Richards v. Ind Dept of Corrs et al
OPINION AND ORDER: The court GRANTS the motion to correct error 12 and DIRECTS the clerk to correct the spelling of Officer Hinsons name to Penson; GRANTS the plaintiff until 08/31/2022, to file an amended complaint if he so chooses; and CAUT IONS him that if he does not respond by the deadline, this case will be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A because the current complaint does not state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Signed by Chief Judge Jon E DeGuilio on 08/01/2022. (sej)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
DANNY R. RICHARDS,
CAUSE NO. 3:22-CV-280-JD-MGG
IND. DEPT. OF CORRS., et al.,
OPINION AND ORDER
Danny R. Richards, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed an amended complaint
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF 11.) Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the court must review
the 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. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. To proceed beyond the pleading stage, a
complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to “state a claim that is plausible on its
face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial
plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Because Mr. Richards is proceeding without counsel, the court
must give his allegations liberal construction. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).
As a preliminary matter, Mr. Richards moves to correct an error in his complaint.
He states that the defendant he identified as Officer “Hinson” is actually named
“Penson.” (ECF 12.) The motion will be granted and the clerk will be directed to correct
the spelling of this defendant’s name. The court uses the correct spelling in this opinion.
Mr. Richards is incarcerated at Indiana State Prison (“ISP”). He claims that on
May 13, 2021, he was moved to the restrictive housing unit by Officers Taylor and
Penson (first names unknown). He claims the officers “unlawfully confiscated all my
legal documents, legal notes, and research material,” even though in his view the
documents “in no way” posed a threat to the safety or security of the facility. (Id. at 2.)
He further claims that his property was placed in the control of Officer Hawkins (first
name unknown), who is in charge of the property room at ISP. He claims Officer
Hawkins “lost or misplaced” some of the materials. He further claims that the Indiana
Department of Correction (“IDOC”) was “ordered by the Southern District of Indiana to
turn over all my legal documents and research material, and they failed to abide by that
court order.” (Id. at 3.) He believes “this unlawful confiscation was due to Plaintiff
exercising his right to bring suit against the named Defendants in the other two
pending suits” he has filed in this District. He further claims that the confiscation of
these materials “frustrated and impeded upon my right to access the courts and my due
process rights.” (Id.) Based on these events, he sues IDOC, Officer Taylor, Officer
Penson, and Officer Hawkins, seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
He first alleges that his right of access to the courts was violated. Inmates do not
have an unfettered right to keep the property of their choosing in their cells. See Lindell
v. Pollard, 681 F. App'x 518, 520 (7th Cir. 2017). Nevertheless, Mr. Richards’ claim
involves legal materials, and inmates are entitled to meaningful access to the courts.
Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351 (1996). There is no “abstract, freestanding right” to the
courts or to legal materials, however. Id. Instead, an access-to-the-courts claim hinges on
whether there is prejudice to a non-frivolous legal claim related to the prisoner’s
“conviction, sentence, or conditions of confinement.” Marshall v. Knight, 445 F.3d 965,
969 (7th Cir. 2006). In other words, “only if the defendants’ conduct prejudices a
potentially meritorious [claim] has the right been infringed.” Id. Thus, to state a claim,
the inmate is required to “spell out” the connection between the denial of access to the
courts and the resulting prejudice to a potentially meritorious legal claim. Id.
Under those standards, Mr. Richards has not alleged a plausible claim for the
denial of his right of access to the courts. Specifically, he does not “spell out” the
connection between the loss of these materials and what prejudice, if any, he suffered to
a potentially meritorious legal claim related to his “conviction, sentence, or conditions
of confinement.” Marshall, 445 F.3d at 969. He alleges generally that the confiscation of
the materials “frustrated and impeded [his] right of access to the courts,” but merely
“putting a few words on paper that, in the hands of an imaginative reader, might
suggest that something has happened . . . that might be redressed by the law” is not
enough to state a claim under federal pleading standards. Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614
F.3d 400, 403 (7th Cir. 2010).
