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Guzzo v. Snyder

December 28, 2001

STEPHEN GUZZO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
DONALD SNYDER AND JAMES PAGE, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois No. 2000--MR--289 Honorable Charles P. O'Connor Judge, Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Breslin

UNPUBLISHED

Petitioner Stephen Guzzo filed this action against defendants Donald Snyder, Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), and James Page *fn1 , warden of Stateville Correctional Center. In his complaint, Guzzo alleged that the Director and warden failed to award him meritorious good-time credit and supplemental meritorious good-time credit (collectively, good-time credit) because of a domestic battery arrest in his criminal history. Guzzo petitioned for habeas corpus or mandamus and alleged that his civil rights were violated under section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. §1983 (1994) and the constitutions of the United States and Illinois. The trial court dismissed Guzzo's civil rights and mandamus claims but granted his habeas corpus claim because it found the Director's unwritten policy of denying good- time credit to inmates arrested for domestic battery was arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion. Based on the following discussion, we affirm and hold that the Director of the Department of Corrections abuses the discretion given him under section 3-6-3 of the Unified Code of Corrections (730 ILCS 5/3-6-3 (West 2000)) when he establishes an unwritten policy unrelated to prison discipline denying good-time credit to inmates who have been charged with or convicted of domestic battery.

FACTS

In 1997, 19-year-old Stephen Guzzo was arrested, charged, and pled guilty to two counts of mob action. While he was awaiting sentencing, Guzzo was arrested again and charged with domestic battery of his girlfriend. Because the prosecutor decided to nol- pros that charge, the case was dismissed. Guzzo was sentenced to 2½ years' probation on the mob action charges. While on probation, Guzzo was observed in the presence of several gang members in violation of his probation. As a result, Guzzo's probation was revoked, and he was sentenced to three years' incarceration with credit for time served. If Guzzo was awarded day-for-day credit and the maximum 180 days of good-time credit, his release date would have been August 20, 2000.

Guzzo filed a petition for mandamus relief, alleging that the Director was improperly withholding from him good-time credit and eligibility for work release and home monitoring. When the trial court dismissed Guzzo's mandamus petition without prejudice, he filed an amended complaint. In count I Guzzo sought habeas corpus relief. In count II he alleged violations of his civil rights, and in count III he petitioned for mandamus. The Director filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that Guzzo did not allege facts sufficient for either a habeas corpus or a mandamus claim and that an award of good-time credit did not amount to a constitutionally-protected liberty interest. The motion was granted as to counts II and III.

During discovery on the habeas corpus count, the Director acknowledged that, although he delegated the decision to award good time credit to IDOC's transfer coordinator, it was his regular practice and policy that inmates with domestic battery arrests in their criminal histories were to be denied good-time credit. At a subsequent hearing, the transfer coordinator testified that she learned of this practice and policy from her predecessor. To her knowledge, Rule 107 of the Administrative Code (20 Ill. Adm. Code §107.210 (1996)) was the only rule or regulation regarding the award of good-time credit, and there were no written policies, memos, or letters concerning the practice of denying good time credit to inmates with a domestic battery arrest.

The transfer coordinator testified as to the procedure employed by the IDOC for granting good-time credit. A request for good-time credit begins at the institutional level with an inmate's counselor and is signed off by each institution's warden. It is then forwarded to the transfer coordinator. The transfer coordinator's staff would review the inmate's offense, release date, outstanding time revoked, criminal history, and institutional disciplinary record. A good-time credit request would be denied if something was irregular on the good-time credit form, such as a conviction requiring automatic exemption or a domestic battery charge. If no irregularities were found, the warden's recommendation for a good-time credit award was accepted. According to the transfer coordinator, she had never awarded good- time credit to an inmate with a domestic violence charge, nor had she ever heard that credit was given under those circumstances.

After the hearing, the court found that the Director abused his authority when he failed to award Guzzo good-time credit. The court determined that the Director's unwritten policy of denying good-time credit to any person arrested for domestic battery was arbitrary and capricious. In its order, the court directed the Director to review Guzzo's request for good-time credit within 13 days.

Although the warden recommended to the Director that Guzzo be awarded 90 days of good-time credit, the Director refused to grant Guzzo any credit. At a subsequent hearing, the court found that the Director's policy of denying good-time credit to inmates who had been arrested for but not convicted of domestic battery was unconstitutional and in violation of Illinois law. Because the court determined that Guzzo's continued custody was unconstitutional and because his time would have been up if he had been awarded the credit, the court ordered that Guzzo be immediately discharged. The court also ordered the Director to exercise his discretion and award Guzzo 54 days of good-time credit because he had 54 days left to serve on his sentence. The Director appealed.

ANALYSIS

The issue on appeal is whether the court erred when it ordered the immediate release of Guzzo contrary to the Director's discretionary decision to deny good-time credit to inmates who had been arrested for domestic battery. We must also consider whether habeas corpus was the appropriate remedy for the trial court to have used. This court reviews questions of law, including the scope of an agency's power and authority, de novo. County of Knox ex rel. Masterson v. Highlands, L.L.C., 188 Ill. 2d 546, 723 N.E.2d 256 (1999).

On appeal, the Director argues that because the award of good- time credit was discretionary, Guzzo was not entitled to receive the credit, and therefore Guzzo did not state any cognizable ...


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