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Matthews v. Grimes

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

December 18, 2015

Alexander Otis Matthews
v.
Aquila J. Grimes et al.[1]

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

ANDREA K. JOHNSTONE, Magistrate Judge.

Pro se plaintiff Alexander Otis Matthews, an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution, Berlin, New Hampshire ("FCI-Berlin") has filed a complaint (doc. no. 1) and several addenda thereto (doc. nos. 3-7 and 14).[2] The complaint and complaint addenda are before the court for preliminary review to determine, among other things, whether Matthews has stated any claim upon which relief might be granted. See 28 U.S.C. ยง 1915(e)(2); LR 4.3(d)(1)(B).

Preliminary Review Standard

In determining whether a pro se complaint states a claim, the court must construe the complaint liberally. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam). To survive preliminary review, the complaint must contain "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted).

Discussion

I. Constitutional Claims

A. Background

In February 2014, Matthews, while incarcerated at FCI-Berlin, began working on a civil malpractice action against his federal criminal attorney in a Virginia state court. Matthews states that in order to proceed without paying a filing fee in that matter, he needed two documents notarized. The state court rejected his document once due to the age of the notarization thereon, and indicated that to proceed without paying a filing fee, Matthews had to provide a new notary seal. Additionally, Matthews sought to bring a separate lawsuit in a Virginia state court concerning property, in which he needed to submit a notarized form to obtain service of that action on defendants.

Matthews asserts that he sought notary services at the prison through his FCI-Berlin Case Manager, P. Deveney. Deveney told Matthews that he would have to provide the documents to be notarized in their entirety, and those documents would have to be scanned and sent to the FCI-Berlin Education Department for approval. Matthews objected to providing all of his state court civil case documents, on the basis that doing so could result in government interference with his cases, or a refusal to provide notary services based on the substance of his lawsuit. Matthews ultimately provided the documents to Deveney to scan, but did not receive notarization of his forms, or any other response to his request.

Deveney told Matthews that the FCI-Berlin Education Department sent the complaint to Les Owens at the Bureau of Prisons' legal department in Devens, Massachusetts, but Owens denied Matthews's request for notary services. Matthews allege that the denial was improperly based on the substance of his lawsuit. Matthews also claims that FCI-Berlin Notary Aquila Grimes denied his direct request for notarization of his forms. Further, during the administrative grievance process, FCI-Berlin Associate Warden Birkholtz denied Matthews's request for a notary.

Plaintiff asserts that simultaneously with his efforts to have documents notarized, another inmate also sought notary services. That inmate was not required to provide all of his documents to be scanned and approved, and promptly received his requested notarization.

B. First Amendment Claims

1. Access to the Courts

Matthews asserts that his First Amendment right of access to the courts was violated by the denial of notary services that Matthews needed to litigate state court actions. To state such a claim, an inmate must show, among other things, that defendants have actually injured him, with respect to his ability to pursue a nonfrivolous ...


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