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Beahringer v. Roberts

May 21, 2002


Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit Will County, Illinois No. 00--MR--129 Honorable Charles P. Connor and Kathleen J. Kallan Judges, Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Lytton


The plaintiff, John Beahringer, filed a suit for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against the defendants, Debra Roberts and Donald Snyder, Jr. In his complaint, he alleged that the defendants were depriving him of his first amendment rights by failing to process his mail fairly and promptly. He also claimed that Snyder had failed to provide various documents he requested pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (5 ILCS 140/1 et seq. (West 2000)). The trial court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss on the ground that Beahringer failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. We affirm in part, reverse in part and remand for further proceedings.


In March of 2000, the plaintiff filed a six-count complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against defendants Snyder and Roberts as employees of the Department of Corrections (Department). At that time, Snyder was the director of the Department and Roberts was the supervisor of the Stateville Correctional Center mail room.

Count I of the complaint claimed that Beahringer delivered a birthday card addressed to his father to the Stateville mail room. A mail room employee returned the card to him because it was oversized and requested that Beahringer include a manila envelope for mailing. Beahringer purchased the required envelope for an additional eight cents and returned the item for postage. He was charged 55 cents to mail the card. Beahringer filed a grievance and complained that the requirement that outgoing cards be placed in manila envelopes violated his constitutional rights. In addition, he complained that both the card and the manila envelope weighed less than one ounce and that Stateville overcharged him 22 cents for postage.

Beahringer's second count alleged that on December 3, 1999, he sent an item to the mail room in a first-class prestamped envelope and requested that the letter be sent certified mail. According to the attached exhibit, he also asked for "a receipt of form upon mailing." The mailing form was signed by Beahringer and authorized payment of $1.40 for certification. Mail room employees processed the letter and added an additional fee of $1.25 for "return receipt" services. Beahringer filed a grievance with the administrative officer over the added charge.

Count III alleged that on December 6, 1999, he sent the mail room a 10 inch by 13 inch manila envelope containing two sheets of paper and was charged 55 cents for mailing it. According to Beahringer, the envelope weighed less than one ounce and should have been posted at 33 cents.

In count IV, Beahringer complained that on January 7, 2000, he received a Christmas card that had been postmarked December 4, 1999. He claimed that the mail room received the card weeks prior to its January 7 delivery. He alleged that the delay was due to the understaffed operation of the mail room during the holiday season.

On December 27, 1999, Beahringer sent a letter to the mail room addressed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation marked "Privileged Mail" and one addressed to the "Legal Department" of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Count V claimed that both letters were returned to him with a notice that they must be delivered unsealed because they did not qualify as "legal mail." Beahringer complained that the letters should have been mailed in sealed envelopes because they met the requirements for "outgoing privileged mail" and "legal mail" as defined in title 20 of the Illinois Administrative Code (Administrative Code) (20 Ill. Adm. Code 525.110 (2001)).

Last, count VI alleged that Beahringer had made several requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act. According to the plaintiff, he had not received any of the requested materials as of the date of his complaint.

Beahringer sought a declaration that he was legally entitled to the same postal rates and fees as those provided through the United States Postal Service, prompt delivery of incoming and outgoing mail, and unregulated access to postal services. He also requested a declaration that he had a right to post legal and privileged mail in sealed envelopes and a declaration that he had a right to receive requested materials from the Department under the Freedom of Information Act.

The plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction was similarly grounded. He alleged that his first amendment right to freedom of communication and his fourteenth amendment rights to equal protection and due process were violated by the defendants' mail room policies. He requested an order enjoining the defendants from (1) requiring him to mail greeting cards in a manila envelope, (2) charging excess postage, and (3) restricting him from delivering "privileged" mail to the Department mail offices in a sealed envelope.

On May 25, 2000, the defendants filed an appearance and sought leave to file a motion to dismiss. Their request was granted. Five days later, the clerk of the court filed a motion for default judgment against the defendants on Beahringer's behalf. According to Beahringer, the motion was mailed to the clerk of the court two weeks earlier. On June 21, 2000, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss Beahringer's complaint pursuant to section 2--615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2--615 (West 2000)). Beahringer subsequently filed a motion for substitution of Judge Edwin Grabiec. The motion was denied as moot due to the reassignment of the circuit court docket. In November of 2000, Judge Charles Connor entered an order stating that he had ...

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