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Pittman v. Casanova

August 2, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.


Petitioner Michael Pittman ("Pittman") is currently serving a term of mandatory supervised release in Illinois Parole District 1. Pittman claims that a prison disciplinary proceeding violated his rights to due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment and seeks a writ of habeas corpus [1] pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 to terminate his parole. For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus is respectfully denied.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

District court review of a habeas petition presumes all factual findings of the state court to be correct, absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Daniels v. Knight, 476 F.3d 426, 434 (7th Cir. 2007). Therefore, the Court adopts the following accounts from the Illinois Appellate Court's Order in Pittman v. Walker, No. 4-06-0404 (Ill. App. 4th Dist. June 1, 2007). Ex. H*fn2 (Appellate Court's Order in Appeal No. 4-06-0404).

In 1981, Pittman was convicted of two counts of armed robbery and sentenced to fifty years of imprisonment after a jury trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County. While serving his sentence at Graham Correctional Center in January 2005, Pittman was placed in segregation pending the investigation of an incident in which Pittman allegedly had charged another inmate, Myrio Shields, for legal work that Pittman had been doing for him. Ex. H at 2. During an interview with a correctional officer on February 1, 2005, Pittman answered "no comment" or "don't recall" when he was confronted with the allegations. Id. On the same day, correctional officials also interviewed inmate Shields, who stated that Pittman did legal work on his behalf and that Pittman usually charged $150 for his services. Shields also revealed that Pittman had offered to work for him for $125 and that Pittman had asked Shields to send the money to a woman outside of the prison. Id. On January 9, 2005, Shields placed a telephone call to a woman outside the prison and gave the phone to Pittman, who told the woman his name and inmate number so that she could send him $75. Id. After he had been placed in segregation for this violation, Pittman notified Shields that he had received $75 from the woman.

On February 1, 2005, Pittman was served with a copy of a disciplinary report [Ex. A] that charged him with violating four prison rules: (1) Rule 406 (trading or trafficking); (2) Rule 306 (transfer of funds); (3) Rule 310 (abuse of privileges); and (4) Rule 110 (impeding or interfering with an investigation). See 20 Ill. Adm. Code § 504, Appx. A, Tables A-C.*fn3 After a disciplinary hearing on February 7, 2005, an adjustment committee found Pittman guilty of all four charges and issued a report [Ex. B] stating the reasons for the committee's decision:

[The decision is b]ased on [the] reporting employee's statement that [Pittman] was charging inmates here at Graham Correctional Center money or commissary for legal work done by Pittman. During the investigation Pittman stated that he didn't recall or he had no comments to all the questions that L[t]. Thompson asked him. Inmate Shields was interviewed and he stated that inmate Pittman had charged him $125.00 for some legal work[,] and he had his girl send Pittman the money here at Graham in the amount of $75.00 from Tia Smith. L[t]. Thompson, INTEL was interviewed and stated that Tia Smith is an alias and that she is the girlfriend of Myrio Smith. Lt. Thompson stated [] that the money orders and phone call dated 1/9/05 were traced back to the same address. Ex. B.

The committee also recommended that Pittman receive the following sanctions: (1) one year of relegation to C-grade status (which reduced the rate at which Pittman earned good-conduct credits); (2) one year in segregation; (3) revocation of one year of good-conduct credit; and (4) disciplinary transfer. Ex. H at 4. The chief administrative officer accepted this recommendation and imposed all four sanctions on Pittman.

B. Procedural Background

On March 8, 2005, Pittman filed a grievance with the Illinois Department of Corrections ("DOC"), challenging the sanctions that he received on due process and equal protection grounds.*fn4 Ex. C. The Administrative Review Board held a hearing and interviewed Pittman on May 13, 2005, but after a full review of the proceedings and Pittman's grievances, the Review Board concluded that the proceedings Pittman challenged had been fully compliant with DOC rules. The Review Board thus concluded that it was "reasonably certain [that] the Grievant committed the offense" and denied Pittman's grievance. Ex. D at C-34.

In July 2005, Pittman filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Livingston County, Illinois, in which he sought mandamus relief from the disciplinary proceedings. Ex. H at 4. Pittman claimed that the proceedings were contrary to the DOC's administrative regulations and also violated his constitutional rights to due process, equal protection, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Id. The Circuit Court granted Pittman's motion for appointment of counsel, but on December 5, 2005, the Court dismissed the complaint without prejudice and cancelled the counsel's appointment.

Pittman subsequently submitted an amended, pro se complaint [Ex. E] in which he sought the following relief: (1) a writ of mandamus requiring that the DOC provide him with an investigative report informing him of the subject of the investigation, an interview by a reviewing officer following the investigative report, and a new disciplinary hearing or rescission of the charges and sanctions against him; (2) the elimination of Rule 110; and (3) a finding that Pittman had the right to these acts. Ex. H at 5. In addition to his three-page complaint, Pittman also filed a thirty-page memorandum of law in which he described the background facts and presented his arguments. The Circuit Court again appointed counsel to represent Pittman but nevertheless dismissed the amended complaint, over counsel's objection, on April 17, 2006. Id.

On May 11, 2006, Pittman filed a notice of appeal [Ex. F] with the Appellate Court of Illinois, Fourth District, in which he claimed that the Circuit Court erred in dismissing his complaint. Pittman also argued he had been inadequately represented by his court-appointed counsel. On June 1, 2007, the Appellate Court affirmed the Circuit Court's dismissal of Pittman's complaint for failure to state a cause of action. Ex. H at 6. The Appellate Court noted that Illinois law requires a plaintiff to allege facts sufficient to state a cause of action in a complaint; any additional documents, including Pittman's thirty-page memorandum, could not be considered for the purpose of a motion to dismiss. Having reviewed Pittman's complaint, the Appellate Court concluded that the Circuit Court had been correct to dismiss it.

The Appellate Court also found that there was no indication that Pittman's counsel had failed to exercise due diligence; however, it concluded that even if Pittman could have shown a lack of a good faith effort -- such as counsel's failure to correct Pittman's amended complaint to include the pertinent facts from his legal memorandum -- the point was moot because it would not have prevented the Circuit Court from dismissing Petitioner's claim. Instead, the Appellate Court noted, "it [was] clear that the trial court also read the memorandum and dismissed the case because Pittman failed to state a sufficient basis for relief." Ex H at 8.

Pittman filed a petition for leave to appeal (PLA) in the Illinois Supreme Court on June 28, 2007. Ex. I. While his PLA was pending, Petitioner was released from prison on July 5, 2007, and placed on supervised release until 2010.*fn5 The Illinois Supreme Court denied Pittman's PLA on September 28, 2007. Ex. J

On February 8, 2008, Petitioner subsequently filed his petition for a writ of habeas corpus in this Court. Pittman's pro se petition makes three claims: (1) that his disciplinary proceedings violated his right to due process; (2) that the adjustment committee violated his right to equal protection by punishing him more severely than other inmates because of his race; and (3) that he received inadequate representation from his appointed attorney during the mandamus proceeding before the Illinois Circuit Court.

II. Legal Standards

A. The "In Custody" Requirement for Habeas ...

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