denied access to the courts when Ms. Sims allegedly failed to communicate to the sentencing court his request to be temporarily excused from the Stout Street facility. Docket No. 46 at 3, 8; see Docket No. 41 at 12. Plaintiff argues that Colo. Rev. Stat. XX-XX-XXX(1) required Ms. Sims to report plaintiff's request to the sentencing court. Docket No. 46 at 5. Colo. Rev. Stat. XX-XX-XXX(1) provides:
It is the duty of a probation officer to investigate and report upon any case referred to him or her by the court for investigation. The probation officer shall furnish to each person released on probation under his or her supervision a written statement of the conditions of probation and shall instruct the person regarding the same. The officer shall keep informed concerning the conduct and condition of each person on probation under his or her supervision and shall report thereon to the court at such times as it directs. Such officers shall use all suitable methods, not inconsistent with the conditions imposed by the court, to aid persons on probation and to bring about improvement in their conduct and condition. Each officer shall keep records of his or her work; shall make such reports to the court as are required; and shall perform such other duties as the court may direct.
Contrary to plaintiff's argument, nothing in § 16-11-209(1) requires Ms. Sims to report plaintiff's request to the court or assist plaintiff in filing legal correspondence. Although state officials are prohibited from interfering with attempts to prepare or file legal documents, plaintiff has failed to allege Ms. Sims' failure to report his request caused any such interference. See Lewis, 518 U.S. at 350. Plaintiff does not claim that Ms. Sims personally prohibited him from sending legal correspondence. Rather, as noted above, plaintiff's claimed injury resulted from circumstances outside of Ms. Sims' authority, specifically the Stout Street facility's restrictions prohibiting plaintiff from sending legal correspondence and the terms of plaintiff's probation requiring him to remain at that facility. See Morton v. Becker, 793 F.2d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1986) ("Causation is an essential element of a section 1983 cause of action."). Therefore, even assuming Ms. Sims communicated his request to the sentencing court, plaintiff provides no basis on which to conclude that he would then have been permitted to pursue specific legal claims. See McBride v. Deer, 240 F.3d 1287, 1290 (10th Cir. 2001) (holding that plaintiff failed to sufficiently allege actual injury when ...