Wilson v. Unknown Party et al
ORDER: For the reasons set forth in the attached Memorandum and Order, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion for summary judgment. There being no further pending claims, the Clerk is DIRECTED to enter judgment in favor of Nancy Taylor, Mark Howell, and Winnifred Braddock, and against Plaintiff. Signed by Chief Judge Michael J. Reagan on 3/7/2018. (rah)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
MICHAEL S. WILSON,
MARK HOWELL, and
Case No. 15-cv-1320-MJR-SCW
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
REAGAN, Chief Judge:
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, pro se Plaintiff Michael S. Wilson, currently
incarcerated at Lawrence Correctional Center, brought this claim against Defendants
Winnifred Braddock, Nancy Taylor, and Mark Howell for interference with his mail and
retaliation while he was housed at Big Muddy Correctional Center.1 Jason Garnett,
warden of Big Muddy Correctional Center, was added to the case in his official capacity
for purposes of implementing any injunctive relief that Plaintiff was awarded. This
Defendants were originally identified in Plaintiff’s complaint as unknown mailroom staff (Docs. 1 and
10). Plaintiff later identified the mailroom staff as N. Taylor, M. Howell, and W. Braddock (Docs. 18 and
27) and they were substituted for the John Doe mailroom staff. Defendants identified themselves by their
formal names in their answer to the complaint (Doc. 34). As such, the Court DIRECTS the Clerk to
substitute N. Taylor, M. Howell, and W. Braddock on the docket for their formal names, Nancy Taylor,
Mark Howell, and Winnifred Braddock.
matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Mark Howe,
Nancy Taylor, and Winnifred Braddock (Docs. 56 and 57). Plaintiff has filed a response
(Doc. 63) in opposition to the motion. After thoroughly reviewing the evidence and
motions the Court GRANTS Defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
The events which give rise to Plaintiff’s claims took place while he was housed at
Big Muddy Correctional Center.
Defendants Mark Howe, Nancy Taylor, and
Winnifred Braddock worked in the mailroom at Big Muddy Correctional Center (Doc.
57-1, p. 1, 7, and 16).
Plaintiff testified that he first tried to send out non-legal mail that had the “date
sent” written on the outside of the envelope (Doc. 57-1, p. 24). Plaintiff testified that the
mailroom staff refused to send the letters out due to the extra writing on the envelope
(Id. at p. 24, 26). Plaintiff spoke with internal affairs and he was allowed to send out the
envelopes he already had written the date on, but was informed that he needed to leave
off any excess writing on future envelopes (Id.). At Big Muddy Correctional Center,
outgoing envelopes can only include three types of writing on the envelope: (1) the name
and address of the recipient, (2) the name, inmate number, and address of the sender,
and (3) the designation of “legal” or “privileged” (if applicable) (Doc. 57-1, p. 1, 6, and
16). The policy was implemented in response to inmates using pre-stamped legal mail
for non-legal purposes by covering the “legal” designation with writings and artwork
(Id.). Envelopes with additional writing that violates the policy are returned to the
Plaintiff also sought to send a notice of change of address to this Court in one of
his pending cases on November 28, 2014, but the mailroom staff returned the outgoing
mail (Doc. 57-1, p. 25, 33, 41). Plaintiff testified that he first tried to file the notice
through the Court’s e-filing system, but the power was out at Big Muddy and the law
library could not e-file the notice (Doc. 57-1, p. 26, 34-35). Plaintiff then tried to send the
notice as legal mail addressed to the Court, but the mailroom sent the notice back to
Plaintiff informing him that all federal court materials had to be e-filed (Id. at p. 26, 33).
Plaintiff believes that the notice was returned to him on December 2, 2014 (Id. at p. 33).
Defendants testified that on March 25, 2011, they received Warden’s Bulletin
11-016 which indicated that inmate filings to the U.S. District Court for the Southern
District of Illinois were to be made electronically and that the program was not
voluntary (Doc. 57-1, p. 2, 7, and 17; see also Doc. 57-1, p. 12). The Bulletin specifically
indicated that “[i]t is the Court’s expressed desire that all court filings to the U.S. District
Court – Central and Southern District offices will be transmitted via the digital scanner”
(Doc. 57-1, p. 12). Any document received by the mailroom for filing with the district
court after the date of the bulletin was returned with directions to electronically file the
document through the law library (Doc. 57-1, p. 2, 7, and 17). Big Muddy Correctional
Center later received a clarification from the district court on January 5, 2016, that
indicated inmate filers may, but are not required to, use the electronic filing system and
that they may mail documents to the Court as an alternative to filing electronically (Doc.
