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Aaron v. Walker

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

April 17, 2013

AARON V. FILLMORE, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
ROGER E. WALKER, JR., DAVID W. MITCHELL, KENNETH L. HAMILTON, APRIL MOORE, KEN BARTLEY, and LINDA ELLIS, Defendants-Appellees.

Modified upon denial of rehearing June 26, 2013

Held [*]

In an action by a correctional center inmate seeking relief under the Civil Rights Act of 1871 for retaliation against him by correctional officers for his complaints about prison conditions, the trial court properly ruled that section 1997e(e) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 barred plaintiff from recovering compensatory damages, but the trial court erred in finding that plaintiff failed to prove the chilling effect of the alleged retaliation, since the relevant standard was not plaintiff’s personal reaction, but the effect the retaliation would have on an ordinary prisoner, not an extraordinarily litigious prisoner such as plaintiff.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County, No. 08-MR-59; the Hon. John W. Belz, Judge, presiding.

Aaron Fillmore, of Pontiac, appellant pro se.

Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, of Chicago (Michael A. Scodro, Solicitor General, and Brett E. Legner and Elaine Wyder-Harshman, Assistant Attorneys General, of counsel), for appellees.

Panel JUSTICE APPLETON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Pope and Knecht concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

APPLETON JUSTICE

¶ 1 The plaintiff in this case is Aaron Fillmore, who was an inmate in Tamms Correctional Center. The three defendants are Linda S. Ellis, formerly a correctional officer at Tamms, and David W. Mitchell and Kenneth L. Hamilton, formerly the members of the adjustment committee at Tamms, the committee that determined the guilt or innocence of inmates charged with disciplinary offenses (20 Ill. Adm. Code 504.80(j) (2003)). (Tamms has since been closed.) In count IV of his second amended complaint, plaintiff sought relief against these defendants under section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2006)) for retaliating against him because of his complaints about prison conditions.

¶ 2 After dismissing, with prejudice, all the counts of the second amended complaint except for count IV (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2010)), the trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on count IV. Plaintiff appeals from the summary judgment on that count.

¶ 3 In our de novo review (Pielet v. Pielet, 2012 IL 112064, ¶ 30), we affirm the summary judgment in part and reverse it in part. We agree with one of the points in defendants' motion for summary judgment but disagree with the other two points.

¶ 4 We agree that section 1997e(e) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA) (42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) (2006)) bars plaintiff from recovering compensatory damages.

¶ 5 We disagree, however, that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies by omitting to allege, in his grievance, that Ellis retaliated against him for first-amendment activity. A regulation of the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) required that grievances state the "factual details, " not legal theories or conclusions. 20 Ill. Adm. Code 504.810(b) (2003).

¶ 6 We also disagree that defendants have clearly shown plaintiff's inability to prove the chilling effect of the alleged retaliation. It is unclear that the disciplinary sanctions imposed upon plaintiff would fail to chill an ordinary inmate from exercising his or her first amendment right to petition the government for the redress of grievances (U.S. Const., amend. I).

¶ 7 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 8 A. Allegations in the Text of Count IV

¶ 9 In count IV of the second amended complaint, plaintiff alleged as follows. In June and July 2007, he complained to two senior correctional officers, named Woods and Watts, that he had been "assaulted by the shower door operated by c/o Ellis." On July 17, 2007, Ellis told plaintiff she was going to write a false disciplinary report against him because of his complaints against her. On July 18, 2007, plaintiff did indeed receive a disciplinary report in which Ellis accused him, falsely, of committing the offenses of contraband/unauthorized property and trading or trafficking.

¶ 10 On July 25, 2007, the adjustment committee, consisting of Mitchell and Hamilton, held a disciplinary hearing in plaintiff's cell. After refusing plaintiff's request to produce a video recording that, according to plaintiff, would have proved he had not committed the charged offenses, Mitchell and Hamilton dismissed the charge of contraband/unauthorized property but found him guilty of trading or trafficking. They imposed punishment for that remaining offense.

¶ 11 In their brief, defendants describe the punishment as follows:

"Fillmore was disciplined with 15 days in segregation, a one-month reduction to C-grade status, and one month of commissary restrictions. [Citation to record.] The reduction in grade and commissary restriction did not affect Fillmore because his level of privileges was governed by Tamms's Behavioral Level System ('BLS'). [Citations to record.]
Based on his placement in disciplinary segregation, Fillmore's Behavioral Level was reduced to Behavioral Level One. [Citation to record.] As a result, Fillmore experienced a temporary loss of audiovisual and educational privileges, and a temporary reduction in yard time, showers per week, and commissary visits. [Citations to record.] Fillmore regained maximum privileges on February 1, 2008, when he was promoted to Behavioral Level Three. [Citation to record.]"

¶ 12 Plaintiff alleges, in count IV, that Mitchell and Hamilton found him guilty in retaliation for his testimony against Tamms officials in federal court and also in retaliation for previous grievances he had filed. Paragraphs 44 to 49 of the second amended complaint read as follows:

"44. After testifying against Tamms C-Max C.C. prison officials in the case of Gilbert v. Cook, et al. No. 01-286-CJP, United States District Court of Southern Illinois, defendant Mitchell told plaintiff that if plaintiff ever receives a disciplinary report, that he was going to find plaintiff guilty and impose punitive segregation.
45.The July 17, 2007, disciplinary report was the only report written against plaintiff since testifying ...

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