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Blaney v. Godinez

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 15, 2018

JEFFREY BLANEY, No. B80790, Plaintiff,
SALVADOR GODINEZ, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Jeffrey Blaney, presently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”), brings this pro se action for alleged deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that, since 1997, Menard officials have denied him access to the courts. Plaintiff also attempts to bring Eighth Amendment claims pertaining to the soy-based diet served at Menard (and the medical treatment he received for complications allegedly related to that diet) and Menard's provision of clothing and hygiene items. In connection with these claims, Plaintiff has named 103 defendants.[1]

         Plaintiff was originally one of several plaintiffs in a multi-plaintiff action filed by David Robert Bentz. See Bentz v. Godinez, No. 17-cv-315-MJR. After several case management orders, Plaintiff's claims were severed into a new action. (Doc. 1). The severance order directed Plaintiff to file a Second Amended Complaint on or before November 13, 2017. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested and received two extensions to file his Second Amended Complaint. (Docs. 8 and 10).

         Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 11) is now before the Court for a preliminary review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         Merits Review - Applicable Standards

         Section 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).

         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). In addition, the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the “speculative level.” E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). See also Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009) (courts “should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements”).

         Rule 8

         In order to state a claim, a complaint must also comply with Rule 8 by providing “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The primary purpose of these pleading requirements is to give defendants fair notice of the claims against them and the grounds supporting the claims. Killingsworth v. HSBC Bank Nev., N.A., 507 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). See also United States ex rel. Garst v. Lockheed-Martin Corp., 328 F.3d 374, 378 (7th Cir. 2003) (“Rule 8(a) requires parties to make their pleadings straightforward, so that judges and adverse parties need not try to fish a gold coin from a bucket of mud.”). Under Rule 8, Plaintiffs are also required to associate specific defendants with specific claims, so that defendants are put on notice of the claims brought against them and so they can properly answer the complaint. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Merely invoking the name of a potential defendant is not sufficient to state a claim against that individual. See Collins v. Kibort, 143 F.3d 331, 334 (7th Cir. 1998). Moreover, vague references to a group of “defendants, ” without specific allegations tying the individual defendants to the alleged unconstitutional conduct, do not raise a genuine issue of material fact with respect to those defendants. See Alejo v. Heller, 328 F.3d 930, 936 (7th Cir. 2003) (finding dismissal of named defendant proper where plaintiff failed to allege defendant's personal involvement in the alleged wrongdoings); Starzenski v. City of Elkhart, 87 F.3d 872, 879 (7th Cir. 1996).


         As a part of screening, the Court is also allowed to sever unrelated claims against different defendants into separate lawsuits. See George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007). In George, the Seventh Circuit emphasized that the practice of severance is important, “not only to prevent the sort of morass” produced by multi-claim, multi-defendant suits “but also to ensure that prisoners pay the required filing fees” under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Id. This practice is encouraged. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has recently warned district courts not to allow inmates “to flout the rules for joining claims and defendants, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 18, 20, or to circumvent the Prison Litigation Reform Act's fee requirements by combining multiple lawsuits into a single complaint.” Owens v. Godinez, 860 F.3d 434, 436 (7th Cir. 2017). See also Wheeler v. Talbot, __ Fed.Appx. __, 2017 WL 2417889 (7th Cir. 2017) (district court should have severed unrelated and improperly joined claims or dismissed one of them).

         Second Amended Complaint

         The Second Amended Complaint includes a number of allegations that are not associated with any specific defendant. These allegations can be roughly divided into three sets of claims: (1) access to the courts; (2) provision of clothing, towels, and hygiene items; and (3) soy-based diet.

         Access to the Courts (Count 1)

         Plaintiff claims that, since 1997, Defendants have denied him access to the courts in a number of ways. Plaintiff generally alleges that Menard denies prisoners (including Plaintiff) access to the courts by (1) failing to provide an adequate law library; (2) confiscating and withholding legal materials; and (3) failing to provide indigent prisoners with the necessary drafting and mailing materials (Doc. 11, pp. 11). Plaintiff also contends that various practices at Menard have interfered with his ability to access the courts, including but not limited to the following practices and/or policies: (1) limiting the amount of time prisoners may spend in the law library; (2) use of “inmate runners” to retrieve legal research; (3) overuse or improper use of “lockdowns” for excessive periods of time; (4) requiring prisoners to store excess legal materials in a separate building (and failing to provide adequate access to that building); (5) allowing ...

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