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Scott v. Harrington

July 1, 2010

KENNETH SCOTT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RICHARD HARRINGTON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff, an inmate at the Pontiac Correctional Center (Pontiac), 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). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 590 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A complaint is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, Courts "should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements." Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Service, 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

THE COMPLAINT

On or about March 2, 2006, while confined at the Big Muddy Correctional Center (Big Muddy), Plaintiff and another inmate, Gerald Donaldson, got into a heated argument. During the confrontation, Plaintiff lifted Donaldson from the ground. Donaldson landed on his head, an action which killed him. These facts are not disputed by Plaintiff or prison officials. There is a difference, however, between Plaintiff and prison officials concerning the circumstances surrounding Donaldson's death.

Reading the complaint and attached exhibits in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, during the confrontation, Donaldson approached Plaintiff with a pencil intending -- so Plaintiff feared -- to stab Plaintiff with it. Plaintiff asserts that he lifted Donaldson off the ground in an act of self-defense. Consequently, Donaldson's death is merely the unintended consequence of Plaintiff's justified act of self-defense.

Prison officials viewed events differently. Immediately after the incident, Plaintiff was placed on "investigative status" and transferred from Big Muddy to Pontiac (with a brief stop in between at Pinckneyville Correctional Center). On March 27, 2006, Defendant Schular, a corrections officer at Big Muddy, issued Plaintiff a disciplinary report charging Plaintiff with "violent assault" and "violating state/federal law" (i.e. committing murder in violation of state law). Both of these were violations of prison rules. It appears that this disciplinary report was based, in part, on an investigation conducted by Defendant Harrington, also a corrections officer at Big Muddy.

On March 30, 2006, an Adjustment Committee headed by Defendant Dallas conducted a hearing on the disciplinary report. The Committee found Plaintiff guilty of the infractions, and the following disciplinary sanctions were imposed: (1) one year C-grade; (2) indefinite confinement on administrative segregation; (3) loss of one year of good conduct credit; (4) one year audio/visual restriction; (5) one year commissary restriction; (6) one year yard restriction; and (7) one year no contact visits. Plaintiff appealed/grieved this finding and his punishment, but on July 25, 2006, the findings of the Adjustment Committee where upheld on review by the Administrative Review Board, which was chaired by Defendant Miller.

Outside prison walls, Plaintiff was charged in state court with first-degree murder in connection with Donaldson's death. But, according to the complaint, state prosecutors began to have some doubts about the testimony provided by Defendant Harrington. As a result, state prosecutors dismissed the murder charges in March 2007. A few months later, however, Plaintiff was charged in state court with involuntary manslaughter. According to the ...


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