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Muldoon v. Department of Correction

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 18, 2018




         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Emmett Muldoon (“Muldoon”) filed this lawsuit against Defendants Department of Correction (“DOC”), Carol O'Brien (“O'Brien”), Sean Medeiros, Barbara Baker and William Mongelli (collectively, “Defendants”), bringing a series of claims relating to the delivery and handling of his mail and other documents. D. 26-1. Defendants moved for summary judgment. D. 159. For the reasons discussed below, the Court ALLOWS Defendants' motion for summary judgment, D. 159.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Court grants summary judgment to a movant if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Once the moving party avers the absence of genuine issues of material fact, the nonmovant must show that a factual dispute does exist, but summary judgment cannot be defeated by relying on improbable inferences, conclusory allegations, or rank speculation.” Fontanez-Nunez v. Janssen Ortho LLC, 447 F.3d 50, 54-55 (1st Cir. 2006) (quoting Ingram v. Brink's, Inc., 414 F.3d 222, 228-29 (1st Cir. 2005)). On an issue as to which the movant lacks the burden of persuasion at trial, the movant can meet its initial burden on summary judgment either by “affirmatively produc[ing] evidence that negates an essential element of the non-moving party's claim” or by “point[ing] to evidentiary materials already on file-such as answers to interrogatories, affidavits, or portions of depositions-that demonstrate that the non-moving party will be unable to carry its burden of persuasion at trial.” Carmona v. Toledo, 215 F.3d 124, 132 (1st Cir. 2000).

         While the pleadings of a pro se litigant should be construed broadly, “even a pro se litigant must meet the specificity requirement of Federal Rule 56, at least when the litigant becomes aware that specific facts must be provided to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Posadas de Puerto Rico, Inc. v. Radin, 856 F.2d 399, 401 (1st Cir. 1988).

         III. Factual Background

         The following facts are undisputed.[1] Muldoon is an inmate who has been held, at all relevant times, at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Norfolk (“MCI-Norfolk”). D. 161 ¶ 1. O'Brien was, during all relevant times, the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Correction (“DOC”). D. 161 ¶ 3. Medeiros is the Superintendent of MCI-Norfolk. D. 161 ¶ 4. Baker is an administrative officer at MCI-Norfolk and also serves as the treasurer there. D. 161 ¶ 5. Mongelli is a correctional librarian at MCI-Norfolk. D. 161 ¶ 6.

         On or about June 17, 2014, Muldoon attempted to mail legal documents without postage, including an affidavit in support of a motion for post-conviction relief under Mass. R. Crim. P. 30(b) in Norfolk Superior Court. D. 161 ¶ 7. On or about June 19, 2014, his legal documents were returned to him, unmailed, along with a copy of his inmate statement account from April 1, 2014 to June 17, 2014. D. 161 ¶ 8; D. 161-1 at 2. According to that inmate statement account, Muldoon's account began the period with a balance of $0.56 and there was a deposit of $50.00 on April 28, along with the following charges: $1.00 for monthly maintenance and administration of the account; $14.53 for postage; $20.00 for telephone charges; and a net charge of $15.01 for assorted canteen purchases. D. 161-1 at 2; D. 172-1 at 4. The net balance at the end of the period was $0.02. D. 161-1 at 2; D. 172-1 at 4.

         The regulation controlling mail policy is set forth in 103 C.M.R. § 481. D. 161 ¶ 10. If an inmate is indigent, the inmate is permitted to mail three first class letters weighing one ounce or less each week at the institution's expense and an unlimited number of letters of any weight to any court official at the institution's expense. 103 C.M.R. § 481.09. The regulation defines an inmate as “indigent” if the inmate's account has, at the time at which the mail is to be sent and for the preceding sixty day period, $10 or less, plus the cost of the mail to be sent. 103 C.M.R. 481.05. Under MCI-Norfolk's operating procedures, if an inmate is not indigent, the inmate may use a yellow mailing charging slip to mail certain mail if the inmate does not have enough funds to pay for postage at the time of mailing and his account would be charged at a later time for the cost of postage. D. 161 ¶ 23.

