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Beecham v. Harrington

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

January 10, 2014

HOWARD BEECHAM, #B00492, Plaintiff,


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Howard Beecham, who is currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986 against numerous officials at Western, Illinois Correctional Center ("WICC") and Menard (Doc. 12). Plaintiff is serving fifty years in prison for murder. In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that WICC and Menard officials violated his constitutional rights and conspired to transfer him to Menard in retaliation for filing grievances, among other things. This matter comes now before the Court for consideration of Plaintiff's complaint (Doc. 12) and his second motion for preliminary injunction and/or temporary restraining order[1] ("TRO") (Doc. 15). Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and monetary damages.

1. The Complaint

Specifically, the complaint[2] alleges that during Plaintiff's incarceration at WICC in 2011-12, Defendants Jennings and Gille (WICC internal affairs officers) retaliated against Plaintiff for filing grievances by conspiring to transfer him to Menard (Doc. 12, pp. 6-10). According to the complaint, Defendant Jennings threatened to transfer Plaintiff after he filed a grievance requesting dental treatment on November 27, 2011, and a grievance complaining of a medical staff member's sexual misconduct on January 3, 2012 (Doc. 12, pp. 6-8).

When Plaintiff subsequently filed a grievance complaining of inadequate medical care for a knee injury on January 20, 2012, and stolen property on April 15, 2012, WICC officials targeted him for an excessive number of cell shakedowns (Doc. 12, p. 9). According to the complaint, Plaintiff's cell was searched at least three times each week between May 3rd and September 16th, 2012. Plaintiff was placed in segregation when he filed a grievance complaining of harassment and retaliation on October 10, 2012.

Plaintiff later learned that he was under an investigation for a fight. He was issued a disciplinary ticket, which was expunged following a disciplinary hearing on October 12, 2012. Plaintiff filed a police report with the Illinois State Police, requesting a TRO. The request was ignored.

On February 6, 2013, Plaintiff was subjected to a strip search (Doc. 12, p. 9). During the search, his eyeglasses were confiscated and sent home. Defendant Gille and another officer told Plaintiff that "they had a surprise for [him]" (Doc. 12, p. 10).

One month later, on March 13, 2013, Plaintiff was placed in segregation-this time, for his alleged involvement in a fight that occurred outside of his presence (Doc. 12, p. 10). Plaintiff was transferred to Menard the following day, without receiving a disciplinary ticket or a hearing.

It was not until April 2, 2013, that Plaintiff received a disciplinary report for his alleged involvement in a fight at WICC (Doc. 12, p. 13). He was charged with conspiring to commit a violent assault. Until he received the ticket, Plaintiff was unaware of any investigation giving rise to the report. The report incorrectly stated that Plaintiff refused to sign it. It provided no details, such as the time, date, or location of the alleged fight or the conduct observed. As a result, Plaintiff could not prepare his defense prior to his disciplinary hearing.

Defendant Veath, the chair of Menard's adjustment committee, conducted the hearing more than fourteen days after the commission of the offense. He refused to acknowledge Plaintiff's plea (Doc. 12, p. 19). He also failed to examine the evidence (Doc. 12, p. 20). Plaintiff was found guilty at his adjustment committee hearing (Doc. 12, p. 16). However, the adjustment committee's summary report provided no justification for the committee's decision; it also did not state why exonerating evidence received from a confidential informant was disregarded (Doc. 12, pp. 15, 19). Defendant Vasquez denied Plaintiff's request for a copy of the written statement that Plaintiff submitted to the adjustment committee.

At the time of his transfer, Plaintiff was stripped of his shoes and all of his personal property. The complaint estimates the cost of the missing property to be $107.97. Plaintiff was later denied access to property that is typically allowed to inmates in segregation at Menard (Doc. 12, p. 13). Defendants Godinez (Illinois Department of Corrections' ("IDOC") director), Oakley (Menard's grievance counselor/grievance committee), and Phoenix (grievance counselor) have denied Plaintiff's grievances addressing property issues (Doc. 12, p. 15).

Upon his arrival at Menard, Plaintiff was forced to walk barefoot through mud into the prison (Doc. 12, p. 11). As he entered the first building and turned a corner, Defendant Unknown Menard Lieutenant "threw his elbow high and struck [Plaintiff] in the mouth." Defendant Unknown Menard Prison Guard used foul language and racial epithets to threaten bodily harm. During intake, Plaintiff was ordered to place his knees on an iron stool, which caused him to suffer knee pain. When Plaintiff refused to follow the order, Defendant Unknown Menard Prison Guard struck Plaintiff in the face and head.