He makes a general reference to the two other cases he filed in this District. One
of the cases involved his medical care, and the public docket in that case reflects that he
was an active litigant throughout 2021 and 2022, during the time his legal papers were
missing. He propounded and responded to discovery, filed a variety of motions, and
filed a 47-page response to Defendants’ summary judgment motion accompanied by
141 pages of exhibits. 1 See Richards v. The Geo Group, et al., 3:20-CV-952-DRL-MGG (N.D.
Ind. closed May 31, 2022). He does not outline how, if at all, the loss of certain papers
prejudiced him in that case. His other case, filed in late July 2022, claimed that he was
owed economic impact payments under the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic
Security Act (“CARES Act”), but the court determined that his complaint did not state a
viable legal claim and dismissed it pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Richards v. Ind. Dept.
of Corrs., 3:22-CV-581-DRL-MGG (N.D. Ind. closed July 26, 2022). A claim for stimulus
payments cannot be said to relate to his conviction, sentence, or conditions of
confinement, and he does not outline any specific prejudice he suffered in that lawsuit
either. He has not alleged a plausible claim for the denial of his right of access to the
He also claims his due process rights were violated. However, he has an
adequate state post-deprivation remedy available to recover the value of his lost papers
and thus cannot pursue a federal due process claim based on the loss of this property.
See Higgason v. Morton, 171 F. App’x 509, 512 (7th Cir. 2006) (Indiana Tort Claims Act
precluded Indiana inmate’s due process claim arising from the loss of property in his
cell); Wynn v. Southward, 251 F.3d 588, 593 (7th Cir. 2001) (“[Plaintiff] has an adequate
post deprivation remedy in the Indiana Tort Claims Act, and no more process was
due.”). His claim for damages against the IDOC is a non-starter in federal court, as the
The court is permitted to take judicial notice of public records at the pleading stage. See FED. R.
EVID. 201; Tobey v. Chibucos, 890 F.3d 634, 647 (7th Cir. 2018).
agency has Eleventh Amendment immunity. de Lima Silva v. Dep’t of Corr., 917 F.3d 546,
565 (7th Cir. 2019).
He also alleges unlawful retaliation. To assert a First Amendment retaliation
claim, an inmate must allege: “(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 [defendant’s] decision to take the retaliatory action.” Gomez v. Randle, 680
F.3d 859, 866 (7th Cir. 2012) (quotation marks and citation omitted). The third factor
requires a showing of some “causal link between the activity and the unlawful
retaliation.” Manuel v. Nalley, 966 F.3d 678, 680 (7th Cir. 2020).
Mr. Richards satisfies the first prong, because prisoners have a protected First
Amendment right to file lawsuits and grievances. Dobbey v. IDOC, 574 F.3d 443, 446 (7th
Cir. 2009). The court will also presume that he satisfies the second prong. See Manuel,
966 F.3d at 680 (shakedown of property in cell constituted adverse action for purposes
of prisoner’s retaliation claim). However, he has not alleged factual content to satisfy
the third prong.
He states generally that his papers were confiscated because he exercised “his
right to bring suit against the named Defendants in the other two pending suits.” (ECF
11 at 3.) However, as stated above, merely “putting a few words on paper that, in the
hands of an imaginative reader, might suggest that something has happened . . . that
might be redressed by the law” is not enough under federal pleading standards.
