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Thornton v. M. Lake

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

May 30, 2018

CHARLES E. THORNTON Y-19115, Plaintiff,
v.
M. LAKE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HON. JORGE ALONSO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Charles E. Thornton, currently a prisoner at Menard Correctional Center, brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against defendant Ms. M. Lake, Supervisor of the Law Library Services at the Cook County Department of Corrections. Plaintiff alleges that, while he was an inmate at the Cook County Jail, defendant Lake treated him unfairly with respect to his use/access to the law library. Before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment [111]. For the following reasons, the Court denies in part and grants in part defendant's motion.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 56.1

         Local Rule 56.1 governs the procedures for filing and responding to motions for summary judgment in this Court. Local Rule 56.1(a) requires the moving party to provide “a statement of material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue” for trial. See Ammons v. Aramark Uniform Servs., Inc., 368 F.3d 809, 817 (7th Cir. 2004). “All material facts set forth in the statement required of the moving party will be deemed to be admitted unless controverted by the statement of the opposing party.” Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C). The party opposing summary judgment also shall submit “a statement, consisting of short numbered paragraphs, of any additional facts that require the denial of summary judgment.” Id.

         To defeat summary judgment, the opposing party “must file a response to each numbered paragraph in the moving party's statement” of fact. Schrott v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 403 F.3d 940, 944 (7th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). In the case of any disagreement, the opposing party must reference “affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials.” Id. “[M]ere disagreement with the movant's asserted facts is inadequate if made without reference to specific supporting material.” Smith v. Lamz, 321 F.3d 680, 683 (7th Cir. 2003). If the opposing party's response provides only extraneous or argumentative information, the response will not constitute a proper denial of the fact, and the fact will be admitted. See, e.g., Graziano v. Vill. of Oak Park, 401 F.Supp.2d 918, 936-37 (N.D. Ill. 2005). A plaintiff's pro se status does not excuse him from complying with Local Rule 56.1. See Greer v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chicago, 267 F.3d 723, 727 (7th Cir. 2001); Cady v. Sheahan, 467 F.3d 1057, 1061 (7th Cir. 2006).

         Consistent with the Local Rules, defendant filed a statement of material facts (Dkt. 111-1) along with her motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 111). Also consistent with the Local Rules, defendant filed and served on plaintiff a Local Rule 56.2 Notice (Dkt. 113), which explained in detail the requirements of Local Rule 56.1.

         In response, plaintiff filed a one hundred and twenty-one-page document entitled “Response to Defendant Local Rule 56.1(a) Statement of Material Facts and Statement of Additional Facts” (Dkt. 115). This document is comprised of a nineteen-page “Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment” and seventy-five pages of exhibits. The first fifteen pages of plaintiff's submission correspond to defendant's thirty-two-paragraph Statement of Facts, so the Court construes this portion of plaintiff's submission as a response to defendant's Statement of Facts. See Loc. R. 56.1(b)(3). For the most part, plaintiff does not admit or deny defendant's factual statements in his response; instead, he objects to the factual statements on grounds of relevancy.[1] As noted above, although courts construe pro se pleadings liberally, see Thomas v. Williams, 822 F.3d 378, 385 (7th Cir. 2016), a plaintiff's pro se status does not excuse him from complying with federal and local procedural rules. See McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) (holding that “we have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel”); Wilson v. Kautex, Inc., 371 Fed. App'x. 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2010) (“[S]trictly enforcing Local Rule 56.1 was well within the district court's discretion, even though Wilson is a pro se litigant.”) (citation omitted); Collins v. Illinois, 554 F.3d 693, 697 (7th Cir. 2009) (“even pro se litigants must follow procedural rules”). Thus, the Court disregards plaintiff's unresponsive, evasive, or argumentative denials in his response and deems defendant's corresponding (and properly-supported) facts admitted. See Flores v. Giuliano, No. 12 C 162, 2014 WL 3360504, at *2 (N.D. Ill. July 9, 2014).

         Plaintiff has also submitted additional facts (Dkt. 115 at pgs. 16-26) that include citations to the record and exhibits. Defendant objects to plaintiff's additional statement of facts on the grounds that: (1) it contains numerous arguments which are wholly irrelevant to the claims set out in the Court's initial screening order; (2) several points are based on an affidavit plaintiff attached which contains conclusions, his opinion, and speculation; and (3) it contains improper argument. (Dkt. 120 at pgs. 3-4.) The Court has carefully examined each statement for relevancy, evidentiary support, and admissibility, giving deference to plaintiff's version of the facts where they are properly presented and supported by admissible evidence.[2]

         With the above factors in mind, the Court turns to the facts of this case.

