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English v. Butler

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 8, 2016

MARIO S. ENGLISH, JR., # B-57430, Plaintiff,
v.
KIMBERLY BUTLER, and MONICA NIPPE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STACI M. YANDLE, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Mario S. English, Jr. (“English”), an inmate currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”), brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff English alleges that his rights have been violated by Menard staff members who have hindered his access to the Courts.[1] He further alleges that Menard is at fault for failing to respond to grievances about the same. In connection with his claims, English names Warden Kimberly Butler and counselor Monica Nippe. English seeks monetary compensation and injunctive relief.

         The First Amended Complaint is now before the Court for review. The Court's May 13, 2016 Order informed English 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. 9). English's additional “response” filings (Docs. 12 and 13) are construed as motions and will be addressed in the pending motions section of this Memorandum and Order.

         Background

         English alleges that he experienced difficulty sending legal mail at Menard when Defendant Monica Nippe refused to give him an adequate supply of money vouchers to mail his legal correspondence (Doc. 9 at 40-44). English claims that as a result of Nippe's intentional refusal, he missed multiple court deadlines (Id.). In an exhibit appended to his Amended Complaint, English claims that he suffered harm as a result of Nippe's actions in two court cases--#3-14-0161 and #4-14-0256 (presumably state court cases) (Id. at 23). He insists that in each instance, he was unable to file timely petitions for writs of certiorari due to the denial of money vouchers (Id.). English also appended shorthand notes made by Nippe documenting her visits to the cell house in October, November and December of 2015 at which times she noted English's requests for money vouchers (Id. at 36-38). The notes suggest that money vouchers were sent each time, though they do not contain any specific proof of when or how money vouchers were sent (Id.). A handwritten letter from English also purports to bear a handwritten response by Nippe on or around January 20, 2016, wherein she indicated that she had directed the provision of money vouchers (Id. at 20).

         English asserts that he grieved Nippe's actions to no avail (Id. at 40). Specifically, English claims that he submitted a grievance to Warden Kimberly Butler, but that she did not respond (Id.). English argues that Nippe and Butler's actions are indicative of deliberate indifference and a denial of access to the courts (Id. at 40-45). English seeks monetary damages, and injunctive relief in the form of a transfer to Stateville or Pontiac, a directive to Menard requiring the facility to always provide inmates with money vouchers, a copy of his disciplinary card and all of his incoming and outgoing mail (Id. at 45-47).

         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. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion regarding their merit.

Count 1:Denial of access to the courts claim against Butler and Nippe for failing to provide English with a sufficient number of money vouchers to mail his legal correspondence; and,
Count 2: Fourteenth Amendment claim for failure to respond to English's grievances regarding the shortage of money vouchers for legal mail.

         As discussed below, Count 1 will be allowed to proceed beyond screening solely as to Defendant Nippe; Count 1 will be dismissed without prejudice as it pertains to Defendant Butler. Further, Count 2 shall be dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a claim.

         Count 1

         The Seventh Circuit has held that prisoners must receive “that quantum of access to prison libraries [and materials]-not total or unlimited access-which will enable them to research the law and determine what facts may be necessary to state a cause of action.” See Gentry v. Duckworth, 65 F.3d 555, 558 (7th Cir. 1995) (quoting Hossman v. Spradlin, 812 F.2d 1019, 1021 (7th Cir. 1987). Materials necessary include “paper, some means of writing, staplers, access to notary services where required by procedural rules, and mailing materials.” Id. However, access need not be limitless. The two-part test to determine if an inmate has a claim for denial of access to the courts requires a showing that (1) prison officials failed to assist in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal materials, and (2) that the failure led to some quantum of detriment such as an interruption and/or delay of the inmate's pending or contemplated litigation. Id. The denial of materials can satisfy the first prong of the test, while the second prong can be satisfied by showing “real prejudice.” Id. at 558-59. An inmate need not show that he definitely would have won the underlying claim that he was hindered in bringing, rather, he need only show that he was denied “the right to rise to the level of being a failure.” Id. at 559.

         To state a claim for denial of access to the courts, 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 a non-frivolous underlying claim that was lost. See Bridges v. Gilbert,557 F.3d 541, 553 (7th Cir. 2009); Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 416 (2002); Steidl v. Fermon, 494 F.3d 623, 633 (7th Cir. 2007). The nature of the underlying loss may influence the ...


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