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Owens v. Allen

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 13, 2014

JAMES OWENS, No. K83253, Plaintiff,
v.
GINA ALLEN, T. ANDERSON, C/O ARVAI, LISA ASBUSGNE DALLAS, JAMES BELFORD, SHERRY BENTON, JOHN BUTLER, CANDACE S. CHILDERS, LT. COLGAN, DAWAYNE COLTON, SGT. DANIELS, RANDY DAVIS, KIM DEAN, MARY DOLCE, JOHN EVANS, BRIAN FAIRCHILD, LINDA FRITTS, ROBERT GADDIS, SALVADORE GODINEZ, HARRIS, N. HARTMAN, HENTON, MARC HODGES, DEBBIE ISAACS, SARAH JOHNSON, SHERRI JONES-LEE, TONY KITTLE, BRETT A. KLINDSWORTH, ROBERT LUTZ, JON MCDONALD, JACKIE MILLER, LAWRENCE MINOR, CATHY MUSGRAVE, COUNSELOR PHOENIX, MICHAEL RANDLE, JAMES ROBINSON, ERIC S. RUSSELL, MIKE SANDERS, H. SCHULER, J. SELBY, JEFFERY STRUBHART, SHANE TASKY, TAYLOR GLADYS, MARY TICER, RANDY VALDEZ, ROGER E WALKER, SGT.WELLS, JOHN DOE 1, JOHN DOE 2, JOHN DOE 3, JOHN DOE 4, JOHN DOE 5, JOHN DOE 6, JOHN DOE 7, JOHN DOE 8, JOHN DOE 9, JOHN DOE 10, JOHN DOE 11, JOHN DOE 12, JOHN DOE 13, JOHN DOE 14, JOHN DOE 15, JOHN DOE 16, JOHN DOE 17, JOHN DOE 18, JOHN DOE 19, JOHN DOE 20, JOHN DOE 21, JOHN DOE 22, JOHN DOE 23, and ROBERT, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff James Owens, an inmate currently housed at Lawrence Correctional Center, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, presenting 21 enumerated claims against 72 defendants regarding a variety of events occurring over the span of six years (2008 to the present) at four different prisons. Plaintiff also moves for leave to file a "late complaint" (Doc. 2), aimed at avoiding dismissal based on the applicable statute of limitations.

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). Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers to a claim that "no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit." Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 2000). 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).

Discussion

The Limitations Period

On January 15, 2014, Plaintiff contemporaneously filed the complaint (Doc. 1) and a motion for leave to file a "late complaint" (Doc. 2). Plaintiff apparently recognizes that a plaintiff can plead himself out of court based on the statute of limitations, which is usually an affirmative defense. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211-212, 215 (2007); see also Kalinowski v. Bond, 358 F.3d 978, 978 (7th Cir. 2004). However, dismissal by the Court sua sponte at this early juncture is only warranted when the plaintiff's submissions reveal an airtight defense. See Richards v. Mitcheff, 696 F.3d 635, 637 (7th Cir. 2012); Logan v. Wilkins, 644 F.3d 577, 582 (7th Cir. 2011).

The applicable statute of limitations for a Section 1983 constitutional tort claim arising in Illinois is two years. See Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387 (2007); Turley v. Rednour, 729 F.3d 645, 651 (7th Cir. 2013). As a general matter, a party's cause of action accrues when the party knows or reasonably should know of an injury and that the injury was wrongfully caused. Clay v. Kuhl, 727 N.E.2d 217, 220 (Ill. 2000). With respect to continuing violations, the two-year period starts to run from the date of the last incidence of that violation, not the first. Heard v. Sheahan, 253 F.3d 316, 318 (7th Cir. 2001).

The two-year period is tolled while the prisoner exhausts the administrative grievance process. Johnson v. Rivera, 272 F.3d 519, 521-22 (7th Cir. 2001). In addition, the limitations period may be tolled under Illinois law for equitable reasons-when filing has been delayed "in some extraordinary way." Clay, 727 N.E.2d at 223.

According to Plaintiff, he did not file the complaint until 2014 because of a conspiracy by Illinois Department of Corrections officials to frustrate and obstruct Plaintiff from filing legal paperwork"-presumably presenting the claims contained in the present compliant. Plaintiff's motion includes the following somewhat muddled chronology of events evidencing the alleged conspiracy.

