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Michael Lewis et al v. Larry Phillips et al

December 27, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sue E. Myerscough, U.S. District Judge:

E-FILED Tuesday, 27 December, 2011 11:29:34 AM Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD


There are 17 plaintiffs in this case, all detained in the Rushville Treatment and Detention Center pursuant to the Illinois Sexually Violent Persons Act. They pursue First Amendment claims challenging a blanket ban on R-rated movies and M-rated video games. This case was stayed while the same claim in another case was decided. Smego v. Payne, 09-CV-3244 (C.D. Ill., Judge Baker). In that case, Judge Baker upheld the constitutionality of the blanket ban. Judge Baker then lifted the stay in this case, noting that:

While the plaintiffs [in this case] were not parties to [Smego v. Payne], the same legal principles will apply in this case. In Smego the court acknowledged that a blanket ban did exist, but upheld that ban based on the defendants' legitimate interests in running the facility and rehabilitating the residents. The same conclusion appears to be inevitable in this case. The plaintiffs, however, will be given an opportunity at discovery, since they were not parties to the prior suit.

A retaliation claim is also proceeding in this case, per Judge Baker's order of June 17, 2011. Discovery is set to close in this case on January 31, 2012.

Before the Court are Plaintiffs' two motions to compel. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) provides that the "[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense." Relevant information need not be admissible at trial if the discovery appears to be reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

Some of Plaintiffs' requests probe the reasoning behind the movie and game bans. Defendants contend that Judge Baker's order in Smego establishes, as a matter of law, that the blanket ban is constitutional.

Defendants thus contend that any discovery requests about the ban are irrelevant.

Judge Baker's concerns about res judicata do not apply to his conclusion that the blanket ban is reasonably related to legitimate interests in "rehabilitation, efficiency, and limiting costs." (Smego, 09-3244, 6/9/11 order, p. 4). That was a conclusion of law, with which this Court agrees. That conclusion need not be revisited each time a plaintiff challenges the blanket ban: Defendants' proffered explanation for the ban is not going to change.

For example, the Supreme Court in Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1979), addressed a pretrial detainees' challenge to a rule limiting the purchase of hardcover books to books mailed directly from publishers, book clubs, or book stores. The Supreme Court concluded, on a fully developed factual record, that the rule was "a rational response by prison officials to an obvious security problem." 441 U.S. at 551. That is a holding of law, which later plaintiffs cannot relitigate, even though they were not parties to the Bell lawsuit. See Lindell v. Frank, 377 F.3d 655, 659 (7th Cir. 2004)("There is no question that 'publishers only' rules that restrict prisoners from receiving hardcover books from any noncommercial sources are reasonably related to a prison's interest in preventing contraband from being smuggled into the prison."). Likewise, Judge Baker's conclusion that Defendants' ban on R-rated movies and MA-rated games is rationally related to legitimate government interests is a conclusion of law.

However, later litigants can always try to distinguish their facts from a prior case's holding by demonstrating that their facts or circumstances are different. See Jackson v. Elrod, 655 F.Supp. 1130, 1137-38 (N.D. Ill. 1987)(pretrial detainee stated claim where rule against books was much broader than publishers-only rule in Bell). Additionally, in appropriate circumstances plaintiffs in later cases may argue for reconsideration of a court's prior holdings.

Distinguishing the facts of this case from Smego seems a quixotic endeavor since the exact same blanket ban appears to be at issue here. However, Plaintiffs should be given an opportunity to address this issue and argue other legal theories challenging the ban that were not addressed by Judge Baker. Judge Baker already promised them this opportunity when he denied their motion to reconsider. (7/11/11 text order: "The plaintiffs may make all their legal arguments about the constitutionality of the ban at the summary judgment stage, including those made in the motion for reconsideration.").

Additionally, some of Plaintiffs' discovery requests seem aimed not at the blanket ban, but instead at the policy that has apparently replaced the blanket ban: a list of banned movies and games. Plaintiffs may be trying shifting their focus from the blanket ban to the banned list, though they have not moved to file a supplemental or amended complaint. However, the "banned list" issue seems closely enough related to the blanket ban that both should be addressed in this case. In short, the Court cannot rule definitively at this point that Smego renders irrelevant all ...

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