57-1, p. 14-15).
Plaintiff testified that he did not worry about his notice not being mailed as he
was transferred to Illinois River on a writ and could send it there (Doc. 57-1 p. 34).
Plaintiff sent the notice as soon as he got to Illinois River within a day or two of getting
the notice back from the mailroom (Id.).
Plaintiff testified that there were other times
that he tried to send items to the Court by mail and he was told to e-file the documents,
but he was able to e-file those documents through the law library (Doc. 57-1, p. 35).
Plaintiff testified this was the only time that he could not e-file the document because the
power was out (Id.).
Plaintiff also testified that he sent a notice to the warden which was returned to
him by the mailroom. Plaintiff testified that he tried to submit a notice of intent to sue
to the warden (Doc. 57-1, p. 35). The envelope was sealed as legal mail (Id.). Plaintiff
acknowledged that the Big Muddy orientation manual indicated that an inmate could
send sealed communications to the warden regarding the Prison Rape Elimination Act
and/or allegations of sexual assault (Doc. 57-1, p. 26, 36; Doc. 57-1, p. 2, 7, and 17, Doc.
1-1, p. 25). Mailroom staff returned sealed, non-privileged mail to the warden that was
unrelated to the Prison Rape Elimination Act (Doc. 57-1, p. 3, 8, and 18). Plaintiff
testified that the notice was returned to him saying that it could not be sealed (Doc. 57-1,
Plaintiff’s complaint also alleges that mailroom staff improperly refused to mail
letters to the Mercer County Courthouse. Plaintiff tried to submit a letter to the Mercer
County Courthouse on January 13, 2015, but he did not include a specific office within
the courthouse to direct the mail (Doc. 57-1, p. 26, 40). Plaintiff attempted to send the
letter as a sealed envelope inquiring about his driving record and fees owed related to a
hit and run case in that county in 2000 (Id. at p. 40). While the mailroom returned the
letter on January 14, 2015, Plaintiff was out of the prison on a writ and did not receive the
letter until January 29, 2015 (Id.). Plaintiff added Clerk of the Court to the envelope and
sent the mail back to the mailroom (Id.). Defendants all testified that outgoing mail to
courthouses, which does not include a specific recipient outlined in the regulations, is
returned to the inmate with the direction to identify the specific recipient (Doc. 57-1, p. 3,
8, and 18). The mailroom requires this information to determine if the piece of mail to
the courthouse should be considered legal or privileged, and to determine the proper
court office which the mail should be delivered (Id.).
Plaintiff’s complaint also alleges that letters to the John Howard Association were
improperly returned by mailroom staff. Plaintiff testified that he attempted to submit
mail to the John Howard Association (Doc. 57-1, p. 25). Plaintiff indicated that he had a
personal relationship with a number of individuals at the John Howard Association and
that he had been working with them for six and a half years (Id. at p. 27). Plaintiff wrote
letters to the John Howard Association about every aspect of his lawsuit (Id.). He
informed them of everything that was going on with his lawsuits (Id.). However, the
Big Muddy mailroom refused to send out the letters as he did not have money in his
account to pay the postage (Id.). Plaintiff testified that all of the other institutions where
he was housed, including Illinois River, Pinckneyville, Centralia, Menard, and Stateville,
would send his letters to the John Howard Association without funds, but Big Muddy
refused to send the letters (Id. at p. 27-28). Plaintiff testified that mailroom staff told
him that privileged mail is not to be sent if an inmate does not have funds (Id. at p. 41).
But Plaintiff testified that he sent hundreds of documents to John Howard previously
without having any funds to pay for postage (Id. at p. 41, 42). He first received notice
from Big Muddy that they would not mail his letters to the John Howard Association
without funds on November 7, 2015 (Id. at p. 41). He was informed that because the
letter was privileged, but not considered legal mail, he would have to have funds in his
trust fund account to send the letter (Id. at p. 42). Defendants testified that while letters
to the John Howard Association from inmates are considered privileged, the inmate
must have sufficient funds in their account to purchase postage for privileged mail (Doc.
