Santiago v. Bradley et al
ORDER regarding Amended Complaint filed by Fabian Santiago (Doc. 18). 28 U.S.C. § 1915A requires the Court screen prisoner complaints and filter out non-meritorious claims. Pursuant to such a review, the Court finds none of the claims raised in Plaintiffs Amended Complaint state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendants ROWALD, MAYER, WANDRO, OAKLEY, JONES, LASHBROOK, PHOENIX, HAWKINS, BEAMS, GANS, DORETHY, BENTON, JOHN/JANE DOE #1, JOHN/JANE DOE #2, and JOHN/JANE DOE #3 are ther efore DISMISSED from this action without prejudice. John Baldwin remains a defendant in his official capacity only. It is FURTHER ORDERED that this action shall proceed solely on the allegations approved for further consideration in the Courts Threshold Order (Doc. 6). Finally, the Court GRANTS Defendants through February 28, 2018 to file their answers to the original complaint. Signed by Magistrate Judge Donald G. Wilkerson on 2/14/2018. (jkb2)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
TYLER A. BRADLEY and JOHN
BALDWIN (Official Capacity),
Case No. 17-cv-989-NJR-DGW
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
WILKERSON, Magistrate Judge:
On December 19, 2017 Plaintiff Fabian Santiago filed an Amended Complaint (Doc. 18).
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court is required to screen prisoner complaints to filter out nonmeritorious claims. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds none of the claims in
Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint survive threshold review.
Plaintiff Fabian Santiago filed the current action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging a
publication he had ordered was improperly withheld from him and destroyed, and that three
items of legal correspondence were improperly opened outside his presence (Doc. 6, p. 1). The
Court identified Santiago’s Complaint to allege the following claims:
Count 1: First Amendment claim against Bradley for confiscating Plaintiff’s
“prison legal news” publication without reasonable justification, and against
Rowald, Wandro, Jones, Phoenix, and Baldwin for failing to take corrective
action in response to Plaintiff’s grievance;
Count 2: Claims against John/Jane Doe #1 (mail handler) and John/Jane Doe #2
(mailing supervisor) for improperly opening and inspecting 2 letters from law
firms and 1 package from Moran Law Group, and against Meyer, Oakley,
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Lashbrook, Power, Phoenix, and Baldwin for failing to take corrective action in
response to Plaintiff’s grievances.
The Court conducted a revue of the original Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A,
dismissed the claims in Count 2 in totality, and dismissed the claims in Count 1 against
Defendants Rowald, Wandro, Jones, Phoenix, and Baldwin (Doc. 6, pp. 6-7). Defendant Baldwin
was ordered to remain as a Defendant in his official capacity solely for purposes of injunctive
relief. Thus, the only claim remaining after the Court’s threshold review was a First Amendment
claim against Bradley for confiscating Plaintiff’s “prison legal news” publication without
reasonable justification (Doc. 6).
On November 14, 2017, Santiago filed a Motion to alter, amend, or modify the Court’s
threshold merits review order (Doc. 6). Specifically, he sought to reinstate claims against the
Defendants who were dismissed from the action and to reinstate Count 2 - the claims regarding
opening of legal mail. The request for reconsider was denied (Doc. 25).
On December 19, 2017 Santiago filed the Amended Complaint (Doc. 18) that is currently
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) provides that a party may amend a pleading, and
that leave to amend should be freely given when justice so requires. This Circuit recognizes “the
complaint merely serves to put the defendant on notice and is to be freely amended or
constructively amended as the case develops, as long as amendments do not unfairly surprise or
prejudice the defendant.” Toth v. USX Corp., 883 F.2d 1297, 1298 (7th Cir. 1989). Accordingly,
the Court is to liberally allow amendment of pleadings “so that cases may be decided on the
merits and not on the basis of technicalities.” Stern v. U.S. Gypsum, Inc., 547 F.2d 1329, 1334
(7th Cir. 1977).
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Title 28 U.S.C. §1915A directs the District Court to screen complaints filed by prisoners
and “identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint” if the
complaint “is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted” or
if it “seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.”
