United States District Court, N.D. Illinois
February 10, 2004.
MICHAEL MEJIA, #K-83133, Plaintiff
CARMIN RUFFIN, et al., Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: SUZANNE CONLON, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Michael Mejia, a state prisoner, sues Carmin Ruffin, Kenneth Briley,
Stephen D. Mote, Alex D. Jones, Robert L. Radmacher, Donald J. Snyder,
Jr., and Roger E, Walker (collectively, "defendants") for violations of
42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, Mejia claims his right to receive
visitors has been restricted without due process in violation of the
Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Defendants move to dismiss this
action for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed, R, Civ. P. 12(b)(6).
For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the court accepts all well-pleaded
allegations of the complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences
in Mejia's favor. See Thompson v, Illinois Dep't of Prof'l Regulation,
300 F.3d 750, 753 (7th Cir. 2002), Mejia is an inmate within the Illinois
Department of Corrections ("IDOC"). He is currently incarcerated at
Stateville Correctional Center, On March 14, 2001, Julia Corral,
Francisco Ruiz, Rafael Carrasco and Gabriella Vargas drove to Stateville
in Carrasco's car. They intended to visit Mejia. Vargas is Mejia's
fiancée; Corral, Ruiz and Carrasco are Mejia's long-time friends. When the
foursome arrived at Stateville, officers
intercepted the car before it entered prison grounds and conducted
a random search. With the assistance of a trained canine unit, officers
discovered the remnants of a partially smoked marijuana cigar in the rear
passenger door ashtray. Carrasco conceded that the marijuana was his, and
the other passengers swore that they had no knowledge of the contraband.
The officers prohibited the vehicle from entering Stateville grounds.
Inside the prison, officers subjected Mejia to a "shakedown" an
immediate search for drugs, Compl, at ¶ 19, A few days later, on
March 19th, Mejia received written notification that Corral, Ruiz,
Carrasco and Vargas had been placed on "permanent restriction," and would
not be allowed to visit Mejia again until the restriction was lifted.
Compl. at ¶ 21.
Mejia immediately filed a grievance with the Stateville grievance
officer, Carmin Ruffin. Ruffin informed Mejia that the visitation
restrictions must be upheld due to the seriousness of the violation.
Mejia took the next step and appealed to Warden Briley. According to
Mejia, Warden Briley failed to respond to numerous letters requesting a
hearing to demonstrate that his friends had no intention of bringing
marijuana into the prison. Assistant Warden Mote finally responded,
stating that Mejia's grievance would be denied without hearing, but that
Mejia could request review of the decision in six months. Since that
denial, Mejia has diligently appealed the visitation restrictions placed
on his friends. He filed an appeal with IDOC, which included an affidavit
by Carrasco swearing that he owned the marijuana found in the vehicle.
The IDOC denied his appeal because of the seriousness of the drug
charges. Defendants Radmacher, Snyder and Walker work at the IDOC.
Mejia's most recent request for relief was denied without hearing by Alex
Jones, an Assistant Warden, on June 24, 2003. According to Mejia, the
visitation restrictions and resulting loss of
contact with friends and family have negatively impacted his relationship
with Vargas as well as his mental and physical well-being.
The complaint will be dismissed only if it appears beyond a doubt that
Mejia can prove no set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to
relief. Conley v, Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102 (1957);
Hernandez v. City of Goshen, 324 F.3d 535, 537 (7th Cir. 2003).
I. Sovereign Immunity.
Defendants contend the essence of Mejia's claim is that state officials
failed to follow state laws or regulations. According to defendants,
although the named parties in Mejia's suit are state officials, the real
party in interest is the state and the suit is barred by sovereign
immunity. See Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman,
465 U.S. 89, 105-6, 104 S.Ct. 900, 910-11 (1984) (although official, not
the state, is the named party in the suit, when relief in fact operates
on the state, the stale is the true party in interest and sovereign
immunity applies). Although defendants' explanation of the law is
correct, their characterization of Mejia's claims is misguided. Mejia's
claims are not based on a violation of slate law or regulations, per se.
