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Tate v. Harris

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 19, 2014

JEROME TATE, # R-31211, Plaintiff,
v.
LT. HARRIS, HARPER, STAFFORD, B. LOY, RUSSELL J. GOINS, JEFFREY MOLENHOUR, E. BARE, MARC HODGE, and SHERRY BENTON, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL, District Judge.

Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Pontiac Correctional Center ("Pontiac"), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His claims arose while he was confined at Lawrence Correctional Center ("Lawrence"). Plaintiff is serving a 19-year sentence for second degree murder and a six-year sentence for aggravated battery. He alleges that certain Defendants filed false disciplinary charges against him in retaliation for (1) his refusal to give them information regarding a fight between other inmates and guards, and (2) a grievance he filed while he was being held in investigation status. Plaintiff was found guilty of those charges, and his punishment included a loss of six months of his good conduct credits.

In his complaint, Plaintiff claims that he was in line outside the dietary unit when a fight broke out inside the dining area on January 24, 2013 (Doc. 1, p. 9). Defendant Harris and other guards confronted four inmates who were fighting, sprayed them with pepper spray, subdued them, and took them to the Health Care Unit for treatment for the pepper spray. Those four inmates were then taken to segregation.

Plaintiff maintains that he was not involved in the fight. In fact, he asserts that he never entered the dietary unit either before or during the fight. He came under suspicion, however, because prison staff said that another inmate who was involved in the fight ran out of the dietary unit and was not caught. Defendant Harris targeted Plaintiff for investigation because he was affiliated with the same gang as one of the four inmates who were caught fighting. After Defendant Harris questioned Plaintiff in the dietary unit, Plaintiff returned to his cell, but he was soon taken to investigative segregation.

On January 25, 2013, Defendants Harper and Stafford (of Internal Affairs) interviewed Plaintiff and threatened to take away his prison job, transfer him, and/or issue a disciplinary report if he did not give them information about the fight (Doc. 1, p. 10). Plaintiff insisted he knew nothing about who was involved and did not see who was fighting.

On February 9, 2013, one of the four original inmates sent to segregation after the fight was released from segregation, and a different inmate was placed in investigative segregation. Impatient that he was still being held, Plaintiff filed a grievance on February 14 against Defendants Harper and Stafford for their conduct during his interview.

Plaintiff was charged on February 16, 2013, with several disciplinary infractions by Defendant Loy (Doc. 1, p. 11). The disciplinary report falsely stated that Plaintiff had been pepper-sprayed during the fight, secured by staff, and taken for medical treatment for the pepper spray before being taken to segregation. Plaintiff immediately wrote a five-page statement in his defense. He provided that statement to the Adjustment Committee (consisting of Defendants Goins and Molenhour) at his hearing on February 19, 2013. Nonetheless, the committee found him guilty based solely on the disciplinary report written by Defendant Loy. Plaintiff's punishment included revocation of six months of good conduct credits, a disciplinary transfer, six months in segregation, and several other sanctions (Doc. 1, p. 23). Defendant Hodge (warden) approved these measures.

Plaintiff filed a grievance, arguing that the disciplinary hearing did not satisfy minimum due process requirements, because the committee did not consider security camera footage that would have exonerated him. Likewise, the committee did not interview witnesses present during the incident (Doc. 1, p. 12). Defendant Bare denied the grievance. After Plaintiff appealed, however, the Adjustment Committee was required to correct its report to reflect that confidential sources were not used and to "better substantiate" two of the charges (Doc. 1, p. 30). After this was done, Plaintiff's grievance was denied by Defendant Benton. During the pendency of his grievance and appeals, Plaintiff was transferred to Menard Correctional Center.

Plaintiff now seeks compensatory and punitive damages against all Defendants. He claims that Defendants Harris, Harper, Stafford, and Loy all knew that the disciplinary report was false, yet they brought charges against him in retaliation for his "protected speech" during interviews and the grievance he filed after being threatened in the interview (Doc. 1, pp. 14-15). He also raises a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim.

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 the complaint, the Court concludes that this action is subject to summary dismissal. Plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrine of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994).

The due process and retaliation claims both involve a challenge to a disciplinary sanction that affected the length of Plaintiff's confinement (the loss of good conduct credits), as well as the conditions of that confinement (segregation and loss of privileges). As such, the Court must determine whether Plaintiff may maintain this claim in the context of a civil rights action, or whether it must instead be brought in a habeas petition.

Challenges to the validity of any confinement or to particulars affecting its duration are the province of habeas corpus; requests for relief turning on circumstances of confinement may be presented in a § 1983 action. Some cases are hybrids, with a prisoner seeking relief unavailable in habeas, notably damages, but on allegations that not only support a claim for recompense, but imply the invalidity either of an ...

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