Interference with Legal Communications
Santiago once again raises a claim alleging the mailroom staff improperly opened his
legal mail. 1 As this Court has repeatedly explained, in order for privileged attorney-client
correspondence to receive the special treatment of being opened only in the inmate’s presence,
the envelope must be clearly marked with a warning that the letter is “legal mail,” “privileged
legal correspondence,” or some similar notice that draws attention to its confidential nature.
Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 576 (1974). The sender of a legal communication which is
intended to be treated as privileged lawyer-client correspondence has the burden of clearly
labeling it as such. Wolff, 418 U.S. at 576. The mere fact that an envelope bears the return
address of a law office is not sufficient to alert prison officials that the contents are privileged
and should be opened only in the presence of the prisoner-recipient. Despite Plaintiff’s urging to
the contrary, prison mailroom workers are simply not required to verify, using a law directory or
other resource, whether the return address on an incoming envelope is from a legitimate law
In Santiago’s original complaint, only one incidence of improper handling of privileged
communication from an attorney was sufficiently alleged. 2 Isolated incidents, however, do not
Santiago also makes reference to a legal document he was attempting to send that was returned to him as a result of
an incorrect address (Doc. 18, p. 2). The Court reads this statement in the Amended Complaint to be provided as
proof that mail room staff had access to resources to check attorney addresses, not as the basis for any additional or
different legal claim.
Plaintiff conceded the first two letters at issue (from West Town Law Office and Hamilton Law Office) were not
marked with the “magical words of privileged/legal mail,” but contained only the return address of the attorney
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state a Constitutional violation. Harrison v. County of Cook, Ill., 3364 Fed.Appx. 250, at *2 (7th
Cir. 2010); see also Bruscino v. Carlson, 654 F. Supp. 609, 618 (S.D. Ill. 1987), aff’d, 854 F.2d
162 (7th Cir. 1988).
The Amended Complaint does not allege facts supporting any additional claims of
Santiago’s mail being improperly opened. The only additional facts presented are summary of a
conversation Santiago states he had with Defendant Bradley,
who told him the mailroom
supervisor at Menard Correctional Center directed mailroom staff to “open & read numerous I/M
legal mailings” (Doc. 18, p. 3). The alleged statement by Bradley, however, fails to identify the
mailroom supervisor, the dates that individual worked at Menard, whether that individual was
even the supervisor during the time Santiago was at that facility, or under what circumstances the
supervisor instructed mailroom staff to open legal mail. As discussed above, not all
correspondence from an attorney receives the special treatment of being opened only in the
inmate’s presence. The statement included in the Amended Complaint, therefore, does not
necessarily implicate any Constitutional violation, let alone one against Santiago. 3 Thus, nothing
in the Amended Complaint states a claim upon which relief can be granted regarding the alleged
opening of privileged legal mail.
Failure to Act on Grievances
Santiago alleges various prison administrators failed to properly respond to his
and/or law office (Doc. 1, p. 3).
Santiago also alleges Bradley told him the officials at Menard Correctional Center temporarily removed the
unnamed mailroom supervisor “due to such misconduct,” but the individual was later returned to the position.
Santiago speculates the supervisor was returned to the position due to prison politics (Doc. 18, p. 3). The Court finds
these statements to be too vague and speculative to provide a basis for any claim for relief. None of the
administrators at Menard or the mailroom supervisor are identified, and the reason for the temporary absence and
return of the mail room supervisor appear to be mere speculation. An action fails to state a claim upon which relief
can be granted if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true,
see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible
that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff’s claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009).
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grievances. Specifically, he alleges counselor Cindy Meyers, grievance officer Lori Oakley,
Chief Administrative Officer Jacqueline Lashbrook, Administrative Review Board member
Melissa Phoenix and Illinois Department of Corrections director John Baldwin all refused to take
corrective action regarding his mail related grievances (Doc. 18, p. 6). He also argues that
grievance officer Steve Gans and Chief Administrative Officer Stephanie Dorethy should have
taken corrective action with regards to the confiscation of his “prison daily news” publication
(Doc. 18, p. 7).
The basis for Santiago’s claim against these Defendants is his belief that prison officials
are liable for the actions of their subordinates (Doc. 18). To recover damages under § 1983,
however, a plaintiff must establish that a defendant was personally responsible for the
deprivation of a constitutional right. Sheik–Abdi v. McClellan, 37 F.3d 1240, 1248 (7th Cir.
