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Morgan v. Doe

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

April 13, 2018

JERYME MORGAN, # R-29175, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN DOE Mailroom Supervisor, JANE DOE Mailroom Supervisor, and JACQUELINE LASHBROOK, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STACI M. YANDLE, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Jeryme Morgan, 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 the John Doe/Jane Doe mailroom supervisors have intentionally opened his incoming legal mail on numerous occasions. 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

         According to the Complaint, Plaintiff was transferred to Menard in November 2014 from Stateville Correctional Center. (Doc. 1, p. 6). At the time, Plaintiff had several pending lawsuits in this Court against Menard officials. Id. In connection with those lawsuits, Plaintiff alleges that he received legal mail from the Illinois Attorney General and from his own attorney. He also received mail from the Illinois Court of Claims with reference to a pending case.

         Plaintiff alleges that on approximately 22 occasions between November 2014 and March 20, 2017, his “legal mail” was knowingly opened outside his presence by “all Defendants listed.” (Doc. 1, p. 6). He further alleges that during that time frame, all Defendants “knowingly interfered” with correspondence between Plaintiff and his attorney, by opening or ripping his legal mail, some of which was lost. Id.

         After filing his Complaint, Plaintiff submitted 47 pages of Exhibits. (Doc. 3). They include approximately 14 grievances filed between January 2015 and March 2017 in which Plaintiff complains about his incoming mail having been opened before he received it. He also submitted copies of approximately 20 of the opened envelopes. These include mail addressed to Plaintiff from attorney Barry Lewis (Doc. 3, p. 7), the law firm of Loevy & Loevy (Doc. 3, pp. 9-10, 28), the Cook County Public Defender (Doc. 3, p. 22), and the John Marshall Law School (Doc. 3, p. 47). Other incoming mail that was opened before being delivered to Plaintiff came from the Illinois Attorney General (Doc. 3, pp. 14-15, 18-19, 37-39, 43), the New York Attorney General (Doc. 3, pp. 13, 17, 35, 44), and the Illinois Court of Claims (Doc. 3, pp. 41, 45).

         One of Plaintiff's grievances states that in October 2015, he sent an envelope to Attorney General Lisa Madigan on which he clearly printed “Legal Mail.” (Doc. 3, pp. 25-27). The envelope was returned to Plaintiff due to some error on the address, and had been opened before he received it back.

         Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages. (Doc. 1, p. 7).

         Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

         Based on the allegations of the Complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se action into the following counts. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as to their merit. Any other claim that is mentioned in the Complaint but not addressed in this Order should be considered dismissed without prejudice.

Count 1: Defendants violated Plaintiff's First Amendment right to access the courts by opening correspondence between Plaintiff and his attorneys outside his presence;
Count 2: Defendants violated Plaintiff's First Amendment rights by opening Plaintiff's incoming mail from attorneys, state officials, and the courts, and ...

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