United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Cleveland, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a complaint
(ECF 1) against the Warden of the Indiana State Prison
alleging that his legal mail has been delayed and that the
delay resulted in one of his cases being dismissed. “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). Nevertheless,
pursuant to 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.
claims that an unidentified piece of legal mail was received
in the Indiana State Prison mail room on July 1, 2019, but
that it was not delivered to him until July 17, 2019. Without
providing details, Cleveland alleges that his legal mail is
frequently delayed. Moreover, when he receives his legal
mail, it has been opened. Furthermore, he alleges that, due
to mail delays, one of his cases was dismissed.
initial matter, Cleveland has sued the Warden of Indiana
State Prison, but he has not alleged that the Warden took any
action to prevent him from receiving his legal mail in a
timely manner. Section 1983 “liability depends on each
defendant’s knowledge and actions, not on the knowledge
or actions of persons they supervise.” Burks v.
Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592, 594 (7th Cir. 2009).
“[P]ublic employees are responsible for their own
misdeeds but not for anyone else’s.” Id.
at 596. The doctrine of respondeat superior, which
allows an employer to be held liable for subordinates’
actions in some types of cases, has no application to §
1983 actions. Moore v. State of Indiana, 999 F.2d
1125, 1129 (7th Cir. 1993). Cleveland has not alleged that
the Warden was responsible for either delaying or opening his
legal mail. Thus, the complaint does not state a claim
against the Warden.
Cleveland had named an individual personally involved in
delaying or opening his mail, his allegations do not state a
claim. An inmate has a general First Amendment right to send
and receive mail, but that right does not preclude prison
officials from examining the mail to ensure it does not
contain contraband. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S.
539, 576 (1974). An inmate’s legal mail is entitled to
greater protections because of the potential interference
with his right of access to the courts and his right to
counsel. Rowe v. Shake, 196 F.3d 778, 782 (7th Cir.
1999). But here, Cleveland has not alleged that the opening
of his legal mail inferred with his right to access the
courts. Cleveland has not alleged that his right to counsel
was infringed in any way. And the one-time opening of his
legal mail is insufficient to state a claim for being denied
access to the courts, where the opening of the mail was not
detrimental to any meritorious legal claim. See Lewis v.
Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351 (1996); Jones v.
Walker, 358 Fed.App'x 708, 712 (7th Cir. 2009)
(opening of one piece of inmate’s legal mail was
insufficient to state constitutional claim where it did not
adversely impact his ability to litigate a specific matter).
suggests that mail delays infringed upon his right to access
the courts because it resulted in the dismissal of one of his
cases, but his allegations are insufficient to state a claim.
Prisoners are entitled to meaningful access to the courts.
Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 824 (1977). The right
of access to the courts is the right of an individual,
whether free or incarcerated, to obtain access to the courts
to adjudicate claims that have a reasonable basis in law or
fact without undue interference. Snyder v. Nolen,
380 F.3d 279, 291 (7th Cir. 2004). To establish a violation
of the right to access the courts, an inmate must show that
unjustified acts or conditions hindered the inmate’s
efforts to pursue a non-frivolous legal claim, and that
actual harm resulted. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S.
343, 351 (1996); Nance v. Vieregge, 147 F.3d 591,
590 (7th Cir. 1998). 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 [claim] has the right been infringed.”
Marshall v. Knight, 445 F.3d 965, 968 (7th Cir.
2006)(emphasis in original). Thus, to state a claim,
Cleveland must “spell out, in minimal detail” the
connection between the denial of access to legal materials
and the resulting prejudice to a potentially meritorious
legal claim. Id. Here, the court cannot identify any
non-frivolous civil claim that has been adversely impacted as
a result of Cleveland being denied more timely access to his
legal mail. Cleveland has not identified the case that was
dismissed. Because his right to access the courts extends
only to meritorious claims, without additional details, the
court cannot make a finding that the claims raised in the
dismissed case were sufficiently meritorious to permit him to
proceed with this lawsuit.
review of the current complaint, it seems unlikely that
Cleveland can state a claim based on denial of access to the
courts, but he will be given the opportunity to file an
amended complaint if he believes he can state a claim.
See Luevano v. Wal-Mart, 722 F.3d 1014 (7th Cir.
these reasons, the court:
DIRECTS the clerk to place this cause number on a blank
Prisoner Complaint (INND Rev. 8/16) and send it to Keith
GRANTS Keith Cleveland until October 18,
2019, to file an amended complaint on that
CAUTIONS Keith Cleveland that if he does not respond by that
deadline, this case will be dismissed without further notice
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A because the current
complaint does not state a claim.