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GEDER v. GODINEZ

June 11, 1998

SELMA GEDER, Plaintiff
v.
SALVADOR GODINEZ, GEORGE DeTELLA, JAMES SCHOMIG, JEROME SPRINGBORN, MARK NELSON, THOMAS PAGE, SHARON CAIN, JOHN DOE, and JANE DOE, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BUCKLO

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

 BUCKLO, District Judge.

 The plaintiff, Selma Geder, sued the defendants, employees of the Illinois Department of Corrections at Stateville Correctional Center ("Stateville") and the Illinois Department of Corrections at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, alleging violations of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The defendants move for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the motion is granted. *fn1"

 Background

 Selma Geder is an inmate incarcerated within the Illinois Department of Corrections. (Rule 12(M) Statement P 1). Mr. Geder was transferred from Stateville to Menard in December, 1995. (Rule 12(M) Statement P 30). Mr. Geder complains that while at Stateville and Menard his legal mail was opened outside of his presence and, on occasion, never delivered to him.

 Mr. Geder alleges he did not receive mail from Tina Younnis, an Assistant State's Attorney, purportedly sent on November 11, 1994. (Rule 12(M) Statement PP 3-4). Ms. Younnis gave Mr. Geder a copy of the documents sent in November, 1994, in February, 1995. (Rule 12(M) Statement P 6).

 Sometime in 1995 Mr. Geder attempted to retain the Chicago law firm of Jenner and Block to represent him. Jenner and Block declined to represent Mr. Geder. (Rule 12(M) Statement PP 8-9). On July 3, 1995, Mr. Geder received a standard sized envelope from Jenner and Block with a cut on top of the envelope. The contents inside the envelope were intact. (Rule 12(M) Statement P 10).

 On November 17, 1995, Mr. Geder received a letter from Monique Washington, a pro bono coordinator at Jenner and Block. The letter communicated Jenner and Block's decision not to represent Mr. Geder. (Rule 12(M) Statement P 12). The letter was unopened and referenced a previous letter sent in August, 1995, indicating Jenner and Block would not represent Mr. Geder. (Rule 12(M) Statement PP 13-16). Mr. Geder claims the August, 1995 letter was never delivered to him.

 In January, 1996, Mr. Geder received a letter from Margaret Byrne, an attorney, which had been opened by a machine. (Rule 12(M) Statement P 22). Mr. Geder was a witness in a case Ms. Byrne handled. (Rule 12(M) Statement P 24). The letter was neither read nor were its contents removed. The letter was stamped "opened by mistake." (Rule 12(M) Statement P 25).

 Nobody read Mr. Geder's legal mail and Mr. Geder did not see any of the defendants reading, opening, or taking any of the mail at issue in this case. (Rule 12(M) Statement P 19).

 Legal Mail

 Mr. Geder argues that his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by the unauthorized opening of his "legal mail" and his failure to receive mail. "Prison inmates are not stripped of all First Amendment rights at the prison gate. . . .Furthermore, the Fourteenth Amendment affords prisoners a due process right to adequate, effective, and meaningful access to the courts." Watson v. Cain, 846 F. Supp. 621, 626 (N.D. Ill. 1993). Even assuming Mr. Geder's mail was "legal mail" protected from unauthorized opening or destruction, his claims fail for a variety of reasons. *fn2"

 Mr. Geder complains that the inappropriate handling of his mail violated his right to adequate access to the courts. "[A] showing of prejudice is a required element of a right-of-access claim." 846 F. Supp. at 628; accord Martin v. Tyson, 845 F.2d 1451, 1456 (7th Cir. 1988) (finding a plaintiff must demonstrate denial of "meaningful" access to the courts to make out a claim for denial of access to the courts). The record, particularly Mr. Geder's deposition, presents no evidence that Mr. Geder's mail problems caused any prejudice to his ability to pursue his legal claims. (Geder Dep. at 53-62). In one instance of lost mail Mr. Geder received the same documents two months later (Rule 12(M) Statement P 6). In another instance, the lost mail simply informed Mr. Geder that Jenner and Block would not represent him. (Rule 12(M) Statement PP 13-16). Another time there was no harm because the mail dealt with a case in which Mr. Geder was only a witness. (Rule 12(M) Statement PP 23-25).

 Furthermore, Mr. Geder does not present any evidence that the opening or loss of his mail was a deliberate act. The negligent loss or inadvertent opening of Mr. Geder's mail does not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-31, 88 L. Ed. 2d 662, 106 S. Ct. 662 (1986). To succeed Mr. Geder must show the defendants acted recklessly or with actual intent towards his mail. The evidence indicates the exact opposite. One item of mail Mr. Geder states was ...


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