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Darren Henderson, # R-40280 v. Warden Rednour

November 19, 2012

DARREN HENDERSON, # R-40280, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WARDEN REDNOUR, LT. MICHAEL MIFFLIN, TRACY GROUER-HARRINGTON,*FN1 SHERRY BENTON, SGT. HEINNE, SGT. WITTHOFF, LT. CARTHWRIGHT,
MAJOR DURHAM, AND SGT. HASEMEYER, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He is currently serving a 47-year sentence for murder. Plaintiff claims that he was wrongly held in segregation for three months longer than he should have served, after a disciplinary ticket was expunged. Further, he claims he was subjected to inhumane conditions in the segregation cell where he spent part of his confinement, and his grievances over these matters were mishandled.

More specifically, Plaintiff explains that he received an Inmate Disciplinary Report ("IDR") on May 26, 2011, for "205: security threat group or unauthorized organizational activity" (Doc. 1, pp. 2, 20). Defendant Mifflin (chair of the adjustment committee) found him guilty and punished him with six months of segregation.

Plaintiff filed a grievance over this disciplinary action. He complains that Defendant Harrington (grievance officer) improperly denied his grievance as untimely, despite Plaintiff's diligent efforts to submit his paperwork within applicable time limits (Doc. 1, pp. 8, 29-35). Plaintiff filed another grievance on August 5, 2011, complaining about Defendant Harrington's mishandling of his grievance (Doc. 1, pp. 36-37).

On August 27, 2011, Plaintiff's segregation cell was searched, and he was issued a second IDR for "203: drug or drug paraphernalia, [and] 308: contraband/unauthorized property" after the search turned up a bag of liquid containing alcohol, along with various food items and a mirror (Doc. 1, pp. 3-4, 9, 38). Plaintiff admitted guilt, and Defendant Mifflin punished him for these offenses with another six months of segregation, to be served consecutive to the first six month term (Doc. 1, p. 9, 38). He was due to be released from segregation on May 26, 2012.

Upon being issued the August 27 IDR, Plaintiff was put into an "observation cell" in the Menard C-Wing, where he was held until October 12, 2011 (Doc. 1, pp. 9-10). He had also been held in this cell immediately after the May 2011 IDR (from May 26 through June 1, 2011). The observation cell had no electricity, no light switch and was illuminated 24 hours per day, no plumbing, no bedroll, and smelled of urine and feces (Doc. 1, pp. 7, 16-17). Plaintiff asserts he was placed in this cell "for no reason other than retaliation" and Defendants Heinne, Wittoff, Carthwright, and Durham (correctional officers) refused to move him to a regular segregation cell (Doc. 1, p. 10). He spent approximately 55 days of his segregation in this observation cell (Doc. 1, p. 5).

Apparently as a result of Plaintiff's grievances filed in June and August, 2011, the May 2011 IDR and six months of segregation time was ultimately expunged. Plaintiff was informed of this impending action on September 16, 2011. He filed a grievance over the calculation of his segregation time on September 26, 2011 (Doc. 1, pp. 41-44). Final approval of the expungement and cancellation of the original six-month term in segregation was given on October 12, 2011, and on that date, Plaintiff was released from the C-Wing observation cell and returned to the regular segregation population (Doc. 1, pp. 4, 10, 45-46). His remaining six month term of segregation, which began with the August 2011 IDR, was re-set so that his segregation release date became February 27, 2012 (Doc. 1, p. 11). However, because Plaintiff had been placed in segregation in May 2011 after the first ticket, the result was that he spent a total of nine months in segregation despite the expungement.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint. After fully considering the allegations in Plaintiff's pleading, the Court concludes that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, for the reasons to follow. However, Plaintiff shall be allowed to submit an amended complaint to present any allegations which may support a retaliation claim.