57-1, p. 3-4, 8-9, 18-19). If an inmate does not have sufficient funds for postage, the mail
is returned (Id. at p. 4, 9, and 19).
Plaintiff’s complaint also alleges that he attempted to send mail to the
Department of Child and Family Services (“DCFS”), court appointed special advocates
(“CASA”), and witnesses in his state custody case, but that the mailroom improperly
refused to send out the documents. Plaintiff had a custody case pending in state court
involving his child, including visitation rights and his child’s welfare (Doc. 57-1, p. 30).
The Court required Plaintiff to serve his filings on every party in the case. There were
nine parties in the case including DCFS and CASA (Doc. 57-1, p. 29). Plaintiff testified
that five of those parties were covered by the legal mail rule, as they were attorneys, and
Big Muddy sent his documents to those individuals (Id.).
However, Big Muddy
considered documents sent to CASA and DCFS to be personal mail and would not send
the documents as Plaintiff did not have any funds to cover postage (Id.). Plaintiff
testified that during his previous incarceration at Pinckneyville Correctional Center his
letters were sent to CASA and DCFS as legal mail, but Big Muddy would not send his
documents to DCFS and CASA (Id.). Plaintiff testified that the child’s mother was
ultimately awarded full custody (Id. at p. 30). Defendants testified that mail to DCFS,
CASA, and witnesses in civil cases do not constitute legal or privileged mail under IDOC
regulations (Doc. 57-1, p. 4, 9, and 19). Thus, an inmate has to have sufficient funds for
postage in order for those documents to be sent (Id.).
Finally, Plaintiff’s complaint also alleges that Defendants retaliated against him
for filing grievances. Plaintiff testified that every time that he tried to send mail with a
stamp that an inmate would get from the commissary he would be investigated by
internal affairs (Doc. 57-1, p. 37). Plaintiff testified in his affidavit, submitted as an
attachment to his responsive brief, that he was sent to internal affairs on two occasions
(Doc. 63, p. 12). Plaintiff acknowledged that because he did not have funds he would
have to traffic and trade, and break a prison rule, in order to obtain a stamped envelope
(Doc. 57-1, p. 37). Plaintiff testified that he would do somebody’s laundry or trade
something off of his tray in order to get an envelope (Id.). However, when he turned in
a stamped envelope which he had traded for, he would be confronted by internal affairs
the next day (Id.). Plaintiff believed that the mailroom was giving internal affairs his
name and that it was none of the mailroom’s business as to where he obtained his funds
for an envelope (Id. at p. 37-38). Plaintiff believed that the funds were within the
purview of the business office only; thus, any time the mailroom turned Plaintiff in to
internal affairs, Plaintiff believed it was an act of retaliation for Plaintiff complaining
about the mailroom’s actions (Id. at p. 38, 43). Plaintiff admitted that he was supposed
to buy stamped envelopes in the commissary, but he stopped shopping at the
commissary in December 2013; instead he traded food or laundry for the postage (Id.).
Plaintiff acknowledged that while legal mail gets sent out regardless of whether an
inmate has funds, personal letters require money from the inmate’s trust fund (Id. at p.
39). Plaintiff was sent to segregation for a ticket that he received from Lieutenant Clark
on November 5, 2016, for having another inmate’s materials in his box and for trafficking
and trading (Id. at p. 39; Doc. 57-1, p. 54). Plaintiff believes that the mailroom was
responsible for the ticket (Id.).
Defendants testified that trading and trafficking in envelopes is a violation of
prison rules (Doc. 57-1, p. 4-5, 8-9, 18-19). Defendants testified that if an inmate without
funds tried to send out a non-legal envelope, that was only available for purchase from
the commissary, it was likely that the inmate had received the envelope through trading
and trafficking other items (Id.). When mailroom staff received envelopes that they
suspected had been the product of trading and trafficking, that information was
reported to internal affairs (Id.). It was then up to internal affairs to investigate and the
mailroom had no further involvement in the issue (Id.). Michael Clark, a lieutenant in
internal affairs at Big Muddy Correctional Center, testified that he issued a disciplinary
ticket to Plaintiff on November 5, 2016, for a number of violations, including a violation
for trading or trafficking (Doc. 57-1, p. 54). Clark testified that the ticket was issued as
part of a routine cell search and not the result of any report from the mailroom staff (Id.).
