United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.
This matter is now before the Court for a merits review of Plaintiff's pro se civil rights complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
Plaintiff had previously filed suit against some of the above Defendants in Martin v. Hudson, et al., Case No. 13-cv-416-JPG-PMF (filed April 30, 2013) (the Court shall refer to this earlier case as " Martin I "). After the § 1915A merits review, Plaintiff was allowed to proceed on Count 1 of that action, which asserted that Defendants Hass, Hudson, and Grott violated his First Amendment rights when they confiscated his personally-created artwork and refused to return it (Doc. 7 in Martin I ). Counts 2 and 3 in Martin I were dismissed. Count 2 (taking of personal property without due process) was dismissed without prejudice; the dismissal of Count 3 (failure to respond to grievances) was with prejudice.
As Martin I proceeded, Plaintiff belatedly received a response to a prison grievance he had filed in connection with Count 1. He then voluntarily dismissed Martin I so he could exhaust his administrative remedies. When Plaintiff sought to reopen the case, the Court directed that his proffered Amended Complaint (Doc. 1 herein) should instead be filed as a new action (Doc. 2). The instant case was then opened, and was randomly assigned to the undersigned Judge. Due to the particular circumstances of the case and Plaintiff's attempts to exhaust his grievances within the prison system, it was further ordered that no filing fee would be assessed for this new action (Doc. 2, p. 6).
The Complaint (Doc. 1)
All events took place at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), where Plaintiff continues to be confined. The allegations in the complaint regarding the confiscation and destruction of Plaintiff's artwork and supplies largely track those in the original complaint filed in Martin I. However, Plaintiff includes some additional detail, and incorporates entirely new claims for retaliation and endangering his safety.
On February 13, 2013, Defendant Hass and other unknown officers shook down Plaintiff's cell, after placing Plaintiff and his cellmate in the nearby shower room. Plaintiff had approximately 20 completed pieces of art stored in a clear plastic bag for safekeeping until he could mail them to family or friends outside the prison. The storage bag was marked in bold letters: "PLEASE DO NOT DAMAGE" (Doc. 1, p. 2). Each item inside was tagged and labeled with the name and address of the intended recipient. This artwork was of great sentimental value to Plaintiff, who had spent considerable time creating the pieces to "rehabilitate his way of thinking." Id. He states that the paintings "saved his life!" Id. They also represented his political beliefs and views, and his "sexual orientations depiction between a husband and wife." Id. He later states that one piece (which was confiscated) depicted him and his wife in the nude (Doc. 1, p. 4). In addition, Plaintiff had a number of other artworks around the cell in various stages of completion, including paintings that were leaning against the wall to dry.
Upon viewing these pieces of art, Defendant Hass and/or the unknown officers called in the "White Shirt Officers" to review Plaintiff's artwork (Doc. 1, pp. 3-4). These unknown "white shirt" officers confiscated five items from Plaintiff's art storage bag, consisting of four oil paintings and one acrylic style poster. While Plaintiff was held in the shower room, he observed one male officer and two female officers carrying these pieces of art away from his cell. He called out to them, asking what they were doing, but they ignored him (Doc. 1, p. 3). Upon returning to the cell he discovered that Defendant Hass and/or the unknown officers had damaged or destroyed several of the remaining works (for example, placing legal papers on top of wet canvases where they became stuck to the paint), broke Plaintiff's art supplies, and poured out tubes of acrylic paint as they ransacked the cell.
Plaintiff was never issued a disciplinary ticket for having the confiscated paintings, nor was he given a "shakedown slip" (property receipt) after they were taken. When Plaintiff asked why his art was taken and destroyed, Defendant Hass told him he should be glad he did not get a ticket, and that the Internal Affairs Officers (Mr. Hudson, Mrs. Woozy, and Mrs. New) wanted to look at his artwork to make sure it was not in violation of prison rules (Doc. 1, p. 4). Plaintiff filed grievances and inquiries attempting to get his artworks back and to find out why they were not returned. Defendant Grott (counselor) responded to one grievance with the statement, "Art Work Not Allowed" (Doc. 1, p. 5). When Plaintiff sent further grievances or attempted to appeal to another administrative level, his inquiries were routed to Defendant Grott, and at one point she told him she had intercepted his mail containing an inquiry to another official (Doc. 1, p. 6). Defendant Grott's responses became increasingly harsh, until she told Plaintiff in late March 2013, "I [Plaintiff] can not paint the way I want, about what I paint." Id.
Soon after this exchange, on March 21, 2013, Plaintiff was moved to the North One housing unit "as punishment for challenging [Defendant Grott] directly." Id. He asserts that he was purposely placed in a cell with an aggressive and mentally unstable cellmate who was a high-ranking gang member. This individual let Plaintiff know that he did not like to have guards coming around the cell, which intimidated Plaintiff into ceasing his efforts to get his art back. Further, Plaintiff filed an emergency grievance requesting a cell change (Doc. 1, p. 7; Doc. 1-2, pp. 9-11).
On April 4, 2013, Defendant Lt. Bess came to the cell and disclosed, in front of the aggressive cellmate, that Plaintiff had written an emergency grievance seeking to be moved for his safety. In fear that this exchange would lead to an attack by the cellmate, Plaintiff pretended he did not know what Defendant Bess was talking about. Plaintiff remained in that cell until he was moved on April 9, 2013. He then wrote to Warden Harrington to thank him for the move, and to inquire again about his confiscated artwork. He also filed another grievance over the artwork.
Just days after this grievance, Plaintiff was moved back to 6th Gallery, in the same area as the aggressive former cellmate (Doc. 1, p. 8). Because of Defendant Bess' public disclosure of Plaintiff's grievance over his fear of attack from that inmate, Plaintiff has heard other prisoners talking about that incident. He thus feels that his safety is still at risk in that housing area, because he comes into contact with the former cellmate during meals and other occasions when prisoners are out of their cells. Plaintiff further believes that Defendant Bess purposely placed him in danger in retaliation for Plaintiff's grievances filed over the art confiscation. Id.
Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Hass and the unknown officers who searched his cell took their actions because of the nature and contents of his work, and because of the political views and "sexual orientational taste" depicted in his art (Doc. 1, p. 4). He indicates that the Internal Affairs Officers (Mr. Hudson, Mrs. Woozy, and Mrs. New) confiscated and refused to return the five pieces for the same reasons, in violation of his First Amendment right to free expression. (Doc. 1, pp. 4, 9). He denies that the pieces reflected any "security threat groups" as claimed in one of the responses to his complaints (Doc. 1, p. 9; Doc. 1-1, p. 11). Additionally, he asserts that the damage and destruction of his artwork constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. ...