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Hannah v. Vincent

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

November 19, 2013

DEMEL HANNAH, Plaintiff,
v.
JULIA VINCENT, STIRLING EDWARDS, KELLY L. GRAHAM, and LEONTA L. JACKSON, Defendants.

OPINION

BYRON G. CUDMORE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, currently incarcerated in Pontiac Correctional Center and proceeding pro se, pursues First Amendment claims based on a disciplinary report and subsequent discipline he received for language he used in a grievance.

Defendants move for summary judgment. After reviewing the evidence, the Court concludes that a rational juror could find that the language used by Plaintiff in his grievance could not reasonably be interpreted as threatening or intimidating. A rational jury could therefore find that the punishment Plaintiff received for using that language was in retaliation for Plaintiff exercising his First Amendment rights. Accordingly, summary judgment is denied.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A movant may demonstrate the absence of a material dispute through specific cites to admissible evidence, or by showing that the nonmovant "cannot produce admissible evidence to support the [material] fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(B). In response, the nonmovant must point to admissible evidence in the record to show that a genuine dispute exists. Id .; Harvey v. Town of Merrillville , 649 F.3d 526, 529 (7th Cir. 2011).

At the summary judgment stage, evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, with material factual disputes resolved in the nonmovant's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute of material fact exists when a reasonable juror could find for the nonmovant. Id.

FACTS

The facts are largely undisputed. During his incarceration in Western Illinois Correctional Center, Plaintiff repeatedly attempted to obtain restoration of good conduct credits. Plaintiff sent his requests to Paul Vincent, who is, according to Plaintiff, the husband of Defendant Julia Vincent. Plaintiff's attempts to restore his good time were unsuccessful, which led Plaintiff to file a grievance on March 4, 2011:

Brief Summary of Grievance: This grievance is being taken due to a recent denial of restoration of good time on the basis of the nature of the offenses which resulted in the loss of time. Since being a resident of the facility I've submitted for restoration of good time approximately 11 times and I've been consistently denied for 1 of 3 reasons. It's either because the committee needs more observation to make a determination, because I've exhibited poor conduct since my last submission, or because granting restoration at this time will somehow undermine the seriousness of the offense. If you observe my record far as the offense which resulted in the loss of time it's apparent that I once struggled with substance abuse and anger. Since Oct. of 2005 I've been drug tested numerous times and every time I've passed with flying colors. Furthermore, I went nearly 6 years without engaging in any physical contact. The staff assault that I caught in Lawrence C.C. in 2003 was a minor assault which is why only 3 months was revoked. Moreover, the assault didn't allege that I struck the officer in any capacity. The ticket stated that I yanked on the handcuff which caused the officer to scrape his hand on the door. Over a 5 year span I've acquired my general equivalency diploma, lifestyle redirection certificate, anger management certificate, computer technology certificate, held a machine operator position in the laundry facility, and I'm currently employed as a vocational janitor. Mr. Van Strien would have noticed this [if] he would have truthfully checked my status.
Relief Requested: I request that I be given a fair and complete evaluation by the committee whereas I can attempt to forge a counter attack against the members that refuse to grant restoration.

(Pl.'s 3/4/11 grievance, d/e 46-1, pp. 1-2).

Plaintiff marked this grievance an emergency. However, the Warden, or his designee, checked the box on the form which stated "No; an emergency is not substantiated. Offender should submit this grievance in the normal manner." Id . The grievance was returned to Plaintiff, whereupon Plaintiff submitted the grievance to his counselor, Defendant Julia Vincent. Julia Vincent received the grievance on March 31, 2013. (Counselor's Response to Pl.'s 3/4/11 grievance, d/e 46-1, p. 1).

Meanwhile, on March 23, 2013, Defendants Julia Vincent and Kelly Graham, acting in their capacities as Adjustment Committee members, recommended that Plaintiff be found guilty of insolence for remarking to an employee that she was "sure looking good today." Plaintiff was punished with a grade demotion and a job assignment change.

On April 5, 2011, Plaintiff filed a grievance about the punishment for insolence, complaining in part that Julia Vincent's participation in the disciplinary hearing constituted a conflict of interest with her role as Plaintiff's counselor. Plaintiff stated that Julia Vincent "has a history of distorting statements rendered by inmates and a history of ruling in favor of staff members." (Pl.'s 4/5/11 grievance, d/ 46-1, pp. 6-7). Plaintiff asked for expungement of the discipline. He also asked that Julia Vincent "be permanantely [sic] removed from the adjustment committee based on her historical bias ...


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