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Freeman v. Atchison

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 24, 2014

GEOFFREY W. FREEMAN, # N-40858, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL ATCHISON, SALVADOR GODINEZ, and KIM BUTLER, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), where he is serving a life sentence. He brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that in 2012, Defendants implemented a racially-motivated policy to confiscate all typewriters from Menard prisoners, which has had a disparate impact on African-American inmates' and older inmates' ability to access the courts. Plaintiff's typewriter was taken away before this policy was adopted. After this, he filed numerous grievances, and was also involved in state court litigation against prison officials. As retaliation for this protected activity, a false disciplinary report was brought against Plaintiff and he was punished with segregation. The named Defendants are Michael Atchison, Deputy Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC"); Salvador Godinez, IDOC Director; and Kim Butler, the Menard Warden.

In his lengthy complaint[1] (Doc. 5), Plaintiff first outlines a number of statistics gleaned from a report of the John Howard Association, Menard's Internal Audit Report, a statistical report from the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ") (2005-2014), and Halbert v. Michigan, 545 U.S. 605, 621 (2005) (referencing DOJ statistical report as to the percentages of state prisoners who are illiterate, have learning disabilities, or suffer from mental illness) (Doc. 5, pp. 6-8). He states that between 2005 and 2012, the percentage of Menard inmates who are African-American has greatly increased as the percentage of white prisoners has declined, and the average age of all Menard prisoners has increased. Along with those changes in racial and age makeup, the number of African-American Menard inmates who are illiterate, learning-disabled, or suffer from age-related impairments such as arthritis, has greatly increased. He claims that between June 2012 (when prisoners' typewriters were removed) and April 2014, the number of pro se filings submitted by African-American Menard inmates, especially those over age 50, has fallen. However, white prisoners' pro se filings have increased over this same period.

Plaintiff claims that the Defendants' decision to confiscate Menard prisoners' personal typewriters was prompted by the increase in the numbers of elderly or illiterate African-American inmates, who were disproportionately less able to hand-write their court documents, rather than the security concerns that were the official rationale for the no-typewriter policy (Doc. 5, pp. 8-11). Since Plaintiff's typewriter was taken, he has had to hand-write his legal documents with state-issued pens, which are difficult to write with and cause him joint pain due to his arthritis (Doc. 5, p. 31). He notes that 70% of all the typewriters taken from Menard inmates had been owned by African-American prisoners (Doc. 5, p. 11). Further, he claims that the taking was "designed to cause an eruption of violence from the Black population" (Doc. 5, pp. 12-13). He believes such a surge of violence was meant to support prison officials' efforts to keep the state supermax prison at Tamms open. The typewriter restriction had a disparate impact on the ability of African-American and older inmates to complain to the courts or other agencies about their conditions of confinement.

On June 3, 2012, just before the typewriters were taken, two Black inmates attacked a white officer at Menard. Plaintiff claims those prisoners were then beaten by guards "at the behest of [Defendant] Atchison" (Doc. 5, p. 12). Two days later, on June 5, 2012, Defendant Atchison ordered all prisoners (including Plaintiff) removed from their cells. While the inmates were kept in the prison chapel, Plaintiff's typewriter was removed from his cell, as were those of all other prisoners. This was done without any notice, and before the announcement of any rule or policy - the official policy banning typewriters was not issued until July 23, 2012. Id. Plaintiff also claims that he was improperly designated as having a mental health problem in order to justify the taking of his typewriter (Doc. 5, p. 13).

Plaintiff filed a series of grievances against Defendant Atchison between June 5, 2012, and February 5, 2013, over the confiscation of his typewriter and other matters (Doc. 5, pp. 13-16). He notes that over the past 28 years of his incarceration, he had no history of assaultive behavior or weapons violations (Doc. 5, p. 17).

Jumping ahead to April 10, 2014, Plaintiff states that on that date, Menard was on a Level-1 lockdown, and Plaintiff knew that his housing unit was scheduled for a shakedown on April 14. Id. After Plaintiff and his cellmate were moved to another area of the prison, the search of their cell turned up a homemade knife sewn into a pillow, which was allegedly found on Plaintiff's bottom bunk (Doc. 5, pp. 18, 22, 24). Defendant Butler tried to coerce Plaintiff's cellmate to say he saw Plaintiff with the knife, but he refused (Doc. 1, p. 24). Plaintiff likewise denied responsibility for the weapon and refused to implicate his cellmate. Both were charged and found guilty by Defendant Butler of a weapon violation, and each was punished with one year in segregation (Doc. 1, pp. 25). He further complains that he was denied due process in the disciplinary matter because he was not provided with a "Hearing Investigator, " he was not given a polygraph test, and there was no investigation of the matter (Doc. 5, p. 19). In addition, he has been threatened with criminal prosecution for the weapon violation (Doc. 5, p. 25).

Plaintiff claims that he was framed for the knife charge in retaliation for his grievance activity that began with the June 2012 confiscation of his typewriter. A further motive for the alleged retaliation was Plaintiff's action of filing a motion to intervene in a pending state court lawsuit, which had been brought by correctional officers represented by AFSCME to challenge the Illinois Governor's proposed closure of the Tamms Correctional Center (Doc. 5, pp. 20-22; 59-61). In his motion, he accused the guards of fraud, manufacturing evidence, and instigating a fatal attack on a Menard prisoner (Doc. 5, pp. 23-24). Soon after filing his motion, Plaintiff was verbally threatened, but does not say who issued the threat. He also sued Defendant Atchison in state court.

Based on these factual allegations, Plaintiff asserts three claims: (1) Retaliation claim (falsely charging Plaintiff with possession of a knife) for the exercise of his First Amendment rights to file grievances and court documents, against Defendants Butler, Atchison, and Godinez (Doc. 5, pp. 23-26; 33); (2) Racial and age discrimination claim against Defendants Atchison and Godinez, who confiscated typewriters from Plaintiff and other African-American inmates in order to obstruct them from seeking redress in court; African-American inmates and older inmates were disproportionately affected by these Defendants' July 2012 policy prohibiting individual possession of typewriters in Menard and other maximum-security prisons (Doc. 5, pp. 26-30; 34); (3) Access to courts claim against Defendants Atchison and Godinez, whose July 23, 2012, no-typewriter policy hinders African-American and elderly inmates such as Plaintiff (who is an African-American over age 50) from seeking redress in the courts, in comparison to white inmates and inmates in medium or minimum-security facilities (Doc. 5, pp. 30-32; 35-36).

Plaintiff does not seek monetary compensation. Instead, he seeks injunctive relief in several forms. His requests include an order against Defendant Butler to show cause why Plaintiff's April 2014 disciplinary report should not be expunged as false and retaliatory and the expungement of that report; an order preventing the enforcement of the July 23, 2012, no-typewriter policy to all takings that occurred prior to that date (presumably, this would result in the return of Plaintiff's confiscated typewriter); and an order rescinding all policies that have a disparate impact on African-American Menard inmates or on prisoners older than age 50 of any race (Doc. 5, pp. 36-39).

Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

Under § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint, and to dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from an immune defendant.

Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, the Court finds that Plaintiff has articulated the following colorable federal causes of action, which shall receive further review:

Count 1: Retaliation claim against Defendant Butler, for falsely charging Plaintiff with possession of a knife and punishing him with segregation, because he filed grievances and pursued court actions ...


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