While Plaintiff had three other previous disciplinary tickets, the November 5, 2016 ticket
was the only ticket related to mail issues (Id. at p. 54-55).
A. Summary Judgment Standard
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs summary judgment motions.
Summary judgment is appropriate only if the admissible evidence considered as a whole
shows there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Archdiocese of Milwaukee v. Doe, 743 F.3d 1101, 1105 (7th
Cir. 2014) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a)).
The party seeking summary judgment bears
the initial burden of demonstrating – based on the pleadings, affidavits and/or
information obtained via discovery – the lack of any genuine issue of material fact.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). After a properly supported motion
for summary judgment is filed, the adverse party “must set forth facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250
(1986) (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 56).
A genuine issue of material fact remains “if the evidence is such that a reasonable
jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 248. Accord Bunn v. Khoury
Enterpr. Inc., 753 F.3d 676 (7th Cir. 2014). The Seventh Circuit recently reiterated:
As the “’put up or shut up’” moment in a lawsuit,” summary judgment
requires a non-moving party to respond to the moving party’s
properly-supported motion by identifying specific, admissible evidence
showing that there is a genuine dispute of material fact for trial.
Grant v. Trustees of Indiana University, 870 F.3d 562, 568 (7th Cir. 2017) (quoting
Harney v. Speedway SuperAmerica, LLC, 526 F.3d 1099, 1104 (7th Cir. 2008), and
Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., Inc., 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003)). Such a dispute
exists if there is “sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party to permit a trier of
fact” to reasonably find in favor of the non-movant as to any issue on which the
non-movant bears the burden of proof. Grant, 870 F.3d at 562.
In assessing a summary judgment motion, the court construes all facts and
reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Zuppardi v.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 770 F.3d 644, 649 (7th Cir. 2014); Ferraro v. Hewlett-Packard Co.,
721 F.3d 842, 847 (7th Cir. 2013).
The court may not choose between competing
inferences or balance the relative weight of conflicting evidence, it should view all the
proper evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Reid v.
Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America, 749 F.3d 581, 586 (7th Cir. 2014). However,
to survive summary judgment, the non-movant must present more than “bare
speculation or a scintilla of evidence.”
Zuppardi, 770 F.3d at 650, quoting Roger
Whitmore’s Auto. Services, Inc., v. Lake County, Ill., 424 F.3d 659, 669 (7th Cir. 2005).
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B. Interference with Mail
Inmates have a First Amendment right to send and receive legal mail. Kaufman
v. McCaughtry, 419 F.3d 678, 685 (7th Cir. 2005) (citing Rowe v. Shake, 196 F.3d 778, 782
(7th Cir. 1999)). The Seventh Circuit is particularly concerned about regulation or
practices that affect legal mail because such interferences could impede a prisoner’s right
of access to the courts. Rowe, 196 F.3d at 782 (citing Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343
“[W]hen a prison receives a letter for an inmate that is marked with an
attorney’s name and a warning that the letter is legal mail, officials potentially violate the
inmate’s rights if they open the letter outside of the inmate’s presence.” Kaufman, 419
F.3d at 685-86 (citing Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 577 (1974); Castillo v. Cook
County Mail Room Dep’t, 990 F.2d 304, 305-06 (7th Cir. 1993)). However, regulations
or practices which deny a prisoner access to non-legal mail can also implicate the First
Amendment and must be tailored to a legitimate penological interest. Rowe, 196 F.3d
An official who retaliates against a prisoner because that prisoner filed a
grievance violates the prisoner’s First Amendment rights. DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d
607, 618 (7th Cir. 2000). Establishing a claim of retaliation requires a prisoner to show
the following: (1) that he engaged in a protected activity, (2) he suffered a deprivation
likely to prevent future protected activities, and (3) there was a causal connection
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between the two. See also Watkins v. Kasper, 599 F.3d 791, 794 (7th Cir. 2010); Bridges
v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 546 (7th Cir. 2009). A defendant can still prevail, however, if he
shows that the offending action would have happened even if there had been no
retaliatory motive, i.e. “the harm would have occurred anyway.” Mays v. Springborn,
719 F.3d 631, 634-35 (7th Cir. 2013); Greene v. Doruff, 660 F.3d 975, 977-80 (7th Cir. 2011).
At summary judgment, “mere speculation” by the plaintiff is insufficient to carry his
burden. Rockwell Automation, Inc. v. Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, 544 F.3d
752, 757 (7th Cir. 2008); Devbrow v. Gallegos, 735 F.3d 584, 588 (7th Cir. 2013).
