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Barnwell v. West

September 17, 2007


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


I. Introduction and Background

Before the Court are the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Mary West on December 1, 2006 (Doc. 39), and the Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff Barnwell on April 13, 2007 (Doc. 56). For reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED. Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.

This litigation centers on an institutional lockdown at Menard Correctional Center that occurred between September 26 and November 26, 1997. Plaintiff asserts two claims, both regarding denial of access to courts, arising from this lockdown. First, Plaintiff contends that Defendant West, former paralegal at Menard, denied him access to the Menard law library during the lockdown, preventing him from filing a timely motion for leave to seek review of the denial of his state post-conviction petition. Second, Plaintiff contends that an affidavit, signed by Defendant Mary West misstated the dates of the lockdown. The Illinois Attorney General's Office used this affidavit to oppose a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court in Plaintiff's federal habeas corpus action. Plaintiff argues that this affidavit caused the Supreme Court to decline to hear his case. Thus, he argues Defendant West denied him access to courts. On August 7, 2002, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking declaratory judgment in his favor, removal of Defendant West from her position at the Menard law library, a list of all Menard inmates who have filed grievances regarding denial of access to the courts during the last seven years, and compensatory and punitive damages. On January 13, 2005, the Court completed its threshold review of the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, and found that Plaintiff had stated a claim against Defendant West for denial of access to the courts, but dismissed all other named defendants for failure to state claims against them (Doc. 9).

Defendant West moved, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim (Doc. 13). She argued that Plaintiff's claim was precluded by the holding in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994) (claims for damages that imply the invalidity of an underlying state criminal conviction are not cognizable under section 1983 unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction has been reversed on appeal or otherwise declared invalid by a state court or a federal court by issuance of a writ of habeas corpus). The Court denied the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim (Doc. 20), finding that Plaintiff had alleged an ongoing hindrance to his attempts to seek post-conviction relief. Thus, Plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief were not barred by Heck, although compensatory and punitive damages were unavailable. The Court also dismissed with prejudice Plaintiff's request to have Defendant removed from her position in the Menard law library, and his request to have a list of all Menard inmates who had filed grievances regarding denial of access to the courts during the preceding seven years. Thus, Plaintiff was left with declaratory judgment against Defendant as his only available remedy.

In the instant motion (Doc. 39), Defendant West asserts that the following reasons entitle her to summary judgment: 1) Defendant did not deny Plaintiff access to courts in violation of the First Amendment because her affidavit accurately reflected the dates Plaintiff accessed the law library, the pertinent fact, even though the dates stated for the institutional lockdown were later found to be inaccurate; 2) Plaintiff is not entitled to injunctive relief in this matter because there is no ongoing constitutional violation; and 3) the Court does not have personal jurisdiction over the Defendant in an "official" capacity because she is no longer an official of the state of Illinois.

Plaintiff filed a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 55), arguing that Defendant West violated Plaintiff's right of access to the Courts in the following ways: 1) by denying him access to the Menard law library or to legal assistance during the lockdown, he was unable to timely file his petition for leave to appeal in his Illinois post-conviction matter; 2) in filing an affidavit to the United States Supreme Court misstating the dates of the lockdown, his petition for certiorari was denied; 3) the harm is ongoing so he is entitled to injunctive relief; 4) the Court has jurisdiction over West's successor; 5) Defendant West violated Illinois law in refusing to afford Plaintiff 35 days to complete his petition for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Illinois.

In response, Defendant reiterates that Plaintiff was not denied law library access prior to the lockdown, and that he attended the library on October 10, 1997, during the lockdown. Defendant argues that the connection to the denial of access during the lockdown and the late filing of the petition in March 1998 is too tenuous to survive summary judgment.

