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Henderson v. Harrington

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 30, 2015

DARREN HENDERSON, No. R40280, Plaintiff,



Plaintiff Darren Henderson, an inmate in Stateville Correctional Center, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on an array of alleged constitutional violations that occurred while he was confined at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"). The original 194-page complaint against 24 defendants was dismissed, and a 68-page amended complaint against 13 defendants has been filed (Doc. 6).

The amended complaint is now before the Court for a preliminary review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. 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). 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. At this juncture, the factual allegations of the pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).


The Court's review will generally track the seven claims framed by Plaintiff ( see Doc. 6, pp. 17-19). There is a general thread that runs through the amended complaint: retaliation for filing grievances and having pursued litigation against prison personnel. Although each claim will be addressed in the order presented in the amended complaint in order to appreciate why each claim is addressed narrowly, it will be stated now that an overarching conspiracy to retaliate against Plaintiff is not properly pleaded. Furthermore, insofar as the amended complaint suggests other possible claims, the Court has deferred to Plaintiff and only recognized the claims he identified.

Count 1

According to the amended complaint, in 2012 this district court gave Plaintiff a December 24, 2012, deadline for filing an amended complaint in Henderson v. Rednour, Case No. 12-cv-1113-GPM (S.D. Ill. 2012).[1] On November 19, Plaintiff submitted a request that he be placed on the law library's "court deadline list, " and asked for two books: The Prison Self-Help Litigation Manual and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. His request went unanswered, and he learned that the law library did not have him on the "court deadline list"-as though his request had never been received. Plaintiff notes, however, that despite purportedly not being on the list, a law clerk appeared at his cell to pick up his pleading, suggesting the law library was aware of his deadline. In any event, Plaintiff was forced to file his amended complaint without adequate access to the law library and legal materials.

Plaintiff characterizes the denial of access to the law library and legal materials as "deliberate indifference" and a violation of his rights under the First Amendment by the unnamed Law Library Supervisor. On its face, Count 1 fails because there is insufficient personal involvement alleged on the part of the Law Library Supervisor (regardless of his or her name). Section 1983 creates a cause of action based on personal liability and predicated upon fault; thus, "to be liable under [Section] 1983, an individual defendant must have caused or participated in a constitutional deprivation." Pepper v. Village of Oak Park, 430 F.3d 809, 810 (7th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted).

Merely naming a defendant in the caption is insufficient to state a claim. See Collins v. Kibort, 143 F.3d 331, 334 (7th Cir. 1998). The failure to put Plaintiff on the "court deadline list" and to get him the requested materials is not attributed to anyone, and the respondeat superior doctrine-liability merely because one is a supervisor-does not apply to Section 1983 actions. See, e.g., Kinslow v. Pullara, 538 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2008). "[S]upervisors must know about the conduct and facilitate it, approve it, condone it, or turn a blind eye for fear of what they might see. They must in other words act either knowingly or with deliberate, reckless indifference." Backes v. Village of Peoria Heights, Illinois, 662 F.3d 866, 870 (7th Cir. 2011).

This claim is also fatally flawed because, in order to state a First Amendment violation, Plaintiff would have to allege that he suffered an actual injury, such as showing that his pleading was dismissed due to a technical deficiency which, due to the denial of assistance from the law library personnel, he was unaware of or could not cure. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351-52 (1996) (discussing Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821-25 (1977)). The amended complaint in Case No. 12-cv-1113-GPM was dismissed on the merits because Plaintiff failed to state a colorable retaliation claim-there was no allegation that Plaintiff was engaged in protected activity, so First Amendment protections are not triggered. See Case No. 12-1113-GPM, Doc. 11.

For these reasons, Count 1 will be dismissed with prejudice.

Count 2

Between December 19, 2012, and January 2, 2013, Plaintiff sent out seven letters to be mailed, accompanied by three money vouchers to cover the postage. Among the materials sent out for mailing was his amended complaint in Case No. 12-cv-1113-GPM, which was due on December 24, 2012. Prison regulations require money vouchers to be processed within ten working days, but Plaintiff did not learn until January 31, 2013, that his money vouchers were all rejected due to insufficient funds. As a result, the amended complaint supposedly was not filed on time, which Plaintiff asserts contributed to the dismissal of the amended complaint.

Noting that a trust fund statement indicates that he had $10 or more in his trust fund account during the relevant time period ( see Doc. 6-1, p. 12), Plaintiff attributes the rejection of his vouchers, and resulting interference with his mail and the filing of his amended complaint, as retaliation and an attempt to suppress his speech and litigation-all in violation of the First Amendment. He seeks to hold the unnamed Trust Fund Supervisor liable.

Insofar as Plaintiff takes issue with his money vouchers not being processed within the time frame prescribed by prison regulations, the violation of a prison rule or regulation is not, by itself, a constitutional violation. See Scott v. Edinburg, 346 F.3d 752, 760 (7th Cir. 2003). The three trust fund vouchers at issue do not reflect who actually stamped them "insufficient funds" (Doc. 6-1, pp. 8-10). There is no actual allegation that the Trust Fund Supervisor was involved, so there is insufficient personal involvement alleged.

The assertion of interference with litigation also is undercut by the fact that the amended complaint was actually filed on December 21, 2014, well before the deadline. The amended complaint was dismissed because Plaintiff failed to state a colorable retaliation claim-there was no allegation that he was engaged in protected activity ( see Case No. 12-1113-GPM, Doc. 11), so First Amendment protections were not triggered. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. at 351-52 (an actual injury is required for this type of First Amendment claim).

Relative to the other letters Plaintiff was attempting to mail, he has failed to state a colorable claim. There is no suggestion that the letters were legal mail or otherwise privileged. Practices affecting non-legal mail are also covered by the First Amendment. Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 409 (1989). It has long been established, however, that inmates do not even have a right to unlimited free legal postage. Gaines v. Lane, 790 F.2d 1299, 1308 (7th Cir.1986)(citing Bach v. Coughlin, 508 F.2d 303, 307 (7th Cir. 1974)). And short-term, isolated, non-content-based delays in receiving mail do not implicate ...

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