United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SIMON, JUDGE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Davis, a prisoner without a lawyer, has filed a motion to
reconsider the screening order dismissing this case because
the complaint did not state a claim. Considering the timing
and the substance of the motion, I construe it as a motion to
alter or amend judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). See
Obriecht v. Raemisch, 517 F.3d 489, 493 (7th Cir. 2008).
“A court may grant a Rule 59(e) motion to alter or
amend the judgment if the movant presents newly discovered
evidence that was not available at the time of trial or if
the movant points to evidence in the record that clearly
establishes a manifest error of law or fact.”
Matter of Prince, 85 F.3d 314 (7th Cir. 1996);
Deutsch v. Burlington N. R.R. Co., 983 F.2d 741 (7th
complaint, Davis alleged a First Amendment claim of
interference with access to the courts. He alleged that the
petition for a writ of mandamus was correct on the merits and
denied only because he requested the wrong remedy. He further
alleged that this would not have happened if the defendants
had allowed him more time for legal research. Interference
with access to the courts claims require the plaintiff to
identify a potentially meritorious claim. Marshall v.
Knight, 445 F.3d 965, 968 (7th Cir. 2006). Davis
attached to his complaint his petition for a writ of mandamus
to the Indiana Supreme Court. In the screening order, I
construed the mandamus petition as a challenge the trial
court's discretionary rulings, which are not appropriate
grounds for mandamus relief under Indiana law. See Belork
v. Latimer, 54 N.E.3d 388, 395 (Ind.Ct.App. 2016). I
dismissed the complaint on the basis that it did not state a
now argues that the petition for a writ of mandamus
challenged the trial court's jurisdiction pursuant to
Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure, which allows litigants to
request a special judge if the trial court does not rule on a
post-conviction petition within ninety days after taking it
under advisement. Ind. R. Trial P. 53.1; 53.2. This procedure
requires the Chief Administrative Officer of the Indiana
Office of Judicial Administration to determine whether the
ninety-day requirement is satisfied. Id. Further,
the Indiana Supreme Court has held that “[a]n original
action is the appropriate procedure for enforcing Trial Rule
53.1 when a court clerk erroneously fails to recognize that a
ruling on a motion has been delayed and the case should be
withdrawn after the filing of a praecipe.” State ex
rel. Crain Heating Air Conditioning & Refrigeration, Inc.
v. Clark Circuit Court, 921 N.E.2d 1281, 1284 (Ind.
further review of the petition for a writ of mandamus, I find
that the complaint sufficiently alleges a potentially
meritorious claim. Though the petition could have been more
focused, it refers to the applicable State court rules,
complains of the untimeliness of the trial court, and
ultimately requests the appointment of a special judge.
Moreover, based on the complaint, which includes the Indiana
Supreme Court's decision, the petition was denied because
Davis did not request an appropriate remedy. It is thus
plausible to infer that Davis might have requested the
appropriate remedy (by challenging the Chief Administrative
Officer's delay determination) if he had been allowed
additional time to conduct legal research.
I find that the complaint sufficiently alleges a potentially
meritorious claim, I will continue screening the complaint.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, I must review the
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 relief. “In
order to state a claim under [42 U.S.C.] § 1983 a
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).
have a First Amendment right of access to the courts, but
there is no “abstract free-standing right” to a
law library for research or copying papers. 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, Davis must detail
the connection between the denial of access to legal
materials and the resulting prejudice to a potentially
meritorious legal claim. Id.
alleges that Zhenay Newhouse, Crystal Cleary, and Taylor
Wall, each law library supervisors, refused to provide him
with legal research materials, which prejudiced his petition
for a writ of mandamus by preventing him from conducting the
necessary research. He alleges that the law library computers
were down from March 2017 to November 2017, which also
prevented him from conducting legal research, and that Warden
Sevier was notified of the downtime and Davis' related
grievances. According to the complaint, the petition for a
writ of mandamus was submitted on April 2, 2017, and denied
on May 5, 2017. It is thus plausible to infer that the
computer downtime prejudiced Davis by preventing him from
conducting legal research. Therefore, the complaint states a
claim against Warden Sevier, Zhenay Newhouse, Crystal Cleary,
and Taylor Wall.
further alleges that T. Combe refused to provide his
grievance appeals and lied about the law library in response
to another inmate's grievance. These allegations are
vague and do not imply prejudice to Davis' petition.
Additionally, the complaint contains no allegations against
Dave Leonard. Finally, Davis alleges that he needed ten
copies of the court record according to the State court rules
and that several defendants, including John Schrader, denied
him these copies. However, the Indiana Supreme Court's
order denying the petition for a writ of mandamus expressly
overlooked its procedural deficiencies, indicating that the
lack of copies did not prejudice Davis's effort to obtain
a writ. Therefore, the complaint does not state a claim
against these defendants.
motion for reconsideration (ECF 9) is GRANTED;
opinion and order dismissing this case and the entry of
judgment (ECF 7, 8) are VACATED;
clerk is DIRECTED to reopen this case;
Sonny Davis is GRANTED leave to proceed on a claim against
Zhenay Newhouse, Crystal Cleary, and Taylor Wall for
interfering with his right of access to the courts in
violation of the First Amendment by ...