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Whitfield v. Althoff

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

January 7, 2015

ERIC ALTHOFF, et al., Defendants.


RICHARD MILLS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Whitfield wants compensation for three allegedly false disciplinary tickets he received while in custody in the Illinois Department of Corrections. The tickets were dated 2002, 2003 and 2007. Plaintiff was released from prison in July, 2011. He filed this suit two years later, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He cannot succeed. Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) trumps his claims.[1]


The facts material to this Court's decision are not disputed. Plaintiff contends that he lost a total of 16 months[2] of good conduct credit as a result of three allegedly false disciplinary tickets, purportedly issued in retaliation for his protected First Amendment activities. He also alleges various procedural infirmities in the disciplinary hearings, including the refusal to allow him to garner and present exonerating evidence and witnesses, and the lack of evidence to support the charges. The disciplinary tickets at issue are dated January 13, 2002, September 18, 2003, and July 14, 2007, respectively.

During Plaintiff's incarceration, he tried to pursue § 1983 claims on some of the disciplinary reports at issue here, but the claims were dismissed as procedurally improper challenges to the loss of good time. See Whitfield v. Walker, et al., 04-CV-3136 (C.D. Ill.)(12/2/04 order). Plaintiff also initiated a federal habeas action in this Court in February of 2011, challenging the disciplinary reports, but the habeas action was dismissed as moot when Plaintiff was released the following July. Whitfield v. Jackson, 11-CV-3061 (C.D. Ill.)(7/25/13 Order). With his federal habeas corpus action moot, Plaintiff now relies on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to remedy the alleged constitutional violations.

The Court allowed Plaintiff's claims in this case to proceed but noted that the claims might be barred by the Supreme Court case of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (7th Cir. 1994). (11/15/13 Order, pp. 9-11.) Heck and its progeny hold that an inmate cannot pursue a § 1983 action which in effect challenges the loss of good time credits unless and until those credits are restored through other means, such as a state court order or a federal habeas corpus action. Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 648 (1997)(claims which "necessarily imply the invalidity" of the loss of good time are not cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 until the prison disciplinary decision has otherwise been invalidated, for example by expungement, a state court order, or a federal writ of habeas corpus). " Heck prevents prisoners from making an end-run around the need to challenge the validity or duration of their convictions using the vehicle of habeas corpus, rather than through an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or Bivens." Jogi v. Voges, 480 F.3d 822, 836 (7th Cir. 2007)( citing Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74 (2005)).

The federal habeas route is no longer available to Plaintiff because he is no longer in prison. However, that does not mean this case can proceed. In Burd v. Sessler, 702 F.3d 429, 436 (7th Cir. 2012), the Seventh Circuit held that Heck also applies to former prisoners if the former prisoner "could have pursued collateral relief [in prison] but failed to do so in a timely manner." Burd v. Sessler, 702 F.3d 429, 436 (7th Cir. 2012), cert. denied 133 S.Ct. 2808 (2013). Burd held that a prisoner who "ignore[s] his opportunity to seek collateral relief while incarcerated to skirt the Heck bar simply by waiting to bring a § 1983 claim until habeas is no longer available undermines Heck ...." Id . The plaintiff in Burd did not file a federal habeas action during his incarceration like Plaintiff did, but that distinction makes no difference on these facts. Plaintiff cannot avoid the Heck bar by filing a doomed habeas action in federal court a few months before release from prison. That would allow him to accomplish what Burd proscribes: ignoring opportunities to pursue collateral relief while incarcerated.

The question is, did Plaintiff pursue the legal avenues available to him while he was incarcerated? If he did, then Heck does not bar this action. Burd v. Sessler, 702 F.3d at 435 ("[W]here a plaintiff cannot obtain collateral relief to satisfy Heck's favorable termination requirement, his action may proceed under § 1983 without running afoul of Heck. ") On the other hand, if Plaintiff did not avail himself of those opportunities, then Heck does bar this action under the reasoning of Burd.

