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Powers v. Clayton

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois

January 27, 2017

THOMAS POWERS, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES CHRISTOPHER CLAYTON, JOSEPH HANKINS, GREGG SCOTT, and FORREST J. ASHBY, Defendants.

          OPINION

          SUE E. MYERSCOUGH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff proceeds pro se from his detention in the Rushville Treatment and Detention Facility pursuant to the Illinois Sexually Violent Persons Act. He pursues constitutional claims for denial of access to the court and retaliation for the exercise of his First Amendment right to pursue lawsuits and file grievances. One of Plaintiff's other pending cases in this District, 13-cv-3097, was consolidated with this case because the claims are similar.

         Before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, summary judgment is granted on Plaintiff's claim for denial of access to the courts. Summary judgment is denied on Plaintiff's retaliation claims.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         "The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “In a § 1983 case, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof on the constitutional deprivation that underlies the claim, and thus must come forward with sufficient evidence to create genuine issues of material fact to avoid summary judgment.” McAllister v. Price, 615 F.3d 877, 881 (7th Cir. 2010).

         At the summary judgment stage, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, with material factual disputes resolved in the nonmovant's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute of material fact exists when a reasonable juror could find for the nonmovant. Id.

         Discussion

         I. Summary judgment is granted to Defendants on Plaintiff's claim for denial of access to the courts. Plaintiff has not shown how the alleged shortcomings of the legal resources at Rushville impeded Plaintiff's legal pursuits.

         The constitutional right to access the court is not “an abstract freestanding right to a law library or legal assistance.” Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351 (1996). The right to access the courts means the right to pursue nonfrivolous claims, not the right to various legal resources. See Ortloff v. United States, 335 F.3d 652, 656 (7th Cir. 2003)(“[A] right to access-to-courts claim exists only if a prisoner is unreasonably prevented from presenting legitimate grievances to a court; various resources, documents, and supplies merely provide the instruments for reasonable access and are not protected in and of themselves.”)(abrogated on other grounds as recognized in Parrott v. U.S., 536 F.3d 629, 635 (7th Cir. 2008)).

         Thus, an access claim is viable only if a plaintiff suffered an “actual injury” from the inability to pursue a nonfrivolous claim. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351; In re Maxy, 674 F.3d 658, 660 (7th Cir. 2012); May v. Sheahan, 226 F.3d 876, 883 (7th Cir. 2000). There must be a “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). “Without a tenable argument to pursue . . ., [a plaintiff] cannot show actual prejudice resulting from denial of access to the law library.” McCree v. Grissom, 657 F.3d 623, 624 (7th Cir. 2011).

         Plaintiff identifies six cases in which he claims he suffered injury because of Rushville's lack of legal resources. (Pl.'s Aff. paras. 82-87.)

         One of the six cases identified by Plaintiff is his state civil detention proceedings (12MR419, Winnebago County). Plaintiff has a statutory right to appointed in counsel in that case. 725 ILCS 207/25(c)(1). An individual's right to access the courts is satisfied by the appointment of counsel. U.S. v. Sykes, 614 F.3d 303, 310 (7th Cir. 2010). That Plaintiff has chosen to proceed pro se in his detention proceeding does not require Defendants to supply the legal resources for Plaintiff to do so. See U.S. v. Sykes, 614 F.3d 303, 311 (2010)(“‘The rule is that [the defendant] has the right to legal help through appointed counsel, and when he declines that help, other alternative rights, like access to a law library, do not spring up.'”)(quoting United States v. Byrd, 208 F.3d 592, 593 (7th Cir. 2000)(brackets in Sykes).

         Plaintiff does not explain how the alleged lack of resources is connected to the other five cases' outcomes.

         For example, in Powers v. Chandler, 10-cv-50097 (N.D. Ill.), summary judgment was granted to Defendants in various orders and affirmed on appeal. Plaintiff contends that Defendants Mesrobian and Carter were dismissed “based on a discovery violation, ” but the docket in that case shows that Defendant Carter was dismissed because Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies when he did not file a timely appeal to the Administrative Review Board. (6/22/11 order, 10-cv-50097.) Defendant Mesrobian (who was deceased) was dismissed when Plaintiff filed an amended complaint which did not include Mesrobian as a ...


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