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CAIN v. RYAN

November 13, 2001

HARRY CAIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JIM RYAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert W. Gettleman, U.S. District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Harry Cain is a convicted sex offender who has served his sentence and has been referred for indefinite civil commitment under Illinois' Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act ("the Act"), 725 ILCS 207/1 et seq. Cain filed this pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan and members of the "Special Evaluation Unit" or SEU.*fn1 The SEU is composed of mental health professionals within the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) who recommend to the Attorney General whether an inmate shortly to be released, such as Cain, should be committed to the custody of the Department of Human Services as a "sexually violent person" until such time as he can prove that he is no longer dangerous.

Cain alleges that the members of the SEU have failed to establish uniform standards for their evaluation of eligible sex offenders, failed to meet professional standards, are unqualified to administer the tests they use, and misinterpret the results. He also alleges that the race of both the offender and victim are taken into consideration. He alleges that their misconduct has deprived him of his right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law, his right to remain silent, and his right not to suffer cruel and unusual punishment. He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief "enjoining the defendants and their agents from continuing behavior depriving individuals of liberty," and damages.

Cain was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Defendants Schaab and Ryan have moved to dismiss the complaint. Cain responded by asking that an attorney be appointed for him, stating that he does not have the legal knowledge or ability to answer the motion. The court has declined to appoint counsel, as the court believes the law is clear that this suit cannot go forward. For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss is granted and this action is dismissed as to all defendants.*fn2

Based on this information, the Attorney General or State's Attorney may petition the Circuit Court to declare the person a "sexually violent person." Id. 207/15. Though proceedings are civil rather than criminal, Id. 207/20, "all rules of evidence in criminal actions apply," the respondent has "[a]ll constitutional rights available to a defendant in a criminal proceeding," Id. 207/35(b), and the state has the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. 207/35(d)(2).

If the respondent is found to be a sexually violent person, he is committed to the custody of the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) "until such time as the person is no longer a sexually violent person." Id. 207/40(a). The committed person may petition for conditional release, Id., 207/60, and IDHS is required to conduct periodic reexaminations of his mental condition within 6 months after initial commitment and at least once every 12 months thereafter to determine whether he has made sufficient progress to be conditionally released or discharged. Id., 207/55(a). The Secretary of IDHS may also petition the committing court to discharge the committed person from the custody or supervision of IDHS. Id. 207/65. The committed person may himself also petition to be discharged, although successive petitions will not be heard without new evidence. Id. 207/70.

The state is not required to seek commitment of all persons who potentially qualify as "sexually violent persons." The Attorney General has discretion in choosing those recommended for confinement, and, Cain alleges, this discretion is guided by the recommendations of the defendant members of the SEU. Cain's allegations that the SEU's recommendations are arbitrary or race-based raise colorable constitutional concerns. They also raise parallel questions concerning the applicability of prosecutorial immunity and the qualified immunity of those who act where the law is uncertain. But these concerns are not for this court at this time.

Cain's complaint says almost nothing about the particular facts of his own case, attacking the SEU and the selection process in general terms, but Cain's response to the defendants' motion clarifies the legal status of his present confinement: "[u]nder the [Act], Plaintiff will be controlled by the State for the rest of his life as to who he can date, where he can go and even if he can see his children or grandchildren." The court infers that Cain has been adjudged a "sexually violent person" under the Act and anticipates some form of conditional release. Accordingly, Cain is not attacking the constitutionality of a procedure to be applied to him in the future, but is attacking a procedure that has resulted in a judgment depriving him of a significant measure of liberty.

This distinction has two fatal consequences for this suit. First, Cain lacks standing to seek declaratory or injunctive relief, because he does not claim that there is a reasonable probability that he will again be subject to commitment proceedings under the Act. Sierakowski v. Ryan, 223 F.3d 440, 442-43 (7th Cir. 2000); see also Grendell v. Ohio Supreme Court, 252 F.3d 828 (6th Cir. 2001) (sanctioned litigant does not have standing to seek declaratory judgment that sanctions provision is unconstitutional). Second, to the extent Cain seeks damages, his suit seeks to overturn a state-court judgment and is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

Although a federal district court has jurisdiction to consider the constitutionality of the Act and the procedures applied in selecting sex offenders for indefinite commitment, it has no jurisdiction to review the judgment of a state court in a particular case. While a district court can restrain state officials responsible for enforcement of an unconstitutional statute on the theory that they lack authority to violate federal law, see & pane Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908); David B. v. McDonald, 156 F.3d 780, 783 (7th Cir. 1998), it cannot similarly declare a state-court judgment void as unconstitutional. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine, named for Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923), and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983), holds that federal courts other than the United States Supreme Court have no jurisdiction to review state-court judgments, even for unconstitutionality, unless Congress has expressly authorized them to do so.

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is a consequence of the limited jurisdiction of lower federal courts, which, unlike the Supreme Court, may exercise only power granted to them by Congress. Rooker made explicit that this power does not include the power to review state-court judgments. Affirming the dismissal of a suit seeking to have the judgment of an Indiana court declared void as unconstitutional, the Supreme Court stated: "If the [state-court] decision was wrong, that did not make the judgment void, but merely left it open to reversal or modification in an appropriate and timely appellate proceeding. Unless and until so reversed or modified, it would be an effective and conclusive adjudication." Rooker, 263 U.S. at 415. The Court noted that the plaintiffs had not timely appealed from the Indiana Supreme Court to the United States Supreme Court, adding "an aggrieved litigant cannot be permitted to do indirectly what he no longer can do directly." Id. at 416.

An obvious method of indirect attack is to claim that the state-court decision was tainted by unconstitutional procedures. Feldman decided two suits brought by rejected applicants to the District of Columbia bar who had been denied waivers of a bar admission rule requiring applicants to be graduates of ABA approved law schools. Having unsuccessfully appealed their rejections to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which has the constitutional status of a state supreme court, the applicants brought suit in the federal district court for the District of Columbia, asserting that the rule violated the Fifth Amendment by: (1) creating an irrebuttable presumption that only graduates of approved law schools are fit to practice law, depriving persons who have pursued alternative legal training of liberty and property without due process; (2) irrationally discriminating against persons who have obtained equivalent legal training; and (3) delegating the power to regulate the practice of law to the ABA. Plaintiffs also alleged that the District of Columbia Court of Appeals had acted unreasonably and discriminatorily in refusing to consider the plaintiff's qualifications when it had repeatedly waived the rule in the past. Feldman, 460 U.S. at 469 n.3.


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