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Sultan v. Hodge

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

May 3, 2013

CHARLES SULTAN, No. A-93755, Plaintiff,
v.
MARC HODGE, MARK STORM, TY BATES, and S.A. GODINEZ, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

G. PATRICK MURPHY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Charles Sultan is in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC"), currently housed at Lawrence Correctional Center ("Lawrence"). Sultan brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that perceived differences in the conditions of confinement at Lawrence, compared with other level two, medium security IDOC facilities, violate his constitutional rights. In a succinct three-page order dated August 30, 2012, the Court dismissed the complaint in its entirety, with prejudice (Doc. 6). The Court reasoned that Plaintiff failed to state an Eighth Amendment claim regarding the conditions of his confinement because the complaint offered only conclusory legal assertions and general objections to the conditions of confinement, without stating when events occurred or identifying any individual personally responsible. The Court further found that no due process claim had been asserted because inmates do not have a protected liberty interest in their prison classification. Accordingly, the Clerk entered final judgment against Plaintiff (Doc. 7). Plaintiff Sultan is now before the Court seeking reconsideration and leave to file an amended complaint (Docs. 7 and 8).

Plaintiff argues that the Court has misconstrued his civil rights claims, mistakenly linking them to his criminal conviction(s).[1] He also explains that the prison copy clerk omitted a few pages from the exhibits attached to the original complaint. Sultan further argues that it was error to dismiss the complaint with prejudice, without notice and an opportunity to amend.

1. The Standard of Review

Twenty-five days after judgment was entered, Plaintiff filed the subject motion seeking reconsideration and leave to file an amended complaint ( see Docs. 7 and 8). Plaintiff mistakenly cites Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, which pertains to summary judgment. In Obriecht v. Raemisch, 517 F.3d 489, 493-494 (7th Cir. 2008), the Court of Appeals declared that district courts should analyze post-judgment motions based on their substance: "whether a motion... should be analyzed under Rule 59(e) or Rule 60(b) depends on the substance of the motion, not on the timing or label affixed to it."[2]

Different standards and time-tables govern Rule 59(e) and Rule 60(b) motions. So, for instance, Rule 59(e) permits a court to amend a judgment only if the motion is filed within 28 days of the entry of judgment, and the movant must demonstrate a manifest error of law or present newly discovered evidence that was not previously available. See Sigsworth v. City of Aurora, 487 F.3d 506, 511-512 (7th Cir. 2007). By contrast, Rule 60(b) permits a court to relieve a party from an order or judgment based on these reasons, inter alia: mistake, surprise or excusable neglect by the movant; fraud or misconduct by the opposing party; a judgment that is void or has been discharged; or newly discovered evidence that could not have been discovered within the deadline for a Rule 59(b) motion for new trial. A Rule 60(b) motion must generally be filed within one year of the entry of the order or judgment.

Review appears appropriate under both Rule 59(e) or Rule 60(b). See Judson v. Atkinson Candies, Inc. v. Latini-Hohberger Dhimantec, 529 F.3d 371, 385 (7th Cir. 2008) (recognizing that a majority of circuits have held that a court may sua sponte vacate a judgment or order under Rule 60(b)); Moro v. Shell Oil Co., 91 F.3d 872, 876 (7th Cir.1996) (Rule 59(e) allows a court to correct its own errors and avoid an unnecessary appeal)). In any event, the Court, sua sponte, deems it appropriate to vacate its prior order in order to more fully articulate its reasons for dismissal, thereby ensuring compliance with Circuit Rule 50. Therefore, Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration and for leave to amend the complaint (Doc. 8) is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART, in that the Court's Order and the Clerk's Judgment, both dated August 30, 2012, (Docs. 6 and 7) shall be VACATED and the Court will reconsider the complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, but, for reasons set forth below, leave to amend is DENIED.

This is not a "second bite at the apple" for Sultan; it is not an opportunity to rehash old arguments or to present new arguments that could and should have been presented earlier. Bell v. Eastman Kodak Co., 214 F.3d 798, 801 (7th Cir. 2000); Moro, 91 F.3d at 876 (7th Cir.1996). Rather, the Court will review the original complaint anew.

2. The Complaint

According to the complaint (Doc. 1), from December 16, 2010, through at least July 18, 2012 (the date the complaint was signed), Sultan and the other inmates at Lawrence were denied "privileges [and] amenities" that are allowed at other Level II prison facilities, such as Hill Correctional Center, Galesburg Correctional Center, Western Correctional Center, Mt. Sterling Correctional Center and Pinckneyville Correctional Center. More specifically, Plaintiff was denied access to the day room, allowed to shower only three times per week, allotted only three phone calls per week, not provided ice, served cold meals in his cell, permitted commissary privileges only one or two times per month, allowed to go to the recreation yard only two times per week, and the toilets only flush on a 10 minute timer ( see Doc. 1, p. 17, § 37).

Plaintiff pursued an administrative grievance, which was denied at every level. Defendant Hodge, the warden of Lawrence, concurred in the denial of the grievance (Doc. 1-1, p. 4), and Defendant Godinez, as director of the IDOC, affirmed the final adverse ruling[3] (Doc. 1-1, p. 5). Plaintiff also wrote letters complaining to Defendants Warden Hodge, Assistant Warden Mark Storm, and IDOC Deputy Director Ty Bates (Doc. 1-1, pp. 6-8). According to the complaint, Plaintiff also personally spoke with Warden Hodge, but Hodge said that he was entitled to run Lawrence as he saw fit, until the Director or Deputy Director told him otherwise (Doc. 1, p. 8, § 11).

From Plaintiff's perspective, had Defendant Director S.A. Godinez properly trained all IDOC employees regarding prisoners' constitutional rights and the proper handling of grievances, none of these problems would exist.

Plaintiff claims that the conditions of his confinement constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and that by imposing these conditions and/or denying privileges and amenities afforded at other Level II facilities, he has been denied due process and the equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. In addition, the Court's supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367 is invoked to assert state law negligence claims premised upon the same factual scenario.

3. Analysis

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 ...


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