         II. Factual Background

         From July 2010 until November 2016, plaintiff Charles E. Thornton was housed in the Cook County Department of Corrections (“CCDOC”). (Dkt. 111-1 at ¶ 1.) Defendant M. Lake is and was, at the times relevant to this lawsuit, the supervisor of the law library at CCDOC. (Id. at ¶ 2.)

         Plaintiff alleges that, between July 15, 2014 and December 20, 2014, he was treated unfairly while attending the law library. (Id. at ¶ 3.) Specifically, he alleges that the judge in his criminal case provided an order permitting him to have “access to the law library three times per week for the above-titled case preparation due to the fact that Thornton is proceeding pro se.” (Id. at ¶ 4.) Plaintiff alleges that during this time, he received the wrong case law and that he was not permitted to access the law library three times per week in compliance with the Criminal Court Order. (Id. at ¶ 5.) At his deposition, plaintiff testified that during the entirety of the time he had the order, he was able to get one day per week at the law library. (Id. at ¶ 6.)

         Plaintiff filed numerous grievances criticizing the unfair treatment he perceived from the law librarians, specifically Hawkins and Warren. (Id. at ¶ 7.) At his deposition, plaintiff testified that he did not appeal “each and every one” of the responses to his grievances. (Dkt. 122 at p. 105:23.)[3]

         Plaintiff also testified at his deposition that there were times that he was not able to attend the law library twice per week. (111-1 at ¶ 9.) Plaintiff testified that he was not permitted to attend the law library three times per week until he filed “so many grievances . . . eventually [he] started getting in, but that was way down the line though.” (Id. at ¶ 10.)

         At his deposition, plaintiff was presented with the Detainees' Law Library Sign-in Scheduling Log Sheet (“Sign-In Sheet”). (Id. at ¶ 11.) Plaintiff testified that his signature on the Sign-In Sheets from July 15, 2014 to October 9, 2015 was true and accurate. (Id. at ¶ 12.) The Sign-In Sheets show that between July 14, 2014 and October 9, 2015, plaintiff visited the law library one hundred and fifty-two times. (Id. at ¶ 14.) The Sign-In Sheets also show that on sixteen different dates in 2014-2015, plaintiff was on the schedule at the law library, but did not sign in. (Id. at ¶ 15.) Plaintiff testified that he had been shipped out to Moultrie County for two to three weeks in 2014. (Id. at ¶ 16.) Plaintiff testified that he was able to go to the law library when he was in Moultrie County, although “it was nothing up to par[.]” (Dkt. 122 at p. 75:18-21.) Thus, between July 14, 2014 and October 9, 2015, plaintiff was housed at Cook County Jail for no more than sixty-two weeks. (Dkt. 111-1 at ¶ 17.) During these sixty-two weeks, plaintiff visited the law library on one hundred and fifty-two occasions and was scheduled to visit the law library on sixteen more occasions. (Id. at ¶ 18.) Thus, plaintiff was scheduled to visit the law library one hundred and sixty-eight times over a period of sixty-two weeks. (Id. at ¶ 19.)

         Plaintiff alleges that in July of 2015, Law Librarian Hawkins threatened his court order by saying, “I wouldn't be surprised if your court order disappear[s].” (Id. at ¶ 21.) Plaintiff testified that defendant Lake was not present when he visited the law library. (Id. at ¶ 22.) Plaintiff alleges that his criminal court order was revoked between September 30, 2015 and November 31, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 23.)

         At his deposition, plaintiff acknowledged that defendant Lake executed a disciplinary report on September 12, 2014 against Hawkins stating that, “Thelma Hawkins was informed, that Inmate Charles Thornton . . . had a Court Order for law library services three times per week. Ms. Hawkins failed to request to see him three times the weeks of August 15, 2014 and September 5, 2014. If improvements are not made in this regard, termination may result.” (Id. at ¶ 24.)

         Plaintiff testified that he filed numerous grievances while at Cook County Jail. (Id. at ¶ 27.) Specifically, plaintiff filed a grievance on September 18, 2015 wherein he stated that “Ms. Warren withheld [his] third case law.” (Id. at ¶ 28.) On page two of this grievance, defendant Lake responded, thanking him for his opinion. (Id. at ¶ 29.) Plaintiff signed under defendant's Response, and did not request an appeal. (Id. at ¶ 30.) Plaintiff also filed a grievance on December 22, 2015 wherein he stated that defendant Lake was “showing discriminatory practice against [him] as a pretrial detainee through her staff of Div. 9 and Div. 1 ...


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