Petition for Post-Conviction Relief

Based on the evidence submitted by the parties, the Court finds the following facts to be undisputed. Plaintiff was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual assault and robbery in the Circuit Court of Cook County (Def. Exh. 1, p. 10). An Illinois Court of Appeals upheld the convictions (Def. Exh. 1, pp. 12-13; Pl. Affidavit, ¶ 6). The Supreme Court of Illinois denied leave to appeal without explanation (Def. Exh. 1, p. 17). Plaintiff filed an unsuccessful motion for post-conviction relief in Illinois Circuit Court (Def. Exh. 1, p. 18). He appealed the denial in the Illinois Court of Appeals, which denied relief on September 10, 1997 (Pl. Affidavit, ¶ 6). On September 19, 1997, Plaintiff filed a "Notice of Intent" to file a petition for leave to appeal that denial to the Supreme Court of Illinois (Pl. Affidavit, ¶ 7). Plaintiff received a letter from the Clerk of the Supreme Court of Illinois regarding his petition for leave to appeal, suggesting that Plaintiff "prepare to the best of your ability a statement of the facts concerning your case, such as indictment number, crime committed, date and length of sentence and reasons why you feel you are entitled to review by the Supreme Court." (Pl. Exh. 1, p. 2).

On September 26, 1997, Menard Correctional Center was placed on lockdown, preventing Plaintiff and other inmates from physical access to the prison law library or the inmate law clerks who had been assisting Plaintiff in preparing filings in his post-conviction relief action (Pl. Affidavit, ¶¶ 8-9). Although library policy dictated that inmates with court deadlines be visited in their cells during lockdown periods, no library employee visited Plaintiff during the lockdown (Pl. Affidavit, ¶ 9). Although the institutional lockdown was still in place, on October 10, 1997, the warden allowed certain inmates with court deadlines to attend the law library. Plaintiff states that he did not receive a call pass to the library on that date as he should have because of his deadline, but that he had to request that cellhouse staff take him there. Nevertheless, Plaintiff attended the law library on that date, and received assistance from the inmate law clerks (Pl. Affidavit, ¶¶ 10, 13). Plaintiff states that even though he should have had five more days--until October 15, 1997--to file his petition for leave to appeal in the Supreme Court of Illinois, Defendant West refused to allow him any additional time in the law library to work on the petition (Pl. Affidavit, ¶ 11). Plaintiff further states that he requested additional library time so that he might file a late petition, but Defendant West refused (Pl. Affidavit, ¶ 12). Defendants offer evidence, however, that Plaintiff received a call-pass to the library on November 21, 1997,*fn1 and attended the law library on December 11 and 30, 1997 (Def. Exh. 3). Plaintiff did not file his motion for leave to file a late petition for leave to appeal until March 31, 1998 (Pl. Affidavit, ¶ 15). The Supreme Court of Illinois denied the petition without explanation on June 3, 1998 (Pl. Affidavit, ¶ 16; Pl. Exh. E). Plaintiff did not file a motion for rehearing (Pl. Affidavit, ¶ 16).

Federal Habeas Corpus Petition

On November 20, 1998, Plaintiff filed a federal habeas corpus action. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied the petition as untimely on February 24, 1999, because it was not filed within the one-year limitations period imposed by 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1) (Pl. Exh. 1, p. 17). The Court found that the one-year period of limitations began to run on October 15, 1997, the expiration date of his 35-day period to appeal the denial of post-conviction relief (Id.). Plaintiff filed his federal habeas petition on November 20, 1998, 36 days after the expiration of the limitations period. Plaintiff argued that the Menard lockdown (which the Court characterized as ending on October 26, 1997) impeded him from filing his state post-conviction proceeding. The Court found that even if the lockdown did present an impediment to filing the state petition, that impediment was removed on October 26, 1997, when the lockdown ended, and Plaintiff's petition was still 25 days late. (Id.)

Plaintiff's requests for a certificate of appealability were denied by both the district court and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (Pl. Affidavit, ¶ 19). Plaintiff successfully filed a motion for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court, which the State of Illinois opposed, citing the affidavit of Defendant West.*fn2 Plaintiff disputes the following averments in the affidavit: that his deadline for filing the appeal of the post-conviction was October 15, not October 10 (Pl. Affidavit, ΒΆ ...

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