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Walter Jefferson, No. B-31401 v. Marc Hodge

March 22, 2012


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


Plaintiff Walter Jefferson is in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC"), serving a 60-year sentence for murder and armed robbery. He is currently housed at Lawrence Correctional Center ("Lawrence"). Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Jefferson brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights based on perceived differences in the conditions of confinement at Lawrence, compared with other level two, medium security IDOC facilities. Plaintiff claims that these disparities violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

More specifically, Plaintiff notes several differences between the conditions of confinement at Lawrence and those at other level two, medium security facilities, such as Hill, Pinckneyville, Western Illinois, Big Muddy River, Danville, Dixon, Illinois River, Shawnee, Centralia, Graham, Logan and Sheridan Correctional Centers, as well as the medium security units at Menard and Pontiac Correctional Centers. These differences include: (a) being locked down for more than 23 hours per day; (b) day room privileges and showers only three times per week; (c) "yard" only twice per week and gym once per week; (d) no regular library period; (e) and very limited access to jobs, education and similar programs. According to Plaintiff, Lawrence is different because inmates at other medium security facilities are entitled to daily showers and phone access; they can use the day room at least twice per week; there is daily "yard" time; library access is unlimited; and job assignments or educational placement are mandatory.

Plaintiff brings suit against AFSCME*fn1 (the employee's union), alleging that Lawrence is being operated as a maximum security facility at the request of the union because it eases employees' workloads. Plaintiff also sues Grievance Officer Ernest Shelton, Assistant Warden Storm, Warden Hodge, IDOC Administrative Review Board member Gina Allen and IDOC Director Godinez, all of whom denied Plaintiff's grievance regarding the conditions of his confinement, despite having power to remedy the situation. Plaintiff requests compensatory and punitive damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint. 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, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Conversely, 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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), 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. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

Upon careful review of the complaint and any supporting exhibits, the Court finds it appropriate to exercise its authority under Section 1915A, dismissing the complaint, with leave to amend relative to some, but not all defendants and claims, as explained below. Defendant AFSCME

Lawsuits under Section 1983 are meant to deter state actors (and private parties acting so closely in concert with them that they too should be considered state actors) from using the "color of state law" to deprive individuals of rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Fries v. Helsper, 146 F.3d 452, 457 (7th Cir.1998). Unions and union officials are not state actors. Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 815 (7th Cir.2009); Messman v. Helmke, 133 F.3d 1042, 1044 (7th Cir.1998). Therefore, AFSCME and all claims lodged against the union are dismissed with prejudice.

Equal Protection

Plaintiff alleges that "the Defendants" violated his right to equal protection because of the difference in treatment prisoners at Lawrence receive compared to those housed at other level two, medium security facilities.

A "prison administrative decision may give rise to an equal protection claim only if the plaintiff can establish that 'state officials had purposefully and intentionally discriminated against him.'" Meriwether v. Faulkner, 821 F.2d 408, 415 n.7 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 935 (1987) (citing Shango v. Jurich, 681 F.2d 1091, 1104 (7th Cir. 1982)).

The gravamen of equal protection lies not in the fact of deprivation of a right but in the invidious classification of persons aggrieved by the state's action. A plaintiff must demonstrate intentional or purposeful discrimination to show an equal protection violation. Discriminatory purpose, however, implies more than intent as volition or intent as awareness of consequences. It implies that a decisionmaker singled out a particular group for disparate treatment and selected his course of action at least in part for the purpose of causing its adverse effects on the identifiable group.

Nabozny v. Podlesny, 92 F.3d 446, 453-54 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting Shango v. Jurich, 681 F.2d 1091, 1104 (7th Cir. 1982)).

Plaintiff seems to believe that, since Lawrence is classified as a "level two" facility, its policies concerning prison amenities should exactly mirror other "level two" facilities. His logic is simply incorrect. "Inmates cannot expect the amenities, conveniences and services of a good hotel." Harris v. Fleming, 839 F.2d 1232, 1235 (7th Cir. 1988). Accordingly, there is no guarantee that Plaintiff will receive the exact same privileges as an inmate at any other state facility, regardless of what "level" that institution has been classified. Furthermore, Plaintiff never alleges that any of the Defendants singled him or his fellow Lawrence inmates out for the purpose of imposing more harsh conditions. A prison does not cross the line to an equal protection violation merely by having different rules than its counterpart institutions.

Additionally, "prisoners possess neither liberty nor property [interests] in their classifications and prison assignments. States may move their charges to any prison in the system." DeTomaso v. McGinnis, 970 F.2d 211, 212 (7th Cir. 1992) (citing Montanye v. Haymes, 427 U.S. 236 (1976)). See also Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 224 (1976) (the Constitution does not guarantee placement in a particular prison). Regardless of any disparity in confinement conditions ...

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