United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
A. Byrd, a pro se prisoner, filed an amended
complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (DE #6.) Pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review a prisoner
complaint and dismiss it if the action is frivolous or
malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks monetary relief
against a defendant who is immune from such
apply the same standard under Section 1915A as when deciding
a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
Lagerstrom v. Kingston, 463 F.3d 621, 624 (7th Cir.
2006). To survive dismissal, a complaint must state a claim
for relief that is plausible on its face. Bissessur v.
Indiana Univ. Bd. of Trs., 581 F.3d 599, 602-03 (7th
Cir. 2009). In determining whether the complaint states a
claim, the Court must bear in mind that “[a] document
filed pro se is to be liberally construed, and a
pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must
be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551
U.S. 89, 94 (2007). To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. §
1983, the plaintiff must allege: “(1) that defendants
deprived him of a federal constitutional right; and (2) that
the defendants acted under color of state law.”
Savory v. Lyons, 469 F.3d 667, 670 (7th Cir. 2006).
Byrd alleges that he is a pretrial detainee being held at the
St. Joseph County Jail. He names Warden Julie Lawson,
Assistant Warden Steven Richmond, Sgt. Melinda Fisher, and
Sgt. Belinda Schroeder as defendants. However, the only name
that appears in the body of his complaint is Warden Lawson.
He seeks money damages and injunctive relief in the form of
being given access to the jail's law library.
Byrd complains that Warden Lawson has denied him use of the
law library, which has contributed to several continuances in
his underlying criminal case. Inmates have a First Amendment
right of access to the courts, but there is no
“abstract free-standing right” to a law library
or to legal materials. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343,
351 (1996). In other words, “the mere denial of access
to a prison law library or to other legal materials is not
itself a violation of a prisoner's rights; his right is
to access the courts, ” and only if the defendants'
conduct prejudices a potentially meritorious legal claim has
the right been infringed. Marshall v. Knight, 445
F.3d 965, 968 (7th Cir. 2006). Thus, to state a claim, an
inmate must “spell out” the connection between
the denial of access to legal materials and the resulting
prejudice to a potentially meritorious legal claim.
Id. The court must also bear in mind that prison
officials are afforded discretion in regulating how and when
inmates are given access to legal materials. See
Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351-52; Bell v. Wolfish, 441
U.S. 520, 546 (1979).
Byrd alleges that he does not have access to the law library.
As explained above, this alone does not give rise to an
actionable First Amendment claim. He must spell out some type
of prejudice to a potentially meritorious legal claim, and he
has not done so. At most, he alleges the lack of a law
library has caused his underlying criminal case to be
delayed. It is possible that his case has been delayed, but a
mere delay in litigation is insufficient to demonstrate
injury. “[A] delay becomes an injury only if it results
in actual substantial prejudice to specific
litigation.” Johnson v. Barczak, 338 F.3d 771,
773 (2003) (quotation mark omitted). Byrd alleges that he has
sought access to the law library for ten months. But in
Johnson, the Seventh Circuit found that a delay of
more than a year did not constitute actual injury because
there was no indication that the adjudication of his
post-conviction proceeding was adversely impacted by the
delay. Id. The same is true here. Thus, Byrd has not
alleged any injury and therefore he “cannot prevail on
his access-to-courts claim.” Ortiz v. Downey,
561 F.3d 664, 671 (7th Cir. 2009).
Byrd complains that Warden Lawson has communicated with the
judge presiding in his state court criminal case. He alleges
this has interfered with his criminal proceedings. However,
this Court cannot dismiss or otherwise interfere with the
state criminal charges pending against Byrd. See Younger
v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 53 (1971); In re
Campbell, 264 F.3d 730, 731 (7th Cir. 2001). Thus, this
Court cannot order Warden Lawson to stop communicating with
the state court judge or punish her for doing so. Byrd must
seek that relief in the State court system.
explained, this complaint does not state a constitutional
claim against any defendant. Though it does not appear that
Byrd could state a claim even if he filed an amended
complaint, he will nevertheless be permitted to do so.
See Luevano v. Wal-Mart, 722 F.3d 1014 (7th Cir.
these reasons, the Court:
(1) DIRECTS the clerk to place this cause number on a blank
Prisoner Complaint form and send it to Stephen A. Byrd;
(2) GRANTS Stephen A. Byrd to and including May 3, 2017, to
file an amended complaint; and
(3) CAUTIONS him that if he does not respond by the deadline,
this case will be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1915A because the current complaint does not state a claim
for which relief can be granted.