Mejia contends defendants' arbitrary application of the state visitation
regulations violates his right to due process of law-a federal
constitutional claim. Thus, Mejia is effectively suing defendants in
their individual capacities. State sovereign immunity does not bar the
suit. Id at 102-3, citing Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441
II. Qualified Immunity
Qualified immunity shields officials from civil liability for damages
unless the plaintiff demonstrates that the officials' exercise of
discretion violated clearly established law. Harlow v. Fitzgerald,
457 U.S. 800, 102 S.Ct 2727 (1982); Maltby v. Winston, 36 F.3d 548, 554-55
(7th Cir. 1995). Qualified immunity does not preclude Mejia's request for
injunctive relief. Cannon v. Shomig, No. 99 C 3537, 1999 WL 571052, at
*3-4 (N.D. Ill. July 30, 1999). Defendants contend their decisions to
restrict Mejia's visitation access are entitled to immunity because state
statutes and regulations, as well as federal constitutional precedent,
confers discretionary authority upon them to regulate Mejia's right to
receive visitors. See 730 ILCS 5/3-7-2 (state statute granting prison
officials discretion to restrict visitation rights for the well-being of
the prison); 20 Ill. Adm. Code 501.220(a) (authorizing search of
visitors); 20 Ill. Adm. Code 525.60 (regulating discretion to restrict
visitation); Overton v. Bazzetta, ___ U.S. ___ 124 S.Ct. 2162, 2168-70
(2003). Mejia argues that defendants are not protected by qualified
immunity because they exercised their discretion arbitrarily; the due
process clause clearly forbids officials from using their official
discretion to arbitrarily deprive individuals of their rights. See,
e.g., Richardson v. McKnight, 521 U.S. 399, 403, 117 S.Ct. 2100 (1997).
Because qualified immunity effectively frees officials from the stresses
of litigation, courts are required to determine the issue as soon as
possible. Maltby, 36 F.3d at 554-55. Although a legal question, the
application of qualified immunity depends on the particular facts of each
case. Id. At this stage of the litigation, defendants fail to show they
are entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law.
III. Due Process Claim
Mejia asserts the defendants arbitrarily restricted his visitation
rights in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment. Mejia concedes that the Fifth Amendment is inapplicable to his
claims against state officials, Willan v. Columbia County, 280 F.3d 1160
(7th Cir. 2002). The due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does
not require unrestricted visitation. If Mejia merely alleged that the
state lacked authority to restrict his right to visitation and nothing
more, the complaint should be dismissed. Prison officials enjoy broad
discretion in controlling visitor access to prisoners. Denial of prison
access to a particular visitor is well within the terms of confinement
ordinarily contemplated by a prison sentence, Overton, ___ U.S. ___, 117
S.Ct. at 2168-71; Kentucky Dep't of Conection v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454,
462-65, 109 S.Ct. 1904(1989); 730 ILCS 5/3-7-2 (may restrict visitation
rights for the well-being of the prison). However, Mejia's claim arguably
falls outside these decisions because he challenges the constitutionality
of arbitrary application of state visitation regulations, not the
validity of the regulations. Put another way, Mejia claims defendants'
arbitrary imposition of visitation restrictions deprived him of
procedural due process.
