The opinion of the court was delivered by: MILTON I. SHADUR
Robert Lee Ellis III ("Ellis") and a number of other plaintiffs have tendered a self-prepared 8-page Complaint (captioned "Emergency Mandamus Civil Rights Complaint & Action Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act 42 USC 2000bb") together with a related 37-page document (captioned "Memorandum and Narrative in Support of Emergency Motion for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief"), seeking (1) leave to proceed without payment of the filing fee and (2) the appointment of counsel to act for plaintiffs pro bono publico. On April 18, 1995 (the day after he first presented the Complaint and Memorandum to the Clerk's Office) Ellis appeared before this Court with a motion for emergency injunctive and declaratory relief, but without disclosing either to this Court or to opposing counsel that he was not yet authorized to proceed with this action at all. This Court considered his motion on the merits because of that lack of disclosure, ultimately entering and continuing the motion to April 24. But now that the actual status of the action has become known, it is necessary that this Court address the matter in the terms that are universally applicable to such in forma pauperis requests.
Before the consequences of that assumption are translated into any consideration of Ellis' substantive claims, however, the position of the other putative plaintiffs--University and others that are labeled as "Beta University Police" and "all Beta Auxiliaries" (whatever that may mean)--should be addressed. None of them has offered any showing as to its inability (or their inability in the case of the "auxiliaries") to pay the filing fee. Accordingly leave is not granted to any of them to proceed,
and they are all dismissed as plaintiffs without prejudice. This dismissal however gives any of them the opportunity, within the time specified by Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 59(e), to pay the fee or to tender an appropriate financial showing--and in either event to appear through proper counsel.
To return to Ellis individually, the Complaint says that it is brought pursuant (1) to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (the "Act," 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb to 2000bb-4
), which has enacted a legislative overruling of Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 108 L. Ed. 2d 876, 110 S. Ct. 1595 (1990), (2) to several Amendments contained within the Bill of Rights,
(3) to the Fourteenth Amendment and (4) to a number of provisions of the Civil Rights Acts that have been codified within Title 42. In addition the Complaint seeks to invoke what it terms the pendent jurisdiction of this District Court (although that concept has been overtaken by the supplemental jurisdiction provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1367), by alleging violations of a number of Illinois statutory and constitutional provisions. All of the claims target as defendants the State of Illinois, its Governor Jim Edgar, its Secretary of State George Ryan, Secretary of State investigator Keith Lake and various "other unknown and unnammed [sic] defendants et, al."
Having assumed (in Ellis' favor) his ability to meet the financial-need requirements to proceed in forma pauperis, this Court is next required to determine which if any of his assertions surmounts the hurdle of legal "frivolousness" as defined in Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 104 L. Ed. 2d 338, 109 S. Ct. 1827 (1989) and reconfirmed in Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 112 S. Ct. 1728, 1733-34, 118 L. Ed. 2d 340 (1992). That latter requirement proves fatal to Ellis' attempt to obtain in forma pauperis status:
1. All claims in the Complaint that purport to be based on violations of state law are beyond the jurisdiction of this federal court under Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 79 L. Ed. 2d 67, 104 S. Ct. 900 (1984). Nor is that conclusion altered by the existence of the Act, as a moment's thought demonstrates. Suppose that some conduct of a defendant does violate some state-law provision--that violation still does not render that conduct actionable in the federal court unless the selfsame conduct is violative of some federal right, a determination that must be made independently of the state-law violations. Accordingly all claims that point to state law as a sole source of relief must be and are dismissed.
2. No direct right of action under the United States Constitution exists against state actors, as would be comparable to the right as to federal governmental employees announced in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 29 L. Ed. 2d 619, 91 S. Ct. 1999 (1971)--see the discussion in Sheldon Nahmod, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Litigation § 6.18 (3d ed. 1991), and cf. Baxter v. Vigo County Sch. Corp., 26 F.3d 728, 732 n.3 (7th Cir. 1994). That means that any claim of federal constitutional violations by defendants must be brought under Section 1983, unless the Act were to be viewed as overriding that principle.
3. Under Section 1983 no action will lie against the State of Illinois, any of its agents or any of its personnel who are sued in their official capacities (the legal equivalent of suing the State itself)--as to the State itself, see Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 105 L. Ed. 2d 45, 109 S. Ct. 2304 (1989), and as to official capacity actions, see id. at 71). It is unnecessary to consider whether the Act works any change in that respect, for the essence of Ellis' grievance is not that he is being injured by the operation of state law (thus rendering the State potentially liable if the Act were held to supersede Section 1983). Instead Ellis contends that it is violations of state law that give rise to his asserted damages.
4. Somewhat relatedly, nothing in the Complaint (even with reasonable inferences drawn in Ellis' favor) suggests any personal involvement of Governor Edgar--nor, despite the euphemistic assertion in Complaint P 5 that it was the "Secretary of State" who revoked the license plates and titles of various motor vehicles, does Ellis really claim any personal involvement of Secretary of State Ryan either. Leave therefore cannot be granted to proceed against them, leaving only investigator Lake as a potential Section 1983 defendant who has the requisite personal involvement.
5. Finally for present purposes,
this Court returns to the place of beginning. Complaint P 5 alleges the revocation of license plates and certificates of title of vehicles "belonging to Beta Christian University," something about which only University--and not Ellis--can complain. As for Complaint PP 6 and 7, they speak of claimed violations of Ellis' First Amendment rights only in terms of the potential for unconstitutional searches and seizures, not in terms of the actuality or even overt threats of such action. Such a potential does not constitute a present deprivation of Ellis' liberty by a violation of the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause.
Hence Ellis has also failed to advance any claim that meets the operative Neitzke-Denton standard.
In sum, none of the Complaint survives analysis in terms of legal "frivolousness." In accordance with the procedure prescribed by Denton, 112 S. Ct. at 1734, this action is dismissed without prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d).
In addition Ellis is informed:
2. Although this Court of course expresses no substantive views on this subject, Ellis should also be aware that if the Court of Appeals were to determine that such an appeal were "frivolous" in the legal sense, that could result in the ...