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Carter v. Hildebrand

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

December 16, 2013



MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff William Dale Carter, a former Illinois Department of Corrections inmate at Pinckneyville Correctional Center, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivations of his constitutional rights in connection with his being inappropriately labeled a "sex offender" for purposes of parole considerations. Carter also asserts related state law claims, invoking the Court's supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1346. Plaintiff seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1) (Doc. 2).

According to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), a district court must screen all complaints accompanied by an IFP request for failure to state a claim, among other things." Luevano v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 722 F.3d 1014, 1018 (7th Cir. 2013). A request to proceed IFP must be denied if (1) the allegation of poverty is untrue; (2) the action is frivolous; (3) the action fails to state a claim; or (4) the action seeks monetary relief against an immune defendant. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

An action or claim is frivolous if "it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers to a claim that "no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit." Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 2000). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The claim of entitlement to relief must cross "the line between possibility and plausibility. Id. at 557. Conversely, a complaint is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, Courts "should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements." Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

Upon careful review of the complaint and supporting documentation, the Court finds it appropriate to exercise its authority under Section 1915(e)(2) to summarily dismiss all federal claims and decline supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims.

The Complaint

Plaintiff Carter was convicted in 2002 of home invasion, but the jury found him not guilty of two charges of criminal sexual assault (involving a deadly weapon, and causing bodily harm). See Doc. 1-2, pp. 6, 11; People v. Carter, 841 N.E.2d 1052, 1057 (Ill.App.Ct. 2005) (noting the jury verdict). Plaintiff contends that all defendants are, individually and in conspiracy, punishing him as a sex offender, when he was only found guilty of home invasion.

[T]hey knowingly, willfully, and maliciously violated administrative codes, rules; state laws, and Carter[]s fundamental constitutional rights of equal protection of the laws; liberty interests; privacy rights; due process rights; familial rights; rights to petition the courts for redress of grievances; freedom of religion; the rights of the double jeopardy clause, and more (Ex Post Facto clause, etc.)

(Doc. 1, p. 3).

The complaint presents allegations against each of the defendants in turn. The Court will follow suit. Because supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims is generally predicated upon federal jurisdiction (in this scenario, the Section 1983 claims), the court will focus on whether the complaint states any colorable constitutional claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3); Capeheart v. Terrell, 695 F.3d 681, 686 (7th Cir. 2012). Although Plaintiff has attached an exhaustive list of labels to his claims, the Court will only discuss those constitutional claims reasonably associated with the allegations in the complaint. See Williams v. Dieball, 724 F.3d 957, 963 (7th Cir. 2013) ("Judges are not clairvoyant, and if they were required to go out of their way to analyze every conceivable argument not meaningfully raised, their work would never end.").


Plaintiff Carter is no stranger to the Court. Recently, U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert dismissed a Section 1983 action Carter lodged against numerous state officials (some also named as defendants in the present case) regarding essentially the same issues raised in this case. Carter v. Rhine, No. 12-cv-1205-JPG-PMF (S.D. Ill. Oct. 29, 2013). Because defendants and claims were dismissed without prejudice, and leave to amend was denied without prejudice, the Court will entertain this second action. The analysis is not identical, as the two complaints are not identical.


As a preliminary matter, the Court must dismiss all allegations of a conspiracy.

The allegations of conspiracy are conclusory and insufficient under the Twombly pleading standard. "To establish the existence of a conspiracy, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the conspirators have an agreement to inflict injury or harm upon him." Sow v. Fortville Police Dep't, 636 F.3d 293, 304-05 (7th Cir. 2011). "The agreement may be inferred from circumstantial evidence, but only if there is sufficient evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to conclude that a meeting of the minds had occurred and that the parties had an understanding to achieve the conspiracy's objectives." Id. at 305 (quoting Hernandez v. Joliet Police Dep't, 197 F.3d 256, 263 (7th Cir.1999)). It is well-established that "conspiracy is not an independent basis of liability in [Section] 1983 actions." Smith v. Gomez, 550 F.3d 613, 617 (7th Cir. 2008).

