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West v. Unknown Parties

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

October 11, 2016

KENTES WEST, #K-82893, Plaintiff,
v.
UNKNOWN PARTIES, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STACI M. YANDLE United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Kentes West filed a pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against thirty-one defendants who allegedly violated his constitutional rights at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”) in 2015 and 2016. See West v. Butler, et al., No. 16-cv-414-SMY (S.D. Ill. 2016) (“original case”). In the Complaint (Doc. 2, instant case), Plaintiff asserted unrelated claims against different defendants. The Court severed the original case into eight additional matters pursuant to a Memorandum and Order entered August 29, 2016 (Doc. 1, instant case). The instant case addresses a single access-to-courts claim (“Count 13, ” original case) against unidentified parties (“Unknown Defendants”). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the Unknown Defendants interfered with his right to access the courts by refusing to provide him with documents that he needed during two court appearances on July 9, 2015 and August 5, 2015 (Doc. 2, p. 25). In connection with this claim, Plaintiff seeks monetary relief.

         Merits Review Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

         This matter is now before the Court for 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 also dismiss any newly-severed claim 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). 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. Conversely, a Complaint is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, Courts “should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements.” Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se Complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         Discussion

         The allegations offered in support of Plaintiff's access-to-courts claim are set forth in a single paragraph of his Complaint, as follows:

Plaintiff has had his legal material kept from him for 19 days where he had to go to court without any of his legal material leaving him at a disadvantage for a pavey hearing. He had returned to the facility July 1, 201[5]. Had to go to court July 9, 2015. Didn't get property until July 19, 2015. Also, when Plaintiff went to court on court writ on August 5, 2015. Menard intentionally didn't send Plaintiff's legal material with him. Plaintiff had to get his Judge to call the institution to get legal work. (Doc. 2, p. 25).

         Prisoners have a fundamental right of meaningful access to the courts. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817 (1977). Violations of that right may be vindicated in federal court, e.g., in a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Seventh Circuit uses a two-part test to decide if prison administrators have violated the right of access to the courts. Lehn v. Holmes, 364 F.3d 862, 868 (7th Cir. 2004). First, the prisoner must show that prison officials failed “to assist 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.” Jenkins v. Lane, 977 F.2d 266, 268 (7th Cir. 1992) (quoting Bounds, 430 U.S. at 828). Second, he must be able to show “some quantum of detriment caused by the challenged conduct of state officials resulting in the interruption and/or delay of plaintiff's pending or contemplated litigation.” Alston v. DeBruyn, 13 F.3d 1036, 1041 (7th Cir. 1994); see also Lehn, 364 F.3d at 868. That means that a detriment must exist, a detriment resulting from illegal conduct that affects litigation. It does not mean that any delay is a detriment. Kincaid v. Vail, 969 F.2d 594, 603 (7th Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 1062 (1993). Regardless of the length of an alleged delay, a prisoner must show actual substantial prejudice to specific litigation. Kincaid, 969 F.2d at 603.

         To state a claim, a plaintiff must explain “the connection between the alleged denial of access to legal materials and an inability to pursue a legitimate challenge to a conviction, sentence, or prison conditions, ” Ortiz v. Downey, 561 F.3d 664, 671 (7th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation and citation omitted); accord Guajardo Palma v. Martinson, 622 F.3d 801, 805-06 (7th Cir. 2010). This requires Plaintiff to identify the underlying claim that was lost. See Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 416 (2002); Steidl v. Fermon, 494 F.3d 623, 633 (7th Cir. 2007). Here, the allegations in the Complaint do not satisfy the first or second requirement.

         With regard to the first requirement, Plaintiff did not allege that he asked anyone for access to particular documents before going to court. He simply alleged that his materials were kept from him, and he did not have the paperwork he needed at court (Doc. 2, p. 25). Section 1983 creates a cause of action based on personal liability and predicated upon fault. Pepper v. Village of Oak Park, 430 F.3d 809, 810 (7th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). To be liable, “an individual defendant must have caused or participated in a constitutional deprivation.” Id. In other words, the doctrine of respondeat superior, or supervisory liability, does not apply. Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 740 (7th Cir. 2001) (citing Chavez v. Ill. State Police, 251 F.3d 612, 651 (7th Cir. 2001)). Therefore, it is necessary to identify a particular defendant (even in generic terms) who was personally involved in the deprivation. Thus, Plaintiff should indicate what materials he requested, to whom he directed the request and what response he received.

         With regard to the second requirement, Plaintiff did not indicate what claim, if any, was lost as a result of the Unknown Defendants' interference with his legal documents in July and August 2015. He merely alleges that he faced a “disadvantage” at his Pavey hearing. This allegation is insufficient to support an access-to-courts claim, even at this early stage. Accordingly, Count 13 shall be dismissed.

         However, the dismissal of this claim is without prejudice, and Plaintiff shall be granted leave to file an Amended Complaint if he chooses to pursue this claim. Plaintiff is warned that his access-to-courts claim will not proceed unless he can demonstrate that he suffered actual substantial prejudice to specific litigation. Kincaid, 969 F.2d at 603. If he chooses to file an Amended Complaint, Plaintiff must follow the instructions and deadline for doing so below.

         D ...


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