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Whitfield v. Ford

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

December 16, 2013

BENYEHUDAH WHITFIELD, Plaintiff,
v.
MELODY J. FORD, DONALD D. GAETZ, MICHAEL P. RANDLE, ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, and STATE OF ILLINOIS Defendants.

OPINION

RICHARD MILLS, District Judge.

Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis on a claim that he was denied good time credit for completing prison educational and vocational programs.

A court must dismiss cases proceeding in forma pauperis "at any time" if the action is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d)(2). Accordingly, though in forma pauperis status may be granted due to a plaintiff's indigency, this Court will not send the case for service if no federal claim is stated.

In reviewing the Complaint to determine whether federal claims are stated, Plaintiff's factual allegations are accepted as true and liberally construed in Plaintiff's favor. Turley v. Rednour , 729 F.3d 645, 649 (7th Cir. 2013).

ALLEGATIONS

On or about December 7, 1994, Plaintiff was arrested and charged with home invasion, a Class X felony. Plaintiff pleaded guilty, allegedly in part because Plaintiff believed that he could earn an additional.5 per day of "program sentence credit" by successfully completing educational and vocational programs in prison. 730 ILCS 5/3-6-3(a)(4). The program sentence credit Plaintiff believes he was eligible for was in addition to the day-for-day good conduct credit Plaintiff was already eligible for under 730 ILCS 5/3-6-3(a)(2.1).

Plaintiff participated in prison vocational and educational programs, and, for purposes of this order, the Court assumes that Plaintiff successfully completed those programs. Despite his completion of the programs, Plaintiff was told that he was ineligible to even be considered for program sentence credit because Plaintiff was serving a conviction for a Class X felony.

Plaintiff contends that the refusal to grant program sentence credit violated Title 20, Section 107.520(a)(5)(B), as in effect at that time. Plaintiff filed a petition for mandamus relief in Lawrence County Circuit Court about this issue, but the Circuit Court found against Plaintiff. After attempting to pursue appeals, Plaintiff filed a petition for habeas corpus in the Southern District of Illinois about this issue, but the action was dismissed as moot in August 2013 because Plaintiff had been released from prison. Whitfield v. Gaetz, 09-CV-678 (S.D. Ill., Chief Judge Herndon)(8/27/13 order of dismissal). In the meantime, Plaintiff filed this case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 pursuing the same claim and seeking damages.

ANALYSIS

In order to state a federal constitutional claim, Plaintiff must have had a constitutionally protected liberty interest in the program sentence credits which arose from state law. "There is no constitutional or inherent right of a convicted person to be conditionally released before the expiration of a valid sentence." Greenholtz v. Inmates of Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex , 442 U.S. 1, 7 (1979); Montgomery v. Anderson , 262 F.3d 641, 645 (7th Cir. 2001)("[A] state may, but need not, create a legitimate claim of entitlement to good-time credits.").

Plaintiff did have a liberty interest in the day-for-day good conduct credits for which he was eligible under 730 ILCS 5/3-6-3(2.1). Parker-Bey v. Taylor, 2011 WL 837783 * 4 (S.D. Ill. 2011)(unpublished)("In view of the mandatory language of Section 3-6-3 regarding day-for-day good-time credit, IDOC prisoners generally are recognized by courts as having a due process liberty interest in day-for-day good-time credit that is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment."). Plaintiff's day-for-day credits are not at issue here. At issue here is whether Plaintiff had a liberty interest in program sentence credits.

Plaintiff asserts that a prior version of an Illinois administrative code section created such a liberty interest. The relevant version of that section states in part:

Section 107.520 Eligibility

a) Committed persons who, on or after August 11, 1993, are engaged full-time in substance abuse programs, correctional industry assignment, or academic or vocational education programs approved by the Department shall be eligible to ...

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