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Smith v. State

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

July 8, 2013

ROBIN SMITH, # N54258, Plaintiff,


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Robin Smith, currently incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center ("Pinckneyville"), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In essence, Plaintiff claims that after he filed a grievance on June 11, 2011, and that grievance was made known to correctional officers, a cycle of retaliatory acts, grievances and the mishandling of those grievances commenced, lasting until February 2013 ( see Doc. 1, pp. 24-25).[1] Plaintiff complains of retaliatory "bullying and harassment, " including: being denied law library, dayroom, yard and commissary privileges (Doc. 1, pp. 15, 19, 21); the misuse of property inventory forms to deny Plaintiff recovery for lost or stolen property (Doc. 1, pp. 17-19); name-calling (Doc. 1, pp. 17, 19); cell shake-downs (Doc, 1, p. 18); threats of segregation (Doc. 1, p. 17); and the issuance of disciplinary tickets, leading to Plaintiff's placement in segregation (Doc. 1, pp. 21-23). The retaliation has even infected the grievance process itself. Plaintiff's grievances were "mischaracterized" (Doc. 1, p. 16), and often not processed or were inadequately processed (Doc. 1, pp. 16, 22). Plaintiff contends there is an overarching conspiracy to retaliate against him ( see Doc. 1, p. 20).

The 19 defendants include the State of Illinois, the director of the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC"), the warden and assistant warden of Pinckneyville, the head of Internal Affairs at the prison, officials involved in the grievance process from the institutional level all the way to the IDOC Administrative Review Board, and ten correctional officers. Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment, compensatory, punitive and nominal damages, and unspecified injunctive relief.

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.

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). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Although only so-called "notice pleading" is required, 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, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The claim of entitlement to relief must cross "the line between possibility and plausibility. Id. at 557. Conversely, 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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 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. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

Upon careful review of the complaint and supporting exhibits, the Court finds it appropriate to exercise its authority under Section 1915A. Portions of this action are subject to summary dismissal with prejudice, while other portions will be dismissed without prejudice and with leave to amend.

1. Discussion

"Rule 8(a) requires parties to make their pleadings straightforward, so that judges and adverse parties need not try to fish a gold coin from a bucket of mud." United States ex rel. Garst v. Lockheed-Martin Corp., 328 F.3d 374, 378 (7th Cir. 2003) (affirming the dismissal of a complaint with 400 paragraphs covering 155 pages followed by ninety-nine attachments, replete with undefined acronyms and mysterious cross-references). Given that there are 19 defendants, the 29-page complaint is concise; however, even with 158 pages of supporting documentation, the claims are actually too concise.

Many claims are no more than conclusory assertions. Claims of retaliation and conspiracy, such as Plaintiff's, necessarily require a certain amount of factual underpinning to survive preliminary review. Repeated references to exhibits is insufficient when, as here, the exhibits are assigned group exhibit numbers (containing multiple documents within a single group), and the references in the complaint often refer to exhibits by letter (and the letters and numbers do not correspond; e.g., "Exhibits Group D" does not appear to correspond to "Exhibit Group 4"). Although the Court attempts to liberally construe pro se litigant's pleadings, the Court cannot be left to fashion claims and arguments from an unwieldy volume of documents. With all that said, certain claims are sufficiently clear to permit conclusive analysis; other claims suggest ...

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