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Smith v. Conder

October 23, 2009

PAUL ANTHONY SMITH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GARY CONDER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff, an inmate at the Menard Correctional Center, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:

(a) Screening.-- The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.

(b) Grounds for Dismissal.-- On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint--

(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or

(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

An action or claim is frivolous if "it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 590 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A complaint is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, No. 08-4286, 2009 WL 2535731, at *5 (7th Cir. Aug. 20, 2009). Additionally, Courts "should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements." Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Service, No. 06-4260, 2009 WL 2498580, at *2 (7th Cir. Aug. 18, 2009).

THE COMPLAINT*fn1

Plaintiff commenced a civil rights action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois alleging that he had been denied due process of law in connection with a disciplinary action taken by officials of the Will County Adult Detention Facility. See Smith v. Nudera, Case No. 1:08-cv-1139 (N.D. Ill.). While this case was pending in the Northern District, Plaintiff was transferred to the Menard Correctional Center. Plaintiff contends that he was denied adequate access to a law library at Menard. Plaintiff claims that, as a result of the lack of access, he settled his civil rights action in the Northern District for less money than he had sought in the action.

DISCUSSION

The "right of access to the courts is meant to allow an inmate to bring claims through the preliminary stages in the courts, not to allow full-fledged self-representation. Smith v. Shawnee Library Sys., 60 F.3d 317, 322 (7th Cir. 1995). An inmate has no constitutional claim that he has been denied access to the courts unless he can demonstrate that a non-frivolous legal claim has been frustrated or impeded. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 352-53 (1996). 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 at 317; 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).

In the case at hand, Plaintiff does not allege that the lack of access to a law library at Menard impacted his ability to commence his civil action in the Northern District; nor does Plaintiff allege that the lack of access to a law library at Menard caused delays in the progress of that civil action; nor does he assert that his prosecution of that civil action was cut short because he failed to timely file any pleadings or documents with the Northern District. Rather, Plaintiff merely asserts that he settled out-of-court with the defendants in that civil action for less than the amount he claimed in his suit.

Exactly why the alleged lack of access to the law library at Menard caused Plaintiff to settle his case out-of court is unexplained. But the answer to that question is irrelevant to the resolution of this case. As noted above, the right of access to the courts is concerned with the initial stages of litigation, not its conclusion. The right is to get a non-frivolous claim into a judicial forum -- not the right to win the suit or to buttress positions in out-of-court negotiations. Because ...


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