Mejia's claim rests on a premise that a prisoner has a liberty interest
in visitation. The Seventh Circuit has not expressly determined whether a
prisoner has a liberty interest that encompasses a limited right to make
or receive prison visits involving family members, but the Court has
noted that a liberty interest is "conceivable." Arsberry v. Illinois,
244 F.3d 558, 565 (7th Cir. 2001), citing Mayo v. Lane, 867 F.2d 374,
375-76 (7th Cir. 1989); Overton, ___ U.S. ___, 117 S.Ct. at 2170
(suggesting visitation restrictions applied in arbitrary manner may be
unconstitutional); Townsend v. Snyder, No. 01 C 9925, 2002 WL 31415711, at
*2-3 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 23, 2002)
(correctional officers cannot arbitrarily or discriminatorily impose
restrictions on visitation privileges). Thus, it is possible that Mejia
may establish a due process claim based on arbitrary restrictions on his
visitation rights if he shows that defendant's application of visitation
limitations involve atypical and significant hardship in relation to
ordinary prison life. Cannon, 1999 WL 571052 at *3-4; Sandin v. Conner,
515 U.S. 472, 484-86, 115 S.Ct. 2293 (1995). The merits of Mejia's claim
is questionable. At least one of his visitors violated prison regulations
by bringing contraband to Stateville. Mejia was given an opportunity to
appeal the restrictions. However, a motion to dismiss tests the
sufficiency of the complaint, not its underlying merits. See Thompson,
300 F.3d at 753. Defendants fail to establish as a matter of law that
there is no basis for Mejia's claims.
IV. Eighth Amendment Claim
Mejia's Eighth Amendment claim is similar to his due process claim. He
contends the arbitrary denial of visitation rights constitutes cruel and
unusual punishment. Regulations restricting inmate access to visitors are
proper methods of controlling prison security. Restrictions are not a per
se violation of the Eighth Amendment. Overton, ___ U.S. ___, 117 S.Ct.
at 2168-70. Overton upheld regulations limiting visits by minors and a
two-year restriction on visitation with inmates who had multiple
substance abuse violations, explaining that even permanent visitation
restrictions do not violate the Eighth Amendment if rationally related to
legitimate penological interests. ___ U.S. ___, 117 S.Ct. at 2169-70,
Nevertheless, the Court noted that if visitation restrictions "were
applied in an arbitrary manner to a particular inmate," there may be a
cause of action under the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 2170. This is the
essence of Mejia's allegations, Mejia was given the opportunity to appeal
the decision. More severe restrictions on visitation have passed
muster. Id, But the ultimate factual and legal merits of Mejia's claim
are not properly before the court on a motion to dismiss.
V. Claims against Radmacher
Robert L. Radmacher served on the Administrative Review Board at the
lime Mejia appealed the visitation restrictions, Defendants argue that
Radmacher should be dismissed from the suit because Mejia has no
constitutional due process right to administrative review of prison
disciplinary actions. They contend absent a constitutional right to
review, there is no basis for Radmacher's liability. In support of this
proposition, defendants cite Quinlan v. Fairman, 663 F. Supp. 24, 27
(N.D.Ill, 1987). Quinlan is of questionable durability given the Overton
decision. Quinlan held that there was no § 1983 liability against a
member of the Administrative Review Board because the prisoner had no
constitutional right to administrative review. Id. Mejia responds that
Radmacher is subject to liability by virtue of his involvement in the
review process. Put another way, Mejia contends Radmacher is liable for
arbitrarily rejecting his appeal or adopting the unconstitutional
decisions of the other defendants. There is support for Mejia's
position, although he does not cite it. See Reno v. Peters, No. 87 C
9659, 198K WL 33840, at *5 (N.D. Ill. April 6, 1988); see also Savory v.
O'Leary, No. 90 C 7053, 1994 WL 282289, at * 2-4 (N.D. Ill. June 22,
1994) (discussing Reno and Quinlan and suggesting ARB members are not
liable because there is no constitutional right to administrative
review). Mejia alleges Radmacher independently violated his due process
rights by arbitrarily denying his appeal. Although the claim is
questionable, it is sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss.
VI. Injunctive Relief
Defendants argue that Mejia is not entitled to injunctive relief,
However, they frame their argument as an opposition to preliminary
injunctive relief. Def.'s Motion to Dismiss, ¶ 6, Mejia has not
requested preliminary injunctive relief. Thus, the court need not
consider whether injunctive relief is appropriate at this stage of the
Defendants fail to demonstrate that Mejia's claims are legally
insufficient. Accordingly, the joint motion to dismiss for failure to
state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) is denied.
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