The complaint does not describe a meeting of the minds; rather, all Plaintiff offers is the fact that each defendant participated in some way in the process of determining his parole eligibility and conditions of release. Therefore, all conspiracy claims in the complaint must be dismissed without prejudice.

Count 1: Steve Biby

Defendant Steve Biby works at Pinckneyville Correctional Center and is responsible for calculating custody/parole time. Biby, ignored Plaintiff Carter's letters and grievances asserting that Plaintiff had completed his term of imprisonment. Consequently, Biby, without penological justification, caused Plaintiff to serve 60% of his prescribed sentence, rather than the 50% under the day-for day sentencing credit scheme prescribed by 730 ILCS 5/3-6-3.

Plaintiff's claim pertains to the duration of his term in prison and, in essence, alleges that Biby violated Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.

Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005), makes clear that Section 1983 may be used to challenge state parole procedures without running afoul of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1984), which prohibits using Section 1983 to collaterally attack the fact of confinement or sentence. Therefore, Plaintiff can use Section 1983 to seek damages because, at this point in time, a judgment in his favor would not undermine his conviction and sentence, or result in his immediate or speedier release. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. at 81. See also Burd v. Sessler, 702 F.3d 429, 432 (7th Cir. 2012). Nevertheless, Plaintiff's due process claim fails.

There is no liberty interest in parole under the Illinois system that would trigger Fourteenth Amendment due process protection-regardless of whether Plaintiff was imprisoned longer because he was falsely labeled a sex offender. See Heidelberg v. Illinois Prison Review Board, 163 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 1998) (citing Hanrahan v. Williams, 673 N.E.2d 251 (Ill. 1996), for the proposition that Illinois's parole scheme is discretionary, not creating a liberty interest)). The Fourteenth Amendment due process claim against Biby will be dismissed with prejudice.

Plaintiff characterizes Biby's action as "retaliation" (Doc. 1, p. 7). The First Amendment only affords protection against retaliation for exercising a First Amendment right. Watkins v. Kasper, 599 F.3d 791, 794 (7th Cir. 2010). Plaintiff fails to cite a the basis for retaliation; therefore, he has failed to state a retaliation claim and his First Amendment claim will be dismissed without prejudice.

Count 2: Donald Gaetz

Donald Gaetz was the warden at Pinckneyville Correctional Center while Plaintiff Carter was incarcerated there. It is alleged that Gaetz was aware of Plaintiff's "illegal custody and parole" because of letters and grievances and lower court actions. Plaintiff asserts that Warden Gaetz has supervisory liability; he failed to train prison staff; and he "implemented illegal unwritten policies' to retaliate and excessively punish Carter" (Doc. 1, p. 8).

Liability under Section 1983 requires a defendant's personal involvement in the alleged constitutional violation. Palmer v. Marion County, 327 F.3d 588, 594 (7th Cir. 2003). The defendant must have caused or participated in the violation. Pepper v. Village of Oak Park, 430 F.3d 809, 810 (7th Cir. 2005). Thus, the doctrine of respondeat superior -supervisor liability-is not applicable to Section 1983 actions. Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 740 (7th Cir. 2001) (quoting Chavez v. Ill. State Police, 251 F.3d 612, 651 (7th Cir. 2001)). The Court further notes that merely knowing about a constitutional violation and failing to cure it is generally insufficient; only persons who cause or participate in the violations are responsible. Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 656-57 (7th Cir. 2005); see also Johnson v. Snyder, 444 F.3d 579, 584 (7th Cir. 2006), overruled on other grounds, Hill v. Tangherlini, 724 F.3d 965, 967 n. 1 (7th Cir. 2013). Similarly, "[r]uling against a prisoner on an administrative complaint does not cause or contribute to the [alleged constitutional] violation." George v. Smith, 506 F.3d 605, 609 (7th Cir. 2007).

More to the point, although a supervisor can be liable under Section 1983 on a failure-to-train theory ( see generally Kitzman-Kelley on behalf of Kitzman-Kelley v. Warner, 203 F.3d 454, 459 (7th Cir. 2000) (requiring the supervisor be deliberately indifferent)), this claim against Warden Gaetz is merely a conclusory assertion echoing the failed respondeat superior allegations.

For the reasons stated, all claims against Donald Gaetz will be ...

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