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Waldron v. Gaetz

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

August 12, 2013

JOHN WALDRON, Plaintiff,


J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on the Report and Recommendation ("Report") (Doc. 90) of Magistrate Judge Philip M. Frazier recommending that the Court grant the motion for summary judgment filed by defendants Ashby and Parnell (Doc. 64). Waldron has objected to the Report (Doc. 92), and the defendants have responded to that objection (Doc. 93).

I. Report and Recommendation Review Standard

The Court may accept, reject or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations of the magistrate judge in a report and recommendation. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). The Court must review de novo the portions of the report to which objections are made. Id. "If no objection or only partial objection is made, the district court judge reviews those unobjected portions for clear error." Johnson v. Zema Sys. Corp., 170 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir. 1999).

II. The Report and Objection

The only remaining claim in this case is that defendants Ashby and Parnell violated Waldron's procedural due process rights by issuing discipline without holding a hearing to consider Waldron's evidence and by reaching a decision not supported by at least some evidence. Waldron was subject to six months in "C" grade, six months in segregation and six months with a commissary restriction. In segregation, Waldron had few opportunities to exercise outdoors, had few opportunities to use the prison law library, lost his eligibility for a prison job and the pay that went with it, was subject to intense and disruptive cell searches that damaged some of his personal property, and suffered diminished future prospects for parole. He was also labeled as a weapons violator, which raised his classification and resulted in housing assignments to a high aggression cell house.

The Report found that the evidence did not show the disciplinary action Waldron suffered as a result of the disciplinary hearing amounted to an atypical and significant hardship in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life, which is required to establish he had a liberty interest in being free from the discipline. Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 486 (1995). Thus, no matter what process he received before the discipline, he could not prove a due process violation. The Report found that the only discipline that arguably gave rise to a liberty right was Waldron's confinement in segregation for six months, but that the conditions in segregation as described by Waldron were not harsh enough to constitute an atypical and significant hardship under Sandin. The Report compared Waldron's situation to Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 223-24 (2005), where the plaintiffs were deprived of human contact and environmental stimuli and were disqualified from parole eligibility, and Gillis v. Litscher, 468 F.3d 488, 490-94 (7th Cir. 2006), where the plaintiff was deprived of bedding, clothing, human contact, and sensory stimulation. In both of those cases, the court found a deprivation of a liberty interest.

In his objection, Waldron faults the Report for failing to acknowledge the disciplinary decision was rendered without the appropriate process. He also faults the Report for failing to find a liberty interest when the discipline could affect the duration of his confinement because it might impact a parole board decision if a parole system is reinstituted in Illinois. The defendants note that a parole system does not apply to Waldron because he was sentenced under the mandatory supervised release scheme.

III. Analysis

After de novo review, the Court finds the Report is correct for the reasons stated therein. "The first inquiry in every due process challenge is whether the plaintiff has been deprived of a protected interest in property' or liberty.'" American Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 59 (1999). Without a protected interest, an inmate is not entitled to the procedural protections of Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974). See Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 487 (1995). Waldron has no protected interest in avoiding the discipline at issue in this case.

"[T]he Due Process Clause does not protect every change in the conditions of confinement having a substantial adverse impact on the prisoner." Id. at 478 (citing Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 222 (1976)). Special confinement will deprive a plaintiff of a liberty interest in the constitutional sense only where his punishment "exceed[s] the sentence in such an unexpected manner as to give rise to protection by the Due Process Clause of its own force, " or "imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Sandin, 515 U.S. at 484. The first category comprises punishment that is "qualitatively different' from the punishment characteristically suffered by a person convicted of crime, and ha[s] stigmatizing consequences.'" Sandin, 515 U.S. at 479 n.4 (quoting Vitek v. Jones, 445 U.S. 480, 493-94 (1980) (transfer from prison to mental hospital for treatment of mental illness), and citing Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210, 221-22 (1990) (involuntary administration of psychotropic drugs)). The second category - that more typical of prisoner ยง 1983 cases - comprises lengthy confinement and/or unusually harsh conditions. See Marion v. Columbia Corr. Inst., 559 F.3d 693, 697-98 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 224 (2005) (indefinite confinement without possibility of parole in cell with a solid metal door for 23 hours a day with a light on at all times, isolation from other inmates, and few opportunities for visitors)).

Waldron did not have a liberty interest in remaining out of segregation under the Vitek line of cases. The conditions he describes in segregation - few opportunities to exercise outdoors or to use the prison law library, no eligibility for a prison job, intense, disruptive and destructive cell searches, high aggression housing assignment - are not so unexpected in prisons that they qualitatively exceed characteristic punishments for prison inmates. Nor do they amount to an atypical and significant hardship under Sandin when imposed for only six months. Simply put, the changes in the conditions of Waldron's confinement brought about by his placement in segregation did not implicate a liberty interest.

Additionally, Waldron's punishment does not implicate a liberty interest because it will "inevitably affect[s] the duration of his sentence." Sandin, 515 U.S. at 487. It will, in fact, have no inevitable affect the length of his confinement. He is not subject to denial of parole because of his punishment because he is not incarcerated under a parole scheme, and it is pure speculation that Illinois will reinstitute a parole system that will affect Waldron. See Higgason v. Farley, 83 F.3d 807, 809-10 (7th Cir. 1996) ( per curiam ) (no due process protection where action "merely might affect the duration of the sentence"). Thus, there is no liberty interest implicated by the length of his sentence.

In sum, because Waldron had no liberty interest in remaining out of segregation for six months, the procedural requirements of Wolff need not be satisfied, and ...

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