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McGee v. Snyder

August 29, 2001


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lee County. No. 99-MR-45 Honorable Thomas M. Magdich, Judge, Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Grometer


Plaintiffs, Gary McGee and Christopher Rickard, brought this action pursuant to section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. §1983 (1994)) in the circuit court of Lee County. They allege that defendants, Donald Snyder, Lila Koches, and James Utley, have denied them certain good-conduct credits to which they are entitled, resulting in plaintiffs' having to serve increased sentences. Snyder is the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC), Koches is its chief record officer, and Utley is the record office supervisor for the Dixon Correctional Center. The circuit court granted defendants' motion to dismiss, and plaintiffs now appeal. For the reasons that follow, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand this cause for further proceedings.


Plaintiffs are currently incarcerated at the Dixon Correctional Center. McGee was convicted of several felony offenses on February 1, 1978. He was sentenced to concurrent sentences, the longest being 40 to 60 years' imprisonment. Rickard was convicted of a felony on March 15, 1980, and ultimately given a sentence of 40 to 80 years' imprisonment. At the time plaintiffs committed their offenses, Illinois was using a system of indeterminate sentencing, where a defendant was sentenced to a minimum term, which was the date the defendant would become eligible for parole, and an maximum term, which was the date the defendant would be released if not paroled. Johnson v. Franzen, 77 Ill. 2d 513, 516 (1979). Both plaintiffs' convictions resulted from conduct occurring prior to the legislature's amending Illinois' sentencing law on February 1, 1978 (see Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 1005--8--1). To understand plaintiffs' claim, it is necessary to understand this change in the law and how it affected a prisoner's ability to earn good-conduct credits.

Prior to this change, prisoners were eligible for two types of good-conduct credits: statutory good-conduct credits (SGCs) and compensatory good-conduct credits (CGCs). SGCs were awarded at a progressive rate, beginning with one month for the first year, two months for the second year, and so on until a maximum yearly award of six months was reached during the sixth year. Barksdale v. Franzen, 700 F.2d 1138, 1139 (7th Cir. 1983). Additionally, prisoners could earn 7½ days of CGCs each month during their entire sentence. Rogers v. Prisoner Review Board, 181 Ill. App. 3d 1039, 1042 (1989). Thus, beginning in the sixth year, prisoners could effectively earn day-for-day credit from SGCs while continuing to earn an additional three months per year from CGCs.

Following the change, prisoners were entitled to day-for-day credit at the rate of six months per year during their entire sentence. Rogers, 181 Ill. App. 3d at 1042. CGCs were no longer available. Rogers, 181 Ill. App. 3d at 1042. Depending on an individual prisoner's situation, either system could be more beneficial. Rogers, 181 Ill. App. 3d at 1042. The DOC adopted a policy of applying whichever system was more favorable to a prisoner in determining the prisoner's sentence. Williams v. Irving, 98 Ill. App. 3d 323, 325-26 (1981). Good-conduct credits pertaining to time served prior to February 1, 1978, were calculated using the pre-1978 system, and the most favorable system was used for time served thereafter. Williams, 98 Ill. App. 3d at 325-26.

On March 26, 1980, the DOC calculated McGee's sentence using both systems and concluded that the new one was more favorable. In a hearing on defendants' motion to dismiss, Koches testified that under the pre-1978 system, McGee would have had a minimum release date of January 30, 1989, and a maximum of January 30, 2009. Under the new system, McGee's minimum release date was October 30, 1987, and his maximum was October 30, 2007. Koches stated that the DOC was required to perform this recalculation in response to our supreme court's decision in Johnson, 77 Ill. 2d 513, which held that an inmate was entitled to have his sentence calculated under the new system where it was more beneficial for him. Koches testified that a one-time recalculation was mandated and that prisoners were not entitled to have their sentences recalculated subsequently to determine if the pre-1978 system would be more favorable. She further explained that at the time of the recalculation the DOC could not predict whether a prisoner would earn CGCs in the future, so CGCs were not considered during the recalculation. Koches noted that McGee's maximum release date was actually August 11, 2006, due to additional credits earned from other sources.

Koches also explained that Rickard's sentence was recalculated applying day-for-day good-conduct credits from the date he was taken into custody. She stated that this recalculation was performed in response to a United States Supreme Court case that held that sentences must be calculated awarding good-conduct credits available at the time of the commission of the offense. See Weaver v. Graham, 450 U.S. 24, 67 L. Ed. 2d 17, 101 S. Ct. 960 (1981).

In their complaint, plaintiffs allege that, due to these recalculations, McGee must serve an additional five years and Rickard must serve an additional seven years. Defendants moved to dismiss pursuant to section 2--619.1 of the Civil Practice Law (735 ILCS 5/2--619.1 (West 1998)), arguing that plaintiffs' complaint failed to state a claim and that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. In a brief order, the trial court adopted Koches' testimony that McGee's release date was August 11, 2006, and dismissed the complaint.


Plaintiffs contend that their complaint adequately stated a claim upon which relief could be granted. They assert that defendants' conduct amounted to a violation of the ex post facto clauses of the state and federal constitutions. See U.S. Const., art. I, §9; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, §16. Defendants reply that the trial court's decision was correct and, in addition, plaintiffs' claim is barred by the statute of limitations. Defendants also assert that they are entitled to qualified immunity. We will address these contentions serially. Because this action comes to us following the dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to section 2--619.1 of the Civil Practice Law (735 ILCS 5/2--619.1 (West 1998)), review is de novo. Stephen L. Winternitz, Inc. v. National Bank of Monmouth, 289 Ill. App. 3d 753, 755 (1997). All pleadings and other evidence available must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and the motion should be denied unless no set of facts exists that would allow the plaintiff to obtain relief. Stephen L. Winternitz, Inc., 289 Ill. App. 3d at 755.

Defendants' contention that we should not consider Rickard's claim because McGee, a non-lawyer, signed Rickard's name to the notice of appeal and main brief need not detain us long. Supreme Court Rule 137 governs signatures on papers filed with the court. 155 Ill. 2d R. 137. This rule provides that unrepresented parties shall sign pleadings, motions, or other papers in their own name. 155 Ill. 2d R. 137. Sanctions for the failure to comply with the signature requirement are discretionary. 155 Ill. 2d R. 137; Bachmann v. Kent, 293 Ill. App. 3d 1078, 1084 (1997). We conclude that, even if a technical violation of this rule has occurred, defendants have suffered no prejudice and no sanction is warranted.

Before turning to the merits of this appeal, we briefly address Rickard's claim that if he had committed his offense a mere six hours later he would have received a less severe sentence due to a change in the sentencing law. While the fact that the law became more lenient, according to Rickard, shortly after he committed his offense may be unfortunate from his point of view, this change provides no basis for granting him relief. Quite simply, the law in effect at ...

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