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Gary Langfield, # R-70280 v. Timothy R. Veath

May 10, 2013


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


Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Western Illinois Correctional Center ("Western"), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His claims arose from his incarceration in Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"). Plaintiff is serving a seven year sentence for possession/use of a firearm by a felon. Plaintiff claims that he was denied his due process rights in a disciplinary hearing, after which he was punished with three months in segregation. This disciplinary action was ultimately expunged after Plaintiff filed grievances over the improper conduct of the hearing.

More specifically, the complaint alleges that the disciplinary report was issued while Plaintiff was confined at Hill Correctional Center ("Hill") (Doc. 1, pp. 4, 12). According to the report, Plaintiff shouted threatening comments in an attempt to instigate violence against prison staff (Doc. 1, pp. 12, 15). Plaintiff denied this conduct, and challenged the reporting guard's ability to visually identify him as the shouter, based on the guard's distance from his cell and vantage point. After this incident, Plaintiff was quickly transferred from Hill to Menard on May 23, 2012. Before leaving Hill, Plaintiff had requested witnesses for his eventual disciplinary hearing. He also asked for staff assistance to prepare his defense, following his arrival at Menard (Doc. 1, pp. 4-5).

Defendants Veath and Johnson conducted Plaintiff's disciplinary hearing, on May 31, 2012. Plaintiff submitted a written statement (Doc. 1, pp. 13-14), and requested a continuance so he could obtain video footage and witness statements that would support his innocence of the charges (Doc. 1, p. 4). Defendant Veath refused to read the statement and told Plaintiff he would throw it away (Doc. 1, p. 5). He denied the continuance, and Plaintiff was found guilty without the opportunity to present any witness statements or the exonerating video evidence. The written summary of the proceeding falsely stated that Plaintiff did not request witnesses (Doc. 1, pp. 6,

15). His punishment consisted of three months in disciplinary segregation, revocation of three months of good conduct credit, three months commissary restriction, and three months demotion to C grade. Defendant Atchison (Menard Chief Administrative Officer) approved this action.

Plaintiff filed grievances challenging his discipline, but they were denied by Defendant Oakley (grievance officer) and Defendant Atchison (Doc. 1, pp. 7-8). He then appealed to the Administrative Review Board, which ultimately expunged the disciplinary action based on "a compliance check of the procedural due process safeguards" and "exonerating evidence" (Doc. 1, p. 28). However, by the time this action was taken on February 11, 2013,*fn1 Plaintiff had served the entire three months in segregation. In addition, Plaintiff's January 14, 2013, request for work release had been denied based on the disciplinary report (Doc. 1, p. 8).

Plaintiff seeks damages to compensate him for his lost state pay during the three months he spent in segregation, as well as punitive damages for the time he spent in segregation following the violation of his due process rights (Doc. 1, p. 10).*fn2

Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

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 Veath and Johnson for deprivation of a liberty interest without due process, for his confinement in segregation (Count 1). Because Plaintiff's "conviction" for the 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). Plaintiff claims that Defendants Veath and Johnson failed to comply with the due process directives outlined in Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-69 (1974) in the conduct of his hearing. This alleged denial of due process, coupled with the length of Plaintiff's disciplinary segregation, indicates that a factual inquiry into the conditions of his segregation may be required. See Marion v. Columbia Corr. Inst., 559 F.3d 693, 697-98 (7th Cir. 2009). Further consideration of this claim is appropriate, in order to determine whether any constitutional violation occurred.

However, Plaintiff fails to state a due process claim for the denial of his application for work release (Count 2). Contrary to Plaintiff's assertion that he has a "state created liberty interest to work release" (Doc. 1, p. 10), the Seventh Circuit has made it clear that Illinois prisoners have no constitutional right to be granted work release:

[P]risoners possess neither liberty nor property in their classifications and prison assignments. States may move their charges to any prison in the system.

Community correctional centers [where prisoners granted work release are housed] are low security institutions but still prisons, and inmates have no more claim to be sent there than they have to avoid commitment to maximum-security penitentiaries.

DeTomaso v. McGinnis, 970 F.2d 211, 212 (7th Cir. 1992). The Illinois regulations governing work release do not limit prison officials' discretion in awarding that privilege, and they therefore do not create a liberty or property interest protected by the due process clause. Id. at 212-13 (construing 730 ILL. COMP. STAT. 5/3-12-1, 5/3-13-2, and ILL. ADMIN. CODE tit. 20, ยง 455.30). "[A]ny effort to find a liberty or property interest in the prospect of work release is frivolous." DeTomaso, 970 F.2d at 213. Prison officials, therefore, could have denied Plaintiff's request for work release for no reason, or for any reason at all, even if their rationale was based on a disciplinary record that was later expunged. ...

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