Swanson, 614 F.3d at 643. Mr. Richards does not include any factual content to plausibly
suggest there was a link between the confiscation of his papers and his First
Amendment activity. See Gomez, 680 F.3d at 866. Indeed, he does not even identify
which “named Defendants” he is referring to, and Officers Taylor, Penson, and
Hawkins are not named as defendants in either of the two other cases he filed in this
District. See Richards, 3:22-CV-581-DRL-MGG; Richards v. GEO Group, 3:20-CV-952-DRLMGG. In fact, one of the cases was filed after he brought this lawsuit. See Richards, 3:22CV-581-DRL-MGG. Based on what he has alleged, the court cannot plausibly infer that
Officers Taylor, Penson, and Hawkins had any involvement in these lawsuits or had a
reason to retaliate against Mr. Richards because of these lawsuits. 2
Additionally, as to Officer Hawkins, Mr. Richards describes actions in the vein of
negligence, in that the officer allegedly did not keep proper track of Mr. Richards’
property while it was in the property room, causing it to go missing. This allegation is
not consistent with a claim that Officer Hawkins intentionally retaliated against him for
exercising his First Amendment rights. To the extent Mr. Richards is referring to IDOC
as the “named Defendant,” this is a state agency, not a “person” who can commit
2 Public records reflect that he has also filed seven civil rights lawsuits in the Southern District of
Indiana, although he has not linked the Defendants’ alleged retaliatory actions to any of those cases. All
but two of the cases were closed years prior to the confiscation of his legal materials. See Richards v. Bayh,
1:89-CV-1199-JEN-JPG (S.D. Ind. closed Dec. 1, 1989); Richards v. Mitcheff, 1:10-CV-1583-SEB-MJD (S.D.
Ind. closed June 25, 2013); Richards v. GEO Group, 1:20-CV-2457-JRS-TAB (S.D. Ind. closed Nov. 7, 2020);
Richards v. Corr. Med. Servs., 2:15-CV-424-JMS-DKL (S.D. Ind. closed Feb. 19, 2016); Richards v. Brown, 2:17CV-264-JMS-MJD (S.D. Ind. closed Aug. 14, 2017). The more recent two cases involve events occurring at
New Castle Correctional Facility and Wabash Valley Correctional Facility and do not name Officers
Taylor, Penson, or Hawkins as defendants. See Richards v. GEO Group, 1:21-CV-225-SEB-DML (S.D. Ind.
filed Jan. 26, 2021); Richards v. West-Denning, 2:18-CV-165-JPH-DLP (S.D. Ind. filed Apr. 5, 2018). The
court cannot plausibly infer that officers at ISP had a motive to retaliate against Mr. Richards for lawsuits
he filed about events occurring at other facilities outside of this judicial District.
constitutional violations. See Will v. Michigan Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70 (1989).
His allegations do not give rise to a plausible retaliation claim.
Finally, he claims that someone within the IDOC (who he does not identify)
violated a court order issued by the Southern District of Indiana. If this is true, he may
have some remedy available in the court that issued that order. However, his allegation
does not give rise to a Section 1983 claim in this court.
Therefore, the complaint does not state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
In the interest of justice, the court will allow Mr. Richards an opportunity to amend his
complaint if, after reviewing the court’s order, he believes that he can state a plausible
constitutional claim, consistent with the allegations he has already made under penalty
of perjury. See Abu-Shawish v. United States, 898 F.3d 726, 738 (7th Cir. 2018); Luevano v.
Wal-Mart, 722 F.3d 1014, 1024 (7th Cir. 2013). The court notes that Mr. Richards has
already been given two opportunities to amend his complaint—the first time because he
did not use the proper form, and the second because he sought to raise unrelated claims
against unrelated defendants in the same lawsuit. (ECF 4, 7.) In fairness, the court will
afford him one final opportunity to amend his complaint to address the deficiencies
outlined in this screening order.
For these reasons, the court:
(1) GRANTS the motion to correct error (ECF 12) and DIRECTS the clerk to
correct the spelling of Officer Hinson’s name to “Penson”;
(2) GRANTS the plaintiff until August 31, 2022, to file an amended complaint if
he so chooses; and
(3) CAUTIONS him that if he does not respond by the deadline, this case will be
dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A because the current complaint does not state a
claim upon which relief can be granted.
SO ORDERED on August 1, 2022
/s/JON E. DEGUILIO
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?