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Mason v. Snyder

August 1, 2002

MICHAEL MASON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
DONALD N. SNYDER, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Livingston County No. 01MR79 Honorable Harold J. Frobish, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann

In August 2001, plaintiff, Michael Mason, an inmate at the Pontiac Correctional Center (Pontiac), filed a pro se mandamus petition against Donald N. Snyder (Director), Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC). The petition alleged that various DOC administrative bodies had either found him guilty or confirmed a guilty finding that he had violated DOC disciplinary rules, resulting in his loss of good-time credits and an adverse classification status within DOC. Plaintiff asked the trial court to issue an order of mandamus (1) expunging the disciplinary action taken against him by DOC, and (2) directing DOC to provide him a proper disciplinary hearing.

Four days after the petition was filed, the trial court sua sponte reviewed it, concluded that it did not state a cause of action, and ordered it stricken.

Plaintiff appeals, and we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's petition, which consisted primarily of a preprinted form with blank spaces for the insertion of specific information, stated that plaintiff was a Pontiac inmate serving a 60-year sentence for first degree murder. The petition alleged that the Director was responsible for "the Illinois Department of Corrections, Administrative Review Board, and Prisoner Review Board Disciplinary hearings on appeal." The preprinted portion then alleged that plaintiff had requested that "the defendants [sic] perform specific ministerial duties. The defendants have refused to perform such duties regardless of plaintiff's clear entitlement to performance of the specific duties[,] which are set forth as follows." The only thing plaintiff wrote in the blank space after this preprinted section was the following: "20 Ill. Adm. Code Section 504.80(k)(1)."

On the preprinted portion stating, "As a result of [d]efendant's actions, [p]laintiff will suffer irreparable damages and be subjected to _________," plaintiff wrote the following: "unlawful punitive segregation, loss of good-time credits, and loss of institutional privileges."

The section of the Illinois Administrative Code (Code) to which the petition refers states only that if the prison adjustment committee finds the inmate did not commit the offense charged, then the disciplinary report shall be dismissed and expunged from the inmate's master record file. 20 Ill. Adm. Code §504.80(k)(1) (Conway Greene CD-ROM June 2001). Another section of the Code provides that a prison's adjustment committee shall decide in a disciplinary proceeding whether an accused inmate committed the offense charged based on all relevant information and evidence, and must be reasonably satisfied that "there is some evidence that the committed person committed the offense for the individual to be found guilty." 20 Ill. Adm. Code §504.80(j)(l) (Conway Greene CD-ROM June 2001).

Attached to the petition was an untitled document (the document) that plaintiff apparently wrote out in longhand. The document contains five paragraphs, each of which plaintiff designates as a "ground," and provides the following allegations.

In March 2001, plaintiff was issued a major disciplinary ticket accusing him of sexual misconduct and insolence "which was based on a lie by a correctional guard[,] Josephina Williams." The institutional adjustment committee before whom plaintiff appeared on this charge was chaired by Benny Dallas, even though plaintiff informed Dallas that plaintiff had a lawsuit pending against him and requested Dallas to recuse himself from the hearing. The document asserts, "Dallas lied[,] stating he has no knowledge of such a lawsuit and denied plaintiff's request."

After the committee found plaintiff guilty, he filed an institutional grievance. However, the reviewing grievance officer (1) failed to provide plaintiff with a fair and impartial review hearing, (2) agreed with the committee, and (3) denied plaintiff's grievance. The chief administrative officer thereafter concurred.

Plaintiff then submitted his grievance to the administrative review board, but it denied him relief. He later forwarded his documents to the Director, who also concurred with the administrative review board.

The document then states that plaintiff appeared before the Prisoner Review Board regarding the revocation of his good-time credits, complaining that the Director, upon revoking those credits, failed to provide plaintiff with a written statement as to evidence relied on or reasons for the action taken against him. The document does not say that the Prisoner Review Board denied plaintiff any relief, but that seems to be the implication.

After plaintiff's petition was filed, the Livingston County circuit clerk referred it to the trial court, which entered the following order four days later:

"Court reviews filing of [p]laintiff; [c]court finds that [p]laintiff is complaining of the result of certain disciplinary proceedings. Therefore, [c]court finds that [p]laintiff has not stated a cause of action and accordingly [p]etition is ordered stricken."

The common-law record contains no indication that before the court sua sponte ordered the petition stricken, any summons was issued to the Director, DOC, or any other prison authority. Accordingly, no attorney ever appeared on behalf of the Director at the trial level.

Plaintiff filed a timely notice of appeal.

II. ANALYSIS

The gist of defendant's argument on appeal is contained in the following quote from his brief:

"Writer of ticket[,] Josephina Williams[,] made miscellaneous allegations against Mr. Mason[.] [A]t no time did Josephina Williams indicate she eye-witnessed [sic] Mr. Mason committing a violation of departmental rules, nor was she at Mr. Mason [sic] cell. The disciplinary report was insufficient to permit a conviction by the tribunal."

This appeal is unusual because appellant appears pro se and no one appears on behalf of appellee. However, because the record before us is simple--indeed, it could hardly be more so-- and the claimed errors are such that this court can easily decide them without the aid of an appellee's brief, we will decide this case on its merits. Cf. First Capitol Mortgage Corp. v. ...


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