UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
June 22, 2006
BENYEHUDA WHITFIELD, PLAINTIFF,
MELODY FORD AND ROGER E. WALKER, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harold A. Baker United States District Judge
Order Denying Motion to Reconsider
On April 13, 2006, this case was dismissed pursuant to the Court's merit review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (d/e's 4, 5). On April 26, 2006, the plaintiff filed a "consolidated motion to reconsider and for leave to amend his complaint" (d/e 6), which the Court has construed as a motion to alter or amend judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e). Rule 59(e) allows a judgment to be altered or amended if "there is newly discovered evidence or there has been a manifest error of law or fact." Harrington v. City of Chicago, 433 F.3d 542, 546 (7th Cir. 2006).
The plaintiff's alleged in his original complaint that the defendants violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by "denying me the earned good conduct credits I am entitled to for my full time engagement in correctional industry assignment and vocational school while I was at Western Illinois Correctional Center and Stateville Correctional Center." (d/e 1, Ex. 1, ¶ 26).
The court concluded in its merit review order that the plaintiff's claim either could not proceed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, or, if it could, failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. As to the procedural reason, inmates cannot challenge the deprivation of good time credits owed to them in actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "If the state had deprived . . . [an inmate] of good-time credits already earned, then § 2254 would provide the exclusive avenue for seeking federal relief." Montgomery v. Anderson, 262 F.3d 641, 643 (7th Cir. 2001). "Any decision that determines the fact or duration of state custody may (and usually must) be challenged under § 2254 rather than 42 U.S.C. § 1983." Id. (citations omitted). The plaintiff alleged that he was owed good time credits already earned through his industry work and schooling--a challenge to the duration of his custody.
The alternative reason for dismissal, that the plaintiff failed to state a claim, was based on the possibility that the plaintiff might be trying to challenge his eligibility to be considered for good time, rather than the deprivation of good time already earned. The court explained that such a claim might not be procedurally barred as a § 1983 action. See Hadley v. Holmes, 341 F.3d 661, 664 (7th Cir. 2003)(claim of hampered ability to earn discretionary credits in the future must proceed under § 1983). The Court held that this kind of claim, even if procedurally proper under § 1983, was still a loser on the merits because the plaintiff has no constitutionally protected liberty interest in being considered for discretionary good time or in being offered opportunities to earn good conduct credits (such as prison jobs and classes). Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 487 (2000)("there is no due process protection for action that might merely affect the length of incarceration"), quoted by Zimmerman v. Tribble, 226 F.3d at 571-72 (7th Cir. 2000)(no liberty interest in attending educational or vocational classes to earn good conduct credit under Indiana law).
The plaintiff's motion to reconsider disagrees with the part of the Court's dismissal order concluding that Illinois law does not entitle him to the multiplier for good conduct credit based on his educational and vocational participation, because he is a Class X felon. But that debate is inconsequential, so it is unnecessary to address the plaintiff's statutory arguments.*fn1 Even assuming, arguendo, that the plaintiff's read of Illinois law is right and he is owed those credits, he still cannot challenge their denial under § 1983. And, the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, is not applicable to this claim; the Eighth Amendment applies to the conditions of confinement, not the length of confinement.
The plaintiff asks to file an amended complaint that alleges that the defendants violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by "refusing to acknowledge and/or consider my eligibility to receive good conduct credit, as other inmates have and are receiving, for engagement and enrollment in programs and/or assignments approved of by the Department (Director) in order to earn such good conduct credits." As already stated, the plaintiff does not have a Constitutional right to participate in opportunities to potentially earn good conduct credits or to be considered for discretionary good conduct credits. Also as already stated, if the plaintiff is entitled to those credits under Illinois law, a Section 1983 action is not the proper legal route for challenging their denial. Amendment would be futile.
Accordingly, the plaintiff's motion will be denied, but the Court will vacate its prior order to the extent it assessed a strike under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The primary basis for the dismissal of this case is that the claim cannot be pursued procedurally under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that:
1) The plaintiff's motion for reconsideration/to amend complaint is denied (d/e 6).
2) Sua sponte, the court's order of April 13, 2006, is vacated to the extent it assesses a "strike" against the plaintiff.
3) The plaintiff petition to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal is revived (d/e 12). The clerk is directed to show d/e 12 as pending on the docket. An appeal taken in "good faith" is an appeal that "a reasonable person could suppose . . . has some merit." Walker v. O'Brien, 216 F.3d 626, 632 (7th Cir. 2000). Although the plaintiff's reasons for appealing are clear, the plaintiff shall have until July 11, 2006, to submit additional argument why he should be granted leave to appeal in forma pauperis. The court will rule on the petition after July 11, 2006.