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Howe v. Roekerman

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

October 1, 2014

JAMES G. HOWE, # K98946, TIMOTHY CHARLES, # K03293, JACOB KALLAL, #K95044, TONY HARDEN, #K04116, CHARLES BONE, #S12955, and GEORGE NEEDS, #N17831, Plaintiffs,
v.
SALVADOR GODINEZ, DR. C. THOMAS HOLT, and ZACHARY ROEKERMAN, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

STACI M. YANDLE, District Judge.

This pro se action was filed by six civilly committed sexually dangerous persons ("SDPs") at Big Muddy River Correctional Center ("Big Muddy"). Plaintiffs include James Howe, Timothy Charles, Jacob Kallal, Tony Harden, Charles Bone, and George Needs (collectively "Plaintiffs"). Plaintiffs filed the action on July 25, 2014, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq., the Rehabilitation Act ("RA"), 29 U.S.C. § 794, et seq., and the Illinois Sexually Dangerous Persons Act ("SDPA"), 725 ILL. COMP. STAT. 205/1.01, et seq. Plaintiffs claim that Big Muddy's treatment program for SDPs is underfunded, understaffed, and ineffective. Plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment and injunctive relief (Doc. 10, pp. 32-35).

At the time of filing the action, Plaintiffs failed to pay a filing fee or file a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP Motion"). They were each required to do one or the other. In addition, only one, i.e., Plaintiff James G. Howe, signed the complaint. On July 25, 2014, the Clerk of Court mailed each Plaintiff a letter advising him of his obligation to pay the fee or file an IFP Motion no later than August 24, 2014 (Doc. 5). On July 29, 2014, the Court entered a formal order to this effect, which also required all Plaintiffs, other than "lead" Plaintiff Howe, to advise the Court in writing of their intentions to proceed in this group action no later than August 24, 2014 (Doc. 5, pp. 5-6).

The deadline for taking action has passed. Prior to the deadline, all Plaintiffs paid a filing fee (Doc. 22). In addition, all Plaintiffs who were obligated to do so[1] confirmed that they intend to proceed in this action together (Docs. 11-15, 22). Accordingly, the complaint (Doc. 10) is now ripe for preliminary review.

Class Certification

Before conducting a preliminary review of the complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, however, the Court must first address the issue of class certification. Named in the case caption are six Plaintiffs, all of whom have confirmed in writing that they wish to proceed in this action together. However, Plaintiffs did not file a motion seeking class certification, and it would not have been appropriate to do so at this time. Plaintiffs do not yet have counsel to represent them, and a prisoner bringing a pro se action cannot represent a class of plaintiffs. See Lewis v. Lenc-Smith Mfg. Co., 784 F.2d 829, 831 (7th Cir. 1986); FED. R. CIV. P. 11. Therefore, to the extent that Plaintiffs seek class certification, the request is DENIED without prejudice.

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

According to the complaint (Doc. 10), Plaintiffs are civilly committed sexually dangerous persons ("SDPs") in Illinois. As such, they are subject to the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1915 et seq. See Kalinowski v. Bond, 358 F.3d 978, 978-79 (7th Cir. 2004). Therefore, the Court shall review their complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

According to § 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). After carefully considering Plaintiffs' allegations, the Court concludes that the complaint survives preliminary review under § 1915A.

The Complaint

According to the complaint, Big Muddy houses approximately 177 SDPs[2] "for the sole purpose of care and treatment" (Doc. 10, p. 5). The goal of the SDP program is allegedly to "treat[] and release[] [SDPs] after the briefest time in confinement" (Doc. 10, p. 4). SDPs are civilly committed and, as such, are not considered prisoners.

However, Big Muddy's treatment program for SDPs is allegedly "underfunded, understaffed, and grossly out of compliance with treatment standards set by the Sex Offender Management Board's Act" (Doc. 10, p. 3). At the state level, no liaison or advocate represents this group (Doc. 10, p. 15). The SDP program at Big Muddy does not have its own budget, but instead relies on the general prison budget for funding (Doc. 10, p. 14). As a result, the program receives insufficient allocations. Only two full-time therapists are employed to serve 177 SDPs (Doc. 10, pp. 3, 14). SDPs are not offered individualized treatment[3] to meet their individual needs (Doc. 10, p. 14). They are also offered no treatment for substance abuse or anger management problems. Their study books and treatment guides are "25 plus" years old.

SDPs are merely treated like prisoners in "a punitive, restrictive non-treatment like setting" (Doc. 10, p. 5). They are housed with inmates in the general population (Doc. 10, pp. 18-19). They are required to wear prison-issued clothing (Doc. 10, p. 16). They are fed the same food as prisoners and eat meals with the general inmate population. They are subjected to prison lockdowns, tactical operations, [4] mail restrictions, medical co-pay requirements, and personal property restrictions. They are assaulted, both physically and verbally, by other prisoners and staff (Doc. 10, p. 16). Like prisoners, SDPs are also punished with disciplinary tickets, placed in segregation, and suspended from therapy (Doc. 10, p. 17). This environment allegedly exacerbates, rather than treats, their illnesses.

SDPs often remain confined for "years longer than necessary" because they cannot satisfy the criteria for release (Doc. 10, p. 18). The treatment programs are simply not available (Doc. 10, p. 15). Further, there are "no adequate mechanisms in place to monitor [their] progress" (Doc. 10, p. 15). By way of example, the complaint alleges that Plaintiff Needs has been housed at Big Muddy since 1995 (Doc. 10, p. 12). Plaintiff Charles has been civilly committed for over sixteen years and is still in the first phase of a four phase treatment program-despite the fact that he has "continually participated, never been suspended and completed much of the book work" for the program (Doc. 10, p. 8). Finally, Plaintiff Harden was released by the Court in early 2014 but, based on a lack of transitional housing for indigent SDPs, remains confined at Big Muddy (Doc. 10, p. 10).

Plaintiffs now sue Defendants Salvador Godinez (Illinois Department of Corrections' ("IDOC") Director), Dr. C. Thomas Holt (SDP Program Administrator), and Zachary Roekerman (Big Muddy's Chief Administrative Officer) for violating the rights of SDPs under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq., the Rehabilitation Act ("RA"), 29 U.S.C. § 794, et seq., and the Illinois Sexually Dangerous Persons Act ("SDPA"), 725 Ill. Comp. Stat. 205/0.01, et seq. Plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment and injunctive relief (Doc. 10-1, pp. 13-16).

Discussion

Based on the allegations in the complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide this pro se action into six counts. These counts are generally consistent with the counts outlined by Plaintiffs in their complaint. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as to their merit.

Count 1: Defendants violated Plaintiffs' right to receive treatment as SDPs;
Count 2: Defendants violated Plaintiffs' right to receive treatment for their mental illnesses and disorders under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments;
Count 3: Defendants violated Plaintiffs' rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by failing to adequately train or supervise their employees regarding the proper care and treatment of SDPs with mental illnesses or disorders;
Count 4: Defendants violated Plaintiffs' liberty interests under the Fourteenth Amendment by subjecting ...

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