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Malone v. Unknown Party

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

October 4, 2016

WILLIAM A. MALONE, # B-52858, Plaintiff,
v.
UNKNOWN PARTY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge

         Plaintiff William Malone, who is currently incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center (“Pinckneyville”), filed a pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that was severed into nine separate cases pursuant to a Memorandum and Order entered by the Court on August 29, 2016. See Malone v. Lashbrook, et al., No. 16-cv-200-SMY (S.D. Ill. 2016) (“original case”) (Doc. 1, instant case). The instant case addresses a single claim asserted by Plaintiff in his original complaint, i.e., Count 5 - Plaintiff's claim that one or more unidentified Pinckneyville officials denied him access to the prison law library and/or the courts between November 2013 and January 2014 and in February and April 2015 (Doc. 1, p. 9, instant case). In connection with this claim, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

         Count 5 is now subject to preliminary review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under § 1915A, the Court is required to filter out nonmeritorious claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss the newly-severed claim, if it 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). Count 5 does not survive preliminary review under this standard and shall therefore be dismissed.

         The Complaint

         Although Plaintiff's complaint spans ninety pages, the statement of claim consists of only two pages (Doc. 2, pp. 13-14). There, Plaintiff lists numerous constitutional violations that occurred at Pinckneyville between 2013 and 2015. In connection with these claims, Plaintiff names more than fifty-four defendants. The only allegations that pertain to Plaintiff's access-to-courts claim are stated, in their entirety, below:

11/29/13 through 1/7/14 - No Library Access
2/14/15 - Admin. Forced Plaintiff to Slide On Buttock Up 2 Flight of Stairs to Receive Law Library or No Access. Broke Elevator.
4/14/15 - Admin. Refused Plaintiff Access to Law Library & Deadlines.

(Id.).

         Plaintiff filed seventy-five pages of exhibits. Some of them may relate to Plaintiff's access-to-courts claim. At this juncture, the Court is unable to tell. Plaintiff did not refer to any of these exhibits in his two-page statement of claim (id.).

         Discussion

         Prisoners have a constitutional right to access the courts. Love v. Scaife, 586 F. App'x 234, 235-36 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821, 823 (1977); Lehn v. Holmes, 364 F.3d 862, 865-66 (7th Cir. 2004)). Prison authorities are required to “assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law.” Love, 586 F. App'x at 236 (citing Bounds, 430 U.S. at 828). In some instances, the denial of access to the prison's law library gives rise to an access-to-courts claim. Wilks v. Rymarkiewicz, No. 16-1371, 2016 WL 3964136 (7th Cir. July 22, 2016) (citing Marshall v. Knight, 445 F.3d 965, 968-69 (7th Cir. 2006)).

         In order to state a claim, Plaintiff must demonstrate that his lack of access to the prison's law library caused him to suffer an actual injury. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 349 (1996); Devbrow v. Gallegos, 735 F.3d 584, 587 (7th Cir. 2013). In other words “the mere denial of access to a prison law library or to other legal materials is not itself a violation of a prisoner's rights; his right is to access the courts, and only if the defendants' conduct prejudices a potentially meritorious challenge to the prisoner's conviction, sentence, or conditions of confinement has this right been infringed.” Marshall, 445 F.3d at 968. To survive screening, the claim must be “described well enough to apply the ‘nonfrivolous' test and to show that the ‘arguable' nature of the underlying claim is more than hope.” Love, 586 F. App'x at 236 (citing Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 416 (2002); Ortiz v. Downey, 561 F.3d 664, 671 (7th Cir. 2009)).

         The allegations offered in support of this claim are threadbare. Plaintiff not only failed to describe the scope of the deprivation (i.e. both frequency and duration), but he also failed to identify a single legal claim that was lost because he could not access the prison's law library. Plaintiff did 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). A claim is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that ...


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