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JONES v. WATKINS

November 19, 1996

LAWRENCE JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID C. WATKINS, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ALESIA

 Before the court is defendants Douglas M. Read, Keith Cooper, J. Johnson, William Hays, and Sergio Molina's motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). For the reasons that follow, the court grants defendants' motion as modified.

 I. BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff Lawrence Jones has brought an action against various defendants, including the moving defendants, based on alleged violations of Jones' civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. *fn1" Jones alleges that defendants violated his rights to due process and equal protection and to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by conducting prison disciplinary proceedings against and punishing Jones. Jones seeks compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive and declaratory relief against defendants.

 Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings against Jones, contending that his claim is barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S. Ct. 2364, 129 L. Ed. 2d 383 (1994) and Miller v. Indiana Dep't of Corrections, 75 F.3d 330 (7th Cir. 1996).

 II. DISCUSSION

 A. Basis of and standard for deciding defendants' motion

 Defendants styled their motion as one for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). However, as this opinion eventually discloses, the court does not dispose of Jones' case on its merits, and defendants' motion is more in the nature of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Therefore, this court will treat defendants' motion as one to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Walker v. Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc., 681 F. Supp. 470, 472 (N.D. Ill. 1987) (a Rule 12(c) motion is inappropriate for preliminary matters, and is ordinarily used for judgments on the merits of a complaint); Moxley v. Vernot, 555 F. Supp. 554, 556 (S.D. Ohio 1982) (a challenge to the legal basis of the complaint is more appropriately viewed as a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted rather than a motion for judgment on the pleadings).

 This procedural issue "is of little substantive importance because a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is subject to the same standard as a motion for dismissal for failure to state a claim." Seber v. Unger, 881 F. Supp. 323, 325 (N.D. Ill. 1995) (citing Thomason v. Nachtrieb, 888 F.2d 1202, 1204 (7th Cir. 1989); Gillman v. Burlington N. R.R. Co., 878 F.2d 1020, 1022 (7th Cir. 1989)).

 When deciding a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Cromley v. Board of Educ. of Lockport, 699 F. Supp. 1283, 1285 (N.D. Ill. 1988). If, when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court must dismiss the case. See FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6); Gomez v. Illinois State Board of Educ., 811 F.2d 1030, 1039 (7th Cir. 1987). However, the court may dismiss the complaint only if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claims that would entitle him to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S. Ct. 99, 102, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1957).

 B. Claim for damages against defendants

 In Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 93 S. Ct. 1827, 36 L. Ed. 2d 439 (1973), the Supreme Court held that habeas corpus is the exclusive remedy of a state prisoner who, through an injunctive action, challenges the fact or duration of his confinement and seeks immediate or speedier release. Preiser, 411 U.S. at 487-90, 93 S. Ct. at 1835-37 (finding that state prisoners who sought restoration of good-time credits had no claim under section 1983, but had as sole remedy a writ of habeas corpus). In Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S. Ct. 2364, 129 L. Ed. 2d 383 (1994), the Supreme Court determined that a state prisoner cannot get around the rule of Preiser by filing a section 1983 action for damages instead of one asking for injunctive relief.

 In Heck, the Supreme Court held that for a section 1983 plaintiff to be able to recover damages "for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, [the] plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such a determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus." Heck, 114 S. Ct. at 2372. A claim for damages that calls into question the validity of a conviction or sentence "that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983." Id.

 Therefore, a district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of a plaintiff "would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence." Id. If so, the plaintiff has no section 1983 claim for damages unless or until his conviction or sentence has been invalidated. Id. However, if the court determines that the plaintiff's action, if successful, would not "demonstrate the invalidity of any outstanding criminal judgment against the plaintiff," the court should allow the action to proceed. Id.

 In Miller v. Indiana Dep't of Corrections, 75 F.3d 330 (7th Cir. 1996), the Seventh Circuit held that Heck applies equally to administrative rulings. Id. at 331. The court stated that the rationale of Heck is that "a prisoner should not be able to use a suit for damages to get around the procedures that have been established for challenging the lawfulness of continued confinement." Id. Thus, "it is irrelevant whether the challenged confinement is pursuant to a judgment imposing a sentence or an administrative refusal to shorten the sentence by awarding good-time credits." Id.

 The Seventh Circuit also noted that the issue in deciding whether a case is barred by Heck is not the relief sought but the ground of the challenge. Id. In Miller, the plaintiff sought only damages, but he claimed that as a result of an alleged denial of due process, he was deprived of good-time credits to which he was entitled. Id. Consequently, the court found that the plaintiff was challenging the lawfulness of his continued confinement, and "having failed to vindicate the challenge through the proper means[,] he [was] barred from seeking vindication in [his] suit for damages." Id.

 In the present case, Jones alleges that defendants violated his due process and equal protection rights and right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by their "acts, conduct, or omissions in finding [Jones] guilty of certain I.D.O.C. rules infractions and subsequently imposing punitive disciplinary sanctions" on Jones. (Compl. P 10.) The sanctions imposed on Jones were 365 days' loss of good-time credit, which translates to an additional one year Jones must serve in prison; 365 days' confinement in segregation; and 365 days' reduction to C-grade, which translates to a year's loss of certain privileges. (Compl. P 29.)

 Jones alleges that the guilty finding against him was "unjust and wrongful." (Compl. P 39.) He alleges that he was "entirely innocent of any wrongdoing," should not have been charged with committing the rules infractions with which he was charged, should not have been found guilty of the rules infractions, and should not have received the severe sanctions that were imposed on him by the Adjustment Committee. (Compl. P 43.) Finally, Jones alleges that he was "innocent of any wrongdoing," and that defendants "violated his civil rights simply to make someone pay for the attack on the inmate" for which Jones was held responsible. (Compl. P 49.)

 Considering all of the foregoing allegations, it is clear that Jones seeks damages, at least in part, for what amounts to wrongful confinement. The essence of his complaint is that the charges against him were baseless, and that his rights were violated by the charges, guilty finding, and resultant disciplinary sanctions, including loss of good-time credits. For Jones to establish the basis for his damages claim, he necessarily would have to demonstrate the invalidity of his disciplinary sanctions, including loss of good-time credits. See Heck, 114 S. Ct. at 2369. That is, if the finding of guilt against Jones and resultant punishment were lawful, Jones would have no injury. Cf. Horton v. Marovich, 925 F. Supp. 532, 537-38 (N.D. Ill. 1996) (prisoner whose ...


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