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McCoy v. Unknown Party

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

December 12, 2016

CHRISTOPHER H. McCOY, #09150-025, Plaintiff,


          MICHAEL J. REAGAN Chief Judge United States District Court

         This matter is now before the Court for consideration of the First Amended Complaint ("amended complaint") (Doc. 12) filed by Christopher McCoy pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). In the amended complaint, Plaintiff claims that officials at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois ("USP-Marion"), failed to maintain adequate ventilation in the prison's law library between April and July 2015 (Doc. 12, pp. 1-8). The poor ventilation allegedly interfered with Plaintiffs use of the law library and his access to the courts. It also resulted in a denial of equal protection of the law. In connection with these claims, Plaintiff names USP-Marion's warden, John Doe #1 (unknown HVAC supervisor), Bennett (education administrator), Meade (library supervisor), Wright (education instructor), Barlow (education instructor), and Price (education instructor) (id.). He seeks monetary relief against them (id. at 8).

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

         Plaintiffs amended complaint is now before the Court for preliminary review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under § 1915A, the Court is required to promptly screen prisoner complaints, including amended complaints, to filter out nonmeritorious claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court is required to dismiss any portion of the amended 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). 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 plaintiffs 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). The amended complaint does not pass muster under § 1915A and shall be dismissed.

         First Amended Complaint

         On or around April 23, 2015, an unknown HVAC supervisor ("John Doe #1") at USP-Marion determined that the air conditioning unit in the prison's law library was in need of repair (Doc. 12, p. 1). The prison received funding for the project on or around May 25, 2015 (id. at 2). Repair of the unit took several months because the HVAC supervisor was first required to disassemble the cooling system before ordering replacement parts and installing them.

         All of the defendants were aware that the law library lacked air conditioning. Most of them worked in the education building, which houses the law library, and they regularly passed through the library on the way to their air conditioned offices. In the process, the defendants took no action to open windows in the library in order to improve air circulation, even when Plaintiff asked them to do so during the summer months (id. at 2, 4). At the same time, windows in other areas of the prison remained open to improve ventilation (id. at 2).

         Between April 24 and July 13, 2015, Plaintiff frequently visited the law library because he was preparing several lawsuits, including a habeas petition, for filing (id. at 3). From Monday through Saturday each week, he used the law library from 1-3:20 p.m. From Monday through Thursday each week, he returned to the library from 7-8:20 p.m. Plaintiff alleges that he spent a total of 20-23 hours per week in the library conducting legal research that could not be completed elsewhere in the prison (id. at 4).

         Plaintiff now claims that the lack of ventilation produced a "chilling effect" on his use of the prison's law library, in violation of his right to access the courts under the First Amendment (id. at 3). He further claims that the different manner of cooling and ventilating areas of the prison amounted to a denial of equal protection of the law under the Fifth Amendment.


         To facilitate the orderly management of future proceedings in this case, and in accordance with the objectives of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(e) and 10(b), the Court deems it appropriate to reorganize the claims in Plaintiff s pro se amended complaint (Doc. 12) into the following enumerated counts:

Count 1:Conditions of confinement claim against Defendants for failing to ensure adequate ventilation in the prison law library from April 24 - July 13, 2015.
Count 2:Denial of access to courts claim against Defendants based on their failure to adequately ventilate the prison law library from ...

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