A. Excess Writing on Envelopes
Defendants first argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff’s
claim that rejecting his mail for excess writing on the envelopes violated his First
Amendment rights. Defendants argue that the policy rejecting such envelopes served a
legitimate penological interest. Big Muddy implemented a policy on November 15,
2010, which required that outgoing mail envelopes include only the following
information: (a) name and address of the recipient, (b) name, inmate number, and
address of the sender, and (c) designation of “legal” or “privileged” if applicable.
Defendants testified that this policy was implemented uniformly to all inmates and was
a response to inmates trying to use pre-stamped legal envelopes for non-legal purposes
by placing excessive writing on and around the “legal” designation.
“Prison officials may…impose restrictions on prisoner correspondence if those
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restrictions are ‘reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.’” Van den Bosch v.
Raemisch, 658 F.3d 778, 785 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89
(1987)). To determine whether such regulations are valid, the Court must look at four
factors: “(1) whether there is a ‘valid, rational connection between the prison regulation
and the legitimate governmental interest put forward to justify it’; (2) whether the
inmates have access to ‘alternative means’ of exercising the restricted right; (3) the
‘impact [an] accommodation of the asserted constitutional right will have on guards and
other inmates, and on the allocation of prison resources generally’; and whether the
regulation is an ‘exaggerated response to prison concerns.’” Id. (quoting Turner, 482
U.S. at 89-91).
The Court finds that Defendants have a legitimate penological interest in
determining that mail sent with a “legal” designation is appropriately designated in
order to be mailed at the State’s expense. Prison authorities may make “a reasonable
attempt to balance the right of prisoners to use the mail[ ] with prison budgetary
considerations.” Bach v. Coughlin, 508 F.2d 303, 307–08 (7th Cir. 1974). Here, the policy
was implemented in response to inmates trying to abuse the free, pre-stamped legal
envelopes system in order to send out non-legal mail free of charge. As Defendants
point out, the policy was uniformly applied to all inmates. Additionally, the regulation
was not content-based; instead, it rejected mail being sent out by inmates that had
excessive writing on the outside, regardless of the content of those letters. See Rowe,
196 F.3d at 782 (short-term, non-content based disruption in delivery does not violate
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the constitution) (citing Sizemore v. Williford, 829 F.2d 608, 610 (7th Cir. 1987)).
Further, Plaintiff had alternative means of sending out mail by obtaining non-legal
envelopes to mail out or by submitting legal envelopes with no additional writing on the
envelope. Plaintiff also testified that he was even allowed to send out the envelopes he
already had in his possession with excess writing on them and was directed to comply
with the policy in the future.
Plaintiff, on the other hand, fails to offer any evidence to rebut the stated
penological interest. Van den Bosch, 658 F.3d at 786 (burden to disprove validity lies
with the inmate (citing Overton v. Bazzetta, 539 U.S. 126, 132 (2003)). Plaintiff’s only
argument is that the regulation was not uniform as the policy did not exist at other
prisons where Plaintiff was housed, including Centralia Correctional Center,
Pinckneyville Correctional Center, and Illinois River Correctional Center (Doc. 63, p. 2,
11). However, Defendants do not argue that the policy was located at every prison, but
was a policy implemented by the warden of Big Muddy in 2010 in response to inmates’
at that prison’s misuse of free, pre-stamped legal mail envelopes. The Court finds no
evidence to demonstrate that the policy was not tailored to a legitimate penological
interest at Big Muddy Correctional Center. As such, the Court finds that Defendants
are entitled to summary judgment on this claim.