Plaintiff was assigned to a cell with a "filthy" mattress. He was given no bed roll. Plaintiff did not receive toilet paper, a toothbrush, toothpaste, or soap until three days after his arrival (Doc. 12, p. 12). He did not receive a blanket, sheet, pillow case, or towel until three days after that, and these items smelled of another person's body odor. Since March 2013, Plaintiff has suffered from "something crawling all over [his] body and biting" him, which he identifies as lice. On March 26th and April 2nd, 2013, Plaintiff used Styrofoam trays as shower shoes because the shower was "caked with hair, blood, old soap, etc." From July 28th until August 8th, he was placed in a cell without any lights. His requests to purchase toothbrushes were denied for five months, and his commissary expenditures were limited. On July 10, 2013, Defendant Hamilton (Menard correctional officer) opened Plaintiff's mail in front of him and then refused to give it to Plaintiff, despite the mailroom staff's prior approval of the mail (Doc. 12, p. 18).

Defendant Menard Medical Staff have refused to treat Plaintiff for lice, a bloody stool, acid reflux, breathing difficulties, heartburn, gas, a receding tooth, testicular and rectal pain, and weight loss (Doc. 12, pp. 17-18). Instead, they tell Plaintiff to submit sick call requests, which they allegedly ignore.

According to the complaint, Defendants have ignored more than 200 grievances and medical complaints (Doc. 12, p. 19). Plaintiff filed over eighteen grievances addressed to Defendants Harrington and Godinez, which he submitted to unknown correctional officers for delivery (Doc. 12, p. 18). Defendants Oakley and Phoenix also ignored Plaintiff's grievances (Doc. 12, p. 20).

2. Merits Review Under § 1915A

This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under § 1915A, the Court is required to promptly screen prisoner complaints to filter out nonmeritorious claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court is required to dismiss any portion of the complaint that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

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). 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, some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011); 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). After carefully reviewing the complaint and supporting exhibits, the Court finds it appropriate to exercise its authority under § 1915A; thus, portions of this action are subject to summary dismissal.

3. Discussion

A. Claims

The Court finds it convenient to divide the complaint into twelve counts. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court.

Count 1: Fourteenth Amendment due process claim against Defendants Veath and Vasquez for denying Plaintiff adequate notice and a hearing on his disciplinary ticket for conspiracy to commit a violent assault;

Count 2: Eighth Amendment claim for unconstitutional conditions of confinement at Menard;

Count 3: Eighth Amendment claim for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs;

Count 4: Retaliation claim against Defendants Jennings and Gille for punishing Plaintiff for filing grievances;

Count 5: Conspiracy claims against Defendants;

Count 6: Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Unknown Menard Lieutenant for elbowing Plaintiff and Defendant Unknown Menard Prison Guard for hitting Plaintiff in the face during intake;

Count 7: Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claims against Defendants for issuing Plaintiff disciplinary tickets, providing an inadequate hearing, and interfering with his mail;

Count 8: Intracorporate conspiracy claims against Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985 and 1986;

Count 9: Fourteenth Amendment claim against Defendants for confiscation of Plaintiff's personal property;

Count 10: Fourteenth Amendment claim against Defendants for ignoring Plaintiff's grievances;

Count 11: First Amendment claim against Defendant Hamilton and Defendant Mailroom Supervisors for interfering with Plaintiff's mail; and

Count 12: Fourteenth Amendment claim for a punitive prison transfer to Menard.

Count 1 - Denial of Due Process

After carefully considering the allegations in the complaint, the Court finds that it articulates a colorable Fourteenth Amendment due process claim (Count 1) against Defendant Veath at this early stage in litigation. Prison disciplinary hearings satisfy procedural due process requirements where an inmate is provided: (1) written notice of the charge against the prisoner twenty-four (24) hours prior to the hearing; (2) the right to appear in person before an impartial body; (3) the right to call witnesses and to present physical/documentary evidence, but only when doing so will not unduly jeopardize the safety of the institution or correctional goals; and (4) a written statement of the reasons for the action taken against the prisoner. See Wolff v. ...

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