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Brown v. Walker

July 27, 2007


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


Plaintiff, an 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; certain claims 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 filings 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.

COUNT 1: Against Defendants Moore and Harper for unconstitutional retaliation and conspiracy.

COUNT 2: Against Defendants White and Hankins for unconstitutional use of excessive force and against unspecified defendants for failure to intervene.

COUNT 3: Against Defendants Renolds, Fritz, Chandler, and Furlough for unsanitary conditions of confinement in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

COUNT 4: Against Defendants Renolds, Fritz, Chandler, and Richelman for deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.

COUNT 5: Against Defendants Bearden, Wilson, Locke, Westerman, Middendorf, and Anderson for violations of due process in a disciplinary proceeding.

COUNT 6: Against Defendants Childers, Renolds, Richelman, Hinsley, Inman, Ashby, Moore, Uchtman, and Miller for conditions of confinement in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

COUNT 7: Against Defendants Hamlin, Hood, and Fordson for verbal threats.


Plaintiff states that on April 28, 2004, he heard Corrections Officer Leroy (not a defendant) state to an unknown corrections officer, "that's him, it happened in 1993," while pointing at Plaintiff. On May 3, 2004, Defendant Moore removed Plaintiff from his cell and took him to see Defendant Harper. Defendant Harper told Plaintiff, "you had an incident with a female volunteer in the chapel in 1993, I want you to understand that no type of sexual misconduct will be allowed at Menard C.C.!" After the meeting Defendant Moore returned Plaintiff to his cell. The next day, an unnamed defendant came to Plaintiff's cell, told him to pack his belongings, and escorted him to West House. Plaintiff was not told why he was being moved. During his time in West House, Plaintiff noticed an unspecified corrections officer pointing him out to various other unspecified officers. Plaintiff states that this amounts to civil conspiracy and unconstitutional retaliation to move him from a cell house where he experienced more privileges to a cell house with fewer privileges for a prior action for which he was disciplined in 1993.

Although Plaintiff argues that these actions constitute improper "retaliation," the facts described do not fit that claim. Claims of improper retaliation arise when an inmate asserts that he has been mistreated in some way for exercising a constitutional right. Most frequently, these claims arise under the First Amendment, when a Plaintiff claims that he has been mistreated for complaining about his conditions of confinement or for a legitimate exercise of his First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Prison officials may not retaliate against inmates for filing grievances or otherwise complaining about their conditions of confinement. See, e.g., Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005 (7th Cir. 2002); DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607 (7th Cir. 2000); Babcock v. White, 102 F.3d 267 (7th Cir. 1996); Cain v. Lane, 857 F.2d 1139 (7th Cir. 1988). The Seventh Circuit recently clarified that in order to qualify as protected speech, an inmate's complaints or grievances must be "related to matters of public concern" rather than merely a "personal gripe" about a particular incident. Pearson v. Welborn, 471 F.3d 732, 740-41 (7th Cir. 2006); see also McElroy v. Lopac, 403 F.3d 855 (7th Cir. 2005); Brookins v. Kolb, 990 F.2d 308 (7th Cir. 1993).

Here, Plaintiff has not shown that he was mistreated because he exercised a constitutional right. He states that these officers took him to segregation based solely upon a prior incident of sexual misconduct with a chapel volunteer. Plaintiff has no constitutional right to a sexual relationship or to sexual misconduct with a prison volunteer, and in fact, such behavior is strictly in violation of prison rules. Therefore, what Plaintiff describes is not unconstitutional retaliation as contemplated under the Seventh Circuit's current jurisprudence.

Plaintiff's claims most closely resemble a claim that he was transferred to a more restrictive cellhouse without due process. When a plaintiff brings an action under § 1983 for procedural due process violations, he must show that the state deprived him of a constitutionally protected interest in "life, liberty, or property" without due process of law. Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 125 (1990). An inmate has a due process liberty interest in being in the general prison population only if the conditions of his or her confinement impose "atypical and significant relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995). The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has adopted an extremely stringent interpretation of Sandin. In this Circuit, a prisoner in disciplinary segregation at a state prison has a liberty interest in remaining in the general prison population only if the conditions under which he or she is confined are substantially more restrictive than administrative segregation at the most secure prison in that state. Wagner v. Hanks, 128 F.3d 1173, 1175 (7th Cir. 1997). If the inmate is housed at the most restrictive prison in the state, he or she must show that disciplinary segregation there is substantially more restrictive than administrative segregation at that prison. Id. In the view of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, after Sandin "the right to litigate disciplinary confinements has become vanishingly small." Id. Indeed, "when the entire sanction is confinement in disciplinary segregation for a period that does not exceed the remaining term of the prisoner's incarceration, it is difficult to see how after Sandin it can be made the basis of a suit complaining about a deprivation of liberty." Id.

In the case currently before the Court, Plaintiff was transferred to a more restrictive yet non-segregation cellhouse. Nothing in the complaint or exhibits suggests that the conditions that he had to endure there were substantially more restrictive than administrative segregation in the most secure prison in the State of Illinois. Further, an inmate has no liberty interest in movement outside of his cell. See Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1430 (7th Cir. 1996). Therefore, any due process claim regarding his transfer to a more restrictive unit is without merit.

Plaintiff also argues that his movement to the more restrictive cell was part of a civil conspiracy against him. Civil conspiracy claims are cognizable under § 1983. See Lewis v. Washington, 300 F.3d 829, 831 (7th Cir. 2002) (recognizing conspiracy claim under § 1983). "[I]t is enough in pleading a conspiracy to indicate the parties, general purpose, and approximate date." Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005, 1007-08 (7th Cir. 2002); see also Hoskins v. Poelstra, 320 F.3d 761, 764 (7th Cir. 2003); Tierney v. Vahle, 304 F.3d 734, 740 (7th Cir. 2002). Despite these liberal pleading standards, Plaintiff has failed to state a civil conspiracy claim under section 1983 because he has not shown that Defendants conspired to deprive him of any constitutional right. As described above, Defendants' behavior did not constitute retaliation, and Plaintiff's due process rights were not denied in moving him a different cell. Plaintiff's allegations that prison guards talked amongst each other about Plaintiff's prior misconduct ...

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