The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gilbert, District Judge:
Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center, has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, regarding claims that arose while he was incarcerated at Big Muddy Correctional Center ("BMCC"). Plaintiff claims that Defendants Townley and Julius (correctional officers) retaliated against him by filing false disciplinary charges, and conspired with Defendants Schuler, Bates, Sanders, Aparicio, and Brown to find him guilty of those false charges. He further asserts that Defendants Sanders, Aparicio, and Brown violated his due process rights in the conduct of three hearings on the same false disciplinary charges.
The specific allegations in Plaintiff's complaint are as follows. In November 2010, Defendant Townley conducted a shakedown of Plaintiff's cell, and wrote him a disciplinary ticket for having too many appliances. Plaintiff was required to send his typewriter and lamp home. This infraction was ultimately expunged (Doc. 1, p. 4). After this incident, Defendant Townley taunted Plaintiff several times, commenting that he would not be typing any more.
In April 2011, Defendant Townley wrote Plaintiff another ticket for wearing a necklace chain outside his shirt, and confiscated the chain. This ticket was also expunged, and the chain returned to Plaintiff. Beginning at that time, Plaintiff filed numerous grievances complaining about Defendant Townley's harassment (Doc. 1, p. 6). In addition, starting in February 2011 Plaintiff's fiancee made numerous calls to staff at BMCC and other IDOC officials on Plaintiff's behalf, seeking relief from Defendant Townley's harassment. Several of these discussions were with Defendant Bates (the BMCC warden) and Defendant Schuler (BMCC internal affairs officer) (Doc. 1, p. 7; Doc. 1-1, p. 1).
In May 2011, Defendant Townley confronted Plaintiff in the prison gym for wearing unauthorized clothing (Russell Athletic shorts). Plaintiff protested that he had purchased the shorts from the commissary at another prison. Noticing that Plaintiff was again wearing the previously-confiscated chain, Defendant Townley threatened Plaintiff with future disciplinary action that Plaintiff would not win (Doc. 1, p. 5). Defendant Townley confiscated the athletic shorts and wrote another disciplinary ticket, for unauthorized property and insolence (Doc. 1, p. 9). Plaintiff was found guilty of these infractions, at a hearing that was held by Defendants Sanders and Aparicio without Plaintiff being allowed to attend or respond to the charges (Doc. 1,
p. 9). Plaintiff's punishment consisted of gym and yard restrictions and a reduction to C-grade status. Id. Later in May, Defendant Townley told Plaintiff he did not care how many grievances Plaintiff files or whether Plaintiff's girlfriend complains to the Governor, he will show Plaintiff "who's got the big nuts" (Doc. 1, p. 5). Despite Plaintiff having been found guilty on the disciplinary charges for unauthorized clothing and insolence, in June 2011 he was given a replacement pair of shorts by another prison official, free of charge (Doc. 1, p. 10).
In July 2011, Defendant Julius wrote two disciplinary tickets on Plaintiff. In one incident, he was charged with assaulting another inmate and unauthorized movement. In the other, he was charged with abuse of privileges and a security violation for giving a larger ice ration to inmates who belonged to a certain gang. Hearings on these infractions were held on July 23, 2011, conducted by Defendants Brown and Aparicio. On the assault incident, Plaintiff's request for three correctional officers and one inmate (the alleged victim) to be called as witnesses was not honored, nor were these witnesses interviewed (Doc. 1, p. 11). Plaintiff was found guilty by Defendants Brown and Aparicio based only on the testimony of Defendant Julius. He was punished with three months segregation, revocation of three months good conduct credit, and a disciplinary transfer, among other sanctions (Doc. 1, pp. 5, 11). Plaintiff was also found guilty of the charges from the ice incident, and was given another three months segregation and loss of three months good conduct credit. Defendants Brown and Aparicio again refused to interview or call on any of the witnesses (all correctional officers) requested by Plaintiff, and relied only on Defendant Julius' testimony (Doc 1, pp. 12, 15). Plaintiff asserts his witnesses would have testified that he did nothing wrong in passing out the ice.
In late July, Defendant Julius told Plaintiff that he and Defendant Townley had made a bet over which of them could have Plaintiff transferred, and it looks like he would win the bet. When Plaintiff said he planned to grieve the bogus disciplinary ticket, Defendant Julius responded that Plaintiff had picked the wrong person (meaning Defendant Townley) to mess with (Doc. 1, p. 6).
Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, a transfer to another prison, and expungement of the disciplinary charges.
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint. Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, the Court finds that Plaintiff has articulated a colorable federal cause of action against Defendants Townley and Julius for retaliation and conspiracy to retaliate (Count 1), against Defendants Townley, Julius, Aparicio, and Brown for conspiracy to find him guilty of false disciplinary charges (Count 2), and against Defendants Aparicio and Brown for deprivation of a liberty interest without due process (Count
3). However, the claims against Defendants Sanders, Bates and Schuler are dismissed on initial review.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Bates and Schuler "failed to protect" him from the retaliatory actions of Defendant Townley, over whom they had supervisory authority. However, the doctrine of respondeat superior is not applicable to § 1983 actions; a prison official must be personally involved in the unconstitutional activity in order to be held liable. Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 740 (7th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). Additionally, the only allegations against Defendant Bates in the "conspiracy" claim is that he "affirmed" the guilty finding on the false disciplinary charges for wearing the gym shorts (Doc. 1, p. 10). The only allegation against Defendant Schuler is that he refused to get involved in Plaintiff's efforts to involve other officials to stop the retaliation by Defendant Townley (Doc. 1, p. 10). None of these claims indicate that Defendants Bates or Schuler were "personally responsible for the deprivation of a constitutional right." Sanville, 266 F.3d at 740. Accordingly, Defendants Bates and Schuler shall be dismissed from this action.
Defendant Sanders shall also be dismissed. Plaintiff alleges that he violated Plaintiff's due process rights in the conduct of the disciplinary hearing over the gym shorts incident, when the hearing was held without Plaintiff being present. Plaintiff thus was unable to present evidence to contest the charges. In a disciplinary hearing, an inmate is entitled to receive the procedural protections outlined in Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974) (advance written notice of the charge, right to appear before the hearing panel, the right to call witnesses if prison security allows, and a written statement of the reasons for the discipline imposed). If one or more of these rights is denied, and the prisoner is then sanctioned with disciplinary segregation of a sufficient duration and under conditions significantly more harsh than in normal confinement, s/he may then have a colorable claim for a due process deprivation of a liberty interest. See Marion v. Columbia Corr. Inst., 559 F.3d 693, 697-98 (7th Cir. 2009); see also Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472 (1995); Wagner v. Hanks, 128 F.3d 1173, 1175 (7th Cir. 1997).
In the hearing over the gym shorts infraction, presided over by Defendants Sanders and Aparicio, Plaintiff's absence was a violation of the Wolff principles. However, Plaintiff was not deprived of any liberty interest as a result of being found guilty in that proceeding, as he merely lost gym and yard privileges and received a demotion to C-grade. See, e.g., Thomas v. Ramos, 130 F.3d 754, 762 n.8 (7th Cir. 1997) (and cases cited therein) (no protected liberty interest in demotion to C-grade status). Accordingly, Plaintiff fails to state a constitutional claim against Defendant Sanders, and he shall be dismissed. As noted above, Plaintiff ...