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Matrisciano v. Randle

June 26, 2009


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 03-3072-Richard Mills, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Williams, Circuit Judge.


Before RIPPLE, WILLIAMS, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

After an Assistant Deputy Director in the Illinois Department of Corrections voluntarily testified at a Prisoner Review Board hearing in support of an inmate's release, his employer transferred him to another role in the Department. He maintains that doing so violated the rights guaranteed to him by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. At the time of the transfer, however, it was not clearly established that the employer's action violated any constitutional rights. As a result, the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, and the district court's grant of summary judgment is affirmed.


On this appeal from the grant of summary judgment in the defendants' favor, we recount the evidence in the summary judgment record in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Burnett v. LFW, Inc., 472 F.3d 471, 477 (7th Cir. 2006). During the time period relevant to this case, Donald Snyder was the director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). George DeTella, the Depart-ment's Associate Director, reported to Snyder. DeTella's direct reports included the Deputy Directors for each of the Department's five districts. Underneath them were the Assistant Deputy Directors in each of the districts, one of which was the plaintiff.

Ronald Matrisciano began working for the IDOC in September of 1980. He was promoted several times and, on July 1, 2002, rose to the level of Assistant Deputy Director. An Assistant Deputy Director was responsible for supervising the wardens and other administrative personnel in his district. The Assistant Deputy Director job description outlines its various functions, including "develops policies and procedures regarding program area[s]" and "makes recommendations for new programs and projects." The Deputy Director in Matrisciano's district passed away on the same day Matrisciano assumed the Assistant Deputy Director role, and the Deputy Director role remained vacant throughout the time Matrisciano served as Assistant Deputy Director.

Before rising to the level of Assistant Deputy Director, Matrisciano had been assigned the task of ensuring inmate Harry Aleman's safety during his transfer from the federal prison system to the Joliet IDOC facility in July of 2000. Aleman had been tried in 1977 for a murder that occurred in 1973 but was found not guilty. He was later convicted of violating federal racketeering laws as well as transporting stolen goods across state lines. In addition, years after his murder acquittal, federal investigators discovered that the judge presiding over his murder trial had received a $10,000 bribe from Aleman. Aleman was retried in 1993 for the 1973 murder, found guilty, and sentenced to 100 to 300 years in prison. See People v. Aleman, 729 N.E.2d 20 (Ill. App. Ct. 2000).

Aleman was housed at the Joliet facility for six months after his transfer there. During that time, Matrisciano visited the Joliet facility two or three times a month to address inmates' concerns and issues regarding the facility, and he met with Aleman during those visits. Aleman's family members also contacted Matrisciano to convey concerns. With Aleman coming up for parole, Aleman and his grandson asked Matrisciano if he would speak at a parole hearing before the Prisoner Review Board on Aleman's behalf.

A Board hearing was originally scheduled for March of 2002. That January, Matrisciano says that he informed IDOC Director Snyder and Associate Director DeTella of his intent to testify at a Prisoner Review Board hearing. Matrisciano also states that he told members of the Board in March of 2002 that he planned to testify at a hearing, and that none objected. The hearing was rescheduled and did not take place until December 17, 2002. After the date was rescheduled, Matrisciano says that he again informed Snyder and DeTella of his intent to testify at a hearing. Although DeTella acknowledges that he knew before the hearing that Matrisciano planned to testify, Snyder maintains that he did not know until after the fact. Matrisciano prepared a statement before his testimony and had attorney Nancy Miller, the IDOC Chief of the Bureau of Operations, review it. Most of the information that Matrisciano used to prepare his statement came from the inmate himself, and he also gathered information from the case file and family members.

At a meeting with Board members prior to the hearing in question, DeTella told Board members including the Chair that an Assistant Deputy Director would be testifying before the Board concerning a high-profile case and asked whether the Chair viewed that as a problem. The Chair said she did not. On December 17, 2002, Matrisciano took the day off from work as a personal day and testified before the Board. He read his prepared two and a half page statement, which began with a description of the numerous capacities in which he had served during his twenty-two years at IDOC, including his current position as the Assistant Deputy Director for District One. He noted that this testimony marked the first time in his career that he had testified in support of an offender's release on parole and said that he was doing so on behalf of Aleman because of his "strong conviction" that Aleman posed no threat if released. In addition, Matrisciano said that "[s]peaking in [his] professional capacity," he believed that Aleman had been a model inmate, and that in his "professional opinion, it would serve no penological purpose to incarcerate him further." His statement ended by saying, "for the first and only time in my professional career, I appear before the Board and humbly request to grant Harry Aleman his release to parole." Matrisciano maintains that he also made comments that were not in his prepared statement, namely that he told the Board that he was not at the hearing in his capacity as the Assistant Director. Nonetheless, he signed the statement, "Ronald Matrisciano, Assistant Deputy Director, Illinois Department of Corrections."

Within the next few days, Matrisciano says that he called Snyder and informed him he had testified before the Board. On December 24, 2002, Snyder told DeTella about media inquiries regarding Matrisciano's testimony and said that Matrisciano had "screwed up." Snyder directed DeTella to reassign Matrisciano to oversee the final construction phases at the Stateville Reception and Classification Center, which was not yet open and had no inmates.

Matrisciano was reassigned to the Stateville facility on December 27. He retained his job title and salary, but his duties and responsibilities changed. He remained in this position until IDOC laid him off on May 30, 2003 as part of a department-wide restructuring that eliminated Assistant Deputy Directors and their staff. Matrisciano was eventually recalled from a layoff list but was "locked out" pending an investigation concerning his testimony before the Board. Matrisciano was placed on paid administrative leave with full pay.

The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on Matrisciano's claim of First Amendment retaliation, and Matrisciano appeals. The*fn1 defendants' brief on appeal notes that about three years after Matrisciano's testimony in front of the Board, state court charges were brought against him alleging official misconduct in connection with his testimony before the Board and perjury during his deposition in ...

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