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Barnes v. Nelson

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

December 11, 2014

LEON BARNES, No. R-40961, Plaintiff,
v.
TIMOTHY R. VEATH, TONY D. KENNER, LANCE W. PHELPS, JENNIFER HECHT, and OFFICER NELSON, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Leon Barnes, an inmate in Pontiac Correctional Center, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on disciplinary convictions meted out while he was housed at Menard Correctional Center, which is located in this judicial district.

This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:

(a) Screening.- The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.
(b) Grounds for Dismissal.- On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint-
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

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). Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers to a claim that "no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit." Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 2000). 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. At this juncture, the factual allegations of the pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

The Complaint

According to the complaint, on January 15, 2013, an incident occurred on the recreation yard involving multiple inmates. As a result, Plaintiff was immediately given a disciplinary ticket for assaulting an inmate. The next day, Internal Affairs officers Nelson and Hecht investigated and informed Plaintiff that he should not worry about the disciplinary ticket he had already received because he would be receiving a ticket from Internal Affairs. According to Nelson, the Internal Affairs ticket would "trump" the initial ticket.

Before receiving a ticket from Internal Affairs, Plaintiff was given a disciplinary hearing and convicted of the assault charge. As punishment, he was given six months in segregation, as well as demotion to C grade and commissary and yard restrictions (s ee Doc. 1, p. 16). Plaintiff did not lose any good-time credit. Timothy R. Veath was a member of the Adjustment Committee that convicted Plaintiff. One day later, Plaintiff finally received a second disciplinary ticket from Internal Affairs, charging him with assaulting an inmate and "gang or unauthorized organization activity" ( see Doc. 1, p. 17). Officer Lance W. Phelps issued the second ticket, apparently taking over the case from Nelson and Hecht. The two disciplinary tickets and all charges stem from the incident on January 15, 2013 ( compare Doc. 1, p. 16 and pp. 17-19).

The Adjustment Committee-again including Timothy R. Veath, along with Tonya Kenner-conducted a hearing. Plaintiff objected that he had just been convicted of the assault charge. Veath acknowledged remembering Plaintiff and the incident at issue. Veath also stated that if Internal Affairs had told Plaintiff he did not have to worry about the first ticket, then he did not have to worry. Kenner agreed. Nevertheless, the Committee went on to convict Plaintiff of the assault and the gang activity charge. Plaintiff was again punished with six months in segregation, as well as other restrictions, but no loss of good-time credit ( see Doc. 1, pp. 17-19).

Believing that he did not have to worry about the duplicative charge and punishment, Plaintiff did not pursue an appeal or file an administrative grievance. As he neared completion of what he believed was a cumulative six-month term in segregation, by chance, Plaintiff learned that he was expected to spend a total of twelve months in segregation. Plaintiff's subsequent grievance was denied out of hand because it was deemed untimely-submitted more than sixty days after the incident at issue ( see Doc. 1, pp. 21-23). Plaintiff asserts that his grievance was not untimely because he had yet to begin serving the second six-month term in segregation.

The named defendants are: Officer Jennifer Hecht; Officer Nelson; Officer Lance W. Phelps; Timothy R. Veath; and Tonya D. Kenner. Plaintiff seeks nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages, as well as affirmative injunctive relief in the ...


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