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Sorrentino v. Godinez

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

October 3, 2013

Joseph Sorrentino and LaBron C. Neal, on their own behalf and on behalf of all similarly situated people, Plaintiffs,
v.
Salvador A. Godinez, Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

THOMAS M. DURKIN, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Joseph Sorrentino and LaBron C. Neal bring this class action lawsuit against defendant Salvador A. Godinez, Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, alleging that prison employees confiscated several items of personal property from their cells in violation of their constitutional rights. Plaintiffs assert claims under the Takings Clause (Count I) and the Contracts Clause (Count II) of the United States Constitution, as well as a state law claim for breach of contract (Count III). R. 1 ¶¶ 29, 38, 46. Director Godinez has moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), and for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). R. 12. For the following reasons, Director Godinez's motion to dismiss is granted.

Background

The following facts, drawn from plaintiffs' complaint, are accepted as true, and all reasonable inferences are drawn in their favor. Gomez v. Randle, 680 F.3d 859, 864 (7th Cir. 2012). In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the Court considers "the complaint itself, documents attached to the complaint, documents that are critical to the complaint and referred to in it, and information that is subject to proper judicial notice." Williamson v. Curran, 714 F.3d 432, 436 (7th Cir. 2013). The Court may also consider elaborations made by plaintiffs in opposing the motion to dismiss, so long as those elaborations are consistent with the facts alleged in the complaint. Geinosky v. City of Chicago, 675 F.3d 743, 745 n.1 (7th Cir. 2012).

Plaintiffs are two individuals incarcerated at the Stateville Correctional Center ("Stateville") in Joliet, Illinois. R. 1 ¶¶ 11, 16. Over the course of several months, plaintiffs purchased several items from the prison commissary that are now at the center of this dispute. Specifically, on November 29, 2011, plaintiff Sorrentino purchased a typewriter from the commissary for $266.16. Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiffs also purchased two fans from the commissary for $26 each. Id. ¶¶ 14, 17. Sorrentino purchased his fan on March 27, 2012, and plaintiff Neal purchased his fan "sometime prior to July 2012."[1] Id. Each of these items had been approved for prisoner use by the Department, and plaintiffs were permitted to keep these items in their cells if they agreed to abide by the rules and policies regarding personal property. Id. ¶¶ 2, 4, Exh, 4, Exh. 5.

Plaintiffs contend that they derived significant benefits from having these items in their cells. For example, Sorrentino regularly used his typewriter to communicate with the outside world, and due to his limited access to the prison's law library, he also used it to prepare pleadings for court. R. 30 at 6. Plaintiffs' fans apparently provided even greater benefits. According to the complaint, Stateville is "poorly ventilated, and generally hold[s] two men in spaces designed for one." R. 1 ¶ 1. During the summer, when the outside temperature rises above the mid-90s, "temperatures inside cells on upper tiers at Stateville... can reach 120 degrees and more." Id. According to plaintiffs, "[p]risoners have died from this heat." Id. By using fans in their prison cells, however, plaintiffs are able to combat this "deadly heat." Id. ¶ 2.

In anticipation of the heat that was predicted to occur during the summer of 2012, inmates at Stateville were told that they could buy extra fans to use in their cells. Id. Additionally, on June 1, 2012, Marcus Hardy, the Warden at Stateville, issued Warden's Bulletin #2012-37, which provided that "offenders will be able to purchase a fan regardless of grade or shipping status... not to exceed the current authorized amount of fans owned by one offender."[2] Id., Exh. 1.

In the middle of July 2012, however, "the Department reversed course" and decided to remove all "extra" fans from its prison cells. Id. ¶¶ 3-4. Specifically, on July 17, 2012, Warden Hardy issued Warden's Bulletin #2012-54, which provided that "offenders are allowed possession of one (1) fan per offender in each assigned cell" and that "all additional fans [would] be collected and inspected... [and] transported to and stored in offender personal property." Id., Exh. 2. Pursuant to this directive, plaintiffs' fans were removed from their cells. Id. ¶¶ 15, 18. Plaintiffs maintain that they "were not compensated for the costs [of the fans], and no other means for cooling the cells was provided." Id. ¶ 3.

A few days later, on July 23, 2012, Warden Hardy issued Warden's Bulletin #2012-51, which directed the removal of all typewriters from prisoners' cells. Id., Exh. 3. Prisoners were given several options for disposing of their typewriters, including (1) giving the typewriter to a visitor; (2) mailing it to another person at the prison's expense; (3) donating it to the law library; (4) destroying it; or (5) storing it in their personal property. Id. Sorrentino's typewriter was subsequently removed from his cell, and he elected to donate it to the law library. R. 30 at 4. Sorrentino maintains that his typewriter was confiscated without just compensation. R. 1 ¶ 5.

In this federal action, plaintiffs seek a judgment declaring that their personal items were confiscated in violation of the United States Constitution, entitling them to either just compensation or return of their property. Id. ¶ 54. Plaintiffs have brought suit against Director Godinez based on his responsibility "for the day-to-day operations of the Department." Id. ¶ 19. Plaintiffs assert claims under the Takings Clause (Count I) and the Contracts Clause (Count II) of the United States Constitution, as well as a state law claim for breach of contract (Count III). Id. ¶¶ 29, 38, 46.

Legal Standard

Director Godinez has moved to dismiss Count III of the complaint under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and Counts I and II under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. Plaintiffs have since voluntarily withdrawn Count III to the extent that it seeks money damages. Accordingly, the Court focuses its attention on Director Godinez's challenges under Rule 12(b)(6).

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion challenges the sufficiency of the complaint. See, e.g., Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). A complaint must provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), sufficient to provide the defendant with "fair notice" of the claim and the basis for it. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This "standard demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While "detailed factual allegations" are not required, "labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The complaint must "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Mann v. Vogel, 707 F.3d 872, 877 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). In applying this standard, the Court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Id.

Analysis

Director Godinez grounds his motion to dismiss on two bases. First, he contends that he lacks the capacity to be sued, both in his individual and official capacities, based on the allegations of the complaint. Second, even if he were capable of being sued, Director Godinez maintains that plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Court will address each argument in turn.

I. Director Godinez's Capacity ...


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