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Withers v. Veath

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

August 18, 2014

DORCUS WITHERS, # K-63899, Plaintiff,
v.
TIMOTHY VEATH, and RICHARD HARRINGTON, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is serving a 55-year sentence for murder and a 25-year sentence for attempted murder. He claims that his due process rights were violated when he was found guilty of two disciplinary infractions and punished with four months in segregation, as a result of a hearing that was conducted well beyond the 14-day time limit prescribed by the prison administrative regulations.

More specifically, Plaintiff claims that on April 10, 2013, he was given two separate disciplinary tickets for disobeying a direct order (Doc. 1, p. 6). Each ticket was the result of a separate incident. At that time, Plaintiff was confined in a crisis watch cell at Lawrence Correctional Center ("Lawrence").

On May 1, 2013, Plaintiff was transferred from Lawrence to Menard. The hearing on his disciplinary charges was not conducted until May 16, 2013 (Doc. 1, pp. 6, 10, 13, 17). Defendant Veath chaired the hearing, at which Plaintiff pled guilty to both charges. He was punished with two months in segregation for each charge (for a total of four months), as well as a six-month demotion to C-grade and restriction on commissary (Doc. 1, pp. 6, 10, 13). Defendant Harrington, as then-warden of Menard, signed off in approval of that disposition.

Plaintiff filed a grievance on the basis that his hearing had been held too late - over a month past the date when his tickets were issued. Ultimately, the Administrative Review Board expunged both disciplinary reports due to non-compliance with the required 14-day timeline for holding the disciplinary hearing (Doc. 1, p. 17). However, that ruling was not made until March 19, 2014, long after Plaintiff had completed serving the full four months in segregation as well as the other punishments imposed.

Plaintiff asserts that both Defendants knew that the time frame violation would result in the tickets being expunged, but that they still allowed him to serve out his full segregation time. He complains that while in segregation, he was held in a cell with a solid steel door, which "aggravated [his] mental state causing [him] to attempt suicide"[1] (Doc. 1, p. 6-7). Also during this period, he was unable to go to the yard or have time out of his cell; and could not use the phone, buy food items from the commissary, go to school, or work.

As relief, Plaintiff seeks compensation for each day he was made to serve in segregation (Doc. 1, p. 8).

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.

After fully considering the allegations in Plaintiff's complaint, the Court concludes that this action is subject to summary dismissal.

Because Plaintiff's "convictions" for the April 2013 prison disciplinary infractions were expunged, the doctrine of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994), does not present a bar to seeking damages in a civil rights action. See Moore v. Mahone, 652 F.3d 722, 723 (7th Cir. 2011) (the ruling in a prison disciplinary proceeding is a conviction for the purposes of Heck analysis). Nonetheless, in Plaintiff's case, the term he served in segregation on the later-expunged charges does not give rise to a constitutional claim.

Under certain limited circumstances, an inmate punished with segregation may be able to pursue a claim for deprivation of a liberty interest without due process of law. See Marion v. Columbia Corr. Inst., 559 F.3d 693, 697-98 (7th Cir. 2009). However, those circumstances are not present in the instant case. First, Plaintiff bases his claim for denial of procedural due process only on the tardiness of his disciplinary hearing. But untimeliness does not violate the Constitution, even if the timing of the hearing ran afoul of the prison administrative rules. A federal court does not enforce state laws or regulations. Pasiewicz v. Lake Cnty. Forest Preserve Dist., 270 F.3d 520, 526 (7th Cir. 2001); Archie v. City of Racine, 847 F.2d 1211, 1217 (7th Cir. 1988) (en banc), cert. denied, 489 U.S. 1065 (1989).

In order to satisfy the Due Process Clause, an inmate must be given advance written notice of the disciplinary charge, the right to appear before the hearing panel, the right to call witnesses if prison safety allows, and a written statement of the reasons for the discipline imposed. See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-69 (1974). In addition, the disciplinary decision must be supported by "some evidence." Black v. Lane, 22 F.3d 1395, 1402 (7th Cir. 1994). Here, Plaintiff does not allege that any of the Wolff requirements were violated, and his guilty pleas provided ample evidentiary support for the disciplinary actions. In the end, the fact that Plaintiff prevailed in his grievance, when he obtained the March 2014 ruling that expunged the May 2013 disciplinary infractions, indicates that Plaintiff received the due process he demanded, albeit not as swiftly as he would have preferred.

Even if there had been an unconstitutional flaw in the conduct of Plaintiff's disciplinary hearing, he has no claim that he was deprived of a protected liberty interest. An inmate has a due process liberty interest in being in the general prison population only if the conditions of his or her disciplinary confinement impose "atypical and significant hardship[s]... in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995); see also Wagner v. Hanks, 128 F.3d 1173, 1175 (7th Cir. 1997) (in light of Sandin, "the right to litigate disciplinary confinements has become vanishingly small"). For prisoners whose punishment includes being put in disciplinary segregation, under Sandin, "the key comparison is between ...


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