         On or about June 19, 2014, Muldoon filed a grievance regarding the return of his mail. D. 161 ¶ 24. The grievance coordinator, Danielle Laurenti, referred Muldoon to the policy for utilizing yellow mailing charging slips. D. 161 ¶ 25; D. 161-1 at 17. Between February 2014 and June 2014, Muldoon mailed approximately ten motions to the Norfolk Superior Court regarding a Rule 30(b) motion. D. 161 ¶ 27. On October 20, 2014, the affidavit that Muldoon had attempted to file in the June 17, 2014 mailing was docketed by the Norfolk Superior Court. D. 161 ¶ 28. On March 16, 2015, the Norfolk Superior Court denied Muldoon's Rule 30(b) motion for a new trial. D. 161 ¶ 29.

         On five occasions from November 2014 to July 2015, Muldoon received medical mail from the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital and Boston Medical Center which had been opened prior to its delivery to Muldoon. D. 161 ¶¶ 31-34. Under 103 C.M.R. § 481.10, mail from a medical provider is not privileged. D. 161 ¶ 38. Under 103 C.M.R. § 481.12(2), incoming non-privileged mail “shall be opened and inspected prior to delivery to the inmate.” D. 161 ¶ 39. Under that regulation, “[t]he purpose of the inspection will be to receive and receipt any funds enclosed for the inmate, to verify and record the receipt of permitted personal property, and to prevent the transmission of contraband to the inmate.” 103 C.M.R. § 481.12(2). Incoming privileged mail, that is, mail sent from a court, attorney or specified government official, 103 C.M.R. § 481.10(1), “may be required to successfully pass a fluoroscope examination for contraband material but shall not be opened by a DOC employee except in the presence of the addressee inmate and for the sole purpose of ascertaining that its contents are free of contraband.” 103 C.M.R. § 481.11(3).

         On or about April 13, 2013, Muldoon sought to have copies made of various documents he was filing in support of his Rule 30(b) motion in Norfolk Superior Court, including medical records. D. 161 ¶ 42. In the complaint, Muldoon alleged that he sought to have the copies of various documents, including medical records, made in his presence, but that Mongelli refused to give him permission to do so and that Muldoon then waited to copy the documents at a later date. D. 26-1 ¶¶ 38-40. The regulation controlling photocopying is set forth at 103 C.M.R. § 478.10. Under that regulation, “[p]hotocopying services shall be for the purpose of duplicating original legal documents, ” 103 C.M.R. § 478.10(4), defined as “[o]riginal documents to be filed with the Courts in support of criminal litigation challenging the inmate's sentence, directly or collaterally, or in support of civil litigation challenging the conditions of his or her confinement.” 103 C.M.R. § 478.05. At MCI-Norfolk, inmates who desire copies of their original legal documents place the originals, with a cover sheet, into a padlocked wooden box; the librarian reviews the request for compliance with the regulation; and, if the librarian approves the request, the copies are generally made by an inmate photocopy clerk under the supervision of either the librarian or another DOC staff member. D. 161 ¶¶ 47-49. In the first six months of 2016, the law library at MCI-Norfolk processed an average of 159 approved photocopying requests and copied 15, 879 pages per month. D. 161 ¶ 56. Copies are usually made within one business day of submission. D. 161 ¶ 57. There is no evidence in the record of any occasion on which either an inmate photocopy clerk or the librarian read the documents that Muldoon submitted for photocopying at any point. D. 161 ¶¶ 58, 59.

         On May 28, 2014, Muldoon attempted to mail legal documents. D. 161 ¶ 60. On May 31, 2014, Baker returned Muldoon's mail to him because it had no postage and Muldoon was not deemed indigent. D. 161 ¶ 61. On June 2, 2014, Muldoon mailed the same documents with sufficient postage. D. 161 ¶ 62. On January 15, 2015, Muldoon again attempted to mail legal documents, and, on January 17, 2015, Baker returned the document to him because it had no postage and Muldoon was not deemed indigent. D. 161 ¶¶ 63, 64. On January 20, 2015, Medeiros directed Baker to mail Muldoon's legal documents, notwithstanding the lack of postage. D. 161 ¶ 66. Under 103 C.M.R. § 481.07(3), “[o]utgoing mail shall be collected from the inmates and delivered to the post office . . . within 24 hours of collection, except when an article of mail is held pursuant to [the provision regarding censorship of outgoing mail].” Under the standard operating procedure of MCI-Norfolk, prior to the delivery of outgoing mail to the post office, mail is inspected for processing and will only be approved if it does not contain contraband and has sufficient postage, ...

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