United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Illinois
September 17, 2004.
HARRY McDONALD Plaintiff,
DOROTHY BROWN Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: RONALD GUZMAN, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Harry McDonald, currently an inmate at Dixon
Correctional Center, brings this pro se complaint pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendant Dorothy Brown, the
Clerk of the Circuit Count of Cook County, refused to file his
petition for post-conviction relief in violation of his First
Amendment right of access to the court.
The following facts are drawn from Plaintiff's complaint.
Plaintiff alleges that on June 21, 2002, he sent his petition for
post-conviction relief to Defendant. He also sent copies to the
State's Attorney and the Clerk of the Appellate Court. For about
the next nine months, Plaintiff wrote Defendant numerous times
about his petition for post-conviction relief. The petition was
never sent back to him, which was his first request, Defendant
was allegedly never responsive any of his questions, and the
petition was never filed.
Plaintiff filed this action on July 1, 2003, seeking an order
from this court compelling Defendant to file his petition for
post-conviction relief. He also asked for money damages.
On December 22, 2003, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss
arguing, inter alia, that Plaintiff's cause of action was now moot because his petition for
post-conviction relief had been filed on October 30, 2003.
However, Defendant did not provide any documentation that the
petition had been filed, which, as a matter of public record,
would not have converted the motion to dismiss to a motion for
summary judgment. Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment
and a motion to strike Defendant's motion to dismiss. The court
ordered Defendant to respond to Plaintiff's motion for summary
judgment and to provide a copy of the docket for plaintiff's
petition for post-conviction relief and a copy of the decision
dismissing the post-conviction.
The purpose of a motion to dismiss is to test the sufficiency
of the complaint, not to decide the merits. Gibson v. Chicago,
910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). Federal notice pleading
requires only that the plaintiff "set out in her complaint a
short and plain statement of the claim that will provide the
defendant with fair notice of the claim." Scott v. City of
Chicago, 195 F.3d 950, 951 (7th Cir. 1999). When ruling on a
motion to dismiss, the court assumes that well-pleaded
allegations are true and draws all reasonable inferences in the
light most favorable to the plaintiff. Henderson v. Sheahan,
196 F.3d 839, 845 (7th Cir. 1999). This rule has particular force
when considering the allegations of a pro se complaint, which
are held "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520
(1972). Accordingly, pro se complaints are to be liberally
construed. Wilson v. Civil Town of Clayton, Ind., 839 F.2d 375,
378 (7th Cir. 1988).
However, while it is often said that a claim may be dismissed
only if, as a matter of law, "it is clear that no relief could be
granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent
with the allegations," Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327
(1989) (quoting Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984)), the Seventh Circuit has observed that
this maxim "has never been taken literally." Kyle v. Morten High
School, 144 F.3d 448, 455 (7th Cir. 1998) (quoting Sutliff,
Inc. v. Donovan Companies, Inc., 727 F.2d 648, 654 (7th Cir.
1984)). All plaintiffs whether pro se or represented must
include in the complaint allegations concerning all material
elements necessary for recovery under the relevant legal theory.
Chowla v. Klapper, 743 F. Supp. 1284, 1285 (N.D. Ill. 1990).
A court may take judicial notice of matters of public record
without converting a 12(b)(6) motion into a motion for summary
judgment. Anderson v. Simon, 217 F.3d 472, 474-75 (7th Cir.
2000); Henson v. CSC Credit Services, 29 F.3d 280, 284 (7th
Cir. 1994) (citing United States v. Wood, 925 F.2d 1580, 1582
(7th Cir. 1991)).
In addition, for a pro se plaintiff the court considers the
allegations contained in all documents filed with the court. See
Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1367 & n. 2 (7th Cir. 1997);
Swofford v. Mandrell, 969 F.2d 547, 549 (7th Cir. 1992).