B. Southern District Filing
Plaintiff’s complaint also alleges that Defendants improperly interfered with his
mail when they refused to send a notice of change of address to this Court in one of
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Plaintiff’s pending civil cases. Defendants do not deny that they refused to mail the
notice, instead informing Plaintiff that he needed to e-file the document. This appears
to be due to some confusion on Big Muddy Correctional Center’s part as to the
requirements of this Court’s e-filing program with IDOC. Based on this program, the
acting warden of Big Muddy issued a bulletin informing staff that all correspondence to
the Court had to be submitted by the inmates through the e-filing system (Doc. 57-1, p.
The warden informed staff that “[p]articipation in this program IS NOT
VOLUNTARY” (Id.). This Court has since clarified the program with IDOC, noting that
inmates are not required to utilize the e-filing system and that filings can be sent by U.S.
mail (Doc. 57-1, p. 14). Defendants testified in their affidavits that the policy of e-filing
all documents with the Court, rather than mailing them, was based on the mistaken
belief that the Court wanted all documents e-filed and was a policy that was applied to
all inmates, not just Plaintiff.
While the policy adopted by Big Muddy was an incorrect application of the
Court’s e-filing program, Plaintiff has only identified one occasion where his filings were
returned and he was not able to e-file.
Plaintiff’s November 28, 2014 notice was
returned to Plaintiff because of the prison’s policy of e-filing all court documents. Even
though Plaintiff was unable to e-file the notice of change of address that day due to a
power outage, he was able to e-file the notice a day or two later when he transferred to
Illinois River. While Plaintiff testified that other documents addressed to this Court
were returned, he was able to e-file those documents the same day as the e-filing system
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was available. It was only the November 28, 2014 notice that he was unable to e-file or
mail from Big Muddy. However, only ongoing interference with legal mail violates a
prisoner’s rights. Rowe 196 F.3d at 782-83 (citing Castillo, 990 F.2d 304). Relatively
short-term and sporadic delay in delivering mail does not. Id. at 782; Zimmerman v.
Tribble, 226 F.3d 568, 573 (7th Cir. 2000). Here, Plaintiff only points to one occasion
where his Court filing was refused by the mailroom. Plaintiff was ultimately able to
e-file the document the next day and, as the Court noted in its threshold order, the short
delay in submitting the notice had no effect on his federal lawsuit. As such, the Court
finds that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on this claim.
C. Sealed Notice to Warden
As to Plaintiff’s sealed notice to the warden of Big Muddy Correctional Center,
the Court also finds no evidence of interference with Plaintiff’s mail. Plaintiff testified
that he attempted to submit a sealed notice of intent to sue in regards to the issues with
his mail, but the mailroom sent the letter back to him because it was sealed. Plaintiff
argues that the notice was “legal” mail and privileged and should have been sent to the
warden sealed rather than returned with a notice to unseal the envelope.
A notice of intent to sue sent to the warden is not considered privileged under the
As the Court stated in its threshold order, while privileged mail
includes mail sent to Department Chiefs, Chiefs do not include the warden of a prison.
See 20 Ill. Admin. Code § 525.110(g). Instead, the administrative code defines “Chief”
as “the highest ranking official of a district or division within the Department.” 20 Ill.
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Admin. Code § 525.110(b). A warden, under the administrative code, is defined as a
“Chief Administrative Officer”, the “highest ranking official of a correctional facility.”
20 Ill. Admin Code. § 525.110(c). Thus, a notice addressed to the warden does not
qualify as privileged mail which is allowed to be sealed.
Plaintiff also points to the Big Muddy orientation manual as a basis for sending a
sealed letter to the warden (Doc. 1-1, p. 25). However, that manual only allows letters
related to the Prison Rape Elimination Act (“PREA”) to be sealed and sent to the warden
(Id.). Plaintiff’s notice to the warden, as he admits in his deposition, was not related to
the Prison Rape Elimination Act or any sexual activities inside the prison. As Plaintiff’s
notice to the warden was not privileged, it should have been sent unsealed to the
mailroom. 20 Ill. Admin. Code § 525.130(e). Thus, there is no evidence to suggest that
Defendants improperly interfered with his mail by returning the sealed notice.
Further, as Defendants point out, Plaintiff was not denied the ability to send the
notice to the warden as he could have resubmitted the envelope unsealed to the
mailroom for delivery. There is no indication that Plaintiff tried to resubmit the notice
nor is there any evidence that he was prevented from doing so. As such, the Court
finds that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on this claim.
