United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
CHRISTOPHER M. BURTON, #B-87915, Plaintiff,
HEAD WARDEN ROCKMON, RANDY VALDEZ, MIKE SANDERS, and UNKNOWN PARTY, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.
Plaintiff Christopher Burton, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center ("Stateville"), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his constitutional rights at Big Muddy River Correctional Center ("BMR") (Doc. 1). Plaintiff claims that he was transferred from BMR to Stateville and placed in segregation for more than four months, following a disciplinary hearing that BMR officials conducted outside of his presence. In connection with this chain of events, Plaintiff sues four BMR officials, including Warden Rockmon, Randy Valdez, Mike Sanders, and an Unknown Party, for violations of his First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff's request for relief is limited to monetary damages (Doc. 1, p. 8).
Merits Review Under 28 U.S.C. § 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, 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).
According to the complaint, Plaintiff was issued a disciplinary ticket for possession of contraband following a cell shakedown on August 14, 2013 (Doc. 1, p. 5). The complaint offers no details about the contraband. Plaintiff alleges that he received a "shakedown slip" when he returned from commissary. Following lunch the same day, an internal affairs officer handcuffed Plaintiff and took him to segregation.
On August 15, 2013, Defendant Valdez approached Plaintiff and asked him if he wished to proceed with a disciplinary hearing at that time. Plaintiff declined, stating that he needed time to arrange for witnesses. Plaintiff did not sign his disciplinary ticket or the waiver of his right to twenty-four hours of notice prior to the hearing ("notice waiver").
Nevertheless, Defendants Valdez and Sanders, serving as co-chairs of the adjustment committee, conducted Plaintiff's disciplinary hearing outside of his presence. Plaintiff received a hearing summary on August 18, 2013, which indicated that he had been found guilty of the rule violation. As punishment, Plaintiff was given six months in segregation, a six-month loss of good time credits, and a prison transfer (Doc. 1, p. 6).
Plaintiff alleges that the hearing was conducted outside of his presence after Defendant Valdez, Sanders, or Unknown Party forged his signature on the notice waiver and/or the disciplinary ticket. Plaintiff showed Defendant Rockmon the forged waiver and requested a new hearing. Defendant Rockmon denied Plaintiff's request and affirmed the decision of the adjustment committee.
Plaintiff was later transferred directly into segregation at Stateville, a maximum security facility. There, he suffered from debilitating headaches and nightmares, while awaiting the outcome of his appeal. In a letter dated December 18, 2013, the Illinois Department of Corrections' ("IDOC") Administrative Review Board ("ARB") found that the notice waiver was forged (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff was released from segregation on December 30, 2013.
Plaintiff now sues Defendants Rockmon, Valdez, Sanders, and Unknown Party for due process violations, retaliation, and cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages (Doc. 1, p. 7).
Count 1 - Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Claim
After carefully considering the allegations, the Court finds that the complaint states a colorable Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claim (Count 1) against Defendants at this stage. An "inmate's liberty interest in avoiding segregation is limited." Hardaway v. Meyerhoff, et al., 734 F.3d 740 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Marion v. Columbia Corr. Inst., 559 F.3d 693, 697 (7th Cir. 2009)). Under certain circumstances, however, an inmate punished with segregation can pursue a claim for deprivation of a ...