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Owens v. Blagojevich

January 5, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, District Judge


Plaintiff, a former inmate in the Menard Correctional Center, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:

(a) Screening.-- The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.

(b) Grounds for Dismissal.-- On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint--

(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or

(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

28 U.S.C. § 1915A. An action or claim is frivolous if "it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Upon careful review of the complaint and any supporting exhibits, the Court finds it appropriate to exercise its authority under § 1915A; portions of this action are legally frivolous and thus subject to summary dismissal.

To facilitate the orderly management of future proceedings in this case, and in accordance with the objectives of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(f) and 10(b), the Court finds it appropriate to break the claims in Plaintiff's pro se complaint and other pleadings into numbered counts, as shown below. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as to their merit. The Court notes that the following designated counts are based upon, but differ slightly, from those detailed by Plaintiff in the complaint.

COUNT 1: Against unspecified defendants for denying and ignoring his grievances, in violation of Illinois law, the First Amendment, and the Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.

COUNT 2: Against unspecified defendants for denying his First Amendment rights in force-feeding him to end his hunger strike.

COUNT 3: Against Defendants Bradley, Waller, McDaniel, Hinsley, Hoffman, Grubman, Blagojevich, Walker, and Meeks for deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs during a hunger strike.

COUNT 4: Against Defendants Waller, Anderson, Neeper, and Smith for failing to protect him from assault by a fellow inmate.

COUNT 5: Against unspecified defendants for unconstitutional retaliation against him for filing grievances and lawsuits.

COUNT 6: Against unspecified defendants for deliberate indifference to his dental needs.

COUNT 7: Against unspecified defendant for denying him proper hygiene supplies, for unsafe conditions of confinement, for denying yard time, for denying inmates the ability to shave, and for providing inadequate clothing.


Plaintiff states that unspecified Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") officials routinely violate their own policies regarding inmate grievances by refusing to process them and ignoring the issues raised therein, in violation of Illinois statute, the First Amendment, and the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

First, section 1983 is a vehicle for addressing violations of rights guaranteed by the constitution or other federal law by state actors, see West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49 (1988), not for enforcing state law, see Pasiewicz v. Lake County Forest Preserve Dist., 270 F.3d 520, 526 (7th Cir. 2001). "The simple fact that state law prescribes certain procedures does not mean that the procedures thereby acquire a federal constitutional dimension." Vruno v. Schwarzwalder, 600 F.2d 124, 130-31 (8th Cir. 1979) (citations omitted). Therefore, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim of constitutional dimension regarding any potential violations of state law. The Court expresses no opinion as to the merits of such a claim if it were raised in state court.

Second, Plaintiff has not demonstrated any violations of his right under the First Amendment to petition the government for a redress of his grievances. Indeed, the fact that Plaintiff filed this lawsuit belies any assertion that his First Amendment right to access the courts for redress of grievances has been denied by the defendants' failure to comply with their own grievance procedures. See Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1430 (7th Cir. 1996).

Finally, a state's inmate grievance procedures do not give rise to a liberty interest protected by the due process clause." Id. The Constitution requires no procedure at all, and the failure of state prison officials to follow their own procedures does not, of itself, violate the Constitution. Maust v. Headley, 959 F.2d 644, 648 (7th Cir. 1992); Shango v. Jurich, 681 F.2d 1091 (7th Cir. 1982).

Based on these legal standards, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim based on the defendants' improper handling of his grievances. Count 1 is therefore DISMISSED from the action with prejudice. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.


After Plaintiff's grievances were ignored, he began a lengthy hunger strike in an attempt to coerce IDOC officials into addressing the issues raised in his grievances. Plaintiff claims that by obtaining a state court order to force feed him, causing an end to his hunger strike, IDOC officials violated his First Amendment right of peaceful demonstration.

The Court is not aware of any specific guarantee under the First Amendment that protects inmate hunger strikes. The Seventh Circuit has frowned upon inmate coercive tactics like hunger strikes. See Freeman v. Berge, 441 F.3d 543, 546 (7th Cir. 2006) ("[a] prison cannot be forced by such tactics to change an otherwise reasonable rule"). Illinois Courts have gone further to specifically hold that the IDOC does not violate an inmate's constitutional rights in seeking a court order to force feed an inmate on a hunger strike. See People ex rel. Illinois Dept. of Corrections v. Millard, 782 N.E.2d 966, 969 (Ill. App. Ct. 2003). As stated by the Illinois Court of Appeals, Defendant was not on a hunger strike as a means of demonstrating on behalf of some political cause or religious belief. His "cause," as is most commonly the case in hunger strike situations in prison, was to manipulate the system, to gain the attention of prison officials with the hope of making his confinement easier. We do not condone such manipulative behavior in our prison system. At the same time, however, we respect an individual's right to privacy and the right to control one's own body. See Thor v. Superior Court, 5 Cal.4th 725, 734-38, 855 P.2d 375, 380-83, 21 Cal.Rptr.2d 357, 362-65 (1993) (a person's interest in personal autonomy and self-determination is a fundamentally commanding one, with well-established legal and philosophical underpinnings). While in the Department's custody, however, an inmate's right to privacy must be balanced against the Department's interest in maintaining an orderly and disciplined institution. Because the Department's interest in prison administration is the controlling factor here, we hold that the Department may force-feed a hunger-striking inmate, whose only purpose is to attempt to manipulate the system so as to avoid disruptive or otherwise detrimental effects to the orderly administration of our prison system.

Id. at 972. The Seventh Circuit has agreed that a prison cannot allow a prisoner to starve himself to the point of causing great bodily harm, and that at some point the prison may be required to force feed a prisoner "to prevent him from seriously endangering his health." Freeman, 441 F.3d at 546.

Based on these legal standards, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim that his First Amendment rights were violated when IDOC officials force fed him to end his hunger strike. Accordingly, Count 2 is DISMISSED from the action with prejudice. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.


Plaintiff states that he informed Defendants Bradley, Waller, McDaniel, and Hinsley in person and in grievances, and Defendant Blagojevich by letter in April 2004 that he was on a hunger strike, but none of those defendants informed prison health care personnel. As a result, Plaintiff was left in his cell for 21 days without receiving any medical treatment to ascertain his condition until family members (whom he had informed by letter of his hunger strike) contacted the prison. After finally being force fed by medical personnel in May 2004, Plaintiff renewed the strike in June 2004 when certain of his demands still had not been met. Plaintiff states that despite their knowledge of his renewed hunger strike, Defendants Bradley, McDaniel, Waller, Grubman, Hoffman, Walker, Meeks, Blagojevich, and an unnamed cellhouse major left him in his cell for 28 days without medical treatment.

Plaintiff's claims in Counts 2 and 3 are contradictory, and place the prison in an administrative bind. On the one hand, Plaintiff claims that his right to "peaceful demonstration" in the form of a hunger strike should be unfettered and further, to forcefully end the hunger strike without Plaintiff's consent violates the constitution. On the other hand, Plaintiff claims that the prison should be required to protect him and ...

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