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Ashley v. Snyder

October 19, 2000


Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 99CH200 Honorable Patrick W. Kelley, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann

In April 1999, plaintiff, Howard Vincent Ashley, an inmate at Henry Hill Correctional Center (HHCC), filed a pro se complaint against defendant, Donald M. Snyder, the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC), seeking to enjoin the implementation of a DOC regulation restricting the quantity of personal property an inmate could possess while incarcerated. Ashley's complaint alleged that the regulation violates numerous provisions of the United States and Illinois Constitutions, as well as several state and federal statutes. In May 1999, Snyder filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 1998)) and a motion requesting a finding that Ashley's complaint was frivolous (730 ILCS 5/3-6-3(d)(1) (West 1998)). Following a hearing, the trial court dismissed Ashley's complaint and denied Snyder's motion for a finding that the complaint was frivolous.

Ashley appeals, arguing that the trial court erred by dismissing his complaint, and we affirm.


In March 1999, prison officials at HHCC issued "Inmate Bulletin # 99-028" (hereafter the Bulletin), which provided that, beginning the following month, inmates would be required to keep most of their personal property in a storage box (measuring 11 inches high, 32 1/2 inches long, and 20 1/2 inches wide) at all times. Inmates could keep five of the following items in their cells even if they would not fit into a storage box: a fan, a television, an AM/FM radio, an AM/FM radio cassette player, a Walkman, a beard trimmer, an electric shaver, a calculator, a desk light, a hot pot, and a typewriter. Inmates would be required to dispose of all other personal property that would not fit into their storage boxes and would have 30 days in which to have the excess personal property (1) shipped out (at the inmate's expense), (2) picked up by a visitor, or (3) destroyed. The Bulletin further provided that inmates could also obtain a correspondence box, which would be used only to store legal materials, reading materials, and correspondence items.

In April 1999, Ashley filed a pro se complaint against Snyder and William E. Boyd, HHCC's chief administrative officer, seeking to enjoin implementation of the Bulletin. (Boyd was never served with the complaint, and he is not a party to this appeal.) Ashley's complaint alleged that implementation of the Bulletin (1) violates his right to due process of law, (2) constitutes an ex post facto enactment, (3) constitutes an unreasonable seizure under the fourth amendment (U.S. Const., amend. IV), (4) violates the eighth amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment (U.S. Const., amend. VIII), (5) violates the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment (U.S. Const., amend. XIV, §1), (6) constitutes a breach of contract, (7) constitutes a conversion of his personal property, and (8) violates numerous state and federal statutes.

In July 1999, as previously stated, the trial court dismissed Ashley's complaint on Snyder's motion, and this appeal followed.


A. Standard of Review

The question presented by a motion under section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 1998)) to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a cause of action is whether the complaint sets forth sufficient facts which, if established, could entitle the plaintiff to relief. Bryson v. News America Publications, Inc., 174 Ill. 2d 77, 86, 672 N.E.2d 1207, 1214 (1996). In ruling on such a motion, the trial court must accept all well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true and draw reasonable inferences from those facts that are favorable to the pleader. Bryson, 174 Ill. 2d at 86, 672 N.E.2d at 1213. The court should grant the motion only if the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would support a cause of action. Bryson, 174 Ill. 2d at 86-87, 672 N.E.2d at 1214. Because this process does not require the trial court to weigh facts or determine credibility, a reviewing court does not defer to that court's decision but instead reviews the matter de novo. Jackson v. Michael Reese Hospital & Medical Center, 294 Ill. App. 3d 1, 9, 689 N.E.2d 205, 211 (1997).

B. The Liberty Interest Claim

Ashley first argues that the HHCC inmate orientation manual, which prison officials issued prior to the Bulletin and which includes a list of the type and quantity of personal items inmates may possess, created a liberty interest, guaranteeing his right to keep his excess personal property in his cell. Thus, he contends that when prison officials implemented the Bulletin without conducting a hearing, they deprived him of his property without due process of law. We disagree.

In essence, Ashley argues that by setting forth the affirmative language of the HHCC inmate orientation manual, the state created a liberty interest in an inmate's right to keep certain enumerated items of personal property in his cell, which could not be taken away without due process of law. Under the methodology Ashley relies on, which was discussed approvingly in Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 472, 74 L. Ed. 2d 675, 688, 103 S. Ct. 864, 871 (1983), courts look to mandatory language in statutes or regulations to determine whether the right in question rises to the level of one that can be withdrawn only by providing due process of law. The fundamental problem with Ashley's argument is that in Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 477-84, 132 L. Ed. 2d 418, 425-30, 115 S. Ct. 2293, 2297-300 (1995), the United States Supreme Court expressly rejected that methodology in the context of prison liberty interests. The Court held that states cannot create enforceable liberty interests in freedom from the routine deprivations and discomforts of prison life. While states "may under certain circumstances create liberty interests which are protected by the [d]ue [p]rocess [c]lause," "these interests will be generally limited to freedom from restraint which *** imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." (Emphasis added.) Sandin, 515 U.S. at 484, 132 L. Ed. 2d at 429-30, 115 S. Ct. at 2300.

In Parker v. DeTella, No. 98-C-0644 (N.D. Ill. April 6, 1998) (1998 WL 164817) (unpublished memorandum opinion), the court was faced with an inmate's constitutional challenge to a similar Illinois prison regulation limiting the amount of personal property that an inmate could keep in a storage box in his cell. The ...

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