Documents attached to a pleading are considered to be part of the
pleadings if they are referred to in the Plaintiff's complaint
and are central to his claim. See Venture Assoc. Corp. v. Zenith
Data Sys. Corp., 987 F.2d 429, 431-32 (7th Cir. 1993); see also
Wright v. Associated Ins. Co., Inc., 29 F.3d 1244, 1248 (7th
Prisoners have a constitutional right to meaningful access to
the courts. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977). However,
in order to state a claim, a prisoner must demonstrate that the
deprivation he suffered hindered his efforts to pursue a legal
claim and resulted in actual injury. Lewis v. Casey,
518 U.S. 343, 351 (1996) (an injury exists, for example, where
inadequacies at the law library might cause a plaintiff's
complaint to be dismissed for failure to satisfy some technical requirement, or where he was unable even to file a complaint).
In this case, Plaintiff was convicted of aggravated arson and
first degree murder on October 18, 1999, and sentenced to life
imprisonment. On May 1, 2002, the Illinois Appellate Court
affirmed Plaintiff's conviction. On June 28, 2002, Defendant
Clerk of the Circuit Court received the document in question.
This document, attached to Defendant's response to Plaintiff's
motion for summary judgment as Exhibit 2, is headed "Illinois
Post-Conviction Petition." However, the first paragraph of the
document under the heading "Prayer for Leave to Appeal" reads:
Your Petitioner, Harry McDonald, pro se, respectfully
petitions this Honorable Court for leave to Appeal
pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 315, from the judgment
of the Appellate Court of Illinois, 1st District,
which affirmed the judgment of conviction entered by
the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, upon the
Judge/Jury finding the petitioner guilty of
Aggravated Arson and First Degree Murder.
On October 30, 2003, this document was filed. On November 19,
2003, the Honorable Stanley J. Sacks reviewed this document and
dismissed it because it did not comply with 725 ILCS 5/122-1(d),
which requires a petitioner to specify in the petition or its
heading that it is filed under this Section.
Because the document was filed during the course of these
proceedings, Plaintiff's request for an order compelling
Defendant to file his petition for post-conviction relief is now
moot. Moreover, if the document had not been filed, this court
would have had to stay any such injunctive relief until
Plaintiff's state criminal prosecution was resolved pursuant to
the dictates of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 52-54 (1971).
This leaves Plaintiff's claim for money damages. As noted
earlier, a Plaintiff must demonstrate that any such delay
resulted in actual damages. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351. In
addition, federal courts generally abstain from interfering with ongoing
state criminal prosecutions, even in the context of a § 1983 suit
for damages. See Simpson v. Rowan, 73 F.3d 134, 138 (7th Cir.
1995 (applying the Younger abstention doctrine to claims for
damages that might undermine ongoing prosecution and recognizing
a stay rather than dismissal as appropriate method of
The court is unable to tell from the record before it whether
Plaintiff's criminal proceedings are now completed and cannot
determine whether the delay in filing the document he denoted as
a "Illinois Post-Conviction Petition" resulted in actual damage.
In particular, the court does not know if Plaintiff appealed
Judge Sack's dismissal of the document filed on October 30, 2003,
or what the status is of any such appeal.
The court accordingly grants Defendant's motion to dismiss as
to injunctive relief and denies the motion as to any claim for
damages. Plaintiff is given 30 days to file a statement as to the
status of his criminal prosecution, including any and all appeals
of his conviction. If all of Plaintiff's state criminal
proceedings have been completed, then Plaintiff must state
briefly how the delay in filing the document prejudiced him. If
Plaintiff does not file this statement, the court will dismiss
Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied as premature
as there is no evidence before this court that the delay in
filing the document received by Defendant on June 28, 2002,
resulted in any actual prejudice to Plaintiff. Plaintiff is
advised that motions for summary judgment must comply with the
Local Rule 56.1 of this court.
Plaintiff also moves for sanctions against Defendant because
the court had directed Defendant to file a copy of the decision
dismissing the petition for post-conviction relief, which
Defendant's counsel did not do. Although Defendant's counsel did
not file the decision, Plaintiff attached the decision in his reply to Defendant's response. The
court therefore had the decision before it. Plaintiff also claims
that Defendant did not file a complete copy of the document
because some of the pages were two-sided and only one side was
copied. Although this shows some lack of attention to detail on
the part of Defendant's counsel, it is not a matter warranting
sanctions. Defendant's counsel is advised to review carefully
exhibits presented to the court in the future.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendant's motion to dismiss is
granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiff's motion for
summary judgment and motion for sanctions are denied.
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