D. Mercer County Courthouse Filing
Defendants also argue that they are entitled to summary judgment as to the letter
to the Mercer County Courthouse which Plaintiff was required to re-address. Plaintiff
sought to submit a letter to the Mercer County Courthouse on January 13, 2015,
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inquiring about his hit and run case. The mailroom returned the letter on January 14,
2015 with an indication that he needed to address the envelope to a specific office.
Defendants testified that this requirement allows mailroom staff to determine
whether a letter is considered legal or privileged. “Legal mail” are those pieces of mail
which are directed to attorneys, State’s Attorneys, the Illinois Attorney General, judges
or magistrate judges in any court, and any other organization that provides direct legal
representation to inmates. 20 Ill. Admin. Code § 525.110(h). Such mail may be sent
despite an inmate not having sufficient funds in his trust fund account. 20 Ill. Admin.
Code § 525.130(a). However, mail merely defined as privileged can only be sent at the
inmate’s own expense. Id. In requiring Plaintiff to re-address the envelope to indicate
where he was directing his letter, Defendants argue that they were seeking to serve a
legitimate penological interest in determining whether Plaintiff was required to pay for
the postage from his inmate trust fund. If Plaintiff was submitting the document to a
lawyer or judge, he could do so despite being indigent. Further, if he was submitting
the document to the Clerk of Court, the prison would also permit Plaintiff to send
reasonable amounts of such mail at the State’s expense. See 20 Ill. Admin. Code §
525.130(a). Any other mail would have to be sent at Plaintiff’s own expense.
Without the proper address, as Defendants point out, they were unable to determine
whether the mail should be sent despite Plaintiff having insufficient funds.
In any event, Plaintiff ultimately re-addressed the envelope to reflect that he
wanted to letter sent to the Clerk of Court in Mercer County and the mailroom sent the
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letter to Mercer County.
Plaintiff testified that the letter was delayed in reaching
Mercer County due to Defendants’ actions, but the evidence before the Court indicates
that the delay was a short one. Defendants returned the letter to Plaintiff the day after
he submitted the letter for mailing, although Plaintiff did not receive the letter until
fifteen days later when he returned to Big Muddy from a writ. He then re-addressed
the envelope and sent it back to the mailroom, resulting in a delay of fifteen to seventeen
days according to Plaintiff (Doc. 57-1, p. 40). The delay did not affect any pending case
as Plaintiff was merely inquiring about his driving history and a hit and run case from
2000 (Doc. 57-1, p. 40). The Court finds this short, isolated delay in sending a letter to
Mercer County did not amount to an interference with Plaintiff’s right to send mail.
E. John Howard Association
Defendants are also entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claim that they
refused to send his letters to the John Howard Association because he did lacked
sufficient funds. Inmates do not have the right to unlimited postage. Gaines v. Lane,
790 F.2d 1299, 1308 (7th Cir. 1986). IDOC regulations allows reasonable amounts of
legal mail and mail to clerks of court, certified court reporters, the Administrative
Review Board, and to the Prisoner Review Board to be sent, if an inmate has insufficient
funds, at the State’s expense. 20 Ill. Admin. Code § 525.130(a). However, all other
privileged and non-privileged letters are sent at an inmate’s own expense. Id. The
John Howard Association, although considered privileged under IDOC regulations,
does not qualify as legal mail, nor is it one of the stated organizations which an inmate
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may send at the expense of the State if he lacks sufficient funds. 20 Ill. Admin. Code §
525.110(g). As Plaintiff did not have sufficient funds in his account, Defendants’ refusal
to send out Plaintiff’s letters to the John Howard Association did not violate his First
Amendment right to send mail.
F. DCFS Civil Case
Similarly, Defendants’ refusal to send Plaintiff’s filings to DCFS, CASA, and civil
witnesses in his state custody case did not violate Plaintiff’s right to send mail. Plaintiff
testified that he was allowed to send his court filings to the state court and to all
attorneys in the case. However, he was not allowed to send the filings to DCFS, CASA,
or his reported witnesses (although he does not identify who those witnesses were).