In Illinois, a prisoner can challenge the revocation of good time by filing a complaint for mandamus in the state circuit court. The Seventh Circuit recognized this in McAtee v. Cowan, 250 F.3d 506, 508 (7th Cir. 2001):

State prisoners challenging the deprivation of good-time credits by way of a habeas corpus petition must exhaust adequate and available state remedies before proceeding to federal court.... Like their Wisconsin neighbors, Illinois inmates seeking restoration of good-time credits lost due to constitutionally infirm disciplinary hearings have a judicial remedy: they can file a complaint for an order of mandamus from an Illinois circuit court. See Johnson v. McGinnis, 734 F.2d 1193, 1198-99 (7th Cir.1984). If dissatisfied with the result, the inmate must invoke one complete round of the normal appellate process, including seeking discretionary review before the state supreme court.

Generally, in Illinois a mandamus petition challenging prison disciplinary proceedings should be filed within six months after the internal administrative appeals are concluded. Williams v. IDOC, 2011 WL 10481473 (Ill.App., 4th Dist)(not reported in N.E.2d)(Plaintiff's 2009 state court challenges to 1998 and 2003 disciplinary proceedings were barred by laches); Coleman v. Davis, 2013 WL 1154512 (N.D. Ill. 2013)(not reported in Federal Reporter)("[U]nder the doctrine of laches, the filing of a mandamus complaint more than six months after the conclusion of prison disciplinary proceedings is generally improper.")( citing Washington v. Walker, 391 Ill.App.3d 459 (4th Dist. 2009).[3]

Plaintiff did not follow these steps for any of the three disciplinary tickets at issue. The steps that Plaintiff did take are set forth in the exhibits he filed in his federal habeas corpus case before this Court and are also a matter of public record appropriate for judicial notice. Whitfield v. Jackson, 11-CV-3061 (C.D. Ill.)(exhibits filed at docket entry 3-1, pp. 30-40; docket entry 7, pp. 13-30; docket entry 7-1, pp. 1-30; docket entry 7-2, pp. 1-24; docket entry 7-3, pp. 29-30; docket entry 7-4, pp. 1-15, 23-30; docket entry 7-5, pp. 1-14; docket entry 7-6, pp. 1-16; docket entry 7-7, pp. 1-30; docket entry 7-8, pp. 1-28);[4] see also Whitfield v. IDOC, 04-MR-34 (Livingston County)(Plaintiff's mandamus action challenging the September 18, 2003, disciplinary report); Whitfield v. Gaetz , 09-MR-80 (Randolph County)(Plaintiff's state habeas corpus action challenging all three disciplinary reports at issue in this case); 520 South Michigan Ave. Assoc., Ltd. v. Shannon, 549 F.3d 1119 n. 14 (7th Cir. 2008)(court may take judicial notice of documents in public record).

These documents show that, in March of 2004, Plaintiff filed a complaint for mandamus in the Livingston County Circuit Court challenging the September 18, 2003 disciplinary report and another disciplinary report not at issue here. Whitfield v. IDOC, 04-MR-34. Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of that complaint to the Illinois Appellate Court, which affirmed the dismissal. Whitfield v. IDOC, X-XX-XXXX (Ill.App., 4th Dist.); 11-CV-3061, d/e 7-4, pp. 1-15. In his habeas action before this Court, Plaintiff did not dispute Respondent's contention that Plaintiff did not file a petition for leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, and there is no record of an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. (11-CV-3061, Resp. Answer, d/e 12, p. 5, para. 7.); Rodriguez v. Scillia, 193 F.3d 913, 917 (7th Cir. 1999)(procedural default occurs in federal habeas action if no petition for discretionary review by highest state court is filed).

Plaintiff attempted another state court challenge in August of 2009, when he filed a complaint for habeas relief in Randolph County Circuit Court, regarding all three disciplinary reports at issue here. Whitfield v. Gaetz, 09-MR-80; 11-CV-3061, d/e 7, p. 14. The Randolph County Circuit Court dismissed Plaintiff's habeas action with prejudice and denied Plaintiff's motion to convert his complaint into a complaint for mandamus relief. Plaintiff appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court, but the appeal was dismissed because he did not have the money to provide the record on appeal. (11-3061, d/e 7-7, p. 15; d/e 12, para. 9.) ...

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