Beginning in October 2008, while Plaintiff was housed at Big Muddy River Correctional Center, he was told that, despite or because he was destitute, he would only be provided with five pieces of paper per session in the law library. In 2009 when he faced an unspecified and undocumented "legal deadline, " he was denied an envelope and his legal paperwork was subsequently confiscated from Plaintiff's property box and ordered to be placed in his correspondence box (not readily accessible). Several blank sheets of paper and receipts needed for a Court of Claims case were mistakenly placed in Plaintiff's excess box and destroyed, and "legal casework" was confiscated as contraband.

After being transferred to Pinckneyville Correctional Center, Plaintiff was initially denied supplies because he was not deemed indigent, and later limited to only 10 sheets of paper, two envelopes and one pen per month, which Plaintiff deemed insufficient for his needs and court requirements. Also, in December 2009, Plaintiff's call pass to the law library was cancelled. He was allowed access to law library only 10 times in six months, and denied access to 25 of 40 cases he needed. Plaintiff also missed an unspecified final deadline.

Plaintiff was transferred to Menard Correctional Center in December 2011, and was subsequently denied access to his "excess legal box" for an entire year.

Plaintiff was transferred back to Pinckneyville and an envelope full of legal case notes was confiscated because the envelope had tape on it, which is forbidden. The case notes were returned to Plaintiff in a plastic bag, but Plaintiff received a disciplinary report, landing him in segregation, where many note cards and a brief were not given to him and were later lost. Plaintiff also spent nine months in segregation and was denied a working pen, access to his legal materials and the law library.

In December 2012, Plaintiff was transferred to Lawrence Correctional Center; two of his four legal boxes were not delivered, and his cellmate stole his property and food. At Lawrence Plaintiff was allowed access to the law library only five times in seven months, and he was denied access to his excess boxes. He missed two statute of limitations deadlines and numerous court deadlines (none of which are specifically identified).

According to Plaintiff, the Administrative Review Board has failed to respond to 88 of Plaintiff's 323 grievances, and outright denied 45 grievances.

Plaintiff clearly details a series of discreet actions by prison employees over a six-year period, not a conspiracy. The many delays and obstacles cited by Plaintiff do not individually or collectively amount to the sort of extraordinary obstacle that would warrant tolling the statute of limitations, particularly not when Plaintiff's motion indicates that in December 2009 he was litigating a case before the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ( see Doc. 2, p. 2, ¶ 4). Moreover, a review of public records reveals that Plaintiff was litigating in the federal system almost continuously between December 2008 and March 2011. See Ownes v. Hinsley, No. 08-3930 (7th Cir. (filed Dec. 12, 2008; dismissed March 5, 2009)); Owens v. Hinsley , No. 09-3618 (7th Cir. (filed Oct. 26, 2009; dismissed March 18, 2011)). Plaintiff also filed two Section 1983 actions in this Court in June 2013: Owens v. Illinois Department of Corrections, No. 13-cv-530-MJR (S.D. Ill. June 7, 2013) (regarding conditions of confinement and retaliation for filing grievances and lawsuits); and Owens v. Illinois Department of Corrections, No. 13-cv-594-MJR (S.D. Ill. June 21, 2013) (regarding the denial of access to the courts; the court reserved ruling on a potential statute of limitations defense). Clearly, there is no basis for equitably tolling the statute of limitations.

The two-year limitations period is tolled while the prisoner exhausts the administrative grievance process, so the Court will look at each of the 21 counts (as enumerated in the complaint), combining the required preliminary review under Section 1915A with an analysis of the statute of limitations issue.

Count 1

Count 1 alleges that placement officers at Big Muddy River Correctional Center celled Plaintiff with highly aggressive, mentally unbalanced and contagious inmates. Plaintiff lodged a grievance about his cellmate in July 2009, complaining that the cellmate had threatened him and stolen property from Plaintiff's boxes. Plaintiff's grievance was denied at every step in the administrative process, ending with the Administrative Review Board (ARB) in July 2009, which found the grievance to be incomplete. Many additional grievances were filed between August 2009 and February 2013, all to no avail. However, by July 7, 2010, the ARB had denied the grievance on the merits ( see Doc. 1, p. 11, ¶ 47). This Section 1983 action was not filed until January 2014, well over three years after the final ARB denial. Therefore, Plaintiff is far beyond the end of the limitations period, even taking into account the period while he was exhausting his administrative remedies. For these reasons, Count 1 will be dismissed with prejudice.

Count 2

Count 2 alleges that Plaintiff was issued disciplinary reports for filing emergency grievances, possessing dangerous contraband, requesting protective custody, and possessing excessive property (books). Plaintiff filed grievances regarding the underlying incidents, all of which were denied by the ARB by September 9, 2010. The complaint was not filed until January 2014, just over three years after ...


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