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Beahringer v. Page

April 03, 2003

JOHN BEAHRINGER, APPELLEE,
v.
JAMES H. PAGE ET AL., APPELLANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Freeman

Docket No. 93220-Agenda 10-January 2003.

Plaintiff, John Beahringer, is an inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections. According to plaintiff's brief: "When a recalcitrant bureaucracy failed to respond to his grievance over the confiscation of his art materials, he filed a pro se complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against Department officials for a determination *** that the confiscation violated his [constitutional] rights."

The circuit court of Will County dismissed the complaint for failure to state a cause of action. With one justice dissenting, the appellate court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. No. 3-00-0720 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).

We allowed defendants' petition for leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)). We now hold that plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts showing that he exhausted the Department's grievance procedure prior to filing his complaint. Accordingly, we reverse the appellate court and affirm the circuit court.

BACKGROUND

In determining whether to allow a motion to dismiss, a court must take as true all well-pled allegations of fact contained in the complaint and exhibits attached thereto. Haddick v. Valor Insurance, 198 Ill. 2d 409, 414 (2001); Kennedy v. Deere & Co., 118 Ill. 2d 69, 71 (1987).

Plaintiff's complaint alleged as follows. Plaintiff has been incarcerated in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC or Department) since 1992. He is scheduled to be released in August 2005. Beginning in 1993, plaintiff actively practiced art while confined at various correctional centers including Menard, Pontiac, Big Muddy River, Stateville, and Centralia. He was permitted to possess and use in his cell art materials that complied with IDOC safety and security policies. Plaintiff bought art supplies from several of the prison commissaries. Indeed, from October 1998 to August 4, 1999, while confined at Centralia, IDOC employed plaintiff as an art instructor. He was allowed to purchase art supplies from an outside vendor. Over the years, plaintiff has sent his works of art to relatives and friends. According to plaintiff, he "communicates and bonds with his family and friends" through his art.

On August 18, 1999, IDOC transferred plaintiff from Centralia to disciplinary segregation at Stateville. He was released from discipline on February 3, 2000. IDOC officials informed plaintiff that he would no longer be permitted to possess his art materials. The officials instructed plaintiff to send his art materials home or they would be destroyed. An IDOC official informed plaintiff that Stateville no longer had an art program and that IDOC intended to ban art programs from all of its facilities. Plaintiff's art supplies have been withheld from him since that date. Among plaintiff's confiscated items were paints and paintbrushes; pencils, erasers, pens, and metal calligraphy nibs; drawing paper, posterboard, and canvasses; and a staple remover.

However, as of the filing of plaintiff's complaint, Stateville's commissary sold a limited selection of art materials, many of which were similar to those that IDOC officials confiscated from plaintiff. Also, a number of inmates at Stateville possess art materials and practice art in their cells.

On February 9, 2000, plaintiff filed an emergency grievance. On February 10, James Page, the warden at Stateville, denied plaintiff's emergency grievance because it failed to state the requisite facts for consideration as an emergency pursuant to Department regulations. The warden directed plaintiff to file the grievance with his counselor.

On February 11, Stateville's personal property officer issued to plaintiff a disposal-of-personal-property notice. The notice required plaintiff to have a visitor pick up his art materials or to send the materials out of the prison at his expense. If plaintiff failed to do either within 60 days, the art materials would be destroyed.

On February 29, plaintiff filed a grievance through the Department's established grievance procedure. His counselor received the grievance on March 4 and referred it to a grievance officer on March 11. As of the filing of plaintiff's complaint, plaintiff has not received a response to his grievance.

Also, on March 1, plaintiff wrote a personal letter to Donald Gaetz, the assistant warden of operations at Stateville. On March 6, plaintiff wrote a letter to Donald Snyder, Jr., the director of IDOC. In these letters, plaintiff described the circumstances surrounding the confiscation and sought the return of his art materials. Plaintiff received no response to his letters.

On May 6, plaintiff filed in the circuit court of Will County his complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against Page and Snyder. He alleged as follows. Art "is a clearly established form of speech and expression guaranteed under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution." Defendants, by taking away his art supplies, restricted his ability to communicate with his family and friends through art. Plaintiff sought a declaration that defendants violated his first amendment right to free expression by confiscating his art supplies.

Plaintiff also alleged as follows. He was being permanently deprived of his art materials. Without preliminary injunctive relief, plaintiff would lose the supplies, which he could not afford to replace. Plaintiff sought a preliminary injunction preventing IDOC from destroying his art materials.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615(a) (West 2000)). Defendants asserted that plaintiff's right to possess his art materials did not override the Department's interests in regulating prisoner conduct. Rather, plaintiff's possession of art materials was within the safety and security authority of IDOC.

Defendants also asserted that a preliminary injunction was inappropriate because plaintiff failed to show that he would be irreparably harmed. Defendants argued that plaintiff had the option of sending his art materials home, where they could be retrieved upon his release from prison. The circuit court granted defendants' motion to dismiss.

A divided panel of the appellate court vacated the circuit court's dismissal of plaintiff's complaint, granted his request for a preliminary injunction, and remanded the cause for further proceedings. No. 3-00-0720 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). The majority concluded that plaintiff's complaint stated a cause of action for declaratory relief because plaintiff alleged a controversy over whether he had a first amendment right to possess and use his art supplies. The majority also concluded that plaintiff was entitled to a preliminary injunction. The majority reasoned: "If the defendants were allowed to destroy his supplies or he was required to send the supplies to a friend or family member, the plaintiff would suffer irreparable harm in that should he succeed on the merits of his petition he would be forced to purchase new supplies."

Justice Breslin dissented. Analyzing the merits of plaintiff's complaint, Justice Breslin concluded that plaintiff could not successfully plead a cause of action for either declaratory or injunctive relief. Justice Breslin noted that plaintiff's property was confiscated when he was transferred from a minimum security facility to a maximum security facility and placed in segregation. Following plaintiff's release from segregation, Justice Breslin opined, it was the responsibility of IDOC to control plaintiff, and courts should defer to IDOC regarding prison administration. Defendants appealed to this court (177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)).

ANALYSIS

This case is before us following the dismissal of plaintiff's claims pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2000)). A section 2-615 motion attacks the legal sufficiency of a complaint. The motion does not raise affirmative factual defenses, but rather alleges only defects on the face of the complaint. The question presented by a section 2-615 motion to dismiss is whether the allegations of the complaint, when viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, are sufficient to state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted. A cause of action will not be dismissed on the pleadings unless it clearly appears that no set of facts can ...


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