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Bentz v. Gregson

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 22, 2018

DAVID ROBERT BENTZ, Plaintiff,
v.
SHANE GREGSON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STACI M. YANDLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff David Bentz, an inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”), filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his constitutional rights were violated while he was incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”). Plaintiff is currently proceeding on the following claim:

Count 1: Violation of Plaintiff's right to access the courts in Bentz v. Maue, No. 16- cv-00854-NJR (S.D. Ill. 2016) by Gregson, Clendenin, Rodely, Teas, Whitley, Stewart, and other John and/or Jane Does.

         This matter is now before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on the Issue of Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies (Doc. 46). Plaintiff filed a Response (Doc. 74). For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is GRANTED.

         Factual Background

         Plaintiff's claims in this case were originally filed in Bentz v. Gregson, 16-1349, on December 15, 2016. Following threshold review in that case, the following claim was severed and referred to this case:

Count 6: Violation of Plaintiff's right to access the courts by Gregson, Clendenin, Rodely, Teas, Whitley, and other John and/or Jane Does in 2016.

         The claim was reviewed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915A and the Court clarified that Bentz's claims are limited to the defendants' interference with his court access in Bentz v. Maue, No. 16-cv-00854-NJR (S.D. Ill. 2016) (“Maue”), because that is the only case cited by Bentz in which he suffered actual substantial prejudice to specific litigation (Doc. 7 at 4). This claim is distinct from the claims in Bentz's seventeen other cases filed with this Court.

         Here, Bentz contends he filed multiple grievances regarding library staff interfering with his access to the courts, and at least one of those grievances was denied on the merits by the ARB; therefore exhausting his administrative remedies. Defendants acknowledge that Bentz filed multiple grievances against library staff, but argue none of the grievances were relevant to his access to the courts in the Maue case filed on July 27, 2016, and therefore, they did not serve to exhaust his administrative remedies in this case.

         There are five grievances filed by Bentz prior to his filing the present action regarding the law library staff interfering with his access to the courts[1]:

         September 9, 2015 (#90-9-15): Bentz grieves the “runner system” created by law library policy and requests that he be allowed to browse the legal materials himself, rather than relying on law library staff to retrieve materials. The Counselor responded to this grievance on September 21, 2015, stating that the runner system is an administrative decision made to ensure the safety and security of law library staff and inmates. The Grievance Officer responded on December 5, 2015, denying the grievance because the law library policy was based on the needs, safety, and security of the facility. The CAO concurred with the Grievance Officer's Response on December 10, 2015. There is no further documentation regarding this grievance.

         May 19, 2016 (#102-6-16): Bentz filed this grievance against John and Jane Doe property staff. He states that he has continually put in for legal exchange to no avail and that he has approximately 50 court deadlines that the law library refuses to log. He further states that he has missed court deadlines and is being denied access to the courts. The requested relief is access to legal storage on a regular basis. The Counselor responded on May 23, 2016 that Bentz has been scheduled for personal property for May 24, 2016 to handle this issue. The Grievance Officer reviewed the grievance on July 1, 2016 and stated that she contacted personal property and was advised Bentz was present for legal exchanges on the following dates: May 24, 2016, May 31, 2016, June 7, 2016, and June 14, 2016. North 2 property also advised that Bentz would be added to the legal exchange list for the upcoming weekend. The Grievance Officer notes that Bentz would not be called over on a regular basis to access legal storage because an offender is required to submit a request to the property department each time he wishes to access his property. She also noted that the law library advised that Bentz's court deadlines had been logged and that he has submitted proof of deadlines and is on deadline status (automatic call) until June 13, 2017. The Grievance Officer's recommendation was that Bentz's grievance is moot because he is provided access to his legal materials. The CAO concurred with the Grievance Officer's Report on July 7, 2016. Bentz appealed the CAO's decision to the ARB. However, the ARB did not receive the appeal until August 15, 2016, more than 30 days after the CAO's decision, so it was denied as not submitted within the timeframe outlined in the rules.

         May 19, 2016 (#103-6-16 #1): Bentz states that on May 4, 2016, Menard was on Level 1 lockdown and law library staff member Shane Gregson came to his cell due to deadlines. Bentz informed him that he had a deadline of May 9, 2016 and needed legal copies returned so he could mail them to the 7th Circuit Court before the weekend. Gregson told him he would bring the copies back but did not return. On May 11, 2016, the law library staff made rounds in the SU-Cell House where Bentz requested to see Jennifer Clendenin. She refused to address the issue of the copies. On May 18, 2016, Bentz went to the law library and asked Gregson about his copies. He was told that he should not write grievances on staff and “things like that would not happen.” Bentz received the same response from all other library staff. Bentz grieved that the law library staff was intentionally retaliating against him, causing him to miss known court deadlines. The requested relief was: (1) staff to log all of his court deadlines, (2) return original copies and e-filings, (3) stop taking his legal materials, (4) stop causing him to miss court deadlines, (5) terminate all library staff and replace with qualified staff that will do their jobs, and (6) stop denying Bentz adequate access to the courts. The Counselor responded on May 23, 2016, stating library staff does log court deadlines, library staff does return original copies and e-filings, library staff does not take his legal materials, library staff does not cause him to miss deadlines, staffing is an administrative decision, and the law library staff does not deny or retaliate in any way. All allegations were found to be unsubstantiated. This grievance was appealed along with a second grievance dated June 10, 2016. The Grievance Officer and ARB reviewed the two grievances together. The responses are documented below.

         June 10, 2016 (#103-6-16 #2): Bentz filed this grievance against “John and Jane Doe privy respondents of the IDOC administrative, supervisorial, security, and law library staff personnel.” He asserts that inmates in segregation are not provided with access to a satellite law library, trained clerks, nor the ability to check out any books from the library. He goes on to state a number of complaints regarding law library policy. He grieves the “runner system, ” the fact that inmate law clerks do not receive formal training, no outside agencies are available to provide inmates with substantive help, and a number of other issues relating to the operation of the law library. The Counselor responded on June 16, 2016, stating the offender has already ...


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