1994). An individual cannot be personally liable under a theory of respondeat superior. Jones v.
City of Chicago, 856 F.2d 985, 992 (7th Cir. 1988). To be liable a prison official “must know
about the conduct and facilitate it, approve it, condone it, or turn a blind eye.” Id. The alleged
improper denial or mishandling of grievances “by persons who otherwise did not cause or
participate in the underlying conduct” states no claim. Owens v. Hinsley, 635 F.3d 950, 953 (7th
Cir. 2011); see also Grieveson v. Anderson, 538 F.3d 763, 772 n.3 (7th Cir. 2008); George v.
Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 609 (7th Cir. 2007); Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1430 (7th Cir.
Nothing in Santiago’s Amended Complaint alleges any of the above Defendants
participated in the opening of his mail or the confiscation of his prison publication. The only
claim raised is that they failed to take corrective action against those who did participate in the
alleged violations (Doc. 18, pp. 6, 7). As such, there is no factual basis for finding the above
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listed Defendants were in any way personally responsible for Santiago’s claimed Constitutional
violations and Santiago has failed to state a claim against them.
Santiago states in his Amended Complaint that he has “demonstrated retalitory [sic]
misconduct upon the part of defendants” (Doc. 18, p. 4). He appears to be arguing that
Defendants Meyers, Oakley, Lashbrook, Phoenix and Baldwin retaliated against him for filing
his grievances regarding the opening of his mail.
Prison officials may not retaliate against an inmate for exercising his First
Amendment rights, even if their actions would not independently violate the
Constitution. See Zimmerman v. Tribble, 226 F.3d 568, 573 (7th Cir. 2000); Howland v.
Kilquist, 833 F.2d 639, 644 (7th Cir. 1987) (“an act in retaliation for the exercise of a
constitutionally protected right is actionable under Section 1983 even if the act, when
taken for different reasons, would have been proper”); see also Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d
541, 552 (7th Cir. 2009).
To prevail on a First Amendment retaliation claim, however, a plaintiff must
ultimately show they (1) engaged in activity protected by the First Amendment; (2)
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. Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 546
(7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Massey v. Johnson, 457 F.3d 711, 716 (7th Cir. 2006)).
Without even addressing the first and third elements, it is clear Santiago cannot state a
claim for retaliation because he does not allege any deprivation, let alone a substantial one. To
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succeed on a retaliation claim, the Plaintiff must show they suffered a deprivation that
was so substantial it would deter a reasonable person from exercising their rights in the
future. Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 546 (7th Cir. 2009). Here, Santiago alleges no
deprivation at all. 4 Rather, he simply includes a conclusory claim of retaliation, which the
Seventh Circuit had held is insufficient to state a claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th
Cir. 2009). Thus, Santiago has failed to plead any facts upon which a claim for relief is
plausible. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
Because the Court finds none of the claims in Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint survive
threshold review, Defendants ROWALD, MAYER, WANDRO, OAKLEY, JONES,
LASHBROOK, PHOENIX, HAWKINS, BEAMS, GANS, DORETHY, BENTON
JOHN/JANE DOE #1, JOHN/JANE DOE #2, and JOHN/JANE DOE #3 are DISMISSED
from this action without prejudice. John Baldwin remains a defendant in his official capacity
It is FURTHER ORDERED that this action shall proceed solely on the allegations
approved for further consideration in the Court’s Threshold Order (Doc. 6). The Plaintiff is
WARNED that raising these same claims without additional support may result in a
recommendation the claims be dismissed with prejudice.
As to the deadline for answering the original Complaint, the Court GRANTS Defendants
fourteen days after entry of this Order to file their Answers.
Santiago’s claim appears to be that several administrators failed to respond, or did not respond sufficiently, to his
grievances (Doc. 18, p. 7). Taken to its extreme, Santiago’s argument appears to be that he was retaliated against for
filing grievances by no one responding. The Court fails to see how the failure to respond, with no other
consequences to Santiago, is so substantial of a deprivation it would deter a reasonable person from filing a
grievance in the future.
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IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED: February 14, 2018
DONALD G. WILKERSON
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