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Barnwell v. West

February 16, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, District Judge


I. Introduction and Background

On August 7, 2002, James Barnwell, an inmate housed at the Menard Correctional Center, filed this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 2).*fn1 Plaintiff alleges that Defendant West made false representations in an affidavit to the United States Supreme Court regarding his access to the law library. He further alleges that due to her false representations, he was not allowed to file a late petition, which in turn resulted in the denial of his pending litigation. Plaintiff was attempting to appeal his post-conviction petition, which was originally denied in criminal case 92-CR-2326, and affirmed on appeal in 96-4441. He is seeking a declaratory judgment, the removal of defendant West from her position at the Menard law library and a list of all Menard inmates who have filed grievances regarding denial of access to the courts during the last seven years. He is seeking both compensatory damages and punitive damages .

On August 18, 2005, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss (Doc. 13). Defendant argues that Plaintiff's claim against Defendant is premised on the assumption that Plaintiff's criminal conviction would have been reversed on appeal. Such a claim is barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), as the relief sought necessarily implies the invalidity of Plaintiff's criminal conviction. Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion to dismiss (Doc. 15).

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), Magistrate Donald G. Wilkerson submitted a Report and Recommendation ("the Report") on January 26, 2006 (Doc. 16). The Report recommends that the Court grant in part and deny in part Defendant's motion to dismiss (Doc. 13). It also suggests that the Court dismiss without prejudice Plaintiff's claim for damages for denial of access to courts. Specifically, the Report recommends that the Court deny Defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, dismiss with prejudice Plaintiff's request to have Defendant removed from her position and dismiss with prejudice Plaintiff's request to have a list of list of all Menard inmates who have filed grievances regarding denial of access to the courts during the last seven years.

The Report was sent to the parties with a notice informing them of their right to appeal by way of filing "objections" within ten days of service of the Report. To date, both parties filed objections to the Report (Docs. 17 & 19). Since timely objections have been filed, this Court must undertake de novo review of the Report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); FED.R.CIV.P.72(b); Southern District of Illinois Local Rule 73.1(b); Govas v. Chalmers, 965 F.2d 298, 301 (7th Cir. 1992). The Court may "accept, reject or modify the recommended decision." Willis v. Caterpillar Inc., 199 F.3d 902, 904 (7th Cir. 1999). In making this determination, the Court must look at all the evidence contained in the record and give fresh consideration to those issues to which specific objection has been made. Id.

Defendant objects to the portions of the Report where Magistrate Judge Wilkerson found that Plaintiff's claim is not barred by Heck and that Plaintiff may seek injunctive relief but not damages with respect to his claim of denial of access to the courts (Docs. 17 & 18). Defendant argues that Heck bars Plaintiff's denial of access to court claim as Plaintiff has not alleged an ongoing violation. While Plaintiff only objects to the Report's recommendation that the Court dismiss with prejudice his request for the list of inmates who have filed grievances regarding denial of access to the courts during the last seven years (Doc. 19). Plaintiff contends that he is not challenging the other inmates denial of access to courts, but that this information would tend to prove a Menard policy and pattern of denying access to courts.

II. Motion to Dismiss

The standard governing motions to dismiss is well-established. The allegations of the complaint, and all reasonable inferences therefrom, are taken as true, and the question is whether -- under those assumptions -- the plaintiff would have a right to legal relief. Baker v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 70 F.3d 951, 954 (7th Cir. 1995) (citing Ellsworth v. City of Racine, 774 F.2d 182, 184 (7th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1047 (1986)). A plaintiff need not set out in detail all facts upon which a claim is based, but the complaint must allege sufficient facts to outline a cause of action. McKay v. Town & Country Cadillac, Inc., 991 F. Supp. 966, 969 (N.D. Ill. 1997). AccordKyle v. Morton High School, 144 F.3d 448, 455 (7th Cir. 1998). Further, the complaint "must state either direct or inferential allegations concerning all of the material elements necessary for recovery under the relevant legal theory." McKay at 969 (quoting Carl Sandburg Village Condominium Ass'n No. 1 v. First Condominium Dev. Co., 758 F.2d 203, 207 (7th Cir. 1985)). A plaintiff can plead conclusions, but the conclusions "must provide the defendant with at least minimal notice of the claim." Kyle at 455 (quoting Jackson v. Marion County, 66 F.3d 151, 153-54 (7th Cir. 1995)). The Court is not required to accept as true legal conclusions alleged or inferred from pleaded facts. McKay at 969 (citing Baxter v. Vigo County Sch. Corp., 26 F.3d 728, 730 (7th Cir. 1994)).

It is significant to note that Plaintiff is proceeding pro se herein. The pleadings of pro se litigants should not be held to the same stringent standards as pleadings drafted by formally trained lawyers; instead they must be liberally construed. See Kyle II v. Patterson, 196 F.3d 695, 697 (7th Cir. 1999)(citing Wilson v. Civil Town of Clayton, Ind., 839 F.2d 375, 378 (7th Cir. 1988)(pro se complaints/pleadings are to be liberally construed.)) See also Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972).

III. Analysis

The Seventh Circuit uses a two-part test to decide if prison administrators have violated the right of access to the courts. Smith v. Shawnee Library Sys., 60 F.3d 317 (7th Cir. 1995); Jenkins v. Lane, 977 F.2d 266, 268 (7th Cir. 1992). First, the prisoner must show that prison officials failed "to assist in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law." Jenkins, 977 F.2d at 268 (quoting Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 828 (1977)). Second, he must be able to show "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." Alston v. DeBruyn, 13 F.3d 1036, 1041 (7th Cir. 1994); Jenkins, 977 F.2d at 268; Shango v. Jurich, 965 F.2d 289, 291 (7th Cir. 1992); Howland v. Kilquist, 833 F.2d 639, 642-43 (7th Cir. 1987); Hossman v. Sprandlin, 812 F.2d 1019, 1021 n.2 (7th Cir. 1987). That means that a detriment must exist, a detriment resulting from illegal conduct that affects litigation. It does not mean that any delay is a detriment. Kincaid v. Vail, 969 F.2d 594, 603 (7th Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 113 S.Ct. 1002 (1993). Regardless of the length of an alleged delay, a prisoner must show actual substantial prejudice to specific litigation. Kincaid, 969 F.2d at 603.

In Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994), the Supreme Court held that a convicted criminal may not bring a civil suit questioning the validity of his conviction until he has gotten the conviction set aside. See 512 U.S. at 486-87. The Heck court held that "a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such a determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus." Id. at 486-87. The Seventh Circuit has clarified that the test under Heck bars a prisoner's § 1983 claim if his allegations are inconsistent with the validity of his conviction. Okoro v. Callaghan, 324 F.3d 488, 490 (7th Cir. 2003). The theoretical possibility of a judgment for the plaintiff based on findings that do not call his conviction into question is irrelevant if the plaintiff's own allegations foreclose that possibility. See Id. Thus, if a plaintiff files suit under § 1983 for damages in which he is essentially challenging the validity of his criminal conviction, the suit must be dismissed unless the conviction has been invalidated in some manner. See Gauger v. Hendle, 349 F.3d 354, 362 (7th Cir. 2003).

Relying on Heck and Nance v. Vieregge, 147 F.3d 589, 591 (7th Cir. 1998), Defendant argues that the case must be dismissed as Plaintiff has not alleged an ongoing violation. In fact, Defendant concedes that Hoard v. Reddy, 175 F.3d 531 (7th Cir. 1999), suggests that injunctive relief is available for an ongoing violation of a person's ...

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