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Wilson v. Gaetz

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 18, 2014

MICHAEL S. WILSON, # R06115, Plaintiff,
v.
DONALD GAETZ, EARL WILSON, and S. A. GODINEZ, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Michael Wilson, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center ("Pinckneyville"), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1) for the deprivation of his constitutional rights. Plaintiff claims that during his incarceration at Pinckneyville, Defendants Donald Gaetz (former warden), Earl Wilson (assistant warden), and S. A. Godinez (Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") director) were responsible for denying him access to the courts, violating his due process rights, interfering with his mail, and denying him a single meal. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief.

This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under § 1915A, the Court is required to promptly screen prisoner complaints to filter out nonmeritorious claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court is required to dismiss any portion of the complaint that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

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, 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). After fully considering the allegations in Plaintiff's complaint, the Court finds that it fails to articulate any colorable claim and shall be dismissed.

The Complaint

According to the complaint, Plaintiff spent "months" trying to access Pinckneyville's law library in order to research several legal matters (Doc. 1, p. 5). These matters included a family law case, a felony case, and an out-of-state matter. When Plaintiff requested a library pass on March 7, 2012, his request was denied. Consequently, his family law case was "irrevocably harmed." The mother of Plaintiff's four-year-old child absconded with his child. The complaint alleges that Pinckneyville's and IDOC's administrators were responsible for denying Plaintiff access to the courts by refusing this, and other, requests to visit the prison's law library.

Also according to the complaint, Pinckneyville's former warden, Defendant Gaetz, caused nearly two years of delays in Plaintiff's Minnesota criminal case (Doc. 1, p. 6). Plaintiff alleges that the Interstate Agreement and Detainers Act required Defendant Gaetz to notify the Minnesota court of Plaintiff's detention at Pinckneyville when Plaintiff transferred there in November 2011. Defendant Gaetz failed to do so. By the time Plaintiff identified the proper procedures to follow in his Minnesota criminal case in August 2012, Defendant Gaetz refused to cooperate in filing the necessary paperwork. The criminal case has now been pending for more than three years. Plaintiff blames Defendant Gaetz for causing nearly two years of delays immediately preceding the commencement of this action. The complaint identifies Defendant Gaetz, as well as Pinckneyville's and the IDOC's administration, as being responsible for unspecified constitutional deprivations associated with this delay.

The complaint also alleges that Plaintiff was unlawfully required to pay for a new prisoner identification card on October 31, 2012 (Doc. 1, p. 5). Typically, these cards are issued to inmates at no cost once a year. Plaintiff was charged $5.00. He alleges that Pinckneyville's and IDOC's administrators were responsible for this unlawful charge.

The complaint further alleges that Plaintiff was issued a disciplinary ticket for insolence and unauthorized movement on November 14, 2012 (Doc. 1, p. 5). At the time, he was allegedly following prison guidelines regarding "damage[d]/missing razors." The prison's adjustment committee found Plaintiff guilty of these rule violations without investigating the matter. As a result, Plaintiff was denied one month of time in the general inmate population and $10.00 of state pay. In addition to Pinckneyville's and IDOC's administrators, Plaintiff identifies several other "responsible" individuals but does not name them as defendants.

The complaint also alleges that Plaintiff was unlawfully denied lunch on December 23, 2012 (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiff became involved in an altercation with a correctional officer, based on what Plaintiff thought was a sexual remark that the officer made to him. A prison lieutenant, who is not a defendant in this action, denied Plaintiff lunch that day as punishment. In addition to Pinckneyville's and IDOC's administration, the complaint identifies the lieutenant as a "responsible" party.

Finally, the complaint alleges that Plaintiff's privileged mail was delivered to him unsealed on September 12, 2013 (Doc. 1, p. 6). This was not the first time that Plaintiff received unsealed mail, although the complaint provides no details regarding prior incidents. Plaintiff names Pinckneyville's and IDOC's administration as being responsible.

Plaintiff now sues Defendants Gaetz, Wilson, and Godinez for unspecified constitutional deprivations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He asserts that "in all instances" these defendants were "ultimately responsible for final decision[s] at the local [and] state level" (Doc. 1, p. 6). Plaintiff seeks $100, 000.00 in compensatory damages and injunctive relief.

DISCUSSION

After fully reviewing the allegations in the complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the complaint into four counts. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court.

Count 1: Access to courts claim against Defendants for irrevocably harming Plaintiff's ability to litigate family, felony, and out-of-state cases by denying law library access on March 7, 2012, and failing to notify Minnesota court of Plaintiff's detention at Pinckneyville.

Count 2: First Amendment mail interference claim against Defendants for delivering unsealed mail to Plaintiff on September 12, ...


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