United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
L. MILLER, JR. JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Lambright, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed an amended
complaint alleging he has been denied access to the courts by
seven defendants. “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) (quotation marks and
citations omitted). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the court
must review the merits of a prisoner complaint and dismiss it
if the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary
relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.
establish a violation of the right to access the courts, an
inmate must show that unjustified acts or conditions (by
defendants acting under color of law) hindered the
inmate's efforts to pursue a non-frivolous legal claim,
Nance v. Vieregge, 147 F.3d 591, 590 (7th Cir.
1998), and that actual injury (or harm) resulted. Lewis
v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351 (1996) (holding that
Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817 (1977) did not
eliminate the actual injury requirement as a constitutional
prerequisite to a prisoner asserting lack of access to the
courts). 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) (emphasis in
Lambright alleges he uses a computer system at the prison to
prepare legal documents. He doesn't allege he is required
to use it to access the courts, or that he has no other
alternatives. Rather, he that alleges the design of the
computer system permits other inmates to access and alter his
files. He alleges unknown other inmates have done so, but he
doesn't allege that this has ever prejudiced a
potentially meritorious legal claim. Neither does he explain
how each defendant is responsible for the design or
maintenance of the computer system. See Burks v.
Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592, 593 (7th Cir. 2009)
(“Bureaucracies divide tasks; no prisoner is entitled
to insist that one employee do another's job.”). He
also alleges his privacy rights are violated when other
inmates look at his documents on the computer, but he
doesn't explain why he believes his documents are
private. Virtually all court filings are public records.
See Matter of Cont'l Illinois Sec. Litig., 732
F.2d 1302, 1308 (7th Cir. 1984); Citizens First Nat. Bank
of Princeton v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 178 F.3d 943, 945
(7th Cir. 1999); and Baxter Int'l, Inc. v. Abbott
Labs., 297 F.3d 544, 546 (7th Cir. 2002).
Lambright alleges that delays in processing his paperwork at
the prison have caused him to miss three appellate deadlines,
but he doesn't provide case numbers nor describe the
nature of those proceedings. More importantly, he doesn't
say what happened as a result of the missed deadlines. As
such, he hasn't plausibly alleged missing the deadlines
prejudiced a potentially meritorious legal claim.
Lambright alleges that Library Worker Ekennerk retaliated
against him in response to two grievances by returning his
legal mail for a signature on the remittance slip even though
it was already signed. He alleges that when this happened on
October 30, 2018, it was the first time and so must be in
response to his grievances. The complaint doesn't say
when the grievances were filed and timing alone can't
sustain a retaliation claim. Pugh v. City of Attica,
Indiana, 259 F.3d 619, 630 (7th Cir. 2001). However,
suspicious timing can support an inference of retaliatory
animus. Cain v. Lane, 857 F.2d 1139, 1145, n.6 (7th
prevail on his First Amendment retaliation claim, [the
plaintiff] must show that (1) he engaged in activity
protected by the First Amendment; (2) he suffered a
deprivation that would likely deter First Amendment activity
in the future; and (3) the First Amendment activity was at
least a motivating factor in the Defendants' decision to
take the retaliatory action.” Gomez v. Randle,
680 F.3d 859, 866 (7th Cir. 2012) (quotation marks and
citations omitted). “There is, of course, a de
minimis level of imposition with which the Constitution
is not concerned.” Ingraham v. Wright, 430
U.S. 651, 674 (1977).
Only retaliatory conduct that would deter a similarly
situated individual of ordinary firmness from exercising his
or her constitutional rights constitutes an adverse action
for a claim of retaliation. Otherwise, the retaliatory act is
simply de minimis and therefore outside the ambit of
constitutional protection. This objective inquiry is not
static across contexts, but rather must be tailored to the
different circumstances in which retaliation claims arise.
Prisoners may be required to tolerate more than public
employees, who may be required to tolerate more than average
citizens, before a retaliatory action taken against them is
Dawes v. Walker, 239 F.3d 489, 493 (2nd Cir. 2001)
(citations and quotation marks omitted); see also Bart v.
Telford, 677 F.2d 622, 625 (7th Cir. 1982). The brief
delay caused by the return of Mr. Lambright's paperwork
is de minimis. It wouldn't be reasonable to believe an
inmate of ordinary firmness would be deterred from engaging
in First Amendment activity because his papers were
incorrectly returned for a signature.
Lambright alleges Library Worker Ekennerk negligently sent
another inmate copies of three letters that should have been
sent to him. He alleges these letters were privileged because
he had written them to legal aid societies. Even assuming
they were subject to attorney-client privilege, “[a]n
isolated interference with the confidentiality of such
communications is subject to harmless-error analysis . .
..” Guajardo-Palma v. Martinson, 622 F.3d 801,
805- 806 (7th Cir. 2010). Mr. Lambright's complaint
doesn't allege any injury other than another inmate
briefly had copies of his letters. That allegation isn't
sufficient to show that Mr. Lambright suffered any actual
Lambright alleges that Library Worker Ekennerk negligently
sent electronically transmitted documents from federal court
through the prison's regular mail system on November 1,
2018, rather than the legal mail system. He doesn't
explain the difference between these two systems. Neither
does he say what, if any, injury he suffered as a result.
Mr. Lambright attempts to bring a “failure to
train” claim against three supervisors based on Library
Worker Ekennerk's handing of legal mail. However,
“in the Eighth Amendment context, such claims may only
be maintained against a municipality.” Sanville v.
McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 740 (7th Cir. 2001) citing
Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 841 (1994). None of
these defendants are a municipality.
complaint doesn't state a claim upon which relief can be
granted. Mr. Lambright may file another amended complaint if
he has additional facts that were omitted from this amended
complaint. See Luevano v. Wal-Mart, 722 F.3d 1014
(7th Cir. 2013). If he doesn't have additional facts, it
would be futile for him to file another amended complaint.
these reasons, the court GRANTS Kristopher Lambright until
April 11, 2019, to file an amended
complaint. If Mr. Lambright doesn't respond by the
deadline, this case will be dismissed without further notice
because the ...