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Tidwell v. Warden of Menard

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

October 3, 2016

CLEOTHER TIDWELL, # N-41754, Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN OF MENARD, MONICA NIPPE, LORI OAKLEY, and THE WHOLE LAW LIBRARY STAFF, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STACI M. YANDLE United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Cleother Tidwell, an inmate currently incarcerated at Lawrence Correctional Center (“Lawrence”), brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Tidwell alleges that the harms giving rise to his claims occurred while he was incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”). Namely, he claims that Defendants interfered with his First Amendment rights by denying him access to legal mail materials or by screening his outgoing legal mail. He also alleges that grievance staff and the Warden perpetuated the First Amendment violations by failing to address his grievances. Tidwell further claims that if his rights were violated, a conspiracy existed. In connection with his claims, Tidwell names the Warden of Menard, Monica Nippe (CCI), Lori Oakley, and “the whole law library staff.” He seeks monetary compensation for each letter he was prevented from sending as well as injunctive relief directing the prison to provide him with adequate supplies to conduct his legal mail.

         The First Amended Complaint is now before the Court for review. The Court's May 2, 2016 Order informed Tidwell that the First Amended Complaint would entirely supersede his previous filings and that it would not be accepted in a piecemeal fashion. Accordingly, this review only considers the First Amended Complaint and the exhibits appended to that document (Doc. 8). Tidwell's additional “notice” filings (Docs. 6, 7, 9, 13) will be treated as motions and will be addressed in the pending motions section of this Memorandum and Order.

         Background

         Tidwell alleges that in 2015, he experienced difficulties obtaining proper envelopes and materials to send legal mail (Doc. 8 at 1). He claims that these difficulties arose when law library staff insisted on reading his outgoing communications before issuing him the envelopes needed to send his mail (Id.). He asserts that, although in the past he had allowed such a practice to take place, he felt that it was inappropriate and began contesting the requests to screen his mail (Id.). Tidwell alleges that around the time he began having trouble getting envelopes, he grieved the issue and in response received a memo addressed to him (Id.).

         The memo, which was appended to the Amended Complaint, stated:

You have requested legal six legal envelopes and copies of various documents. Your request for envelopes is denied at this time. When you present proof of what legal petitions or court filings you are sending to the various courts or legal entities envelopes will be provided at that time.

(Doc. 8 at 12). The memo espoused the same policy regarding requests for copies. After receiving the memo, Tidwell again attempted to grieve the issue to Nippe, but received a copy of the same memo and a letter referencing it in response (Id.).

         Tidwell alleges that Judge Sarah Darrow, of the Central District of Illinois, entered a text Order directing the prison to give him envelopes (Doc. 8 at 2). He seeks a similar directive in the present case (Id. at 2, 10). Judge Darrow's Order directed the prison to provide Tidwell with the materials necessary for him to seek outside counsel prior to filing for in forma pauperis status (Doc. 8-1 at 4).

         In the body of the Amended Complaint, Tidwell alleges that on one occasion, Morgan Teas viewed two letters he had authored seeking outside counsel and declined to provide envelopes for mailing (Doc. 8 at 3). Teas allegedly threatened to write Tidwell a ticket over the incident (Id.). Tidwell grieved the incident to no avail (Id.). Tidwell also alleges that on one occasion, Shane Gregson showed Tidwell's letters to another inmate who read them aloud (Id. at 4). Gregson then stated that he would not mail the letters seeking counsel, but he later returned to Tidwell's cell with envelopes for three letters (though five were requested) (Id.). Tidwell claims that incidents such as these became par for the course, despite the fact that he believed attorney-client privilege should have precluded such behavior (Id. at 3-5). Tidwell further alleges that the censorship of his correspondence prior to giving him envelopes constituted an infringement on his free speech rights (Id. at 5).

         Tidwell also argues that if the practice of censoring his correspondence was not permissible, then the parties must have entered into a conspiracy to punish him (Id. at 5-6) and that conspiracy was apparent from the fact that he was the only inmate being subjected to such censorship (Id.). Furthermore, he claims that the censorship, particularly by Clendenin and Teas, constituted retaliation for the exercise of his First Amendment rights (Id. at 6)

         Finally, Tidwell contends that the act of his screening his mail constituted a violation of attorney-client privilege (Id. at 7-8). In support of this argument, Tidwell references other cases wherein he claims that inmates received $750 per letter that was improperly opened outside the presence of the author (Id. at 7). Tidwell seeks similar compensation for his screened mail (Id.). Tidwell also alleges mail was only screened for inmates unable to afford the cost of their own envelopes, thus constituting a deprivation of Equal Protection (Id. at 9-10).

         Discussion

         Based on the allegations, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se Complaint into the following enumerated claims. 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. ...


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