Okey Garry Okpala v. Martha L. Jordan ( 2006 )

  •                                                                    [DO NOT PUBLISH]
                           FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
                           ------------------------------------------- U.S. COURT OF APPEALS
                                                                         ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
                                        No.05-15403                          August 11, 2006
                                  Non-Argument Calendar                   THOMAS K. KAHN
                          --------------------------------------------          CLERK
                        D.C. Docket No. 03-02846-CV-BE-E
    Warden, Federal Correctional Institution,
    Talladega, Alabama,
    Talladega, Alabama,
                     Appeal from the United States District Court
                       for the Northern District of Alabama
                                    (August 11, 2006)
    Before EDMONDSON, Chief Judge, CARNES and PRYOR, Circuit Judges.
             Plaintiff-Appellant Okey Garry Okpala, an inmate of a federal prison,
    appeals pro se the district court’s sua sponte dismissal of Plaintiff’s complaint
    alleging constitutional violations of Art. I Section 10, the Fifth Amendment, and
    the Fourteenth Amendment. We affirm.
             Plaintiff is an inmate of the Federal Correctional Institute in Talladega,
    Alabama (“FCI”). Plaintiff alleges that on 12 April, 2002, he purchased a headset
    radio from the prison commissary, and later Plaintiff discovered that one of the
    headphones was not working properly. The headset radio is covered by a ninety
    day limited warranty, which Plaintiff alleges covered the headset at the time it
    stopped working properly. Upon discovering the problem with the headset,
    Plaintiff returned to the commissary, where he was told that he may mail the radio
    back to the manufacturer under the warranty but that the repaired or replaced radio
    could not be returned to the institution or to the inmate. The radio would have to
    be sent by the manufacturer to an alternate address, per prison regulation TDG No.
          As presented by Okpala, this regulation provides in pertinent part,
             Radios and watches may be sent out by the inmate, at his own expense, to the
             manufacturer supplying the warranty. Inmates wishing to return the item to the
             manufacturer must obtain authorization to do so through their Unit Manager. It is the
             inmate’s responsibility to initiate this process. Inmates are advised that any item
             mailed out from the institution may not be returned to the inmate nor to the
          Plaintiff brought this action against FCI and Martha Jordan, the warden of
    FCI, to invalidate the regulation, alleging that it violated Plaintiff’s rights under
    the Contracts Clause, the Fifth Amendment, and the Fourteenth Amendment. The
    district court dismissed the action under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) for failure to
    state a claim because the case was moot. Although we disagree with the district
    court’s mootness analysis, we affirm the district court’s dismissal on other
          We review de novo a dismissal for failure to state a claim under §
    1915A(b)(1). Leal v. Georgia Dep’t of Corrections, 
    254 F.3d 1276
    , 1279 (11th
    Cir. 2001). Because the language of § 1915A(b)(1) tracks the language of Federal
    Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), we apply the same Rule 12(b)(6) standards to
    dismissals under § 1915A(b)(1) for failure to state a claim. Mitchell v. Farcass,
    112 F.3d 1483
    , 1490 (11th Cir. 1997). We will accept all allegations in Plaintiff’s
    complaint as true and will construe them in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.
          Generally, if a case becomes moot and -- as a result -- a federal court cannot
    provide meaningful relief, the court must dismiss the case. De La Teja v. United
          institution. The inmate must provide the product manufacturer an alternate address
          for the item to be mailed to.
    321 F.3d 1357
    , 1362 (11th Cir. 2003). The warranty for Plaintiff’s headset
    has expired, and the relief requested by Plaintiff cannot bring the warranty back to
    life. In other words, the expiration of the warranty has mooted the case. But this
    event is not the end of the inquiry. A federal court “may entertain a moot case if it
    arises from a situation that is ‘capable of repetition, yet evading review.’”
    Bourgeois v. Peters, 
    387 F.3d 1303
    , 1308 (11th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). We
    think that the exception applies here. Okpala could buy another headset, which
    could break within its ninety day warranty period. Yet another action to invalidate
    the prison regulation could not be fully litigated before that warranty’s cessation.
    Okpala would have the same problem, but it would evade review. Thus, we think
    the district court should not have dismissed the case on mootness grounds. But we
    still affirm the district court’s judgment on other grounds.
          First, the claims against FCI and Warden Jordan under the Contracts Clause
    and the Fourteenth Amendment must be dismissed because those provisions apply
    to the States, not the Federal government. See Cox Cable Communications, Inc. v.
    United States, 
    992 F.2d 1178
    , 1182 (11th Cir. 1993) (“[T]he Contracts Clause of
    Article I section 10 applies only to state governments and does not limit the power
    of the federal legislature . . . .”); San Francisco Arts & Athletics, Inc. v. U.S.
    Olympic Committee, 
    107 S. Ct. 2971
    , 2983 n. 21 (1987) (“The claimed association
    in this case is between the [Defendant] and the Federal Government. Therefore,
    the Fourteenth Amendment does not apply.”).
          Plaintiff’s claims under the Fifth Amendment are not clearly articulated, but
    we presume them to be Bivens claims that allege violations of “substantive due
    process.” A Bivens cause of action may not be brought against federal agencies.
    Fed. Deposit Insurance Corp. v. Meyer, 
    114 S. Ct. 996
    , 1006 (1994). Therefore
    Plaintiff’s Bivens claim against FCI must be dismissed.
          Now we turn to Plaintiff’s only remaining claim, which is a Fifth
    Amendment Bivens claim against Warden Jordan, alleging that Warden Jordan’s
    enforcement of the prison regulation violated Plaintiff’s substantive due process
    rights. Plaintiff describes his impinged rights as “warranty rights” or “right[s]
    provided under the Koss Corporation’s warranty.” Plaintiff’s warranty rights are
    not constitutional rights. And although the prison regulation may burden
    Plaintiff’s warranty rights, the enforcement of the regulation is not a violation of
    substantive due process.
          Plaintiff argues that the prison regulation is unconstitutional under Turner v.
    107 S. Ct. 2254
     (1987). We do not think Turner applies in this case. The
    Turner inquiry is “whether a prison regulation that burdens fundamental rights is
    ‘reasonably related’ to legitimate penological objectives, or whether it represents
    an ‘exaggerated response’ to those concerns.” Id. at 2260-61. The test announced
    in Turner is relevant to a “regulation [that] impinges on inmates' constitutional
    rights.” Id. at 2261.2 Plaintiff’s rights under the headset warranty are neither
    fundamental rights nor constitutional rights.3 Thus, Plaintiff’s Fifth Amendment
    complaint against Warden Jordan fails to state a claim and must be dismissed.
                For the foregoing reasons, the district court’s dismissal is
           The Turner test for determining the reasonableness of a prison regulation that burdens
    constitutional rights includes these elements: (1) whether a valid, rational connection exists between
    the prison regulation and a legitimate governmental interest put forward to justify it; (2) whether
    alternative means of exercising rights remain open to inmates; (3) whether accommodation of
    asserted rights will have significant “ripple effect” on fellow inmates or prison staff; and (4) whether
    a ready alternative exists to the regulation that fully accommodates prisoners' rights at de minimis
    cost to valid penological interest. Turner, 107 S.Ct. at 2262.
         Even assuming arguendo that Turner would apply, Plaintiff’s complaint still fails to state a
    claim. Plaintiff’s only argument under Turner is that there is no alternative means of exercising his
    warranty rights. But Plaintiff’s complaint highlights the very alternative that the prison regulation
    provides: a prisoner’s replaced or repaired item may be mailed by the manufacturer to an alternate