United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
OPINION AND ORDER
T. MOODY JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Cortez Brown, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed an amended
complaint. “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).
Nevertheless, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, this court
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).
amended complaint, Brown alleges that, on February 25, 2019,
Jacqueline Y. Mayes refused to notarize legal documents,
which he intended to file in his post-conviction case. Mayes
told Brown that she would not notarize any documents that
refer to his rights under the Uniform Commercial Code or
identify him as a secured party. Because Mayes refused to
assist Brown, he hired an attorney to come to the Indiana
State Prison and notarize his legal documents.
there is no constitutional right to a notary services, Brown
may be attempting to assert a denial of access to the courts
claim. Inmates have a First Amendment right of access to the
courts, but there is no “abstract free-standing
right” to a law library, copies 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, Brown must
detail the connection between the denial of access to notary
services and the resulting prejudice to a potentially
meritorious legal claim. Id.
alone, the fact that Brown was denied access to a notary
services does not give rise to an actionable First Amendment
claim. At the very least, he must identify a potentially
meritorious legal claim and must explain how Mayes'
refusal to notarize his documents has prejudiced his ability
to pursue that claim. The complaint suggests that Brown has
not suffered any such harm because he was able to obtain
notary services through his attorney Therefore, the amended
complaint does not state a valid First Amendment claim.
further asserts that Mayes violated his rights under the
Equal Protection Clause because she provided notary services
to other indigent inmates. Because Brown does not suggest
that Mayes targeted him due to his membership in a suspect
class, rational basis review applies. See Flynn v.
Thatcher, 819 F.3d 990, 991 (7th Cir. 2016).
“Prison classifications are presumed to be rational and
will be upheld if any justification for them can be
conceived.” Id. To uphold governmental conduct
under rational basis review, the court “need only find
a reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a
rational basis for the classification.” Indiana
Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Ass'n v.
Cook, 808 F.3d 318, 322 (7th Cir. 2015). The rational
basis for refusing notary services to Brown is readily
apparent from the amended complaint -- his references to the
Uniform Commercial Code sound in sovereign citizen theory,
which courts have repeatedly characterized as a legally
frivolous theory with no conceivable validity. See United
States v. Benabe, 654 F.3d 753, 767 (7th Cir. 2011)
(collecting cases). Because a rational basis supports
Mayes' decision to refuse to notarize Brown's
documents, the amended complaint does not state a valid claim
under the Equal Protection Clause.
Brown asserts that Mayes' refusal to notarize his legal
work constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of
the Eighth Amendment. “[T]he Eighth Amendment prohibits
unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, thus forbidding
punishment that is so totally without penological
justification that it results in the gratuitous infliction of
suffering.” Calhoun v. DeTella, 319 F.3d 936,
939 (7th Cir. 2003). While it seems unlikely that the refusal
to provide notary services could ever amount to a gratuitous
infliction of suffering, this is particularly true when a
notary public would have provided these services if only a
few legally frivolous and irrelevant terms were removed.
Consequently, the amended complaint does not state a valid
Eighth Amendment claim.
these reasons, the court DISMISSES this case
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A because the complaint does
not state a claim upon which relief can be granted.