Discussion

Because Plaintiff's "conviction" for the May 2011 prison disciplinary infraction was expunged, the doctrine of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994), does not present a bar to seeking damages in a civil rights action. See Moore v. Mahone, 652 F.3d 722, 723 (7th Cir. 2011) (the ruling in a prison disciplinary proceeding is a conviction for the purposes of Heck analysis). And if Plaintiff had been improperly held in prison past the date he should have been released on parole, he might have a due process liberty claim for damages. However, Plaintiff's claim is that he spent excessive time in segregation (a total of nine months), when his actual segregation term, after one charge was expunged, should have been only six months. In Plaintiff's case, this does not give rise to a constitutional claim.

Under certain limited circumstances, an inmate punished with segregation may be able to pursue a claim for deprivation of a liberty interest without due process of law. See Marion v. Columbia Corr. Inst., 559 F.3d 693, 697-98 (7th Cir. 2009). However, those circumstances are not present in the instant case. First, Plaintiff does not point to any denial of procedural due process in the conduct of his disciplinary hearing over the May 2011 IDR. See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-69 (1974) (to satisfy due process concerns, inmate must be given advance written notice of the charge, the right to appear before the hearing panel, the right to call witnesses if prison safety allows, and a written statement of the reasons for the discipline imposed); Black v. Lane, 22 F.3d 1395, 1402 (7th Cir. 1994) (disciplinary decision must be supported by "some evidence"). In fact, prison officials' decision in October 2011 to expunge the May 2011 disciplinary infraction and the six months of segregation, indicates that Plaintiff received the due process he demanded, albeit not as swiftly as he would have preferred.

Even if there had been a procedural flaw in the handling of the May 2011 disciplinary charges, Plaintiff could not claim he was deprived of a protected liberty interest. An inmate has a due process liberty interest in being in the general prison population only if the conditions of his or her disciplinary confinement impose "atypical and significant hardship[s] . . . in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995); see also Wagner v. Hanks, 128 F.3d 1173, 1175 (7th Cir. 1997) (in light of Sandin, "the right to litigate disciplinary confinements has become vanishingly small"). For prisoners whose punishment includes being put in disciplinary segregation, under Sandin, "the key comparison is between disciplinary segregation and nondisciplinary segregation rather than between disciplinary segregation and the general prison population." Wagner v. Hanks, 128 F.3d 1173, 1175 (7th Cir. 1997).

The Seventh Circuit has recently elaborated two elements for determining whether disciplinary segregation conditions impose atypical and significant hardships: "the combined import of the duration of the segregative confinement and the conditions endured by the prisoner during that period." Marion v. Columbia Corr. Inst., 559 F.3d 693, 697-98 (7th Cir. 2009) (emphasis in original). The first prong of this two-part analysis focuses solely on the duration of disciplinary segregation. For relatively short periods of disciplinary segregation, inquiry into specific conditions of confinement is unnecessary. See Lekas v. Briley, 405 F.3d 602, 612 (7th Cir. 2005) (56 days); Thomas v. Ramos, 130 F.3d 754, 761 (7th Cir. 1997) (70 days) ("a relatively short period when one considers his 12 year prison sentence"). In these cases, the short duration of the disciplinary segregation forecloses any due process liberty interest regardless of the conditions. See Marion, 559 F.3d at 698 ("we have affirmed dismissal without requiring a factual inquiry into the conditions of confinement").

In Plaintiff's case, he was confined in segregation only three months longer than he should have been. Three months may be long enough to trigger an inquiry into the conditions of that confinement, if the segregation had been imposed after a procedurally flawed hearing; however, in the context of Plaintiff's total sentence of 47 years, this is doubtful. See Marion, 559 F.3d at 697-98. More to the point, Plaintiff raises no complaints regarding the conditions in his "regular" segregation cell, where he was confined from June 1, 2011, until he was charged with the second disciplinary ticket on August 27, 2011. He argues only that the 55 days*fn2 he spent in the C-Wing observation cell subjected him to onerous and uncomfortable conditions. Whether the time ...


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