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Vega v. McCann

March 23, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David H. Coar


Before the Court it a motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Roger Walker, Sherry Benton, Terry McCann, James Burzinski, Alsheena Vaughn, Darryl L. Johnson, Darryl Edwards, Anna Dockery, Ami Workman, Othello L. Hamilton, and Ed Butkiewicz. For the reasons stated below, the motion is GRANTED.

I. Background

Vega is serving a 35-year sentence at Stateville Correctional Center. Vega initially filed a pro se complaint, alleging violations of his constitutional due process rights when he was subjected to a faulty drug test, denied a second test, and deprived of a meaningful review of his grievance. The false positive results allegedly resulted in six months of segregation and a revocation of six months of good time credits, among other disciplinary actions. Vega further alleged that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment due to the unsanitary conditions of his disciplinary segregation.

On September 4, 2008, the Court dismissed Vega's due process claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, finding it barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994). This Court ruled that Vega could only proceed on an Eighth Amendment claim arising from the conditions of his confinement and segregation, and that such a claim could only be brought on Defendants McCann, Buzinksi, and Vaughn.

Vega filed a pro se motion objecting to the dismissal of the other defendants. On October 3, 2008, this Court denied Vega's motion, holding "the plaintiff has no constitutional cause of action regarding the drug testing that resulted in his placement in the segregation unit." [Dkt. 12.]

On May 19, 2009, Vega, now represented by appointed counsel, filed an amended complaint alleging a conditions-of-confinement claim (Count II). The amended complaint also reintroduces two due process counts (Counts I and III). Count I seeks damages for unwarranted disciplinary actions and Count III seeks injunctive relief, to prevent future punishments based on invalid testing. On August 3, 2009, Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss Counts I and III, as well as Vega's prayer for compensatory damages for emotional injury.

II. Standard of Review

The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of a complaint. Weiler v. Household Finance Corp., 101 F.3d 519, 524 n. 1 (7th Cir.1996). To survive the motion, a complaint need only describe the claim in sufficient detail to give the defendant fair notice of the claim and its basis. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, (2007). A plaintiff's factual allegations must suggest a plausible, rather than merely speculative, entitlement to relief. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th Cir. 2008); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009); Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555. In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepting as true the well-pleaded allegations, and drawing all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor. Tamayo, 526 F.3d at 1081.

III. Analysis

A. Count I

In Count I, Vega alleges that inadequate disciplinary procedures based on the results of an invalid drug test deprived him of a constitutionally protected liberty interest. He seeks compensatory and punitive damages for his injuries.

In Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973), the Supreme Court held that a state prisoner seeking restoration of good time credits lost in disciplinary actions could not bring his claim under § 1983. The Court explained that federal habeas is the exclusive federal remedy for challenges to the "fact or duration" of an inmate's physical imprisonment. Id. at 489. The Supreme Court later elaborated upon this principle in Heck v. Humphrey, which teaches that "when a state prisoner seeks damages in a § 1983 suit, the district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence; if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated." 512 U.S. at 487.

Vega contests that he is not challenging the "fact or duration" of his sentence. Rather, he only seeks "compensation for injuries suffered and future protection from similar inadequate conditions of confinement." (Pl. Resp. at 2-4.) The Supreme Court considered a similarly styled complaint in Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641. Balisok brought a ยง 1983 claim alleging due process violations for procedures used in a disciplinary hearing that resulted in a revocation of good time credits. Id. at 643. Like Vega, Balisok sought damages for the use of unconstitutional procedures, as well as an injunction to prevent future ...

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