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Russell v. Stevenson

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

March 13, 2014

MIKE D. RUSSELL, Plaintiff,


JAMES E. SHADID, Chief District Judge.

This cause is before the Court for a merit review, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, of Plaintiff Mike D. Russell's claims.



Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A, the Court is required to carefully screen a complaint filed by a plaintiff who seeks to proceed in forma pauperis. The Court must dismiss a complaint, or a portion thereof, if the plaintiff has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious, " that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. The test for determining if an action is frivolous or without merit is whether the plaintiff can make a rational argument on the law or facts in support of the claim. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A complaint fails to state a claim for relief if the complaint does not allege "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); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009).

In reviewing the complaint, the Court accepts the factual allegations as true and liberally construes them in plaintiff's favor. Turley v. Rednour, 729 F.3d 645, 651 (7th Cir. 2013). Conclusory statements and labels are insufficient. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8; Schatz v. Republican State Leadership Comm., 669 F.3d 50, 55 (1st Cir. 2012) (holding that, in order to determine if a complaint states a plausible claim, the court must take non-conclusory, non-speculative facts as true, draw all reasonable inferences in the pleader's favor, and isolate and ignore statements that simply rehash claim elements or offer only legal labels and conclusions). Instead, sufficient facts must be provided to "state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Alexander v. United States, 721 F.3d 418, 422 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation omitted).



Russell is a pretrial detainee who is currently being housed at the Cook County Jail while he awaits trial. From July 6, 2012 through September 11, 2013, Russell was held at the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee, Illinois ("Jerome Combs"). For approximately sixty days while at Jerome Combs, Russell was housed in segregation.

Russell claims that, while in segregation at Jerome Combs, Defendants, who are all officials or employees at Jerome Combs, only allowed him out of his cell for one hour per day. How Russell spent that one hour out of his cell was up to him. Russell could shower, exercise in the yard, or visit the law library during this one hour time period.

Russell alleges that being forced to choose between an hour's exercise time in the yard and an hour's time in the law library violated his constitutional rights. Specifically, Russell contends that Defendants' actions deprived him of his First Amendment right of access to the courts. Russell states that, because he had to choose between exercise and defending himself in a suit in which he was a criminal defendant, he had to discontinue representing himself in his criminal case. In addition to alleging a First Amendment claim, Russell alleges that the supervisors at Jerome Combs are liable to him under the doctrine of respondeat superior pursuant to Illinois law.

"The First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances includes the right of access to the courts." Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 553 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing cases). "[P]ersons in prison, like other individuals, have the right to petition the Government for redress of grievances which, of course, includes access of prisoners to the courts for the purpose of presenting their complaints.'" Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 321 (1972) (quoting Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483, 485 (1969). While the right of access to the courts requires prison officials to provide prisoners with the necessary tools "to attack their sentences, directly or collaterally, " and "to challenge the conditions of their confinement, " Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 355 (1996), it is not an abstract, freestanding right to legal assistance. Id. at 351. A prisoner asserting a denial of access claim must show an "actual injury" in the form of interference with a "nonfrivolous legal claim." Id. at 353.

"In other words, the right of access to the courts is tied to and limited by a prisoner's right to vindication for a separate and distinct right to seek judicial relief for some wrong.'" Lehn v. Holmes, 364 F.3d 862, 865 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 415 (2002)). A plaintiff must identify the non-frivolous, arguable underlying claim that he wished to, but could not, assert because of the defendant's interference with his access to the courts. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351.

However, there is no constitutional violation when a prisoner has time to re-submit legal documents in a court despite impediments caused by prison officials. Richardson v. McDonnell, 841 F.2d 120, 122 (5th Cir. 1988). Moreover, a civil rights claim cannot be based on "minor and short-lived impediments to access" in the ...

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