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Hill v. Madison County

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

December 17, 2019

HUBERT D. HILL, N47639, Plaintiff,
v.
MADISON COUNTY, ILLINOIS, and RANDY YOUNG, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. PHIL GILBERT United States District Judge

         While he was detained at Madison County Jail, Plaintiff Hubert Hill filed a self-styled “Complaint of Mandamus” in the Circuit Court of the Third Judicial Circuit in Madison County, Illinois. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 3-5). In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Jail officials interfered with his access to the courts in violation of his First Amendment rights, when they refused to mail his two civil rights complaints to the Southern District of Illinois. (Id.). Although officials cited excessive weight, Plaintiff insists that the Jail has no weight restrictions on legal mail and that proper postage was provided. (Id.). He seeks an order compelling Madison County Jail's Superintendent (Captain Randy Young) to process his legal mail. (Id.).

         Defendants removed the case to this federal judicial district pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441, 1331, and 1446. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff made no objection, and the Court found that removal was proper. (Doc. 4). The Complaint is thus subject to preliminary review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         Section 1915A requires the Court to screen prisoner complaints and filter out non-meritorious claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Any portion of a complaint that is legally frivolous, malicious, meritless, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law is immune from such relief must be dismissed. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). At this juncture, the factual allegations are liberally construed. Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff makes the following allegations in the Complaint: On April 3, 2019, Plaintiff attempted to mail two civil rights complaints to the Southern District of Illinois. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 3-4). He placed the complaints in an envelope with proper postage and handed it to Sergeant Reitart. (Id.). On April 5, 2019, Sergeant Paul called Plaintiff to the front office and informed him that the envelope exceeded the Jail's weight limit for legal mail. (Id.). He instructed Plaintiff to have someone pick up the “package” and mail it to the Court on his behalf. (Id. at p. 4). When Plaintiff requested the name of the individual who made this decision, he learned that it was Captain Young. Plaintiff filed his “Complaint of Mandamus” on April 11, 2019. (Doc. 1-1).

         Based on the allegations in the Complaint, the Court designates a single claim in this action:

Count 1: First Amendment claim against Defendant Young for interfering with Plaintiff's access to the courts on or around April 3, 2019.

         Any other claim that is mentioned in the Complaint but not addressed herein should be considered dismissed without prejudice as inadequately pled under Twombly.[1]

         Discussion

         Although Plaintiff filed a self-styled “Complaint of Mandamus” in Illinois state court, Defendants removed the Complaint to federal court because it focuses on a First Amendment denial-of-court-access claim. Whether construed as a Complaint seeking injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or a Petition for Writ of Mandamus, it does not survive screening.

         The Complaint states no claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. §1983. To state a First Amendment claim for interference with court access, a plaintiff must allege that the defendants prevented him from pursuing a legitimate legal claim. Ortiz v. Downey, 561 F.3d 664, 671 (7th Cir. 1996); Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 415 (2002). Plaintiff does not allege that either civil rights complaint presented a “potentially meritorious” legal claim. See Marshall v. Knight, 445 F.3d 965, 698 (7th Cir. 2006). See also Eichwedel v. Chandler, 696 F.3d 660, 673 (7th Cir. 2012) (where prisoner did not identify any “nonfrivolous, arguable underlying claim, ” he could not pursue a claim for interference with access to the courts). He also does not allege that Defendants' actions rendered him unable to pursue his legal claim. A review of public records reveals that he filed two civil rights complaints in this federal judicial district during the same time period that he filed the instant Complaint. See Hill v. Lakin, et al., No. 19-cv-00405-JPG (S.D. Ill. filed April 11, 2019); Hill v. Illinois, et al., No. 19-cv-00421-SMY (S.D. Ill. filed April 15, 2019). Because it appears that he did so promptly and without impediment, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted--to the extent his claim arises from these two complaints.

         To the extent he seeks a writ of mandamus, his Complaint runs into more problems. Plaintiff cites no Illinois statute in support of his request for mandamus relief, and this Court is not empowered to issue a writ of mandamus compelling action by state (or county) officials under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1361, 1651(a).

         Plaintiff's request for mandamus relief also appears to be moot. On the same date he filed his Complaint of Mandamus (April 11, 2019), he filed a civil rights complaint in the Southern District of Illinois. See Hill v. Lakin, et al., No. 19-cv-00405-JPG (S.D. Ill. filed April 11, 2019). Four days later, he filed a second civil rights complaint. See Hill v. Illinois, et al., No. 19-cv-00421-SMY (S.D. Ill. filed April 15, 2019). To the extent he requests an order ...


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