United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
JACKIE G. MILLER, Plaintiff,
WILLIAMSON COUNTY, ILLINOIS, MANDY COMBS, MARY KILLMAN, and CASA, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.
This case represents Plaintiff Jackie Miller's fourth attempt to seek relief from this Court in connection with his incarceration and pending state criminal charges in Williamson County, Illinois. Each action has been filed by Miller's attorney, Joshua M. Bradley. In the instant case, filed on April 10, 2014, Miller seeks a writ of mandamus ordering Defendants to turn over to him "all documents, phone records, and conversations related to his case" (Doc. 2, p. 3).
Applicability of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA)
The petition alleges that Miller is currently in custody in Williamson County, awaiting the resolution of one or more pending criminal charges (Doc. 2, ¶ 12). Thus, he is a "prisoner" within the meaning of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). Pub. L. 104-134; see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(h). Civil actions filed by prisoners are subject to a preliminary merits review 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. If a prisoner has three or more cases dismissed for the reasons listed in § 1915A(b), his ability to file future suits in forma pauperis is curtailed. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).
A mandamus action may or may not be a "civil action" subject to the PLRA, depending on the nature of the relief sought and whether it pertains to an underlying civil or criminal matter. The Seventh Circuit has reasoned that where mandamus relief is sought against a judge presiding over a criminal trial, the action is a "procedural step in the criminal litigation, " and thus is not a "civil action" under the PLRA. Martin v. United States, 96 F.3d 853, 854 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing In re Nagy, 89 F.3d 115, 116-17 (2d Cir. 1996) (PLRA did not apply to criminal defendant's mandamus action against judge to force ruling on pending recusal motion); Green v. Nottingham, 90 F.3d 415, 417-18 (10th Cir. 1996) (prisoners should not be allowed to evade PLRA provisions by framing pleading as petition for mandamus)). If the PLRA were applied in a blanket fashion to all mandamus actions, a prisoner who had incurred three "strikes" for having brought meritless civil suits would be prevented from seeking mandamus in a criminal case unless he could fully prepay the filing fee. This result was not what Congress likely intended, because the purpose of the PLRA was to curtail the volume of frivolous civil rights suits. Id.
On the other hand, the Seventh Circuit approved the imposition of the PLRA consequence of a "strike" upon the dismissal of a criminal-related mandamus action for lack of merit. Banks v. People of the State of Illinois, 258 F.Appx. 902 (7th Cir. 2007) (mandamus action seeking federal court intervention in state criminal proceedings based on purported violation of state constitution dismissed for failure to state a claim; prisoner incurred one "strike" from district court and another for bringing frivolous appeal). As in the case at bar, the mandamus in Banks was not directed at the presiding judge, nor did it seek to compel the state court to make a ruling on a matter pending before it.
In the instant case, Miller is seeking a mandamus order for relief in the context of his pending criminal prosecution. Unlike the petitioner in Martin, Miller has fully prepaid the filing fee, thus the in forma pauperis provisions of the PLRA do not come into play. However, as in Marion, Miller has not named the presiding judge as a party, he does not seek an order directing the judge to act, and the case does not involve a procedural matter integral to the criminal prosecution. Instead, the targets of the action are an assistant prosecutor and another employee in the State's Attorney's office, as well as the county itself and a non-profit children's advocacy organization. Further, Miller brought this case after bringing three other unsuccessful actions in this Court against essentially the same Defendants. In consideration of the concerns in Martin and in light of Banks, the Court concludes that this mandamus case falls within the scope of a "civil action" as contemplated by the PLRA. If it were exempt from the PLRA provisions, a loophole would be created by which the mere re-labeling of an action as one for mandamus would allow prisoners to evade the PLRA requirements and consequences. See In re Washington, 122 F.3d 1345 (10th Cir. 1997); In re Tyler, 110 F.3d 528, 529 (8th Cir. 1997); Green v. Nottingham, 90 F.3d 415, 418 (10th Cir. 1996). Accordingly, the merits screening provisions of § 1915A apply, and the dismissal of this action may count as a "strike" within the meaning of § 1915(g).
Mandamus is an extraordinary remedy, appropriate only under limited circumstances. See Burnett v. Bowen, 830 F.2d 731, 739 (7th Cir. 1987). Further, in the absence of proper jurisdiction, this Court is without power to grant any relief, extraordinary or not. As shall be discussed below, after full ...