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HUNTER v. QUINLAN

March 15, 1993

EUGENE HUNTER, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL QUINLAN, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MILTON I. SHADUR

 Metropolitan Correctional Center ("MCC") inmate Eugene Hunter ("Hunter") seeks leave to file a self-prepared Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1331(a) ("Section 1331(a)") without payment of the filing fee. For the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order, such leave is denied and this action is dismissed without prejudice.

 Because Hunter also labeled his Complaint "Under Seal--In Camera," a deputy clerk of this District Court reflexively filed the case under seal without receiving any directive from this Court. Hence this action is currently docketed as "Suppressed vs. Suppressed." But no reason has been shown for such under-seal treatment, and so the Clerk is directed to remove the seal and to docket the case in the same manner as any other pro se prisoner case is docketed.

 To turn to the substance of Hunter's Complaint, every pro se litigant seeking permission to proceed in forma pauperis has two potential barriers to cross before his or her formal entry into the federal courthouse:

 
1. he or she must make the required showing of financial indigency and
 
2. his or her complaint must disclose the existence of at least one non-"frivolous" claim in the legal sense described by Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 104 L. Ed. 2d 338, 109 S. Ct. 1827 (1989) and most recently reconfirmed in Denton v. Hernandez, 118 L. Ed. 2d 340, 112 S. Ct. 1728, 1733-34 (1992).

 Here Hunter passes the first of those tests, for he has just 30 cents in his MCC prison trust account. But he falls at the second step--the substantive one.

 At Hunter's January 2, 1993 disciplinary hearing, the hearing officer determined that the charge was not supported by the evidence and ordered the report expunged. Hunter asked that his letter be returned, which was done on January 6, 1993 with an explanation that Blangor was new to the job and did not know any better.

 Hunter seeks several forms of relief: a temporary restraining order for defendants to release his legal mail, a permanent injunction prohibiting defendants from violating his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, *fn1" a declaratory judgment and compensatory and punitive damages. Analysis demonstrates, however, that he has no remedy because he sustained no constitutional harm.

 Shango v. Jurich, 965 F.2d 289, 292 (7th Cir. 1992), quoting Hossman v. Spradlin, 812 F.2d 1019, 1021-22 n.2 (7th Cir. 1987), has reconfirmed that for an inmate to establish an infringement on his right of access to the courts, he must "allege some quantum of detriment caused by the challenged conduct of state officials resulting in the interruption and/or delay of plaintiff's pending or contemplated litigation." Hunter has alleged no such detriment, nor do the contents of the letter indicate that his litigation was compromised in any way by the admittedly improper opening of the letter to his attorney.

 Morgan v. Montanye, 516 F.2d 1367 (2d Cir. 1975) involved a situation remarkably similar to that presented here: a claim that prison officials had unconstitutionally interfered with mail that an inmate had sent to his attorney. There the complaint referred to a single instance in which mail from the attorney--clearly marked as legal mail--had been opened and inspected outside of the inmate's presence. In affirming the district court's dismissal of the action, Morgan, id. at 1370-72 held that the inmate had suffered no damages from the isolated incident, for there was no basis for finding that the attorney's effectiveness in representing the inmate was impaired or that the inmate's exercise of his right of access to the courts was in any way chilled. Cf. Hundley v. Sielaff, 407 F. Supp. 543, 548 (N.D. Ill. 1975), denying Section 1983 relief for a single improper refusal to mail a letter. *fn2"

 Here too it is apparent that the attorney's effectiveness was in no way compromised. There was nothing in the letter (which is attached as an exhibit to the Complaint) but an expression of thanks for the lawyer's support. Nothing legally substantive was set out. Nor can it be said that Hunter's right of court access was impaired, particularly in light of the official response to the incident: the disciplinary report was expunged, and Blangor's conduct was neither excused nor sought to be justified.


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