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Williams v. Davis

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

June 25, 2013

BERNARD WILLIAMS, # K-70159, Plaintiff,


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff, who is currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center[1] ("Menard"), brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is serving two 20-year sentences for two murder convictions, along with two 10-year sentences for two aggravated battery convictions. His claims arose while he was housed at Pinckneyville Correctional Center ("Pinckneyville"). Plaintiff claims that Defendant Randy Davis (Pinckneyville's warden), Sean Furlow (a Pinckneyville internal affairs officer), and Brent Klindsworth (a Pinckneyville adjustment committee officer) violated Plaintiff's constitutional right to due process, maliciously prosecuted him, conspired to do the same, and retaliated against him. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages (Doc. 1, p. 18).

Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that on February 26, 2011, he was attacked while standing in line for lunch (Doc. 1, p. 3). Plaintiff's attacker approached him from behind and punched him in the head, knocking Plaintiff's glasses to the floor (Doc. 1, p. 4). The blow caused Plaintiff to become disoriented and fearful. Inmates scattered. In the chaos, Plaintiff "inadvertently hip checked an officer (C/O Bart Lind) to the ground three times" (Doc. 1, p. 4).

Following the incident, Plaintiff was issued a disciplinary ticket for assaulting a staff member and for gang activity, among other things (Doc. 1, p. 5). A hearing was scheduled before Pinckneyville's adjustment committee. In preparation for the hearing, Plaintiff obtained an affidavit from one of the perpetrators, stating that Plaintiff was not affiliated with a gang and was merely an innocent bystander. Also in advance of the hearing, Plaintiff requested permission to call an eye doctor to testify about Plaintiff's poor eyesight (Doc. 1, p. 6). In addition, Plaintiff asked that video footage of the incident be made available.

At the hearing, Defendant Klindsworth gave Plaintiff the choice of presenting all evidence verbally or in writing (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff chose to submit his defense in writing. The adjustment committee found Plaintiff guilty. Defendant Klindsworth did not consider any of Plaintiff's requested evidence. Ultimately, Plaintiff was sentenced to one year of segregation and a six-month loss of good conduct credit.

Plaintiff complained about the denial of his due process rights and hearing results to Defendant Furlow in March 2011 and to Defendant Davis in April 2011 (Doc. 1, p. 8). When Plaintiff told Defendant Furlow that he intended to sue Defendant Klindsworth, Defendant Furlow stated, "Since you want to play jailhouse lawyer, we're going to take the evidence you're complaining about and use it to prosecute you in court" (Doc. 1, p. 10). When Plaintiff told Defendant Davis that Defendants Furlow and Klindsworth were conspiring to violate his rights, Defendant Davis stated, "[W]e're going to prosecute you, too, since you're gonna sue us anyway" (Doc. 1, pp. 10-11). In March 2012, Plaintiff learned that he was, in fact, being criminally charged with aggravated battery of a peace officer and resisting a peace officer, class 2 and 3 felonies that carry a maximum prison sentence of seven years (Doc. 1, p. 11). The complaint is devoid of allegations which address the current status of the criminal case.

In April 2012, Plaintiff filed a grievance to address Defendants' retaliatory conduct with the Administrative Review Board ("A.R.B.") (Doc. 1, p. 12). To date, Plaintiff has received no response from the A.R.B.

Plaintiff now sues all Defendants in their individual capacities (Doc. 1, p. 13). Against each, Plaintiff asserts a claim for retaliation (Count 1), malicious prosecution (Count 2), conspiracy (Count 3), and due process violations (Count 4) (Doc. 1, pp. 13-16). Each claim will be addressed below.

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

According to 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 retaliation claim (Count 1) against Defendants Davis and Furlow. Accordingly, he shall be allowed to proceed on Count 1.

However, Plaintiff's retaliation claim against Defendant Klindsworth fails. In the prison context, where an inmate is alleging retaliation, the inmate must identify the reasons for the retaliation, as well as "the act or acts claimed to have constituted retaliation, " so as to put those charged with the retaliation on notice of the claim(s). Higgs v. Carver, 286 F.3d 437, 439 (7th Cir. 2002). Plaintiff must have engaged in some protected First Amendment activity (e.g., filing a grievance), experienced an adverse action that would likely deter such protected activity in the future, and must allege that the protected activity was "at least a motivating factor" in the Defendants' decision to take the retaliatory action. Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 552 (7th Cir. 2009). The inmate need not plead facts to establish the claim beyond doubt, but need only provide the bare essentials of the claim, and in a claim for retaliation the reason for the retaliation and the acts taken in an effort to retaliate suffice. Higgs, 286 F.3d at 439. In the case at bar, Plaintiff does not identify the acts undertaken by Defendant Klindsworth which constitute retaliation. Accordingly, his retaliation claim against Defendant Klindsworth shall be dismissed without prejudice.

Plaintiff's claim against Defendants for malicious prosecution (Count 2) also fails. A cause of action for malicious prosecution does not accrue until the criminal proceedings giving rise to the claim have terminated in Plaintiff's favor-just as a § 1983 action for damages attributable to an unconstitutional sentence does not accrue until the sentence has been invalidated. See Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 489-90 (1994). In order to meet basic pleading requirements, Plaintiff must allege termination of the "prior criminal proceeding in [Plaintiff's] favor." Id. at 484. Although Plaintiff refers to his criminal case in the complaint, he does not mention its outcome. Having failed to meet this basic pleading requirement, Plaintiff cannot proceed on his malicious prosecution claim at this time. Count 2 shall be dismissed without prejudice.

Plaintiff's conspiracy claim (Count 3) against Defendants fails for similar reasons. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants conspired to maliciously prosecute him for the aforementioned crimes. Conspiracy is not an independent basis of liability in §1983 actions. See Smith v. Gomez, 550 F.3d 613, 617 (7th Cir. 2008); Cefalu v. Vill. of Elk Grove, 211 F.3d 416, 423 (7th Cir. 2000). "There is no constitutional violation in conspiring to cover-up an action which does not itself violate the Constitution." Hill v. Shobe, 93 F.3d 418, 422 (7th Cir. 1996). Having failed to plead sufficient facts to suggest that Defendants engaged in malicious prosecution, Plaintiff's claim for conspiracy to engage in malicious prosecution also fails. Accordingly, Count 3 shall be dismissed without prejudice.

Finally, Plaintiff has not articulated a colorable claim against Defendant Klindsworth, or anyone else, for a violation of his right to due process (Count 4). Prison disciplinary hearings satisfy procedural due process requirements where an inmate is provided: (1) written notice of the charge against the prisoner twenty four (24) hours prior to the hearing; (2) the right to appear in person before an impartial body; (3) the right to call witnesses and to present physical/documentary evidence, but only when doing so will not unduly jeopardize the safety of the institution or correctional goals; and (4) a written statement of ...

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