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Peters v. Baldwin

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 3, 2017

SCOTT PETERS, # M-52851, Plaintiff,
JOHN BALDWIN, JACQUELINE LASHBROOK, and UNKNOWN PARTY John/Jane Doe Mailroom Director, Defendants.


          STACI M. YANDLE United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that Defendants failed to timely mail his legal documents, which resulted in the dismissal of his civil rights case in the Northern District of Illinois. The Complaint is now before the Court for a preliminary review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         Under § 1915A, the Court is required to screen prisoner complaints to filter out non-meritorious claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss any portion of the 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). Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers to a claim that “no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit.” Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 2000).

         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 Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751 (7th Cir. 2011); Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         After fully considering the allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint and the record in his dismissed Northern District case, the Court concludes that this action is subject to summary dismissal pursuant to § 1915A.

         The Complaint

         This factual summary is drawn from Plaintiff's statement of claim (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6) and his attached exhibits. (Doc. 1, pp. 8-14). In late 2016, Plaintiff brought a civil rights action in the Northern District of Illinois, Case No. 16-C-50326, Peters v. Satkiewicz, et al. On November 16, 2016, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's Complaint in that action and ordered him to submit a complete application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”) and an amended complaint that stated a claim. (Doc. 1, p. 11). The Court gave Plaintiff a deadline of January 23, 2017 to submit those documents. On February 9, 2017, when the Court did not receive either document from Plaintiff within the specified deadline, the case was dismissed with prejudice for failure to prosecute and noncompliance with a court order. Id.

         Plaintiff asserts that he in fact prepared the IFP documents and the amended complaint for Peters v. Satkiewicz in a timely fashion and had “attempted to file” them on January 19, 2017. (Doc. 1, p. 9). However, Menard officials delayed sending out these documents and other unrelated documents for 2 months (between December 22, 2016, and February 7, 2017). (Doc. 1, pp. 5, 9). They held all documents that Plaintiff had submitted during this period, consolidated them and then mailed them all out on February 7, 2017. (Doc. 1, p. 10).

         Plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed IFP and his amended complaint were docketed in Case No. 16-C-50326 (N.D. Ill.) on February 10, 2017, one day after the entry of judgment in that case.[1] (Docs. 10, 11 in Case No. 16-C-50326 (N.D. Ill.)). On March 1, 2017, Plaintiff submitted a motion seeking reconsideration of the dismissal of his case, explaining his attempts to comply with the Order and the delays caused by Menard officials. (Doc. 1, pp. 9-10; filed on March 7, 2017, as Doc. 12 in Case No. 16-C-50326 (N.D. Ill.)). Plaintiff notes that he did not receive the Northern District's Order of dismissal until February 28, 2017. (Doc 1, p. 10). As of the date of the instant Order, the Northern District has not yet issued a ruling on Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration.

         Plaintiff asserts that Menard “employees, the Warden, [and] the Director created negligence, when they failed in the[ir] duty to insure the mail is handled correctly.” (Doc. 1, p. 5). These actions violated his right to access the courts. Id. In a grievance filed on January 25, 2017, Plaintiff complains that Menard has no procedures to track his legal mail, his money voucher receipts are not being returned to him, and “numerous pieces of deadline mail” are not accounted for. (Doc. 1, pp. 12-13). On February 1, 2017, he filed another grievance over alleged tampering with his legal mail, the failure to return money vouchers, and complaining that he had not received filed documents back from the courts. (Doc. 1, p. 14). Plaintiff has received no response to these grievances. (Doc. 1, p. 8).

         Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. (Doc. 1, p. 7).

         Merits Review Pursuant to 28 ...

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