United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. ROSENSTENGEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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.
§ 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
U.S.C. § 1915A(b).
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).
these standards, the Court finds that some of Plaintiff's
claims survive threshold review under § 1915A.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 ...