Neither the organizations nor the witnesses qualify as “legal mail” under IDOC
regulations. Nor do they qualify as the type of privileged mail which can be sent by an
inmate with insufficient funds at the State’s expense. 20 Ill. Admin. Code § 525.130(a).
As the mail did not qualify as legal mail, Defendants did not violate Plaintiff’s rights by
refusing to send out the documents due to insufficient funds.
Plaintiff’s complaint also alleges that Defendants engaged in a campaign of
harassment in response to Plaintiff filing grievances against them (Doc. 10, p. 10).
Plaintiff testified that Defendants turned him in to internal affairs for trading and
trafficking envelopes and that Lieutenant Clark wrote a disciplinary ticket against him
on November 5, 2016.
He argues that he was not investigated for trading and
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trafficking until he wrote grievances against mailroom staff.
There is very little
evidence of retaliation other than Plaintiff’s own belief of retaliatory motive. While
Plaintiff argues that he was not investigated for trading and trafficking until after he
started filing grievances against the mailroom staff, there is no indication in the record as
to when said investigation took place. Plaintiff only indicated he was sent to internal
affairs on two occasions but does not include a date of those interviews (Doc. 63, p. 12).
While Plaintiff believes this was in response to the grievances he wrote, the grievance
attached to his complaint is dated February 18, 2015 (Doc. 1-1, p. 3). There is nothing in
the record to indicate when, after writing the grievance, internal affairs started talking to
him about trading and trafficking. Further, the disciplinary report Plaintiff received
was written on November 5, 2016, nearly twenty months after Plaintiff wrote his original
grievance and almost year after he filed this case. Thus, there is very little evidence of
suspicious timing in the internal affairs investigation and suspicious timing alone is not
indicative of retaliation. See Kidwell v. Eisenhauer, 679 F.3d 957, 966 (7th Cir. 2012);
Ripberger v. Corizon, Inc., 773 F.3d 871, 883 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Stone v. City of
Indianapolis Pub. Utils. Div., 281 F.3d 640, 644 (7th Cir. 2002); Sauzek v. Exxon Coal
USA, Inc., 202 F.3d 913, 918 (7th Cir. 2000)).
Even assuming that Plaintiff’s limited evidence that internal affairs did not talk to
him about trading and trafficking until after he filed a grievance establishes a causal
connection, there is evidence that the actions taken by internal affairs would have
happened even if there had been no retaliatory motive.
Defendants testified that
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indigent inmates who submit envelopes only available for purchase from the
commissary are suspected of trading and trafficking and that staff regularly report those
inmates to internal affairs. However, once the report is made, it is up to internal affairs
to determine what additional steps to take. Plaintiff has failed to rebut this legitimate
motive. In fact, Plaintiff admitted in his deposition testimony that he did, in fact,
engage in trading and trafficking, which was a violation of prison rules.
testified that he has not purchased any items from the commissary since December 2013
and that to obtain non-legal envelopes he trades food or laundry, thereby engaging in
prohibited conduct. Thus, mailroom staff had a legitimate motive in turning Plaintiff
over to internal affairs as he was, admittedly, engaging in trading and trafficking which
was a prison violation. As there is no evidence of retaliatory motive on Defendants’
part, the Court GRANTS summary judgment as to Defendants Nancy Taylor, Mark
Howell, and Winnifred Braddock.
H. Jason Garnett
The Court notes that Jason Garnett, as warden of Big Muddy Correctional Center,
was added to the case for purposes of implementing any injunctive relief Plaintiff sought
in conjunction with his claims (Doc. 10, p. 4-5). As Defendants Nancy Taylor, Mark
Howell, and Winnifred Braddock have been granted summary judgment on the merits
of all of Plaintiff’s claims, the Court finds the request for injunctive relief MOOT and
DISMISSES Jason Garnett from the case.
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Defendants’ pending motions to continue the trial (Doc. 70) and for additional
time to submit jury instructions (Doc. 71) are hereby DENIED as MOOT in light of this
Order. Additionally, Defendants’ Motion in Limine (Doc. 72) is hereby DENIED as
Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
There being no further pending claims, the Clerk is DIRECTED to enter judgment in
favor of Nancy Taylor, Mark Howell, and Winnifred Braddock, and against Plaintiff.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED: March 7, 2018
s/ Michael J. Reagan
MICHAEL J. REAGAN
United States District Court
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