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Santiago v. Bradley

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 1, 2017

FABIAN SANTIAGO, # B-79716, Plaintiff,
v.
TYLER A. BRADLEY, ROBIN ROWALD, CINDY MAYER, LARISSA WANDRO, LORI OAKLEY, ALEX JONES, JACQUELINE LASHBROOK, MELISSA PHOENIX, JOHN BALDWIN, and JOHN/JANE DOE #1 & #2, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, an inmate currently incarcerated at Hill Correctional Center (“Hill”), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His claims arose while he was confined at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”). Plaintiff claims that a publication he had ordered was improperly withheld from him and destroyed, and that three items of legal correspondence were improperly opened outside his presence. 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).

         Applying these standards, the Court finds that some of Plaintiff's claims survive threshold review under § 1915A.

         The Complaint

         On December 7, 2016, Plaintiff was notified that C/O Bradley was confiscating Plaintiff's “prison legal news” publication dated November 2016. The reason for the confiscation was that the publication depicted and/or outlined statements of prisoners who were on hunger strikes. (Doc. 1, p. 2). Plaintiff immediately submitted a written appeal of Bradley's decision, and included a statement outlining why the confiscation of his reading material was unlawful. Plaintiff also requested that the publication be preserved so that it would be available if Plaintiff needed to pursue a grievance or litigation over the matter. Plaintiff also submitted a grievance challenging the confiscation and arguing that the material did not present a security concern. Id.

         Plaintiff soon learned that his appeal paperwork was supposedly never received by the officials who should have reviewed it, and as a result the publication was destroyed. (Doc. 1, p. 10). Plaintiff argues that but for the “blatantly unlawful policy, practice, and [custom]” of confiscating publications containing “statements of hunger strikers, ” his reading material would not have been confiscated or destroyed. (Doc. 1, p. 2). Plaintiff alleges that Rowald (counselor), Wandro (grievance officer), Jones (acting warden), Phoenix (Administrative Review Board (“ARB”) member), and Baldwin (Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”)), all collaborated in “allowing and refusing to take corrective action concerning the implementation of” the policy/practice that led to the confiscation and destruction of Plaintiff's reading material “when sitting in review of the plaintiff's grievance” over the confiscation. (Doc. 1, p. 2).

         On January 18, 2017, Plaintiff received “legal correspondence” from an attorney in the West Town Law Office. (Doc. 1, pp. 3, 17). The attorney's (and law firm's) return address was printed on the outside of the envelope, which Plaintiff claims clearly identified it as a legal communication. John/Jane Doe #1 (mail handler) and John/Jane Doe #2 (mailing supervisor) opened and inspected the correspondence outside of Plaintiff's presence, and refused to classify it as “legal mail.” It was processed as regular mail and delivered to Plaintiff. Plaintiff submitted a grievance over the incident, which was denied because the envelope was not “marked with the magical words of privileged/legal mail.” (Doc. 1, pp. 3, 18). Meyer (counselor), Oakley (grievance officer), Lashbrook (warden), Power (ARB member), and Baldwin each reviewed and denied Plaintiff's grievance in turn.

         On February 1, 2017, a similar incident occurred. This time, Plaintiff received a letter from the Hamilton Law Office which had been opened, inspected, and presumably read by John/Jane Doe #1 (mail handler) and John/Jane Doe #2 (mailing supervisor). (Doc. 1, pp. 3, 23). It was processed as regular mail (not legal mail). Plaintiff's grievance over the opening of this letter was denied by Meyer, Oakley, Lashbrook, Phoenix, and Baldwin, on the grounds that the envelope was not marked as “privileged/legal mail.” (Doc. 1, pp. 3, 25). Plaintiff contends that because the envelope contained the return address of a law firm, it should have been treated as legal mail.

         On February 21, 2017, a package from the Moran Law Group was delivered to Plaintiff. It was clearly marked, “ATTORNEY/CLIENT CORRESPONDENCE, OPEN IN INMATE'S PRESENCE ONLY.” (Doc. 1, pp. 4, 24). Despite this labeling, John/Jane Doe #1 (mail handler) and John/Jane Doe #2 (mailing supervisor) had opened the package and presumably inspected and read it. The package was taped back together, and was processed as legal mail, requiring Plaintiff to sign for it upon receipt. Plaintiff asserts that these 3 incidents “demonstrate a systematic pattern” of mailroom staff indiscriminately opening, inspecting, and reading his legal mailings in spite of their clear identification as privileged material. (Doc. 1, p. 4).

         Plaintiff submitted a grievance over the opening of the Moran Law Group package. Meyer, Oakley, Lashbrook, Phoenix, and Baldwin denied the grievance and refused to take corrective action. Id.

         Plaintiff adds that he is a “known litigator (so-called jailhouse lawyer)” who has brought a “large volume” of cases against prison officials over the last 20-plus years. (Doc. 1, p. 4). Based on that activity, Plaintiff believes his correspondence has been targeted for interception and review outside his presence, in order to glean information about his litigation strategies and plans. (Doc. 1, pp. 4-5). He further complains that his efforts to obtain the identity of the mailroom staff (Does #1 and #2) have been thwarted by IDOC officials.

         Plaintiff seeks preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to prevent future confiscation of publications containing hunger strike information, and to prevent the improper opening of his legal mail outside his presence. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiff has not filed a motion ...


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